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Monitor The Strategic Trends

Global Government Introduction:

 

      The move toward a global government received a big boost this summer by the introduction of a proposal for an International Criminal Court. Over U.S. objections, the United Nations Diplomatic Conference voted 120 to 7 in favor of establishing an international criminal court to try individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression.


[READ THE FULL INTRODUCTION]

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behold a Black Horse

 Behold a Black

Horse

 

 

Price R 249.00 

 

 

 

Behold a Black Horse:

 Economic Upheaval and Famine

DVD

by Dr. Chuck Missler

 

 

The third of the “Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse” brings inflation and famine on an unprecedented scale.
•What is the real cause of inflation?
•What are the real causes of famine?

Most famines are the direct results of government’s deliberate decisions. Germany sank into the most severe hyperinflationary period in recorded history after printing 1.3 trillion marks: that translates to about 4 trillion in today’s dollars. Ironically, that is almost exactly the same amount of money the United States government has printed since 2008. What are the implications for us today?

How can one use Bayes’ Theorem in “reverse probability”? (Can you form a hypothesis based on experience, common sense and whatever data are available; then test the hypothesis not by what has happened before, but by what comes after?)

The theorem has proved its worth, such as in 2012 when it was used to successfully predict the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in all 50 states before the final vote counts were available.

Join Dr. Chuck Missler in the Executive Briefing Room of the River Lodge, New Zealand, as he explores the identity of the third of the Five Horsemen of Revelation.

This briefing pack contains 2 hours of teaching
 

Available in the following formats

 DVD:

•2 MP3 files

•1 PDF Notes file

 

 

 
 
 

http://www.spacewar.com/Superpowers.xml

 
 

China's major military restructuring aimed at closing the gap with US

 
‎03 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:53 AMGo to full article
Moscow (Sputnik) Feb 01, 2016 - The People's Liberation Army is going through a major reorganization on a scale unseen since the 1950s, which is aimed at creating a modern fighting force to "close the gap with US capabilities," Wyatt Olson wrote for Stars and Stripes.

"Although much remains vague about how the restructuring will take place, China's civilian and military leaders have recognized that its armed forces lag behind the US military in important aspects," he observed.

The overhaul, supervised by the Communist Party's Central Committee, was launched on January 1 and is meant to be finished in less than five years, by 2020. The overarching goal is to create a "strong" and "modern military system with Chinese characteristics," China's Xinhua news agency noted.

When this process is complete, "the line-and-block chart of the PLA from the national level down to the theater level will be obsolete, because it is the key elements of the legacy organizational framework itself that are the objects of change," David M. Finkelstein explained in a recent analysis.

Chinese authorities have added three new units to its military: the PLA Rocket Force to oversee nuclear and conventional missiles, an army general command and strategic support force. In addition, the country's existing military regions will be replaced by "joint-warfighting commands in charge of 'war zones' or 'theaters of operation,'" Olson noted.

The PLA is also expected to lay off 300,000 people, phase out aging weapons and replace them with cutting-edge armaments. "Balance of forces among services, ratio of officers to enlisted personnel, location of force deployments, the military justice system and many other realms" are also expected to be subject to change, the expert added.

"If successful, the military reform will help modernize the PLA's management system and overcome the existing organizational problems still in place in the army," defense expert Vasily Kashin told Sputnik earlier this year.

Source: Sputnik News

 

 

Xi consolidates military control: Chinese media

 
‎03 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:53 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) Feb 2, 2016 - The official reorganization of China's military will enhance both its ability to win wars and the Communist Party's control over it, state-run media said Tuesday.

State broadcaster CCTV repeatedly showed footage of President Xi Jinping presenting flags to the officers leading five new theatre commands, down from seven military regions previously.

The reforms put the new commands under the direct control of the ruling party's Central Military Commission (CMC).

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is technically the armed force of the Communist Party, rather than the Chinese state.

Beijing has been building up its military for years, with regular double-digit increases in its official budget, as it pursues a more assertive stance towards neighbour Japan and in the South China Sea.

The latest changes are intended to help the country's armed forces become "prepared for combat and winning wars", said an editorial in the Global Times, a paper with close ties to the ruling Party.

"The more powerful the PLA grows and the more capable it is of engaging in a war, the country will embrace a peaceful rise all the more", it said.

"Otherwise the outside world will only consider that peace is... our compulsory choice", it added.

In a speech marking the occasion, Xi called on the military to "strictly obey political discipline and rules, and carry out their orders and instructions to the letter", said the People's Daily, the Communist Party's mouthpiece.

Xi, who is chief of the Communist Party and also head of the military, has taken his anti-corruption campaign to the military's highest levels, prosecuting a number of generals, including Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong, both formerly second in command of the CMC, for graft.

Most of the heads of the new theatre commands were previously commanders of one of the seven regions, but a military analyst quoted by the Global Times said the reshuffle will "strengthen the authority of the CMC's leadership by preventing cliques within the armed forces".

While the changes are intended to tighten party control over the country's military, they also come as China makes efforts to modernise and streamline its armed forces, which have suffered from bloat as well as widespread corruption.

Xi previously announced plans to slash China's troop numbers by 300,000 to roughly two million to craft a more efficient fighting force.

At the same time, the country has made a strong push to increase its military muscle, investing in an expanded fleet of submarines and its first indigenous aircraft carrier, as it seeks to build a navy capable of projecting power abroad.

The reforms have also included the establishment of a new PLA Rocket Force to oversee China's arsenal of strategic missiles, and an army general command headquarters for land forces.

US raps China on Hong Kong booksellers
Washington (AFP) Feb 2, 2016 - Washington called on Beijing Monday to explain the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers, with a State Department spokesman saying the incidents "raise serious questions about China's commitment to Hong Kong's autonomy".

The five, all affiliated with Hong Kong's Mighty Current publishing house which is known for salacious titles critical of Beijing leaders, disappeared in recent months and are feared to have been detained in mainland China.

"We urge China to clarify the current status of all five individuals and the circumstances surrounding their disappearances and to allow them to return to their homes," State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry Lu Kang said Tuesday it was "not proper" for the US to comment on China's domestic affairs.

"Hong Kong residents have been fully entitled to freedoms and rights in accordance with law" since the territory's return to China, he told a regular briefing.

Three of the five went missing in southern China. Another disappeared in Thailand and a fifth in semi-autonomous Hong Kong, raising fears Chinese authorities are extending their reach internationally.

Mainland law enforcers have no authority to operate in Hong Kong, where Lee Bo vanished on December 30.

Lee, who has a British passport, and Swede Gui Minhai, who vanished in Thailand, were both born in China and were rumoured to be preparing a tell-all book about the love life of President Xi Jinping.

Activists, local media and various politicians in Hong Kong have expressed concern that Lee may have been abducted from the city.

This would be a serious breach of the "One country, two systems" agreement under which Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 while retaining its own government and freedoms not available on the mainland.

Some of the former British colony's pro-democracy lawmakers, activists and residents believe mainland authorities are kidnapping critics to try to silence dissent.

Lawmakers from Britain and the European Union have also spoken out on the disappearances, with Sweden's foreign minister saying the treatment of its citizens was "completely unacceptable".

 

 

Pope reaches out to China with New Year praise

 
‎03 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:53 AMGo to full article
Vatican City (AFP) Feb 2, 2016 - Pope Francis hailed China's "great history of wisdom" on Tuesday, holding out the prospect of reconciliation with Beijing sought by some Chinese Catholics but feared by many others.

In an interview to mark the upcoming Chinese New Year, he said China "has always been for me a reference point of greatness. A great country. But more than a country, a great culture, with an inexhaustible wisdom."

"I believe that the great richness of China today lies in looking to the future from a present that is sustained by the memory of its cultural past," Pope Francis said in an interview with the Asia Times published by the Vatican press service.

The pontiff did not directly address the status of the Church in China -- a government-appointed Chinese Catholic association nominates its own bishops -- but recalled early efforts of 16th Century Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci to evangelise the Chinese while respecting their culture.

Unconfirmed reports from the Vatican have suggested an accord was in reach between the Holy See and Beijing on the pontiff being able to nominate Catholic bishops in China.

Both sides are in regular if discreet contact though some Chinese Catholics -- who number an estimated 12 million -- have accused the Vatican of being prepared to sacrifice their interests on the altar of reconciliation.

Publication of the pope's interview came after a discreet visit by a Chinese delegation to the Vatican in January.

According to informed sources, Francis could very soon designate several bishops in China, with the agreement of Beijing. This would be the first such nominations since the breakdown in diplomatic relations between the Vatican and China in 1951.

The two countries have not had diplomatic relations for more than six decades, with Beijing making a renewal dependent on the Vatican cutting ties with Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.

Within the Vatican two camps have for years vied for dominance. One led by Secretary of State Pietro Parolin believes the Holy See should show flexibility towards China which might then grant more freedoms to Chinese Catholics. The other fiercely criticises this approach, claiming that the Chinese regime has not changed at all.

"Ricci's experience teaches us that it is necessary to enter into dialogue with China, because it is an accumulation of wisdom and history. It is a land blessed with many things," said Francis.

The Argentinian pope has made clear his fascination with Chinese culture. "(Do) I want to go to China? Of course. I'd go tomorrow," he told reporters last year.

 

 

China says US island sail-by 'dangerous and irreponsible'

 
‎03 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:53 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) Feb 1, 2016 - China on Monday condemned as "dangerous and irresponsible" the weekend transit of a US warship within 12 nautical miles of a disputed island in the South China Sea.

Tensions have mounted in the Sea over Beijing's construction of artificial islands.

The Pentagon said the guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur made the "innocent passage" Saturday off Triton Island in the Paracel island chain, which is claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The US action was "highly dangerous and irresponsible", Beijing's foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular press briefing, adding it "gravely harmed the peace and stability of the relevant region" in the pursuit of "American naval hegemony".

A commentary by the official Xinhua news service said the sail-by "violated both Chinese and international law".

"It is advisable for Washington to contribute more to regional peace and cooperation, rather than making waves in the South China Sea and then pointing a finger at others on trumped-up charges," it said.

China claims virtually all of the South China Sea, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all have rival claims.

Beijing has asserted its claims by rapidly building artificial islands in another South China Sea island chain, the Spratlys, raising tensions in the region.

Port facilities, airstrips and military buildings have gone up on the man-made islands, prompting US warnings that it would assert its rights to "fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows".

While the United States takes no position on the various claims to the islands, it does not recognise any claimant's right to territorial waters.

In October the US Navy sent a guided missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles of one of the Spratlys to press home the point.

The US has said that China's construction has led to militarisation of the region, and threatens free access to its waters and airspace.

China denies the claims, saying the facilities are mainly for civilian and defensive purposes.

"The US flexing of military muscle under the banner of 'freedom of navigation', its manufacturing of tensions, these are precisely the greatest causes currently pushing forward militarisation in the South China Sea", Lu said.

 

 

Japan doubles number of F-15s on southern island of Okinawa

 
‎03 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:53 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) Jan 31, 2016 - Japan has doubled the number of F-15 fighter jets deployed on the southern island of Okinawa, near disputed islands in the East China Sea, the defence ministry said Sunday.

Japan's Air Self-Defence Force now has about 40 F-15s on Okinawa's Naha base, according to the defence ministry.

The move comes as Japan and China have routinely clashed over ownership of the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Japan administers the uninhabited islands under that name but China also claims them and calls them the Diaoyus.

Chinese ships -- mostly coast guard vessels -- and aircraft have approached them to back up Beijing's claims and test Japan's response.

"This is a very front line of national defence," said Deputy Defence Minister Kenji Wakamiya, quoted by Jiji Press, at the Sunday ceremony at the Naha base to mark the creation of a new unit composed of the extra jets.

The defence ministry moved about 20 F-15s from the Tsuiki base in the southwestern island of Kyushu to Naha, the defence ministry said.

 

 

Boeing tapped new Air Force One work

 
‎03 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:53 AMGo to full article
Washington (UPI) Jan 31, 2016 - Boeing is to conduct risk-reduction activities for an Air Force program to field a new aircraft for the President of the United States.

The contract awarded by the Air Force to Boeing is the first for the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program. Contract modifications will be made to it in the future "to purchase the commercial 747-8 aircraft, as well as to design, modify and test those aircraft to meet the presidential mission," a report by Air Force News Service said.

"This is the start of our contractual relationship with Boeing. It will allow Boeing to begin working on what will be the next Air Force One," said Col. Amy McCain, the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program manager. "This initial effort is about reducing risk, really understanding where the tough work will be, finding affordability opportunities, and getting the best value for the taxpayer, while continuing to meet the needs of our commander in chief."

Activities to be undertaken by Boeing include the definition of detailed requirements and design trade-offs to support decisions that will lead to a lower risk Engineering and Manufacturing Development program and lower life-cycle costs.

The Air Force said it wants to own enough of the technical baseline to permit competition for modifications and sustainment throughout the aircraft's planned 30-year life cycle and thus hold down costs, spur innovation and provide technical options.

"We are focused on ensuring this program is affordable," McCain said. "This contract gets us started on determining how to modify a 747-8 to become the next Air Force One, and finding opportunities for cost reduction through detailed requirements choices, competition of subsystems, and in the sustainment of the aircraft after it has been fielded."

Boeing's VC-21A are currently used as presidential aircraft. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James was quoted as saying they need to be replaced.

"Parts obsolescence, diminishing manufacturing sources and increased down times for maintenance are existing challenges that will increase until a new aircraft is fielded."

No information was given as to the monetary value of the award to Boeing.

 

 

China arrests fourth Japanese over spying: Tokyo

 
‎03 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:53 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 1, 2016 - Japan on Monday denied that it carries out espionage activities abroad as it announced that Chinese authorities have formally arrested a fourth Japanese citizen on suspicion of spying.

China and Japan have been taking steps for more than a year to improve relations that remain plagued by tensions over the legacy of World War II as well as a maritime dispute.

Ties, however, remain shaky and the Chinese allegations of spying by Japanese nationals have become a new irritant.

The arrests also come as China has detained people of other nationalities on security-related suspicions.

Yoshihide Suga, Japan's top government spokesman, said China informed Japan last month that a fourth Japanese had been formally arrested after being detained in Beijing in June.

"Japan does not engage in spying activities in any country," Suga told reporters.

"The government is preparing to support (those citizens) properly through diplomatic offices overseas."

Few details have been released about the detained Japanese. Suga previously announced that three are men and one is a woman. All were apprehended last year, with news of the formal arrests coming in stages.

The arrests of the Japanese came after China in 2014 detained a Canadian missionary couple for alleged espionage.

China said Friday that it has charged one of the Canadians with spying and stealing state secrets.

Last month Swedish activist Peter Dahlin was held on suspicion of endangering national security, apparently caught up in a crackdown on human rights lawyers.

He was deported last week.

China passed a new "national security" law in July that was criticised by rights groups for the vague wording of its references to "security". This raised fears it could give police wide-ranging discretionary powers over civil society.

 

 

US warship sails by island claimed by China: Pentagon

 
‎03 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:53 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Jan 30, 2016 - A US warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of a disputed island in the South China Sea Saturday to assert freedom of navigation, drawing a protest from Beijing, officials said.

"We conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea earlier tonight," Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said in a statement.

Davis said the guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur made the "innocent passage" off Triton Island in the Paracel island chain, which is claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

No Chinese navy ships were in the area at the time the US destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of the tiny 1.2 square kilometer island, he said.

The operation was conducted "to challenge excessive maritime claims of parties that claim the Paracel Islands," Davis said.

While the United States takes no position on the various claims to the island, it does not recognize any claimant's right to its territorial waters.

Beijing quickly responded, saying the move violated Chinese law and urging the United States to maintain peace.

"The US warship, in violation of relevant Chinese laws, entered China's territorial waters without authorisation. The Chinese side has taken lawful surveillance, vocal warnings and other related measures," China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement.

"We urge the US side to respect (and) abide by relevant Chinese laws, to do more things conducive to Sino-US mutual trust and regional peace and stability," the statement said.

China refers to the islands as the Xisha archipelago.

China claims virtually all of the South China Sea, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have partial claims.

China has asserted its claims by rapidly building artificial islands in another South China Sea island chain, the Spratlys, raising tensions in the region.

Port facilities, air strips and military buildings have gone up on the built-out islands, prompting US warnings that it would assert its rights to "fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows."

In October, the US Navy sent a guided missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles of the Spratlys to press home the point.

Davis said Saturday's mission was conducted with no notice given to any of the countries laying claim to the Paracels.

"This operation challenged attempts by the three claimants -- China, Taiwan and Vietnam -- to restrict navigation rights and freedoms around the features they claim by policies that require prior permission or notification of transit within territorial seas," Davis said.

"The excessive claims regarding Triton Island are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention."

Davis added that while the United States takes no position on sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, "we do take a strong position on protecting the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all countries. All maritime claims must comply with international law."

 

 

NATO mulls first Russia talks since 2014: Stoltenberg

 
‎03 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:53 AMGo to full article
Brussels (AFP) Jan 28, 2016 - NATO head Jens Stoltenberg confirmed Thursday the alliance is discussing whether to hold its first formal talks with Russia since 2014 when the Ukraine crisis plunged relations into a deep freeze.

Stoltenberg said NATO and Russia needed transparency to avoid misunderstandings and incidents such as the November shooting down of a Russian fighter jet by key alliance member Turkey after it violated its airspace along the Syrian border.

"We are looking into the possibility of holding a NATO-Russia Council meeting," Stoltenberg said, confirming a January 20 AFP story that the alliance was considering such talks.

"We have never suspended the Council but we think... now it's time to look into the possibility for having a meeting," he told a press briefing on NATO's annual report for 2015.

"No final decision has been taken but we will also discuss that with the Russian delegation at NATO and then make a final decision on when to have such a meeting."

US-led NATO suspended all practical cooperation with Russia after its intervention in Ukraine and 2014 annexation of Crimea but it left in place the NRC as a possible channel of communication with Moscow.

The NRC groups all 28 NATO member states, usually at ambassador level with their Russian counterpart, to manage ties. It held a last, frosty meeting in June 2014.

Germany has led calls for an opening to Moscow as the West looks to Russia for help on key issues such as Syria and the threat from the Islamic State group.

Stoltenberg gave no further details as to the agenda or timing of an NRC meeting but it is widely expected to take place late next month, after a meeting of NATO defence ministers, or in early March.

Diplomatic sources told AFP last week one possibility was to hold a series of NRC meetings in the run-up to a NATO leaders summit in Warsaw in July.

They said the aim was to help manage a difficult relationship with a more assertive Russia and convey a clear message of "deterrence and transparency."

Stoltenberg and NATO officials stress that while the NRC has not met since 2014, there have been numerous contacts with Russia and he has met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

 

 

Polish minister urges stronger NATO presence in eastern Europe

 
‎03 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:53 AMGo to full article
Berlin (AFP) Jan 28, 2016 - Poland's defence minister said on Thursday that NATO's presence must be boosted in eastern Europe to counter the threat posed by Russia.

For Poland, "strengthening the eastern flank of NATO is a priority," Antoni Macierewicz said during a meeting with his German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen in Berlin.

"The issue of Russian aggression in Ukraine remains a very important issue" for Poland, he added, speaking as Warsaw prepares to host a NATO summit in July.

Poland has led demands for a permanent NATO presence in the former communist states once ruled from Moscow, but the alliance has been cautious for fear of being accused by Russia of breaching key treaties ending the Cold War.

These agreements ban NATO from setting up permanent military bases in eastern Europe but do allow the alliance to hold exercises and rotate limited forces through the area.

Polish President Andrzej Duda pressed NATO last week to establish "as permanent as possible" a presence in eastern Europe.

And Poland's Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski recently accused Berlin of countering a stronger NATO presence because it wanted to defend "Russian interests".

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo is due to visit Berlin on February 12.

Von der Leyen said July's NATO summit would "show that the alliance, given the changing security situation, must be able to act in a more agile, more flexible and faster way".

Since the Ukraine conflict, NATO has established a high-speed response force with forward command and logistic centres in its eastern members. NATO says these forces are very small and cannot be considered bases.

 

 

 
 

German military overstretched: commissioner

 
‎27 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎10:26:20 AMGo to full article
Berlin (AFP) Jan 26, 2016 - Germany's military is overstretched and underfunded as its troops are engaged in anti-jihadist missions from Syria and Afghanistan to Mali while also aiding refugees at home, the defence commissioner said Tuesday.

Plagued by a series of defence equipment failures, the military is "at a crossroads" and has reached "the limit of its capacity for interventions", said Hans-Peter Bartels.

Founded in 1955, the Bundeswehr had a peak force of 600,000 at the end of the Cold War when West Germany conscripted young men, and has since shrunk to a 177,000-strong volunteer force.

"The force is tired. Too much is lacking," said Bartels, a centre-left Social Democrat lawmaker, demanding a significant budget increase in his annual report.

Systemic budget shortages now endanger training, military exercises and missions, while many barracks are crumbling, said Bartels, known in Berlin as "the soldiers' attorney".

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen has pledged a greater role for Germany in international crisis fighting, marking a shift for post-World War II Germany which has long been reluctant to send troops abroad for combat missions.

German forces are currently engaged in the international alliance against the Islamic State group, including by arming and training Kurdish forces in northern Iraq and flying reconnaissance missions over Syria with Tornado jets.

German lawmakers in December authorised the deployment of up to 1,200 personnel for the operation, which also includes an A310 aerial refuelling plane and a frigate to help guard the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the Mediterranean.

Berlin also plans to send an additional 500 troops to Mali to relieve French forces in the west African country, where Germany is already part of an EU military training mission.

In November, Germany also decided to increase to 980 its troop strength in Afghanistan to train and support national forces.

The engagements come as the German army has been plagued by as series of equipment failures.

It is phasing out the G36 assault rifle after reports it has failed to shoot straight at high temperatures.

Its Tornado surveillance aircraft cannot fly night missions because of a glare problem involving cockpit displays and pilots' goggles.

And across its fleet of fighter jets, helicopters and Transall C-160 transport aircraft, it is falling short of its target of 70 percent operational readiness, said the report.

Meanwhile, thousands of troops have been mobilised at home to house and support asylum-seekers, of whom a record 1.1 million arrived last year.

To help the military cope, parliament has approved raising its budget from 33 billion euros ($36 billion) in 2015 to 35 billion euros annually over four years.

However, Bartels argued this would equal only 1.07 percent of gross domestic product, far below the NATO-member goal of two percent of GDP.

 

 

India marks Republic Day with camels and stunt-riders

 
‎27 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎10:26:20 AMGo to full article
New Delhi (AFP) Jan 26, 2016 - Thousands gathered in New Delhi amid tight security Tuesday for India's annual Republic Day parade, a pomp-filled spectacle of military might featuring camels and daredevil stunt riders, with French President Francois Hollande the chief guest.

A contingent of French infantry in India for joint military exercises led the march down the capital's central Rajpath avenue, the first time foreign troops have ever taken part in the parade.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Hollande in a show of solidarity with France after Islamist attacks in Paris last November killed 130 -- recalling a 2008 assault on Mumbai that killed 166.

The two leaders agreed in talks Monday to deepen cooperation on counter-terrorism in the wake of the Paris attacks and a deadly siege this month on an Indian air force base near the Pakistan border.

The mood on Tuesday was more celebratory, with Modi -- sporting a gold turban that rivalled the spectacular military headgear on display -- and Hollande chatting as they sat side by side in a bulletproof glass enclosure.

An estimated 10,000 spectators braved thick smog and air quality levels classified as hazardous on the US embassy website to watch the display, the highlight of annual celebrations of the birth of modern India.

Delhi is the world's most polluted capital and levels of PM2.5 -- the tiny particles that can enter the bloodstream -- frequently reach 10 times the World Health Organization's safe limit.

But the skies remained dry, unlike last year when chief guest US President Barack Obama was forced to shelter under an umbrella throughout.

- Human pyramid -

The two-hour showcase of military might and cultural diversity included everything from tanks and state-of-the-art weaponry to camels and traditional dancers.

The mounted camels of the Border Security Force -- an annual highlight -- put in an early showing, decorated in brightly coloured caparisons.

Traditional dancers representing some of India's diverse regional cultures performed on colourfully decorated floats showcasing selected states.

A dog squad drawn from the Army's Remount Veterinary Corps returned to the parade after a gap of 26 years to perform a march past wearing striped coats in their unit's colours.

They were followed by motorbike stunt riders performing a human pyramid, another annual tradition, before the grand finale of the event, a fly-past by Indian fighter jets.

India launched a nationwide security crackdown in the lead-up to the celebrations, which mark the adoption of the country's constitution on January 26, 1950 following independence from Britain in 1947.

Counter-terror police arrested a group of suspected Islamist radicals and seized bomb-making material in a series of nationwide raids last week, and some 50,000 police, army and paramilitary forces were deployed across the capital on Tuesday.

It was the fifth time a French president has been chief guest, the greatest honour India can bestow on a foreign leader.

Hollande was due to leave Delhi later Tuesday at the end of a three-day official visit that began in the northern city of Chandigarh.

His visit had raised hopes of a conclusion to a long-delayed, multi-billion-dollar deal for New Delhi to buy 36 French Rafale jet fighters.

The two sides said they had not yet arrived at an agreement on the price, which experts say could reach around five billion euros ($5.6 billion).

Rafale manufacturer Dassault said after the announcement it was hopeful the price negotiations could be completed within the next four weeks.

India entered exclusive negotiations on buying 126 Rafale fighters in 2012, but the number of planes was scaled back in tortuous negotiations over cost and assembly of the planes in India.

On Monday the two men laid a foundation stone at the new headquarters of the International Solar Alliance, a 121-nation group launched by Modi at the Paris COP21 conference in November to expand affordable solar power.

abh-cc/fa

DASSAULT AVIATION

 

 

Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine to launch joint brigade in 2017

 
‎27 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎10:26:20 AMGo to full article
Warsaw (AFP) Jan 25, 2016 - Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine on Monday said a joint brigade of 4,000 troops would be operational next year, as the region maintains a wary eye on Russia and its role in the Ukraine conflict.

"The multinational brigade is a sign, symbol and very clear signal to anyone who would want to undermine peace in Europe," Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz said in a ministry statement.

While Lithuania and Poland are NATO and EU members, Ukraine is not but has been a part of the defence alliance's Partnership for Peace eastern outreach programme since 1994.

Macierewicz spoke after meeting with his counterparts from Lithuania and Ukraine, Juozas Olekas and Stepan Poltorak respectively, in the eastern Polish city of Lublin.

"We see this brigade as a driving force that will improve our army," Poltorak said, quoted by the Polish news agency PAP.

He added that "the brigade will be fully operational in 2017", while the Polish ministry statement said the military unit would "reach its full combat capability in January 2017".

The three countries signed an agreement in September 2014 to form the so-called Litpolukrbrig brigade, which will mainly take part in peacekeeping operations.

The brigade has been in the works since 2007, but it is being put into action at a time of anxiety among Eastern European states once controlled by Moscow.

Poland and the three Baltic states, which include Lithuania, have been on edge since Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014.

The Baltic trio and Poland, which will host a NATO summit in July, have called on the Western defence alliance to reinforce its presence in the region because of their concern over Russia.

The brigade troops will be deployed in their own countries and will join forces during exercises and joint operations. The headquarters will be in Lublin.

 

 

Iran, China vow tighter ties as Xi visits

 
‎27 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎10:26:20 AMGo to full article
Tehran (AFP) Jan 23, 2016 - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday hailed a "new chapter" in relations with China after talks with President Xi Jinping, who is touring the region to boost Beijing's economic influence.

The Asian giant and the Middle East's foremost Shiite power aim to build economic ties worth up to $600 billion within the next 10 years, Rouhani announced.

The two leaders oversaw the signing of 17 agreements in areas including politics, the economy, security and cooperation on peaceful nuclear energy.

"With the Chinese president's visit to Tehran and our agreements, a new chapter has begun in Tehran-Beijing relations," Rouhani said in a televised speech, flanked by Xi.

It is the first visit to Iran by a Chinese president in 14 years, state news agency IRNA said, and comes just days after sanctions against Tehran were lifted under a historic nuclear deal with world powers.

"Iran is China's major partner in the Middle East and the two countries have chosen to boost bilateral relations," IRNA quoted Xi as saying.

"China and Iran are two important developing countries that must continue regional and international cooperation," Xi added.

Beijing has long taken a back seat to other diplomatic players in the Middle East, but analysts say the region is crucial to Xi's signature foreign policy initiative known as "One Belt One Road", touted as a revival of ancient Silk Road trade routes.

China, the world's second-largest economy, also relies heavily on energy imports from the Middle East.

Beijing is Tehran's top customer for oil exports, which in recent years were hit by US and EU sanctions over Tehran's nuclear programme.

Trade between the two countries was worth $52 billion in 2014. They did not elaborate on their goal of developing relations worth $600 billion over the next decade.

According to Iranian media, more than a third of Iran's foreign trade is with China.

The two presidents issued a joint statement outlining a long-term "comprehensive strategic partnership".

The two countries agreed to enhance cooperation including in fossil and renewable energy, transportation, railways, ports, industry, commerce and services, said the statement published by Mehr news agency.

- 'Constructive role' -

In the statement Iran welcomed China's commercial "belt" and the "21st century Silk Seaway" projects, pledging to help the initiative.

China has committed to "invest and finance upstream and downstream energy projects in Iran", it said.

China "acknowledges Iran's constructive role in the fight against terrorism and maintaining peace and stability in the region", it added, while supporting Tehran's increased regional and international role.

China, along with the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Russia, was among the countries that agreed with Iran in July to curtail its nuclear activities in exchange for ending international sanctions.

Xi was accompanied by three deputy premiers, six ministers and a large business delegation.

Late Saturday he met supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said Tehran "would never forget" Beijing's cooperation during the years of international sanctions against Iran.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran has always sought relations with reliable and independent states like China," Khamenei's website quoted him as saying.

That is why the agreement on long-term strategic relations is "very wise and prompt", and must be "seriously followed up" until it becomes operational, he said.

"Westerners have never been able to gain the trust of the Iranian nation," he added.

Xi was quoted as saying that "the economies of Iran and China complete one another".

Countries on the Silk Road route can "protect their interests against the American pattern of disrupting the regional economic balance by boosting cooperation," Xi added.

"Some superpowers seek the rule of monopoly... but the development of emerging economies has taken the power of monopoly from them."

Xi's tour, his first of the Middle East as China's president, has also taken him to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Riyadh and a number of its Sunni Arab allies broke diplomatic ties with Tehran this month after protesters angered by the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric ransacked Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran.

In Cairo, Xi offered $55 billion in loans and investments to the Middle East, a region where China wants to strengthen its economic presence.

 

 

Anti-base candidate loses key mayoral poll in Okinawa: media

 
‎27 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎10:26:20 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) Jan 24, 2016 - A candidate backed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed victory in a mayoral election in Okinawa on Sunday, beating an opponent of a planned new US military base there.

The election was the latest episode in a long dispute about the future of the base, which has deepened mistrust between the central government and the southern island chain.

Incumbent Ginowan mayor Atsushi Sakima, 51, was certain to be re-elected with the support of Abe's ruling coalition to continue governing the island's main city, where the US Futenma air base is located, according to exit polls by major broadcasters.

The official result is expected early Monday.

Sakima edged out Keiichiro Shimura, 63, who was supported by Okinawa governor Takeshi Onaga.

Onaga has vowed to prevent the central government from constructing a new US Marine air base in a remote part of the island to replace the existing Futenma base in heavily populated Ginowan, where it is widely seen as a potential danger to residents.

Many island residents want a replacement for Futenma built outside Okinawa -- either elsewhere in Japan or overseas -- saying they can no longer live with the noise, accidents and occasional crimes by US service members.

Sakima also says moving Futenma is a top priority, but has stopped short of saying if he supports the central government's planned relocation elsewhere in Okinawa.

Sakima told NHK as he declared victory that he wants the base moved as soon as possible.

Asked where it should be relocated, he said only: "I'm not in a position to comment as it's supposed be decided by the Japanese and US governments."

The victory will offset disappointments for Abe in the past two local elections, won by anti-base politicians in the island.

The southern island chain and the central government have each sued each other as part of the long-running dispute.

Tokyo is keen to keep its crucial security ally the United States satisfied, but frustration over a seven-decade American military presence is rife in Okinawa.

The island accounts for less than one percent of Japan's total land area but hosts about 75 percent of US military facilities in the country.

Japan and the United States first proposed moving Futenma in 1996. But they both insist the base must remain in Okinawa -- from where US troops and aircraft can respond quickly to potential conflicts throughout Asia.

 

 

Why does China need its mysterious new combat force

 
‎27 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎10:26:20 AMGo to full article
Moscow (Sputnik) Jan 25, 2016 - China's military reforms in the People's Liberation Army (PLA), which have sped up since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, are making continuous progress and currently the focus seems to be on organizational reform and restructuring.

The reorganizations come at a time when Beijing is becoming more assertive about territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The country is feeling the need to modernize its army's management system and overcome any organizational issues still in place.

Hence, on December 31, 2015, the Central Military Commission formally revamped the organizational structure of the PLA, forming three new organizations: the Army Leading Organ, the Rocket Force, and the Strategic Support Force.

The Army Leading Organ is set to be a centralized command hub, responsible for coordinating joint operations between different PLA branches, which has long been a goal of China's military reforms.

The Rocket Force is an upgraded version of the PLA's strategic nuclear missile force, "the 2nd Artillery Corps, and seems to be a formal recognition of the branch-level role the corps has long played," according to online publication the Defense One.

The newly-established Strategic Support Force (SSF) of the People's Liberation Army will take charge of the military's space, cyberspace and electronic warfare operations, according to a senior PLA expert.

In an article published by the PLA Daily on WeChat, Yin Zhuo, director of the PLA Navy's Expert Consultation Committee, said the Strategic Support Force's mission is to make sure that the PLA's military superiority is maintained in space and on the Internet.

"To be specific, the service's responsibilities include targeted reconnaissance and tracking, global positioning operations and space assets management, as well as defense against electronic warfare and hostile activities in cyberspace," he said. "These are all major factors that will decide whether we can win a future war."

In an interview with Sputnik, Vasily Kashin of the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies described the ongoing large-scale reform of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) as an unprecedented event in the country's history.

"In the past few years, China has faced many challenges, including growing US activity in the South China Sea, which is why Beijing should respond in kind to all this.

Judging by the full-fledged military reform proposed by President Xi Jinping, the response will be very serious," Kashin said.

He added that even though such a military transformation will probably result in a negative reaction from an array of political and military figures in China, Beijing should redouble its efforts to implement the reform.

Source: Sputnik News

 

 

MEPs say EU should strengthen defence ties after Paris attacks

 
‎22 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:56 AMGo to full article
Strasbourg, France (AFP) Jan 21, 2016 - France's decision to invoke the EU's mutual defence clause after the Paris attacks should serve as an incentive to step up security ties across the bloc, EU lawmakers said Thursday.

The 28 EU member states jealously guard their sovereign right to set defence policy but after the Islamic State November attacks left 130 dead across Paris, France called for their help to strike back against the jihadists.

In a resolution passed by 406 votes to 212, MEPs said the unprecedented use of Article 42-7 had forced countries into an "ad hoc" response and called on EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini to draw up guidelines on how it should be used in future.

Mogherini should "propose practical arrangements to ensure an efficient collective response in similar circumstances," said the parliament, which is based in the French city of Strasbourg.

Article 42-7 of the Lisbon Treaty allows EU members to request assistance from other member states in the event that one of them is attacked -- similar to NATO's Article 5, which the United States invoked after the 9/11 attacks to cover the US-led alliance's intervention in Afghanistan.

France invoked article 42-7 two days after the jihadist attacks in its capital, demanding assistance, including intelligence sharing, to fight the Islamic State group which claimed the attacks.

Several countries offered help, including Germany, which offered the use of its Tornado reconnaissance jets, a naval frigate, aerial refuelling and satellite images to back the fight against IS in Syria and Iraq.

MEPs said France's decision to use the measure should serve as a catalyst for a wider debate about how the EU works together on defence issues.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Wednesday that not every EU nation had responded to its call for help, although there had been "movement in the right direction."

"When you raise the question of defence, you raise a fundamental problem," he told reporters in Strasbourg. "Europe was not designed for that. There is a lot of work to be done to reinforce Europe's interior and exterior defence."

 

 

Xi signs Egypt deals as China looks to boost Mideast clout

 
‎22 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:56 AMGo to full article
Cairo (AFP) Jan 21, 2016 - Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a slew of multi-billion-dollar deals with Egypt Thursday as part of a regional tour aimed at bolstering Beijing's economic ties and clout in the Middle East.

After arriving late Wednesday from Saudi Arabia, Xi held talks with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and was to address the Cairo-based Arab League.

State television broadcast the live signing of bilateral agreements at a presidential palace in Cairo in the presence of the two leaders.

"The two sides have agreed to undertake 15 projects... mainly in sectors like electricity, transportation and infrastructure," Xi said in a joint statement with Sisi.

"The total investments in these projects would be $15 billion (13.8 billion euros). These projects will offer a new impetus to the economic development of Egypt."

Sisi said the agreements were the "best evidence of the two countries' determination to improve their levels of cooperation."

In an article in state-run newspaper Al-Ahram ahead of his visit, Xi expressed China's backing for Egypt running its affairs without outside interference.

"China supports the people of Egypt in making independent choices for the future of their own country," he wrote.

He also said China supported Egypt "playing an active role in regional and international affairs".

Xi's regional tour, his first to the Middle East as president, will take him next to Iran.

Beijing has long taken a backseat to other diplomatic players in the Middle East but analysts say the region is crucial to Xi's signature foreign policy initiative -- known as "One Belt One Road" -- touted as a revival of ancient Silk Road trade routes.

China, the world's second-largest economy, also relies heavily on oil and gas imported from the energy-rich Middle East.

Xi's visit to Egypt comes just ahead of the January 25 anniversary of the 2011 revolution that toppled longtime Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Mubarak's ouster was followed by unrest and a military overthrow of his Islamist successor Mohamed Morsi, the country's first freely elected president, by then-army chief Sisi.

- Saudi-Iran row -

As well as addressing the Arab League, Xi was to visit Egypt's newly convened parliament, which was sworn in earlier this month after elections dominated by pro-government candidates.

He was to also visit the famed temple city of Luxor later Thursday to attend celebrations marking six decades of diplomatic relations between Cairo and Beijing.

His visit to Luxor is also seen as an attempt to lure Chinese tourists to Egypt, whose economy is heavily dependant on revenues from the tourism sector.

In Saudi Arabia, Xi met with King Salman and oversaw the opening of a joint-venture oil refinery in the Yanbu Industrial City on the Red Sea.

Saudi Arabia is China's biggest global supplier of crude.

Few details have emerged of Xi's talks with leaders in Riyadh but late on Wednesday the Saudi Press Agency reported that the two countries decided to establish a "comprehensive strategic partnership".

During his visit to Riyadh, Xi had been expected to seek to ease tensions between Saudi Arabia, the region's main Sunni power, and Shiite rival Iran.

Saudi Arabia and a number of its Sunni Arab allies broke diplomatic ties with Tehran earlier this month after protesters angry over Riyadh's execution of a prominent Shiite cleric ransacked Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran.

Iran and Saudi Arabia back opposing sides in a range of Middle East conflicts, including in Syria and Yemen, and there are fears the row could derail diplomatic efforts to resolve them.

Xi was expected Friday in Iran, just days after sanctions were lifted when Tehran implemented its historic nuclear deal with world powers.

China, with the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Russia, was among the countries that reached the agreement with Iran in July to curtail its nuclear activities in exchange for ending international sanctions.

burs-jds/pg

 

 

US Army secretary nominee worries about force size

 
‎22 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:56 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Jan 21, 2016 - President Barack Obama's pick for the next secretary of the US Army said Thursday he is worried about broad cuts to the service, which is set for a dramatic downsizing.

Eric Fanning, who was nominated to the Army's top civilian post in September and would be the first openly gay person to fill the position, told a long-delayed Senate confirmation hearing that budget cuts were reducing military preparedness at a time of growing international instability.

The Army is due to shrink to 450,000 active duty soldiers by 2018, down from a peak of 570,000 during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Later cuts could see troop numbers reduced further still, to 420,000.

"I do worry about the size of the Army today," Fanning said.

"Two years ago when we targeted 450 (thousand,) we didn't have ISIL, we didn't have Russia as provocative as it is," he added, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

Though he was nominated months ago, Fanning's confirmation has been stalled by political squabbling.

Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts blocked his confirmation for reasons related to the closure of the Guantanamo Bay military prison.

Roberts wants guarantees that no inmate from the controversial facility would ever be transferred to a Kansas federal prison site under consideration in the event Guantanamo closes.

But lawmakers in the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday seemed set to vote in favor of Fanning's nomination, which the full Senate would also need to approve.

"You are about to be secretary of the Army, I think you are well qualified," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said. "I look forward to voting for you."

Fanning has held an array of different posts in Congress and at the Pentagon over the past 25 years, including as an undersecretary of the Air Force, a deputy undersecretary in the Navy and he was chief of staff to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

Fanning said he supported women, who are now eligible to apply for any job in the US military including in commando units, to be required to register for the draft in case a national crisis sees the re-institution of mandatory conscription.

"If we are focused on equal opportunity, I think a part of that is equal responsibility," he said.

 

 

NATO considers first formal talks with Russia since 2014: sources

 
‎22 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:56 AMGo to full article
Brussels (AFP) Jan 20, 2016 - NATO is discussing whether to invite Russia to their first formal talks since 2014, aiming to put ties damaged by the Ukraine crisis back on an even keel, diplomatic sources said Wednesday.

Despite their differences both sides recognised the need for "transparency", the sources said, against a backdrop of a series of crises including Ukraine and the war in Syria.

"The meeting will not take place before the NATO defence ministers meeting (on February 10-11) but it is likely at the end of February or early March," one of the sources told AFP.

"We still have to talk to Russia about it and what the agenda might be. Ukraine of course will be on the list but we will have to see what else there is," the source said, asking not to be identified.

The US-led alliance suspended all practical cooperation with Russia after its intervention in Ukraine and 2014 annexation of Crimea, but decided to leave what is known as the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) in place.

The NRC groups all 28 NATO member states, usually at ambassador level with their Russian counterpart, to manage ties but it has been in limbo since a last, frosty meeting in June 2014.

Germany especially has pressed for an opening to Moscow as the West looks to Russia for help on key issues such as Syria and the threat from the Islamic State group.

The sources said the aim now was to hold a series of NRC meetings in the run-up to a NATO leaders summit in Warsaw in July which will endorse the broad readiness upgrade they approved to counter a more assertive Russia.

The sources stressed that resuming contact with Russia in the NRC was not meant to signal any softening in NATO's stance but rather to better manage what is likely to be a difficult relationship for years to come.

"The aim of this new dialogue is two-fold -- deterrence and transparency," one of the sources said.

"We are ready to talk so that the situation does not degenerate ... we know that we face years, even decades of tensions with Russia and so this would acknowledge that fact and that we have to find a modus vivendi," the source said.

NATO officials declined to comment directly on the possibility of an NRC meeting but recalled that the forum had not been suspended.

They also noted that NATO head Jens Stoltenberg had said in December that the alliance was "looking into how we can use a tool which has been there all the time."

Stoltenberg has separately met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov several times since relations between Russia and the West soured.

 

 

Obama urgers stronger security, trade cooperation with Australia

 
‎22 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:56 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Jan 19, 2016 - US President Barack Obama on Tuesday welcomed Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to the White House, saluting Canberra's role in the fight against the Islamic State group.

"We are going to talk about how we can strengthen our cooperation both in Syria and Iraq but also countering violent extremism globally," Obama said.

The deadly attacks on Thursday in Jakarta that were claimed by the IS group shows that Southeast Asia is "an area we have to pay attention to and watch."

Australia, with six fighter jets deployed, takes part in US-led air strikes against IS targets, and is heavily involved in training Iraqi security forces.

Last week, Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne rebuffed a US request for a larger military commitment, saying its contributions to the anti-IS fight were already "substantial."

But she said Australia would offer more transport aircraft for humanitarian missions.

Stressing their "strong and steadfast" alliance, Obama also highlighted the role of the two countries as the "driving force" in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a vast free trade zone encompassing 12 Pacific Rim countries, but not China.

"It is going to be good for our economy, for our workers and our businesses," he said.

"For us to thrive in the 21st century, it's important for us to be making the rules in this region and that's exactly what TPP does," he said.

Turnbull, who was making his first visit to Washington since taking office in September, noted his "very productive" discussions with US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, adding that the US-Australian partnership in Iraq and Afghanistan is "very, very strong."

"We have to constantly lift our game in the way we engage with and tackle these extremists, particularly ISIL -- but there are many others -- as they operate in the cyber sphere," he said, using an alternate acronym for IS.

"And so I'm pleased that we're going to be working on even closer collaboration there," he said.

On TTP, Turnbull said it was lifting the standards for a rule-based international order, and adding to its security by integrating the region's economies.

 

 

Polish leader presses NATO on permanent presence

 
‎22 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:56 AMGo to full article
Brussels (AFP) Jan 18, 2016 - Polish President Andrzej Duda pressed NATO on Monday to establish "as permanent as possible" a presence in eastern Europe to counter a growing threat from Russia after its intervention in Ukraine.

"I insist on one thing, that this presence should be as permanent as possible to give a security guarantee," Duda told a press conference with NATO head Jens Stoltenberg after they met at alliance headquarters in Brussels.

Duda said NATO should not "neglect dialogue with Russia" but the Ukraine crisis and especially Moscow's annexation of Crimea in 2014 showed there could be no compromise on security.

Russia's intervention in Ukraine and its takeover of the Crimean peninsula sparked fears NATO was too slow and unwieldy to meet the challenge posed by what Stoltenberg said was "a more assertive Russia."

But the US-led military alliance was now revitalised and capable of maintaining "a persistent presence in a region of which Poland is a part," Stoltenberg said.

Poland has led demands for a permanent NATO presence in the former communist states once ruled from Moscow but NATO and the West have been cautious for fear of being accused by Russia of breaching key treaties ending the Cold War.

These agreements ban NATO setting up permanent military bases in eastern Europe but do allow the alliance to hold exercises and rotate limited forces through the area.

In November, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski called for one of the treaties -- the 1997 Founding Act on NATO-Russia relations -- to be scrapped so that his country could host permanent bases.

Moscow shot back: "We consider these statements to be extraordinarily dangerous and exceptionally provocative."

Since the Ukraine conflict, NATO has established a high-speed response force complete with forward command and logistic centres in its eastern members so it can deploy much more rapidly.

NATO says these forces are very small and cannot be considered bases, and while the overhaul may have been driven by the Ukraine crisis, the revamp is equally aimed at dealing with new threats emerging on its southern borders in the Middle East and North Africa.

NATO's 28 member states also agreed to reverse years of defence cuts and increase spending to the equivalent of two percent of annual economic output by 2020 -- a target Poland already meets.

Poland hosts a NATO summit in July when all these changes will be formally concluded.

 

 

Philippines plans flight-tracking system in disputed sea

 
‎22 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:56 AMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) Jan 18, 2016 - The Philippines said Monday it would install a civilian flight-tracking system in the disputed South China Sea after China landed several aircraft on one of its man-made islands in the potential flashpoint region.

The automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) machine, which detects aircraft positions using satellite signals, will be operational by November on Pagasa island, the biggest Filipino-occupied feature in the disputed Spratlys, said Rodante Joya, acting director of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).

An average of 200 civilian flights pass over the Spratlys daily, Joya told AFP, adding the Pagasa surveillance system was part of a broader 10-billion-peso ($209 million) effort to expand the country's commercial flight radar coverage to 80 percent from the current 30 percent.

"Our objective is to track all commercial flights passing over our airspace," Joya said, adding the radars would not be used to monitor military aircraft.

China has built massive structures over South China Sea reefs claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan, including a 3,000-metre (9,842-foot) runway on Fiery Cross reef.

The Philippines has expressed concern that China's test landings on Fiery Cross reef earlier this month would lay the groundwork for the declaration of an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) similar to the one Beijing claimed over the East China Sea in 2013 that riled Japan.

Joya said a CAAP plane received a radio message as it was about to land on Pagasa island on January 6, warning against landing in "Chinese territory".

The message, which was in English, appeared to have been taped, he said. The Filipino crew ignored the message and proceeded to land and survey the site for the plane-tracking ADS-B machine.

Presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma told reporters the Philippine foreign affairs department has been informed of the incident.

The Philippines has asked a United Nations-backed tribunal to declare China's sea claims as invalid and expects a decision early this year.

 

 

China's Xi to visit Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran

 
‎22 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:56 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) Jan 15, 2016 - Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran next week, Beijing's foreign ministry said Friday, as the world's second-largest economy seeks greater diplomatic heft in a crucial and tense region.

Spokesman Lu Kang said in a statement that Xi would visit the three Middle Eastern countries over five days from Tuesday.

The trip, Xi's first to the region as president, comes amid mounting tensions over the war in Syria and after protesters ransacked and burned the Saudi Embassy in Tehran over the execution of a Shiite cleric.

China depends on the Middle East for its oil supplies but has long taken a back seat in the region's diplomatic and other disputes, only recently beginning to expand its role, especially in the Syrian crisis.

"China is the biggest importer of Middle Eastern oil," Zhu Feng, professor at Peking University's School of International Studies, told AFP. "So stability in the Middle East is what China would most like to see."

As China's economy has grown, its dependence on imported oil and natural gas has increased, making the Middle East a crucial part of Beijing's strategy as it seeks to expand its influence through Xi's signature foreign policy initiative, known as "One Belt One Road".

The massive investment scheme aims to increase China's footprint from central Asia to Europe through the use of loans to build infrastructure and transport networks.

Touted as a revival of ancient Silk Road trade routes, the initiative underscores China's ambition to wield geopolitical power to match its economic might.

"Xi Jinping is very committed to projecting China's image overseas, to boosting China's international footprint to a level which is commensurate with its fast-growing economic and military power," Willy Lam, professor of politics at Chinese University of Hong Kong, told AFP.

Beijing was trying to project power and influence in the Middle East, seeing an opening in the troubled region as US policy "hasn't been very successful under (US President Barack) Obama", he said.

China was presenting itself as "a mediator with no strings attached", added Lam, in contrast to Washington, which has "vested interests in that part of the world going back four, five decades".

- 'Rare opportunity' -

This week a Chinese diplomat urged "calm and restraint" between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but Xi's trip was most probably organised before the discord erupted between Riyadh and Tehran, Zhu said.

"Clearly now there are tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, so he will be going there in the role of persuader" seeking cooperation against in the fight against the Islamic State jihadist group, Zhu said.

"China will try and do what it can, but it still won't play a main role."

In a commentary, the official Xinhua news agency said: "Although China never takes sides, it will be a rare opportunity for China to call for calm and restraint from both sides."

In the past month, Beijing has hosted high-level members from both the Syrian regime and its opposition.

It has consistently urged a "political solution" to the Syrian crisis, despite being seen as having long protected President Bashar al-Assad, and four times vetoed UN Security Council measures aimed at addressing the conflict.

Last year, China helped broker a landmark nuclear deal with Iran, which has begun to emerge following years of international isolation.

Days after the signing of the historic framework agreement, Iran was approved as a founding member of the Beijing-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is expected to provide funding for One Belt One Road.

On Wednesday, China published its first official Arab Policy Paper, claiming a "broad consensus on safeguarding state sovereignty and territorial integrity, defending national dignity, seeking political resolution to hotspot issues, and promoting peace and stability in the Middle East".

 

 

Philippines seeks joint patrols with US in South China Sea

 
‎22 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:56 AMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) Jan 14, 2016 - The Philippines has called for joint patrols with the United States in the disputed South China Sea, where Manila has festering territorial dispute with Beijing, a defence department spokesman said Thursday.

The remarks came after the Philippine's Supreme Court upheld a 10-year security agreement opening the door for the US to operate more troops and equipment out of the Southeast Asian archipelago.

"There is a need for more collaborative presence in the South China Sea. Thus, in addition to freedom of navigation operations of the US, we are also suggesting that we patrol the area together," spokesman Peter Paul Galvez told reporters.

Galvez did not specify where in the South China Sea the joint patrols would be conducted. China has conflicting territorial claims with the Philippines in the waters, as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

While the United States does not support any of the claims, it has warned China against trying to restrict air and sea passage through the Sea -- a major shipping lane, rich fishing ground and potential source of mineral resources.

Tensions flared last month when the US flew two B-52 bombers close to flashpoint islands that have been artificially built up by China, reportedly by mistake.

Philippine and US foreign and defence secretaries have also just concluded a meeting in Washington to discuss their security ties.

The Philippine defence department said in a statement the meeting had concluded "with the US side reiterating the US ironclad commitment to the defense of the Philippines."

"The US side emphasised that it will not allow China to control the South China Sea and will act to ensure that freedom of navigation is respected," it added.

The Philippines, which has one of the weakest militaries in the region, has been seeking closer defence ties with the US, accusing China of increased aggressiveness in the disputed waters.

In April 2012, after a tense stand-off with Philippine ships, Chinese vessels took control of a shoal just 220 kilometres (135 miles) off the main Philippine island of Luzon.

 

 

Philippines to offer eight bases to US forces: official

 
‎22 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:56 AMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) Jan 13, 2016 - The Philippines is set to offer the US military use of eight bases, a military spokesman said Wednesday, after the country's supreme court upheld a security agreement with Washington forged in the face of rising tensions with China.

The facilities include the former US Clark airbase and air and naval facilities on the southwestern island of Palawan which faces the South China Sea, the focus of territorial disputes with China.

Military spokesman Colonel Restituto Padilla said the facilities would be used to store equipment and supplies.

He added that the offer had still to be finalised after the Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a 10-year security accord.

The decision allows for the full implementation of the Enhanced Defense Co-operation Agreement (EDCA), signed in 2014 but not implemented due to legal challenges from groups opposed to US military involvement in the Philippines, a US colony from 1898 to 1946.

It will see more US troops rotate through the Philippines for war games and help Manila build military facilities.

"We have resumed talks now that there is a go-signal that EDCA is constitutional," Padilla said.

"We are continuing talks and we will finalise the agreement on the locations," he said without giving a timetable when the decision would be reached.

The Philippines hosted two of the largest overseas US military bases until 1992, when the senate voted to end their leases, a decision influenced by anti-US sentiment.

The new pact does not authorise a return of US bases.

China and the Philippines -- as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan -- have conflicting claims to the South China Sea which is a major shipping lane, rich fishing ground and potential source of mineral resources.

The Philippines has been seeking closer defence ties with the United States, accusing China of increased aggressiveness in the South China Sea.

In April 2012, after a tense stand-off with Philippine ships, Chinese vessels took control of a shoal just 220 kilometres (135 miles) off the main Philippine island of Luzon.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino negotiated the EDCA to help the Philippines improve its military capabilities and draw the United States closer, partly to counter China's increasing presence.

 
 

Beijing asserts right to flights to South China Sea

 
‎12 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:54:27 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) Jan 11, 2016 - Beijing said Monday it did not need to notify Vietnam about flights to a disputed reef in the South China Sea, after Hanoi complained to a UN aviation body about the controversial trips.

Vietnam accused Beijing of threatening regional safety by conducting "unannounced" flights through its airspace to a newly built runway on the Fiery Cross reef, which is claimed by both countries.

China has conducted several flights this year to the airstrip, one of several it has built on artificial islands is has constructed as its asserts its claim to nearly all of the disputed waterway.

China's foreign ministry said it had not been required to notify Vietnam, as the flights were "state aviation activities".

The trips "are not bound by the Convention on International Civil Aviation and relevant regulations of the ICAO, are within sovereign states' independent hands to operate," spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing, referring to the UN body.

Hong added that in any case China's aviation administration had notified Vietnamese authorities of the flight, but "received no response".

Vietnam this year logged at least 46 incidents of Chinese planes flying without warning through airspace monitored by air traffic control in the southern metropolis Ho Chi Minh City, according to authorities cited by local media.

State media also reported that Vietnam sent a protest letter about the flights to Beijing, as well as the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Beijing began work in 2014 on a 3,000-metre (9,800-foot) runway on Fiery Cross reef in the disputed Spratly island group, around 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) from China's island province of Hainan.

China assertion over most of the South China Sea puts it at odds with regional neighbours the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, which also stake partial claims.

 

 

Vietnam warns China over air safety threat

 
‎12 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:54:27 AMGo to full article
Hanoi (AFP) Jan 9, 2016 - Vietnam's civil aviation authority has accused Beijing of threatening regional air safety by conducting unannounced flights through its airspace to a disputed reef in the South China Sea, state media said Saturday.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV) warned that the unannounced flights "threaten the safety of all flights in the region," according to a report in the Tuoi Tre Daily newspaper.

In quotes published in Vietnamese official online newspaper Zing.vn late Friday, CAAV director Lai Xuan Thanh said a protest letter about the flights had been sent to Beijing, as well as a complaint to the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

"Chinese aircraft have ignored all the rules and norms of the ICAO by not providing any flight plans or maintaining any radio contact with Vietnam's air traffic control centre," he added.

In the seven days to January 8, Vietnam logged 46 incidents of Chinese planes flying without warning through airspace monitored by air traffic control in the southern metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City, according to civilian aviation authorities quoted in the Tuoi Tre Daily newspaper report.

Chinese state media on Wednesday said two civilian planes landed on an island in the Fiery Cross reef in the contested Spratly Islands, which have long been at the centre of bitter wrangling between Vietnam and its giant neighbour.

The two "test flights" Wednesday followed an initial aircraft landing on Saturday, which prompted the first formal diplomatic complaint from Hanoi.

The Spratlys are claimed by Hanoi but controlled by Beijing, which has ramped up activity in the area by rapidly building artificial islands, including airstrips said to be capable of hosting military jets.

The recent flights, slammed by Vietnam as a "serious violation" of its sovereignty, have sparked international alarm, with the United States warning Thursday that the move would raise tensions in the disputed waters.

The Philippines has also said it would file a protest.

China asserts ownership over virtually all the South China Sea, putting it at odds with regional neighbours the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, which stake partial claims.

Several of these nations, including Vietnam, have also built facilities on islands they control, but at a significantly slower pace and smaller scale than Beijing.

Rioting broke out in Vietnam after Beijing sent an oil rig into contested waters in 2014, and at least three Chinese people were killed.

Since then the two sides have tried to mend relations. China's President Xi Jinping visited Hanoi in November but that visit also saw anti-Chinese protests.

Vietnamese officials said last week they had asked Beijing to investigate the ramming and sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat by a suspected Chinese boat.

Hanoi has stepped up cooperation with the US, in what analysts say is a hedge against China's rising power.

 

 

U.K., Japan deepen defense ties, pursue joint projects

 
‎12 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:54:27 AMGo to full article
London (UPI) Jan 8, 2016 - The United Kingdom and Japan will deepen their defense industry ties by collaborating on a number of projects beginning in 2016.

The new projects were announced during U.K. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon's first visit to Japan in 2016, and include cooperation on cybersecurity and the production of a Joint New Air-to-Air Missile, or JNAAM. The defense ministry revealed the new air-to-air missile will move to the second stage of discussion following successful first talks.

Both militaries will also further collaborate in training exercises, which will include the possibility of a joint exercise involving the Royal Air Force's Typhoon aircraft.

"Japan is our closest security partner in Asia and I want to significantly deepen defence cooperation between our two nations," Fallon said in a statement. "We will do that through joint exercises, reciprocal access to our military bases, military personnel exchanges and cooperation on equipment, including a new air-to-air missile."

The U.K. Ministry of Defense said other joint projects can include mine-hunting exercises, improving counter-IED capabilities, and Japan's potential involvement in NATO exchanges and training events.

"I personally look forward to further strengthening the bilateral partnership," Japanese Defense Minister H.E. Gen. Nakatani said.

 

 

UK says South China Sea air freedoms 'non-negotiable'

 
‎12 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:54:27 AMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) Jan 7, 2016 - British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Thursday on a visit to the Philippines that any attempt to restrict air and sea travel in the disputed South China Sea would be viewed as a "red flag".

China said it landed three planes over Fiery Cross Reef in recent days, prompting protests from rival claimants Vietnam and the Philippines, and raising fears it could impose military controls in the area.

"Freedom of navigation and overflight are non-negotiable. They are red flags for us," Hammond told a joint news conference with his Filipino counterpart, Albert del Rosario, in Manila.

Hammond, whose Manila visit followed a trip to China, did not elaborate on what action would be taken if the "red flag" was raised, other than to say Britain would continue to assert its right to sail in the area.

Del Rosario said he was worried that, with the test flights, China was laying the groundwork for the declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ), similar to the one it declared in the East China Sea that riled Japan.

"If this is not challenged, China will take the position that the ADIZ could be imposed and whether this is done in terms of a de facto basis or whether it is official, this will deemed as unacceptable to us," Del Rosario said.

Vietnam, another claimant in the South China Sea, has also condemned the test flights as a violation of its sovereignty.

China has alarmed its rivals with its massive reclamation and construction of facilities on disputed reefs, including a 3,000-metre (9,842-foot) runway on Fiery Cross, around 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from the southern province of Hainan.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Saturday after announcing the first test flight that it was "civilian" in nature.

The Philippines has asked a United Nations-backed tribunal to void China's claim over almost the entire South China Sea. It expects a decision this year.

China did not participate in the arbitration hearings at The Hague as it maintained that sea disputes should be resolved bilaterally.

"Win or lose, we will abide by the rule of law and we expect China to do the same," Del Rosario said.

Hammond said Britain would not take sides on the dispute but appealed to claimants to resolve their differences under international law.

"We recognise the tribunal and we will recognise the decision of the tribunal," Hammond said.

Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have competing claims in the South China Sea, which hosts vital shipping lanes over vast oil and gas reserves.

 

 

China plane landings in South China Sea raise tensions: US

 
‎12 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:54:27 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Jan 7, 2016 - China's recent landing of aircraft on a contested reef in the South China Sea is raising tensions and promoting instability in the region, the Pentagon warned Thursday.

A Department of Defense spokesman said three civilian flights are now believed to have landed on one of the islands, corroborating Chinese state media reports that three civilian aircraft have landed on Fiery Cross reef in the disputed Spratlys island group.

"We clearly are concerned by these flights... and we're concerned by all of these activities being conducted by the Chinese in disputed islands in the South China Sea," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters.

"Anything being done by any country to try and raise tensions over these disputed islands, and to try and militarize or engage in reclamation activities in these islands, we think only adds to instability in the South China Sea."

China claims virtually all of the South China Sea, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have partial claims.

China has asserted its claim by rapidly building artificial islands, including airstrips said to be capable of hosting military jets.

"We call for a diplomatic resolution to these issues in the South China Sea and certainly these flights do nothing to foster further stability and understanding in that part of the world," Cook said.

China's initial aircraft landing on Saturday prompted a formal diplomatic complaint from Hanoi, which labelled it a violation of sovereignty.

The Philippines also said it would file a protest.

 

 

New Norwegian defense agency up and running

 
‎12 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:54:27 AMGo to full article
Oslo, Norway (UPI) Jan 7, 2016 - A new agency for defense sector materiel has been created by the Norwegian government.

The agency, named Forsvarsmateriell, came into being at the first of the year and is directly subordinate to the Ministry of Defense.

"Forsvarsmateriell's foremost mission and raison d'être is to support the Armed Forces and the country's defense capability," said Minister of Defense Ine Eriksen Søreide at the official opening. "Ultimately, it's all about helping to deliver operational capability -- as it is throughout the sector."

The Ministry of Defense said the new agency has about 1,300 employees and will manage nearly a quarter of the defense budget as it plans, procures and manages materials for the defense sector.

"The government and I have high expectations of Forsvarsmateriell. The purpose of its establishment is to achieve a more efficient investment process with better continuity and a shorter completion time for projects, as well as shorter and more efficient control lines," the minister said. "When we sit with a bird's eye perspective, we can see how strategically important this field is for the development of defense capabilities.

"It is also a big point for me that materials management must have high-quality management of the allocated resources. Establishment of Forsvarsmateriell was done by transferring of divisions, investment staff and part of the staff of the Defense Logistics Organization."

Sweden shuts defense export agency
Stockholm, Sweden (UPI) Jan 7, 2016 - The Swedish government has terminated its Defense & Security Export Agency, transferring many of its tasks to the Swedish Defense Materiel Administration, or FMV.

The termination of the agency took effect on Jan. 1 following a decision reached last April. About one-quarter of the staff of the Defense & Security Export Agency, or FXM, were part of the transfer. Remaining agency personnel were given notice.

FXM tasks transferred to FMV include sales of surplus military equipment; central government tendering procedures for inter-governmental agreements (government sales agreements for Gripen fighters, for example); and export support tasks for other defense agencies that are undertaken after requests from private companies.

FXM tasks phased out with the agency included export-promoting operations.

"In the budget bill for 2015, the government considered that the necessary export support in the defense sector can be implemented within another agency structure," FXM said.

 

 

North Korea nuclear test catalyzes Obama critics

 
‎12 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:54:27 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Jan 6, 2016 - US Republicans clamored to paint North Korea's surprise nuclear test as yet another failure of Barack Obama's foreign policy Wednesday, rounding on the outgoing president as he faced a stern new overseas challenge.

"Our enemies around the world are taking advantage of Obama's weakness," White House contender Senator Marco Rubio said, blasting the 44th president for standing "idly by" as a "lunatic" leader in Pyongyang threatens international peace.

Republicans vying to replace Obama in 2017 have accused him, and his former secretary of state Hillary Clinton -- the Democratic presidential frontrunner -- of lacking resolve.

They say Obama's overly cautious foreign policy has created a void that the Islamic State group, Russia, China, Iran and now North Korea have stepped into.

It comes after North Korea said it had carried out a "successful" miniaturized hydrogen bomb test -- though experts are skeptical of the claim.

Senator Ted Cruz, another Republican White House candidate, said North Korea's test "underscores the gravity of the threats we are facing right now and also the sheer folly of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy."

"When we look at North Korea, it's like looking at a crystal ball. This is where Iran ends up if we continue on this same misguided path."

Obama came to office in 2009 vowing to extricate the United States from costly foreign wars, while signaling Washington would no longer rush headlong into every global crisis.

He has also engaged with US foes Iran and Cuba, popular bogeymen for Republicans on the campaign trail.

White House aides say Obama's policy is borne from a more steely eyed approach to the US national interest.

But they also admit that policy toward North Korea, which has seen three nuclear tests during Obama's presidency, has been less than a total success.

Obama's broad aim was to get reclusive Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program, stop destabilizing the region and come back to the negotiating table.

"It is true that we have not achieved our goal," conceded White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

"But we have succeeded in making North Korea more isolated than ever before and the international community more united than ever before."

- Tough spot -

North Korea's latest actions leave the White House with a difficult balancing act.

On one hand, Obama needs to carefully craft a response with South Korea and Japan and, perhaps above all, China, North Korea's sole major ally.

"The question is, will Beijing react passively as it has in the past or will it eventually decide to get tougher with Pyongyang and let sanctions bite?" asked Duyeon Kim, a Seoul-based expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

US National Security Advisor Susan Rice on Wednesday met the Chinese ambassador at the White House to measure Beijing's intent.

Obama is slated to speak to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-Hye later Wednesday.

Park has made a concerted effort to forge a close relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and US officials will hope her newfound sway in Beijing can now be brought to bear.

Meanwhile, inside the United States, Republican demands for tough action point to public pressure on Obama's administration to show steel in the face of international threats.

A recent Economist/YouGov poll showed two-thirds of Americans are unhappy with the way Obama has handled foreign policy.

Earnest rejected Republican criticism as vote seeking.

"They're trying to win votes from conservative Republicans in a presidential primary," he said. "We've heard a lot of campaign rhetoric, but not a lot of specific, tangible suggestions about what should be done differently."

Despite the pressure on the White House and North Korea's seemingly ever-more potent military capabilities, Kim said a dramatic change in US policy was unlikely.

"The administration probably will not shift its current approach, especially with less than a year left of President Obama's term," she said.

"The next administration will need to devise an effective and proactive strategy or else Washington will be faced with some tough decisions."

 

 

China lands two more planes in disputed South China Sea: state media

 
‎12 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:54:27 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) Jan 6, 2016 - China landed two more planes on a contested reef in the South China Sea Wednesday, state media said, despite international condemnation of a landing at the same location days earlier.

Two civilian aircraft landed Wednesday morning on Fiery Cross reef in the disputed Spratlys island group during "test flights", the official Xinhua news agency said. Vietnam also claims the reef.

The planes departed from and returned to the city of Haikou, the capital of the southern island province of Hainan -- a two-hour journey each way.

"This successful test flight proves that this airport is equipped with the capacity to ensure the safe operation of large civilian aircraft," said Xinhua.

It said the facility would help transport supplies, personnel and medical aid.

China claims virtually all the South China Sea, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have partial claims.

China has asserted its claim by rapidly building artificial islands, including airstrips said to be capable of hosting military jets.

Several other claimants have also built facilities but at a slower pace, and China's activities have heightened tensions in the region.

It began work in 2014 on the 3,000-metre (9,842 feet) runway on Fiery Cross reef, around 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) from Hainan.

Last Saturday China said it had landed a civilian plane on the runway in an initial test flight -- the first time it had been used.

That landing sparked a formal diplomatic complaint from Hanoi, which labelled it a violation of sovereignty.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has also said it would file a protest at the weekend incident.

 

 
 

Despite tensions, Russia's 'Syria Express' sails by Istanbul

 
‎06 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:39 AMGo to full article
Istanbul (AFP) Jan 6, 2016 - It's an occasional but regular sighting in Istanbul. Out of the mist on the Bosphorus that divides Europe and Asia looms the hulk of a Russian warship purposefully making its way to the Mediterranean.

Most likely the ship is part of Moscow's so-called "Syria Express", a key supply line for naval deliveries from its Black Sea ports to military operations backing the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Dozens of Russian warships, auxiliary naval cargo ships and sometimes even submarines have passed through the Bosphorus Strait, northbound and southbound. Every month since Russia stepped up operations inside Syria last year, according to maritime experts.

But the sight of a Russian warship in Istanbul is striking given that Moscow and Ankara are experiencing their worst relations since the end of the Cold War after the shooting down of a Russian warplane by Turkish jets on the Syrian border on November 24.

The two countries back opposing sides in Syria's almost five-year civil war, with Russia the key supporter of the Damascus regime while Turkey argues that the ouster of Assad is essential to solving the Syrian crisis.

Analysts say that Turkey is bound by the 1936 Montreux Convention on the Dardanelles and Bosphorus, a treaty that gives Ankara full control over the two Straits while committing it to allowing the free passage of naval traffic from Black Sea littoral states.

Under its terms, Turkey can only block Russian naval shipping if war is declared or if it feels under an imminent threat of war.

"Since there is no declared war between these two countries it is not possible for Turkey to close the Straits to Russian warships," said Cem Devrim Yaylali, Istanbul-based Turkish naval expert and editor of the Bosphorus Naval News website.

He said that even "in the worst days of the Cold War" -- pitting NATO member Turkey against the Soviet Union -- Ankara and Moscow both observed the treaty.

Mikhail Voitenko, Russian maritime expert and editor of the Maritime Bulletin website, said that the supplies delivered via the Bosphorus were a "lifeline" for the Syria campaign.

"Without the Syrian Express, the Syrian campaign would choke in days or weeks."

- Disrupt Syria Express? -

The ships come from Russia's Black Sea naval port or its Sevastapol base in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014 in a move opposed by much of the international community including Turkey.

After entering the Black Sea mouth of the Bosphorus, they sail through the iconic waterway in full view, passing famous landmarks like the Ottoman-era Dolmabahce and Topkapi Palaces.

They then sail across the Sea of Marmara before passing through the Dardanelles and turning south towards the Mediterranean coast of Syria and Russia's naval base at Tartus, its only such facility outside the ex-USSR.

Their passage, however, has not been without tensions in recent weeks.

Turkey accused Russia of "provocation" when a soldier aboard the Tsezar Kunikov was spotted on December 4 with a MANPAD shoulder launched missile aimed at the shore.

The Kilo-class Russian submarine Rostov na-Donu was also followed by a Turkish patrol vessel during its passage through the Bosphorus last month.

Almost all the naval traffic in the Bosphorus is Russian. However, the Arleigh Burke class US destroyer USS Ross made a passage in mid-December, possibly in a show of NATO support to Turkey at the peak of the crisis with Moscow.

After one of its planes was shot down just on the Syria border, Moscow has discouraged Russians from travelling to Turkey dealing a blow to the tourism industry and also imposed sanctions on selected goods.

But it stopped short of using the full potential array of sanctions and analysts say Russia may be mindful that Turkey could still disrupt the transit of materials to Syria.

Voitenko said Turkey could "disrupt the Syrian Express to a near fiasco without violating any of the international agreements on Straits shipping regime."

He argued that as well as the warships and auxiliary cargo ships, ordinary freighters are also involved and these could be stopped by Turkish authorities under any pretext.

"In fact, Turkey may stop the Russian campaign in Syria without a single shot fired...," he added.

 

 

'No reason' for Russia to view US as threat: Pentagon

 
‎06 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:39 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Jan 4, 2016 - Russia has no reason to consider the United States a threat to its national security, the Pentagon said Monday after Moscow published a report highlighting Washington and NATO for the first time.

Russia's new national security document, signed by President Vladimir Putin on New Year's Eve, names as threats both the United States and the expansion of the NATO alliance, according to the Pentagon's official news channel.

The previous document, from 2009, does not mention the United States or NATO.

"They have no reason to consider us a threat," Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters.

"We are not looking for conflict with Russia," he added.

Russia's characterization reflects worsening relations between Moscow and Washington, as the two powers remain opposed on Ukraine and the civil war in Syria.

"We have our differences ... but it's fundamentally wrong to look at the United States as a threat to Russia," Davis added.

Still, the United States has previously used similar language to describe Moscow.

General Joseph Dunford, the top officer in the US military, said in July 2015 that Russia posed the biggest threat to American national security. The Pentagon said the new Russian document does not change Dunford's assessment.

Speaking in Stuttgart, Germany on Monday, Dunford said he hoped to eventually meet with his Russian counterpart, General Valery Gerasimov.

"When you are in a period of difficulty, having a military-to-military, professional relationship ... can, one, help you better understand what you are dealing with, and, two, mitigate the risk of miscalculation," Dunford said.

Dunford is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and serves as the top military advisor for the president and defense secretary.

China announces military reforms
Beijing (UPI) Jan 4, 2016 -The Chinese government has announced new reforms to its military in an effort to improve the combat readiness of the People's Liberation Army.

The reforms, announced by China's Central Military Commission, include the establishment of three new military institutions under the People's Liberation Army, including strategic support troops, the rocket force, and an army leadership institution, according to CCTV America.

"The establishment of the army leadership institution, the rocket troops, and the strategic support troops is important," China President Xi Jingping said in a statement. "This will definitely be a crucial milestone in modernizing China's military and be enshrined in people's military history."

President Xi also serves as the Chairman of the Central Military Commission.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Defense said at a press conference one of the planned institutions, the Rocket Force, will develop and operate missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. However, the spokesperson maintains the country's nuclear capabilities will be kept a the minimum required for its national security interests.

The Rocket Force is an upgraded version of China's Second Artillery Force, which operates both conventional and strategic missile weapons.

The announcement comes roughly a week after the Chinese government unveiled its plans to construct a second aircraft carrier for Chinese naval forces.

Chinese military expansion has come under scrutiny from the United States and other countries, as the military continues to push its presence into the South China Sea, one of the world's busiest maritime trade routes.

 

 

China announces military reforms

 
‎06 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:39 AMGo to full article
Beijing (UPI) Jan 4, 2016 - The Chinese government has announced new reforms to its military in an effort to improve the combat readiness of the People's Liberation Army.

The reforms, announced by China's Central Military Commission, include the establishment of three new military institutions under the People's Liberation Army, including strategic support troops, the rocket force, and an army leadership institution, according to CCTV America.

"The establishment of the army leadership institution, the rocket troops, and the strategic support troops is important," China President Xi Jingping said in a statement. "This will definitely be a crucial milestone in modernizing China's military and be enshrined in people's military history."

President Xi also serves as the Chairman of the Central Military Commission.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Defense said at a press conference one of the planned institutions, the Rocket Force, will develop and operate missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. However, the spokesperson maintains the country's nuclear capabilities will be kept a the minimum required for its national security interests.

The Rocket Force is an upgraded version of China's Second Artillery Force, which operates both conventional and strategic missile weapons.

The announcement comes roughly a week after the Chinese government unveiled its plans to construct a second aircraft carrier for Chinese naval forces.

Chinese military expansion has come under scrutiny from the United States and other countries, as the military continues to push its presence into the South China Sea, one of the world's busiest maritime trade routes.

'No reason' for Russia to view US as threat: Pentagon
Washington (AFP) Jan 4, 2016 - Russia has no reason to consider the United States a threat to its national security, the Pentagon said Monday after Moscow published a report highlighting Washington and NATO for the first time.

Russia's new national security document, signed by President Vladimir Putin on New Year's Eve, names as threats both the United States and the expansion of the NATO alliance, according to the Pentagon's official news channel.

The previous document, from 2009, does not mention the United States or NATO.

"They have no reason to consider us a threat," Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters.

"We are not looking for conflict with Russia," he added.

Russia's characterization reflects worsening relations between Moscow and Washington, as the two powers remain opposed on Ukraine and the civil war in Syria.

"We have our differences ... but it's fundamentally wrong to look at the United States as a threat to Russia," Davis added.

Still, the United States has previously used similar language to describe Moscow.

General Joseph Dunford, the top officer in the US military, said in July 2015 that Russia posed the biggest threat to American national security. The Pentagon said the new Russian document does not change Dunford's assessment.

Speaking in Stuttgart, Germany on Monday, Dunford said he hoped to eventually meet with his Russian counterpart, General Valery Gerasimov.

"When you are in a period of difficulty, having a military-to-military, professional relationship ... can, one, help you better understand what you are dealing with, and, two, mitigate the risk of miscalculation," Dunford said.

Dunford is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and serves as the top military advisor for the president and defense secretary.

 

 

Beijing rejects Vietnam protest over South China Sea landing

 
‎06 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:39 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) Jan 3, 2016 - Beijing has rejected a protest from Vietnam after a Chinese plane landed on a contested reef in the South China Sea, saying the operation took place within Chinese territory.

A Chinese "test flight" landed on Fiery Cross reef, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in an online statement late Saturday. Vietnam also claims the reef.

China has asserted its claim to almost all of the South China Sea by rapidly building artificial islands including airstrips said to be capable of hosting military jets.

It began work in 2014 on a 3,000-metre (9,842 feet) runway on Fiery Cross reef in the Spratlys island group, around 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) from China's island province of Hainan.

Hua said the test flight was civilian in nature, adding that the "relevant activity falls completely within China's sovereignty".

Hanoi earlier strongly protested at the flight, labelling it a violation of sovereignty which "influences peace and stability in the South China Sea".

"Vietnam resolutely protests China's above-mentioned action, asking China to immediately end while not repeating similar move," said foreign ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh in Hanoi.

Vietnamese officials also said they had asked Beijing to investigate the ramming and sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat by a suspected Chinese boat.

The fishermen were around 60 nautical miles from Con Co Island in central Quang Tri province on Friday when a foreign boat crashed into their craft.

The 11 crew members were rescued but the boat sank, the fishermen told the VNExpress news site.

The captain was quoted as saying that he saw Chinese characters on the foreign boat.

Ha Le, deputy head of the Vietnam Fisheries Surveillance Department, told AFP Chinese officials had offered to check on the report if more details became available.

Relations between the communist neighbours have grown tense in recent years over the disputed Spratly and Paracel island chains.

Rioting broke out in Vietnam after Beijing sent an oil rig into contested waters in 2014, and at least three Chinese people were killed.

Since then the two sides have tried to mend relations. China's President Xi Jinping visited Hanoi in November but that visit also saw anti-Chinese protests.

Hanoi has stepped up cooperation with the US, in what analysts say is a hedge against China's rising power.

Several other claimants have also built facilities in the South China Sea but at a slower pace than China.

The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the Sea, home to strategic shipping lanes as well as substantial oil and gas reserves.

 

 

PM Abe pledges to keep Japan out of war

 
‎06 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:39 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) Jan 1, 2016 - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday promised he will keep his nation out of war following the introduction of contentious new security legislation, a day after China announced it is building its second aircraft carrier.

In September parliament in the officially pacifist nation passed security bills opening the door for Japanese troops to engage in combat overseas for the first time since the end of World War II.

The legislation was met with strong public resistance at home with tens of thousands taking part in street protests, while also fuelling anger in China and on the Korean peninsula.

Critics have warned that the changes could see Japanese troops dragged into far-flung foreign conflicts similar to the US invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan.

"Under the new legislation for peace and security, we will prevent war by taking all possible preparations for any circumstances," Abe said in a New Year's message.

"We have successfully built a foundation for handing down a peaceful Japan to the generations of our children and grandchildren."

Abe's message came a day after China announced it was building its second aircraft carrier, which will have a displacement of 50,000 tonnes and carry China's indigenous J-15 aircraft along with other planes.

Beijing has rapidly expanded its military in recent years, rattling its neighbours and attracting the attention of the United States, which is making a foreign policy "pivot" towards Asia.

Relations between Japan and China -- Asia's two biggest economies -- have often been strained over competing claims of the Senkaku islands, or Diaoyu in Chinese.

Last month, a Chinese coast guard ship which appeared to be armed with several cannon entered what Tokyo regards as its territorial waters near the disputed islands.

Despite steps to improve ties, distrust remains high as China is wary of moves by Abe to raise Japan's military profile while Tokyo frets about Beijing's increasing regional and global assertiveness.

 

 

China restructures military as Xi eyes 'strong army'

 
‎06 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:39 AMGo to full article
Shanghai (AFP) Jan 2, 2016 - China has unveiled changes to the structure of its military, adding three new units, described by President Xi Jinping as "a major policy decision to realise the Chinese dream of a strong army", state media reported.

The formation of the new units, which follows Beijing's announcement that it was building a second aircraft carrier, comes with China acting more aggressively in territorial disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea, drawing the ire of its neighbours and the United States.

Beijing in November said it planned sweeping changes in a move intended to enhance the ruling Communist Party's control over the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

The latest reforms announced late Friday will see a new army unit set up to oversee China's arsenal of strategic missiles.

Besides the "Rocket Force", the PLA also unveiled an army general command to serve as the headquarters for land forces and a support unit to assist combat troops, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Xi, who is chief of the Communist Party and also serves as head of the military, has previously announced plans to slash China's number of troops by 300,000 to roughly two million to craft a more efficient fighting force.

China's Central Military Commission, which Xi chairs, on Friday also released guidelines to help build the country's vision of a modern military before 2020 by cutting troops and improving the quality of combat personnel, Xinhua said.

The announcements come with China also expanding its naval capacity by building a second aircraft carrier. The nation's first such vessel, the Liaoning, is a secondhand Soviet ship built more than 25 years ago that was commissioned by China in 2012 after extensive refits.

- 'Influential and persuasive' -

The Global Times newspaper, known for its nationalistic editorial stance, said new conditions required a strong army and cited the United States as a reason.

"If China has a big gap with the US in terms of military prowess, this will affect its international position and other countries' attitude toward China," it said in an editorial posted on its website Saturday.

"With a strong army, China can be more politically appealing, influential and persuasive."

Beijing's forces have been involved in sometimes tense confrontations with Japanese and Philippine units over maritime disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea respectively, prompting fears that the disputes could result in armed clashes.

The new PLA Rocket Force, meanwhile, is tasked with maintaining conventional and nuclear weaponry with the ability to both deter and strike, Xi told a ceremony for the founding of the three new organisations, according to Xinhua.

But a spokesman for China's Ministry of Defence denied any shift in the country's nuclear weapons policy.

"China's nuclear policy and nuclear strategy are consistent, there has been no change whatsoever," spokesman Yang Yujun said Friday, according to a transcript posted on the ministry's website.

The new unit would take over from the Second Artillery Force, he said.

At a military parade in September, China showed off "carrier-killer" missiles, including the land-based DF-21D intermediate-range type which is thought to be equipped with onboard terminal guidance systems that give it the unprecedented ability to attack a moving target

A Chinese analyst said the latest moves were aimed at modernising the military.

"For a long time, China had no overseas interests, the navy, air force and guided missile units were relatively weak compared with the army," Ni Lexiong, a professor at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, told AFP.

"To catch up with European and American powers... China must raise the modernisation level and combat strength of the army."

 

 

We have met the enemy and he is us

 
‎31 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎07:17:47 AMGo to full article
Washington DC (UPI) Dec 28, 2015 - Years ago, Walt Kelly's "Pogo" was a very popular comic strip. Pogo was a swamp creature made famous by his sardonic witticisms about human nature. The strip was immortalized by the declaration that "we have met the enemy and he is us!"

Currently, many Americans seem self-absorbed and even obsessed by the fear of Islamist terrorism. The murders in San Bernardino, California and earlier in Chattanooga, Tennessee have been exploited and exaggerated by politicians, especially those running for president, playing on public dread of terrorist attacks. Beyond Pogo, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's wisdom applies.

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." FDR was admonishing his fellow citizens not to succumb to irrational fears brought on by the Great Depression of 1929 and the hardships Americans were facing regarding their economic well-being. Of course, words of encouragement were no substitute for a paycheck and for food on the table.

National anxiety over the threat of homegrown terrorist attacks needs an antidote. That antidote combines fact and reason. Since September 11th, Islamist attacks here have claimed fewer than fifty American lives. By comparison, over the past fourteen years in America, car accidents have killed nearly half a million people and a more or less equal number died from gun violence. The chances of being shot by a police officer or hit by lightning are orders of magnitude greater than being killed by a Jihadi.

If opinion polls correctly reflect American attitudes, why are so many of us genuinely worried about being killed or wounded in a terrorist incident when the chances are remote? In September and October 2002, the so-called Beltway snipers, John Malvo and John Mohammed, terrorized the Washington, D.C. region killing ten innocent citizens. These shootings followed a cross-country murder spree that began in Tacoma, Washington. People were in a state of panic until Malvo and Mohammed were arrested.

The specter of a massive Islamist biological or chemical weapons attack or taking down a portion of the electrical power grid is even more nightmarish. In the run up to the 2003 Iraq War, the George W. Bush administration made reference to "mushroom shaped clouds" to help sell the case to the public. Unfortunately, this hype began to condition Americans to the possibility of a major or catastrophic terrorist attack.

In a rational world, Americans would have a lot less to fear. Many more were killed, for example, in the Sandy Hook, Connecticut shootings although the killer was not an Islamist terrorist. So is death by terrorist a distinction without a difference? Does it matter that killers may be deranged or dangerously misguided such as Timothy McVeigh who blew up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City twenty years ago, killing 168 and injuring about 600 others?

The United States has spent hundreds of billions of dollars improving its law enforcement and intelligence capabilities against terrorists of all stripes. No system is perfect and it is unreasonable to think that occasional Jihadi terrorist will not self-radicalize or enter the country legally as did the September 11th bombers. The truth is that these dangers are not new. At prior times in the nation's history, terrorists threatened the nation and Americans overreacted.

Four presidents have been assassinated. Just after World War I, a handful of letter bombs threw the country in panic even though only two people died. "Red scares" persisted through the Cold War.

In each case, these fears were greatly exaggerated. Indeed, revoking legitimate visas to put Muslims on "no-fly" lists banning entry to America is symptom of this fear. What can be learned?

First, as crime and violent crime will never be fully eliminated, Jihadist attacks remain possible. Second, while a catastrophic terror attack can never be discounted, the likelihood of Americans being killed by Jihadis, homegrown or otherwise, is exceedingly small, and far less than being harmed by some gun or automobile incident. Third, politicians will play the fear card in most cases not understanding that the damage being done far outweighs the actual danger.

By demonstrating fear, Islamist terrorists are empowered. While that may have no actual effect on the likelihood of attacks, in the propaganda and psychological campaigns, al-Qaida and the Islamic State are both winning and will continue to exploit these fears.

Both Pogo and FDR were correct. Americans must understand that while danger exists, exaggerating that danger makes our enemies stronger and amplifies their perverted, siren-like call for attracting more recruits. Tragically, fear has become a greater menace than the actual threat of terrorism.

___________________________________________________________________

Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist; Chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business and Senior Advisor at Washington DC's Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security (BENS). His latest book is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace.

 

 

'Armed' China ship near disputed isles: Japan

 
‎31 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎07:17:47 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) Dec 26, 2015 - A Chinese coast guard ship which appeared to be armed with several cannon Saturday entered what Tokyo regards as its territorial waters near disputed islands, the Japan Coast Guard said.

Japan and China routinely butt heads over ownership of the uninhabited East China Sea islets, as Chinese ships -- mostly coast guard vessels -- and aircraft have sometimes approached them to back up Beijing's claims and test Japan's response.

It was however the first time an apparently armed Chinese coast guard vessel had "entered the territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands", the Japan Coast Guard said.

Japan administers the uninhabited islands under that name but China also claims them and calls them the Diaoyus.

On Tuesday Japan said it had spotted the armed Chinese coast guard ship for the first time in the contiguous waters near the islands.

"The ship is seen carrying four pieces of equipment, two at the front and another set of two at the rear, which each seem to have something similar to a cannon," a coastguard spokeswoman had said at the time.

The same ship entered what Tokyo considers its territorial waters, with two other Chinese coast guard vessels without such equipment, at around 9:30 am (0030 GMT) Saturday and stayed for about an hour, the Japan Coast Guard said in statements.

In November, Japan said it spotted a Chinese naval intelligence ship operating near the disputed islands for the first time.

Relations between Japan and China hit a low after Tokyo in September 2012 moved to increase its formal control by nationalising some of the islands.

But the countries -- Asia's two biggest economies -- have taken steps over the past year to improve ties.

They issued carefully worded statements on the dispute ahead of a summit in November last year in Beijing between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The two sides acknowledged they had different views on tensions emanating from the issue but agreed on the need to keep them under control.

Distrust, however, remains high as China is wary of moves by Abe to raise Japan's military profile while Tokyo frets about Beijing's increasing regional and global assertiveness.

 

 

Anti-China group sails to Philippine-held island

 
‎31 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎07:17:47 AMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) Dec 27, 2015 - Almost 50 young Filipinos are camping on a remote Philippine-held island in the South China Sea in a symbolic stand against China's claim to most of the waterway, officials said Sunday.

Organisers of the group, calling itself Kalayaan Atin Ito (Kalayaan This Is Ours), said 47 of them arrived Saturday on the island of Pag-asa, also known as Thitu, in the Spratlys chain.

"Kalayaan", the Filipino word for freedom, is also the name of the township established by the Philippines in the Spratlys to assert its claim to part of the island chain.

The government had opposed the landing, initiated by a former navy officer. But President Benigno Aquino's spokesman Herminio Coloma said Sunday it understood the group's intentions.

"We recognise the patriotism of these youths that made them venture out," he told reporters.

But he also reiterated that they should seek "alternative ways" to show their support, expressing concern for their safety in travelling the 500 kilometres (310 miles) from the western Philippine island of Palawan to the tiny island of Pag-asa.

Photographs and messages from the group posted on their website showed them posing on a beach.

A message on a Facebook page also urged Aquino to "inform the people correctly without sugar coating the truth about Chinese invasion of our Exclusive Economic Zone".

Members of the group had previously accused the government of not doing enough to stand up to China.

A coordinator of the group, Joy Ban-eg, told AFP the 47 men and women had arrived on Saturday on a chartered launch and would depart on Monday.

She said China had not attempted to block them from reaching the island, adding that they would consult the local residents and the military detachment.

But she stressed that their voyage itself was an act of defiance against China, which claims almost all of the South China Sea despite conflicting claims from the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

She cited the international arbitration case now pending in the Hague where the Philippines is challenging China's territorial claims.

China has refused to recognise the proceedings.

Despite having one of the weakest militaries in the region, the Philippines has been the most vocal in challenging China's claims to the South China Sea.

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China arrests third Japanese, detains another for spying: Tokyo

 
‎31 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎07:17:47 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) Dec 26, 2015 - Japan has confirmed Chinese authorities have arrested a third Japanese citizen and detained another on suspicion of spying.

The series of arrests and detentions could strain already tense ties between Asia's two largest economies.

Tokyo's top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Friday that a Japanese woman, who had been detained in Shanghai in June, was formally arrested in November.

He also said a Japanese man has been under criminal detention after being held in Beijing in June.

In September, China said it had arrested two Japanese citizens for suspected spying.

A total of four Japanese are now being held by Chinese authorities on suspicion of espionage.

"Japan does not engage in such (spying) activities in any countries," Suga told reporters, without elaborating.

Japan and China have taken steps over the past year to improve ties but relations remain shaky.

Tokyo is particularly wary as Beijing becomes increasingly aggressive in pressing its various sovereignty claims, including a dispute with Japan over ownership of a group of islands.

'Armed' China ship near disputed isles: Japan
Tokyo (AFP) Dec 26, 2015 - A Chinese coast guard ship which appeared to be armed with several cannon Saturday entered what Tokyo regards as its territorial waters near disputed islands, the Japan Coast Guard said.

Japan and China routinely butt heads over ownership of the uninhabited East China Sea islets, as Chinese ships -- mostly coast guard vessels -- and aircraft have sometimes approached them to back up Beijing's claims and test Japan's response.

It was however the first time an apparently armed Chinese coast guard vessel had "entered the territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands", the Japan Coast Guard said.

Japan administers the uninhabited islands under that name but China also claims them and calls them the Diaoyus.

On Tuesday Japan said it had spotted the armed Chinese coast guard ship for the first time in the contiguous waters near the islands.

"The ship is seen carrying four pieces of equipment, two at the front and another set of two at the rear, which each seem to have something similar to a cannon," a coastguard spokeswoman had said at the time.

The same ship entered what Tokyo considers its territorial waters, with two other Chinese coast guard vessels without such equipment, at around 9:30 am (0030 GMT) Saturday and stayed for about an hour, the Japan Coast Guard said in statements.

In November, Japan said it spotted a Chinese naval intelligence ship operating near the disputed islands for the first time.

Relations between Japan and China hit a low after Tokyo in September 2012 moved to increase its formal control by nationalising some of the islands.

But the countries -- Asia's two biggest economies -- have taken steps over the past year to improve ties.

They issued carefully worded statements on the dispute ahead of a summit in November last year in Beijing between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The two sides acknowledged they had different views on tensions emanating from the issue but agreed on the need to keep them under control.

Distrust, however, remains high as China is wary of moves by Abe to raise Japan's military profile while Tokyo frets about Beijing's increasing regional and global assertiveness.

 

 

Journalist facing expulsion a 'flagrant champion' of terrorism: China

 
‎31 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎07:17:47 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) Dec 26, 2015 - China confirmed the imminent expulsion of a French journalist in the first such case since 2012, accusing her of "flagrantly championing" terrorist acts in a statement on its foreign ministry's website Saturday.

Ursula Gauthier, a Beijing-based correspondent for French news magazine L'Obs, must issue a public apology for an article she wrote last month or China's foreign ministry will not renew her press credentials, officials told Gauthier on Christmas Day.

Her essay "flagrantly championed acts of terrorism and acts of cruelly killing innocents, triggering the Chinese people's outrage," said the foreign ministry statement.

Citing her failure to make a "serious apology to the Chinese people", the statement said: "It is not suitable for her to continue working in China."

"China will never support the freedom to champion terrorism," it added.

But the Chinese people expressed confusion over their own purported indignation, as most had not read or even heard of Gauthier's article, which has no Chinese-language version and remains inaccessible on the mainland's censored internet in its original French.

"'Triggered the Chinese people's outrage'? Don't presume to represent me - I don't even know what happened!" wrote one user on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform.

"You should put out the original article for everyone to see -- otherwise how can everyone be angry?" asked another.

Entitled "After the attacks (on Paris), Chinese solidarity is not without ulterior motives", Gauthier's article spoke of China's anti-terrorism policies in the country's western region of Xinjiang, homeland of the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority -- many of whom complain of discrimination and controls on their culture and religion.

Xinjiang is often hit by deadly unrest and China blames the violence on Islamist separatists, but rights groups point to Beijing's own actions as a driver.

If Gauthier's press card is not renewed, she cannot apply for a new visa, forcing her to leave China.

"They confirmed that if I did not make a public apology on all the points that had 'hurt the Chinese people'... my press card would not be renewed and I would have to leave on December 31," Gauthier told AFP Friday.

Gauthier would be the first foreign correspondent to be expelled since the 2012 expulsion of Melissa Chan, correspondent for the English-language service of Al Jazeera.

The move has been met with widespread criticism from the French government, press watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Gauthier's employer.

"France will remain committed to the defence of freedom of expression and information throughout the world," wrote French minister of culture and communication Fleur Pellerin Friday on Twitter in response to the news.

Gauthier's article in L'Obs triggered condemnation from Beijing and a virulent campaign in the state-run Global Times and China Daily, as well as thousands of often violent and abusive comments from Chinese Internet users. Her photo was also published online.

While the domestic media in China is subject to strict control and many topics are taboo, the foreign media is free to publish on any topic. However, foreign journalists frequently complain of harassment by the authorities while conducting routine reporting.

 

 

Modi meets Putin in Russia with eye on defence deals

 
‎31 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎07:17:47 AMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) Dec 24, 2015 - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a visit that could see the two countries agree a number of defence and energy deals worth billions of dollars.

Hailing ties with "robust, reliable friend" Russia, Modi praised Putin's leadership, saying he had "elevated the country to a qualitatively new level" despite Moscow's confrontation with West.

Speaking at the start of the talks, Putin for his part said he hoped to discuss the "privileged strategic partnership" of the two countries that are members of the BRICS emerging market nations group.

Russia has for years been a key military supplier for Delhi although the United States last year surpassed it as India's leading defence partner, and trade volume also fell, amounting to just $9.5 billion in 2014.

However India eyes Moscow as a potential partner for infrastructure projects as the Modi government seeks to overhaul the country's railway network and build nuclear energy plants as part of the Make in India foreign investment drive.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin expected the talks between Putin and Modi to help ease the visa regime between their two countries.

The two leaders will also oversee the signing of agreements by Russia's state nuclear corporation Rosatom and railway monopoly Russian Railways, Peskov added without providing further details.

Ahead of the talks officials declined to discuss possible defence deals expected to be signed in Moscow, although media reported the two countries would be discussing some $7 billion worth of contracts on Thursday.

- S-400 deal close? -

A media report last week said that India's top acquisition body had cleared the purchase of Russia's most advanced S-400 air defence systems.

During the Cold War India was the Soviet Union's closest military ally and a major importer of its military hardware.

Dipankar Banerjee, a defence analyst at New Delhi-based think tank Forum for Strategic Initiatives, said India was "vulnerable to Pakistan and China both in terms of missile attacks and air strikes" and that the S-400 defence systems were "very desirable" despite a hefty price tag.

Indian firm Reliance Defence Limited said on Thursday it had decided to work with the Russian manufacturer of the S-400 "on the entire range of air defence missile and radar systems" that India needs.

It was not clear however whether the two companies were ready to reach a firm deal on the missiles.

Russian business daily Kommersant said this week that Putin's one-on-one talks with Modi would decide the fate of the deal as the two still needed to sort out pricing disagreements.

India could be in the market for as many as five systems, the paper said, quoting defence sources, with deals on Russian frigates and a helicopter-building joint venture also on the cards.

They could also announce the location of a new Russian nuclear energy plant in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, an extension of the Russian nuclear plant under construction in Kudankulam where one reactor is already in operation.

Modi is seeking to ramp up the country's nuclear energy use to meet the rising energy needs, with a programme for at least 12 new reactors, as well as reduce its heavy dependency on coal, the worst greenhouse gas producing fuel.

"Energy is a sphere where we can do much more," the Indian premier said in an interview to Russia's TASS state news agency this week.

The trip is Modi's first state visit to Russia since he became prime minister in 2014, but he and Putin have met several times at international events and even discussed the merits of yoga at a summit in the Russian city of Ufa last July.

 

 

Okinawa countersues Japanese government over US base move

 
‎31 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎07:17:47 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) Dec 25, 2015 - The defiant southern region of Okinawa countersued Japan's government Friday over local resistance to a new US military base, the latest chapter in deepening mistrust between central authorities and the strategic island.

The lawsuit by Okinawa prefecture comes after the central government sued it last month amid a long-running drama between Tokyo, keen to satisfy security ally the United States, and Okinawa, where frustration over a seven-decade American military presence is rife.

Pacifist sentiments run high on the island that accounts for less than one percent of Japan's total land area but hosts about 75 percent of US military facilities in the country.

Okinawa governor Takeshi Onaga renewed his pledge to prevent the central government from constructing a US Marine air base in the remote Henoko part of the island to replace the existing Futenma facility in a heavily populated area, widely seen as a potential danger to residents.

"We will resort to every possible measure and will not allow the new base to be built in Henoko," he told a press conference.

In October, Onaga cancelled a 2013 approval for the project by his predecessor, saying it was not legally sound, prompting Tokyo to seek court action.

Okinawa's suit, filed in the prefectural capital of Naha, asks the court to revive his cancellation order of a landfill permit, which is currently nullified by the central government, court and local officials said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga described the latest legal action as "extremely regrettable," insisting the initial approval was legal and formed a precedent that allows landfill work to continue.

Defence Minister Gen Nakatani said that the government would carry on with construction despite the lawsuit.

"We are doing this work in order to remove the danger of the Futenma air station as well as concerns of local residents as soon as possible," he told reporters.

Work in the Henoko district of Nago city in the island's north is only in the initial stages, with crews setting up sea floats and a makeshift bridge necessary for the landfill work.

Japan and the United States first proposed moving Futenma in 1996, though both insisted it must remain in Okinawa -- a key area from which US troops and aircraft can react to potential conflicts throughout Asia.

But residents have insisted Futenma should be closed and a replacement built elsewhere in another part of Japan or overseas, saying they can no longer live with the noise pollution, accidents and occasional crimes committed by US service members.

 

 

PM Abe's cabinet approves largest defence budget

 
‎31 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎07:17:47 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) Dec 24, 2015 - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet on Thursday approved Japan's biggest ever annual defence budget, as the country bolsters its military amid territorial rows and concerns over China's expanding naval reach.

The cabinet approved 5.05 trillion yen ($41.8 billion) in defence spending for the next fiscal year starting in April, with the focus on strengthening protection of a string of southern islands that stretch from Japan's mainland to waters near Taiwan.

The allocation is part of a record 96.7 trillion yen national budget that will now be sent to parliament for debate and approval early next year.

The defence budget is 1.5 percent higher than the current fiscal year which was the previous record high, and marks the fourth straight annual increase in defence spending.

The trend reflects a hawkish Abe's attempt to build a military -- more active and collaborative with its biggest ally, the United States -- with an eye on a possible escalation of tensions with China.

In September, Abe pushed contentious security bills into law, a move that could see Japanese troops fight abroad for the first time in 70 years.

"We expect the latest procurement would contribute further to cooperation between Japan and the United States," a defence ministry official told reporters.

But the official said the latest military budget, which was requested in August, does not yet reflect the new legislation and the ministry will study if the new laws will require bigger budgets in future years.

Abe is pushing to tweak Japan's pacifist constitution, a move that has proved deeply unpopular at home and sparked protests by tens of thousands outside parliament this year.

His defence strategy has also provoked unease in China and South Korea, which were victims of Japan's aggressive colonial and military campaigns through the end of World War II.

Japan is increasingly wary of China, which is seen by several countries in the region as becoming increasingly aggressive in various sovereignty claims, including a dispute over island ownership with Tokyo.

Among the items on the defence ministry's shopping list are 17 SH-60K naval patrol helicopters, with a combined price tag of 102.6 billion yen.

It also wants three Global Hawk drones, six hi-tech F-35 stealth fighters and four V-22 Osprey -- crossover aircraft that have the manoeuverability of helicopters and the range of airplanes.

Japan and China have routinely butted heads over the ownership of the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus. Official Chinese ships and aircraft regularly test Japanese forces.

Beijing is also expanding its military heft and reach, with annual double-digit defence budget increases and its first aircraft carrier entering service.

 

 

Japan PM faces make-or-break test three years later

 
‎31 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎07:17:47 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) Dec 23, 2015 - It was an irresistible promise: elect me, I'll bring back Japan's once-soaring economy and restore its battered national pride.

Three years later, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is facing the enormity of his grand ambitions, and the clock is ticking.

Abe, 60, swept to power in December 2012 with a novel recipe for success, energising a one-time global powerhouse that languished in a decades-long slump, overshadowed by regional rival China.

The take-charge politician trotted around the globe, inking deals for Japanese firms and selling his eponymous "Abenomics" policy blitz.

"I am back and so is Japan," the two-time nationalist leader declared to an American audience.

Abe's call to action -- including big government spending and massive central bank monetary easing -- had some early successes, as the yen weakened sharply from record highs against the dollar.

The drop was good news for exporters as corporate profits soared and the benchmark Nikkei 225 stock index doubled to the 20,000 level.

A fledgling economic recovery appeared to be taking hold.

But as he marks three years in office on Saturday, the scale of Abe's self-appointed task may be coming back to haunt him.

Growth has stumbled, the war on years of deflation is not yet won, and a promised overhaul of the highly regulated economy is far from complete.

"Compared to the magnitude of Abenomics' stimulus, the economy's performance has been feeble," said Ryutaro Kono, economist at BNP Paribas.

Abe's initial burst of enthusiasm -- after a forgettable one-year first term that ended in 2007 -- has not been matched by results, some say.

"The first half of (Abe's) tenure showed progress," said Satoshi Osanai, economist at Daiwa Institute of Research. "The second half has not been so bright."

- 'No better alternative' -

Abe took power after a rough few years for Japan as it went through a half dozen leaders and saw China overtake it as the world's number-two economy and assume an increasingly assertive role in Asia.

It also suffered the shock of the March 2011 triple earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters, which dealt another blow to the economy.

Facing summer elections, Abe's popularity is hovering around 50 percent, relatively strong considering the deep unpopularity of some of his policies.

His bid to bolster Japan's defence posture by diverting from the traditional interpretation of the pacifist constitution -- which could see Japanese troops go into battle for the first time since World War II -- angered neighbours China and the Koreas and was bitterly opposed at home and sparked rare street protests.

An unpopular push to switch on nuclear reactors shuttered after the 2011 disaster has also done little to boost his appeal.

"(Abe's) great advantage is that voters think there is no better alternative," said Robert Dujarric, director of contemporary Asian studies at Temple University's Tokyo campus.

A key reason, observers say, is that a weak and fragmented opposition has been unable to mount a serious challenge. As a result, Abe is tipped to tighten his grip on power in next year's upper house elections.

- 'Painful reforms' -

Meanwhile, Japan's jobs-for-life culture, a cornerstone of its post-war economic boom, has given way to more part-time and unstable contract work.

The country also has one of the world's biggest national debts, a problem aggravated by a demographic decline that will see a shrinking labour force made to cover the soaring social security costs of the fast-ageing nation.

The International Monetary Fund has trimmed its growth projections while credit agencies have cut their ratings, amid growing doubts that Abe's economic plan will work.

Even Abe's key constituency -- Japan Inc -- is not playing ball. The premier is struggling to get firms whose bottom line benefited from his policies to share the spoils with employees.

Wage hikes, he says, are key to winning the war on deflation, which held back growth for years as consumers delayed spending in the hopes of getting goods cheaper down the road. That hurt firms' expansion and hiring plans.

Abe recently pledged to re-focus his efforts on fixing the world's number-three economy and beef up social programmes, as he tries to lure more women and the elderly into a shrinking workforce.

But his legacy hangs on whether he can get tough on overhauling Japan's rigid labour market and tame the spiralling costs of the national pension system, observers said.

Japan has no time to lose as a brief growth jolt from Tokyo's hosting of the 2020 Olympics could give way to another long-term economic slide, warned Hideo Kumano, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

"After the (summer) election it would be a great opportunity to carry out painful reforms...(they) need to happen now."

 

 

Japan spots cannon-like equipment on Chinese ship near disputed isles

 
‎31 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎07:17:47 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) Dec 22, 2015 - Japan said Tuesday it had spotted for the first time a Chinese coast guard ship armed with cannon-like equipment near disputed East China Sea islands.

Japan and China have routinely butted heads over ownership of the uninhabited islets, as Chinese ships -- mostly coast guard vessels -- and aircraft have sometimes approached them to back up Beijing's claims and test Japan's response.

But this is the first time that Japan has spotted a Chinese coast guard ship with such equipment, a Japan Coast Guard spokeswoman said.

It was one of four Chinese coast guard vessels that entered Japan's contiguous waters on Tuesday near the Senkaku Islands, the Japan Coast Guard said in a statement, which included a photo of the Chinese ship.

Japan administers the uninhabited islands under that name but China also claims them and calls them the Diaoyus.

"The ship is seen carrying four pieces of equipment, two at the front and another set of two at the rear, which each seem to have something similar to a cannon," the spokeswoman told AFP.

Though the vessel did not enter what Japan considers its territorial waters around the islands, government officials saw the display of weaponry as provocative and filed a protest with China.

In November, Japan said it spotted a Chinese naval intelligence ship operating near the disputed islands for the first time.

Relations between Japan and China hit a low after Tokyo in September 2012 moved to increase its formal control by nationalising some of the islands.

But the countries -- Asia's two biggest economies -- have taken steps over the past year to improve ties.

They issued carefully worded statements on the dispute ahead of a summit in November last year in Beijing between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The two sides acknowledged they had different views on tensions emanating from the issue but agreed on the need for keeping them under control.

Distrust, however, remains high as China is wary of moves by Abe to raise Japan's military profile while Tokyo frets about Beijing's increasing regional and global assertiveness.

 

 

Turkey-Russia summit cancelled: Kremlin

 
‎16 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎02:48:30 AMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) Dec 14, 2015 - Russia on Monday said a summit between President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan pencilled in for December 15 had been cancelled, with ties between the two leaders in tatters over the downing of a Russian warplane.

The meeting between the two strongmen had been agreed at the G20 summit in Turkey on November 16, just over a week before Ankara shot down one of Moscow's warplanes at the Syrian border.

"It will not take place. It is not planned," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

Putin and Erdogan have been locked in a war of words over the shooting down of the Russian jet, which led to the deaths of a pilot and of a soldier sent out on a rescue mission, and prompted Moscow to slap economic sanctions on Turkey in retaliation.

A furious Putin also snubbed a meeting with Erdogan at a climate summit in France late last month and has refused to take phone calls from the Turkish leader.

Tensions remain high, with Russia on Sunday claiming that one of its destroyers in the Aegean Sea had fired warning shots to avoid a collision with a Turkish fishing boat.

 

 

Thousands rally against Montenegro's NATO membership

 
‎16 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎02:48:30 AMGo to full article
Podgorica, Montenegro (AFP) Dec 12, 2015 - Several thousand supporters of pro-Russian opposition parties protested Saturday against Montenegro's NATO membership, demanding a referendum over the issue.

"If the referendum is avoided and there is a bid to fraudulently pass the decision (on NATO membership) in parliament, Montenegro will be brought to the verge of a (civic) conflict," Andrija Madic, the leader of pro-Russian opposition New Serb Democratic Party, told the crowd.

The protest outside parliament gathered between 2,000 and 5,000 people, according to estimates by reporters and organisers and pro-Russian and pro-Serbian opposition parties.

On December 2 NATO invited Montenegro to become its 29th member, defying Russia's opposition to what Moscow branded a threat to its security.

Montenegro's veteran Prime Minister Milo Djukanoy has firmly rejected calls to organise the referendum on acceding to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"They invited us only to have a little bit more soldiers against Russia. We (Montenegro) should not and must not take part in that game," Momir Bulatovic, former president of Montenegro and close ally of late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, told the crowd, who waved Russian and Serbian flags and chanted "Putin (is a) Serb!" and "Mother Russia!"

Some of the protesters carried placards that read "No to war -- no to NATO."

Following the break up of communist Yugoslavia in early 1990s, Montenegro was allied with Serbia in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at the time of an 11-week 1999 NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo.

"NATO murderers," the crowd chanted during Saturday's protest while some participants carried candles in memory of victims of the NATO bombing.

"They have bombed us for more than 70 days, so how we can forgive them the victims and destruction? By no means we can forget that," said Radomir, a 46-year old electrician who refused to give his last name.

The tiny Adriatic republic of some 630,000 people was allied with Serbia, a traditional Russian ally, until 2006 when it declared independence and launched a process of integration into NATO and the European Union.

 

 

Turkey's patience with Russia 'not unlimited': FM

 
‎16 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎02:48:30 AMGo to full article
Ankara (AFP) Dec 11, 2015 - Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday said Ankara's patience with Moscow after the downing of a Russian warplane on the Syrian border was "not unlimited", urging Moscow to react calmly.

"We are calling on Russia, our major trade partner, for calm. But we also say that our patience is not unlimited," Cavusoglu told the private NTV television in an interview.

"If we are not retaliating to what you (Russia) have so far done, it is not because we are scared or have any feeling of guilt," he added.

Moscow has imposed a series of economic sanctions on Ankara after Turkish fighter jets shot down a Su-24 bomber on the Syrian border on November 24, sparking the biggest crisis between the two countries since the Cold War.

Ankara says the Su-24 plane repeatedly violated Turkish airspace but Moscow insists it never strayed from Syria.

But Turkey so far has not hit back with sanctions measures of its own.

Russian ships, including naval warships, are still travelling through the Bosphorus Straits. While Moscow from 2016 will re-impose visas for Turks in a retaliatory move, Russians can still travel to Turkey without visas.

"We are acting with patience in order to return our relations to old days," Cavusoglu said.

But he criticised Moscow for using every platform to target Turkey after the plane crisis, including its bringing a controversial Turkish troop deployment in Iraq to the agenda of the UN Security Council.

Russia Tuesday called the informal talks, but the United Nations Security Council did not take a stand on the dispute.

Cavusoglu said the fact that the Security Council refused to issue a statement urging Turkey to respect Iraq's sovereignty meant Russia had been "disgraced".

Turkish leader says Iraq troop pullout 'out of the question'
Ankara (AFP) Dec 11, 2015 - President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkish troops deployed in Iraq for training purposes in the fight against the Islamic State were not on combat mission and their pullout was "out of the question."

The deployment of several hundred troops by Turkey in Bashiqa, close to an area held by IS in northern Iraq, has enraged Baghdad which has asked Ankara to withdraw all its forces.

"What they do in Bashiqa and at the camp is training," Erdogan told a news conference in Ankara late on Thursday.

"The number of our soldiers will increase or reduce according to the number of peshmergas who are trained. (Their) withdrawal is out of the question."

Baghdad has threatened to take the issue to the UN Security Council if troops are not withdrawn, saying they had entered the country illegally without its consent.

Turkey has a long-running training programme at a base near the city of Mosul, the Islamic State group's main hub in Iraq, but the deployment last week expanded Ankara's presence there.

The base gives Turkey a foothold in an area where a major ground operation against IS is eventually to take place, and where its archfoe, Kurdish rebel group the Kurdistan Workers' Party, has also sought to expand its presence.

Erdogan's comments came a day after he met with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani, who has long-standing ties with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

Erdogan said Turkey, the United States and northern Iraq will hold a trilateral meeting on December 21 to discuss all issues. The venue for the meeting was not yet clear.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke on the phone with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Thursday upon Washington's request, sources from his office said.

The Turkish premier informed Biden of the training activity in Bashiqa since March and measures taken to protect the trainers and the camp there.

Davutoglu told Biden Turkey respected Iraq's terroritorial integrity and was ready to contribute to its fight against the IS in coordination with Baghdad, according to the sources.

Turkish foreign ministry Under Secretary Feridun Sinirlioglu and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan also met with the Iraqi premier and foreign minister on Thursday, Davutoglu told Biden, the sources said.

Davutoglu has defended the deployment as an "act of solidarity" and said: "When the threats increased (to the lightly-armed Turkish trainers), we sent troops to protect the camp."

Turkey this week urged its citizens to leave all areas of Iraq excluding Iraqi Kurdistan, due to increased security risks.

 

 

IMF accused of bowing to political pressure in Ukraine support

 
‎16 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎02:48:30 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Dec 11, 2015 - Has the world's crisis lender become politicized?

The International Monetary Fund has been accused of giving in to political pressure in dropping a long established rule on prudential lending on Tuesday so that it can proceed with assistance for Ukraine.

That follows similar charges that the fund, the world's essential backstop in financial crises, bent its rules to support a bailout of Greece, and most recently to admit China's renminbi (or yuan) currency into the IMF's basket of elite reserve currencies.

The newest move on Ukraine drew a rare, virulent outburst from Moscow, which said it "seriously undermines" its confidence in the IMF's decisions.

On Tuesday, the IMF board voted to drop a rule that forbids the fund from lending to member countries that are in arrears on loans to other official lenders, including sovereign governments.

That move opens the door for the IMF to release new funds for Ukraine even if it misses payments on a $3 billion loan from Russia.

An impasse in talks over the loan -- which Kiev wants Moscow to partly write off -- threatens to block the IMF proceeding with a $17.5-billion rescue plan for Ukraine.

The IMF "has for the first time in its history taken a decision aimed at supporting a borrowing country counter to existing agreements, solely for political reasons," said Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev.

And, writing in the Financial Times Thursday, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said the decision "may raise questions as to the impartiality of an institution that plays a critical role in addressing international financial instability."

"Its well-founded principles should be changed only after due consideration, and not in response to the politics of the moment."

The IMF stressed that the rule revision had been in discussion since 2013, well before the eruption of the Ukraine crisis.

"The need for this reform has been evident for some time now," said Hugh Bredenkamp, an IMF official.

Changing the policy, he argued, effectively strengthens the incentives for official creditors to a country to work together to solve its problems.

Even so, the timing raises questions.

"It was right to move, but the timing is not right," said Andrea Montanino, Italy's former representative on the IMF executive board.

"This was a mistake to do it in a rush, and that gives the impression that this was an ad hoc decision," he told AFP.

For several months the leading Western countries which dominate IMF policy had been searching for a way around Russia's refusal to renegotiate its loan to Ukraine.

"We will find a way," a senior European official told AFP recently, insisting on anonymity.

But does that mean the IMF was giving in to pressure from its main shareholders, the Europeans and Americans? It isn't that simple, according to experts on the issue.

The Ukraine case "was a catalyst to galvanize membership consensus on a policy change," said Domenico Lombardi, a former IMF staffer who works on the Ukraine crisis.

"The IMF seized the right momentum and moved ahead to close a gap."

- 'Not black and white' -

It is not the first time that the Washington-based IMF, which has 188 member-states, has found itself target of such criticism.

When Greece fell into deep trouble and required extraordinary IMF support in 2010, the institution grit its teeth and changed certain rules in order to step in to address a "systemic risk" to the global economy.

Some emerging economic powers, whose small voting power at the fund is disproportionate to their new power in the global economy, saw the hand of the over-represented Europeans, those most threatened by a Greek implosion.

More recently, in November, the fund's move to add China's currency to its own reserve basket, which had only included the US dollar, the euro, the yen and the pound, was seen by some as a stretch of the rules to gratify Beijing, which despite being the world's second largest economy still only has a small voting weight at the fund.

"It was a smart move but it was of course very much political," said Montanino. "There was the need for the IMF to send some signals to China which doesn't have the right recognition at the fund."

The fund, though, has vehemently defended its moves as rule-based.

The decision on the renminbi "was a technical process that went on over an extended period of time, and the decision is firmly based in technical criteria," spokesman Gerry Rice said.

But experts on the fund's operations say it has to operate in a gray zone.

"The IMF is a political institution which takes its decisions on a technical ground," said Lombardi.

"It's not always black and white and there is room for interpretation and judgment."

 

 

US deploys P-8 Poseidon spy plane in Singapore amid South China Sea row

 
‎16 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎02:48:30 AMGo to full article
Singapore (AFP) Dec 8, 2015 - The United States has deployed a P-8 Poseidon spy plane in Singapore for the first time ever, both countries said, amid simmering regional tensions over Beijing's island-building in the disputed South China Sea.

China is locked in a territorial dispute with four Southeast Asian countries -- including Washington allies Vietnam and the Philippines -- and the US in October sent a warship near the disputed Spratly Islands chain, arguing for its right to freedom of navigation.

Singapore and Washington stressed the need for a strong US military presence in the region, where the plane was deployed Monday and will remain until December 14.

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and his Singapore counterpart Ng Eng Hen "welcomed the inaugural deployment of the P-8 Poseidon aircraft", in a joint statement issued after a meeting in Washington on Monday.

The plane's deployment "would promote greater inter-operability with regional militaries through participation in bilateral and multilateral exercises", the statement said.

The deployment would also support disaster relief and maritime security efforts, it added.

A separate statement from Singapore's defence ministry said both ministers "reaffirmed the importance of a strong US presence in the Asia-Pacific in ensuring regional peace and stability".

Regional diplomats said the deployment of the sophisticated spy plane is likely aimed at sending a message to China about Washington's resolve to oppose what they describe as Beijing's aggressive moves in the South China Sea, including its building of artificial islands in the disputed waters, through which much of the world's trade passes.

"The unstated message of course is that this deployment is aimed at China," a Southeast Asian diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

"And the message is that the US is here to stay, ready to support its friends and allies in the region," the diplomat told AFP.

The P-8 aircraft is a modified Boeing 737 jet equipped with advanced sensors and radar designed to gather intelligence and hunt down submarines.

A CNN crew aboard a P-8 Poseidon aircraft that flew from the Philippines over the artificial islands in May said they received repeated warnings from the Chinese navy to leave the area.

China claims almost all of the sea, including waters close to the shores of smaller Southeast Asian states.

Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan are the other claimants, but the Philippines and Vietnam are the most vocal against China's blanket claims.

Singapore is not a claimant, but officials in the city-state say it has an interest in the freedom of navigation because of its open, trade-dependent economy.

 

 

That's what Xi said? China state media scolded for typo

 
‎16 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎02:48:30 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) Dec 7, 2015 - A Chinese state news agency has suspended four employees, a report said, following a typographical slip that suggested President Xi Jinping was resigning.

The error came in a Friday story about a speech Xi gave during a China-Africa summit in Johannesburg last week.

Staff at the state-run China News Service switched two Chinese characters with similar sounds, accidentally changing the word in question to write that Xi's remarks were a "resignation" not a "speech", Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported Sunday.

Some news sites published the report in its original form before later retracting it, the paper said.

Since Xi's ascension to the head of the Communist Party in 2012, he has increasingly become the focus of fawning adulation by state media, leading some experts to say that a nascent cult of personality may be developing around him.

Last Friday, during his Africa trip, Xi's name appeared in 11 out of 12 headlines on the front page of the Communist Party's official newspaper, the People's Daily.

"Praise for the glorious leadership of Xi Jinping is marquee coverage," David Bandurski, an expert on Chinese media at the University of Hong Kong, wrote in a recent post about the phenomenon, noting that the paper was mentioning the leader's name at rates unseen since the era of Mao Zedong.

 

 

U.S. Navy begins PASSEX exercise with Baltic navies

 
‎16 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎02:48:30 AMGo to full article
Washington (UPI) Dec 7, 2015 - The U.S. Navy began its bilateral passing exercise known as PASSEX with ships from the Romanian, Turkish, and Ukrainian Navies on Sunday.

PASSEX is conducted to improve the maritime capabilities between the U.S. Navy and other naval forces involved. The training event comes as Ukrainian armed forces continue their fight against Moscow-supported militants in the eastern part of the country, and political tensions escalate between Turkey and Russia. The commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross says the event helps improve ties between the naval forces.

"I was very happy to support this recent PASSEX with our allies and partners," Cmdr. Russel Caldwell said in a statement. "Operating in the Black Sea and working with our allies provides us with an excellent opportunity to strengthen and reaffirm our partnerships. I look forward to future PASSEX opportunities with partner nations in these waters."

PASSEX included advanced ship maneuvering, search and seizure training, and air defense exercises.

USS Ross operates as part of the U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet of responsibility, which regularly conducts naval exercises and patrol missions in the Mediterranean Sea to support both the U.S.'s national security interests and stability in Europe and Africa.

The 6th Fleet is headquartered in Naples, Italy.

 

 

Japan, US vow to push Okinawa base relocation

 
‎16 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎02:48:30 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) Dec 4, 2015 - Japan and the US vowed Friday to press ahead with the construction of a new air base on strategic Okinawa, and pledged to speed up the return of some land on the island where pacifist sentiment runs high.

The announcement came just two days after Tokyo pressured Okinawa in court to try and force its governor to support the controversial transfer of a US Marine air base from one part of the island to another.

Takeshi Onaga, the governor, opposes the move and argues that the rest of Japan needs to share the burden of supporting the country's decades-long security alliance with close ally the United States.

He wants the unpopular Futenma air base, located in a crowded urban area and widely seen as dangerous to residents, to move off the island entirely rather than to a more remote and environmentally delicate part as pushed for nearly 20 years by Tokyo and Washington.

US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy said Friday that Washington backed the existing relocation scheme, and argued that the planned return of US base properties to Okinawa should ease its burden.

"The US government remains committed to executing this entire plan at the earliest possible date," she said in a joint announcement with Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

"We look forward to working with the government of Japan to make that happen."

Under the announced deal, some sections of land now used by US forces, including on Futenma, will be returned to Okinawa as early as in fiscal year 2017, which Japan's top-selling Yomiuri Shimbun reported was at least five years ahead of an earlier timeline.

But the land covered under the announcement accounts for less than one percent of the Futenma facility, Kyodo News said.

Suga, meanwhile, emphasised the importance of "our alliance being further strengthened through steady implementation" of the base relocation deal

The Japanese government and Okinawa fought in an initial court hearing Wednesday where Tokyo is suing to reverse Onaga's decision to stop the government from building the new US base.

Okinawa, the site of a bloody World War II battle between Japan and the US, is considered a strategic linchpin for the countries as they face China's increasing military might and the regional threat of North Korean missiles.

Okinawa, which makes up less than one percent of Japan's total land area, is home to about 75 percent of US military bases in the country and more than half of the 47,000 American military personnel stationed in the country.

Residents have complained for decades about noise, crimes, accidents and other problems associated with the American military presence.

 

 

China to build navy base in Djibouti: Djiboutian minister

 
‎16 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎02:48:30 AMGo to full article
Johannesburg (AFP) Dec 4, 2015 - China is to build its first naval base in Djibouti, the Djiboutian foreign minister said Friday, in the latest sign of China's growing international security presence.

Djibouti is seen as a key strategic location in the Horn of Africa, with United States, France and Japan already having facilities in the country.

"The negotiations have come to an end and the naval base will be built in Djibouti," Mahamoud Ali Youssouf told AFP on the sidelines of a summit of African leaders in Johannesburg.

"The goal of the base is to fight against pirates... and most of all to secure the Chinese ships using this very important strait that is important to all the countries in the world."

"For Djibouti, it's an additional strategic ally."

A former French colony, Djibouti guards the entrance to the Red Sea and, ultimately, the Suez Canal, and has been used by international navies as a hub in the fight against piracy from neighbouring Somalia.

"For a few years with the instability in Somalia, this region has become a refuge for pirates and the terrorist movements," Youssouf said.

In May, Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh told AFP that talks over the military base were underway.

Guelleh met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the summit in Johannesburg, where China announced $60 billion of assistance and loans for Africa.

China announces $60 billion 'funding support' for Africa
Johannesburg (AFP) Dec 4, 2015 - Chinese President Xi Jinping announced $60 billion of assistance and loans for Africa at a summit in Johannesburg on Friday, signalling China's commitment to the continent despite a recent fall in investment.

China's economic growth has taken a dip this year, triggering a global commodities slump and causing Beijing to slash investment in Africa by more than 40 percent in the first six months of 2015.

Xi said that China would "provide a total of $60 billion of funding support that includes $5 billion of grants in zero interest loans (and) $35 billion in preferential facility and export credit loans and concessional loans."

In a slew of pledges at his speech opening the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), he also announced drought aid for the continent.

"China is greatly concerned about the poor harvest caused by El Nino in many African countries and will provide one billion renminbi yuan ($156 million) worth of emergency food aid to the affected countries," he said.

The two-day FOCAC meeting is the second time China has brought together African leaders since the forum was launched in Beijing in 2000.

Since then, China's trade with Africa has overtaken that of the traditional partners, Europe and the United States.

"China is still very active in Africa," Deborah Brautigan, of the US-based China Africa Research Institute, told AFP.

"They are very competitive. They made it clear that Africa is still their business partner (but) this big sum is mainly loans that will have to be repaid."

The money will target 10 areas, including industrialisation, infrastructure, financial services, poverty reduction, and peace and security.

Zhong Jinahua, a Chinese diplomat at the summit, brushed off concerns about the recent drop in investment into Africa.

"I don't think we need to panic over the fluctuation in trade volumes," he told reporters. "It's only natural for the market to experience some ups and downs."

- Mining lay-offs -

A fall in mineral prices has hit African countries who relied on Chinese demand, with large lay-offs by mining companies in resource-rich countries such as Zambia and South Africa.

"We are keen to explore cooperation with China to ensure the long term viability of African mining," South Africa President Jacob Zuma told the summit.

"This is important in light of the declining demand for commodities."

Among the presidents attending were Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, which is Africa's largest economy, Salva Kiir of South Sudan, Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya's Uhuru Kenyatta.

Xi -- accompanied by his wife Peng Liyuan -- landed in South Africa after a brief visit to Zimbabwe, where Chinese projects have helped prop up an economy plunged into crisis under President Robert Mugabe's rule.

Mugabe, who addressed the summit's opening session as chair of African Union, lavished praise on the Chinese leader.

"We say he is a god-sent person," Mugabe said. "President Xi Jinping has made a much anticipated announcement of new measures... to inject vibrancy into that already dynamic relationship between China and Africa.

"Our detractors have sought to portray our relationship to purely commercials ties, driven by China's desire to extract our mineral resources, (but) our relations go much deeper."

Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, was not expected to attend the Johannesburg event.

He attended an African Union summit in the city earlier this year, leading to a huge furore when South Africa declined to arrest him despite a court order.

 

 

Germany pushes NATO to engage Russia

 
‎16 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎02:48:30 AMGo to full article
Brussels (AFP) Dec 2, 2015 - Germany pushed its NATO allies Wednesday to re-open high-level channels of communication with Russia, arguing that Moscow has a constructive role to play in many areas, especially in ending the Syrian conflict.

"We still have very different experiences with Russia, there is a difficult situation in eastern Ukraine, again breaches of the ceasefire," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at a meeting of his NATO peers in Brussels.

"But we also see that Russia is acting definitely in a constructive way in the efforts to find a solution for Syria."

Russia's intervention in Ukraine and support for pro-Moscow rebels fighting the pro-Western government in Kiev has badly soured ties with the West, prompting NATO to suspend all practical cooperation.

Since June 2014 there have been no meetings of the ambassador-level NATO-Russia Council (NRC) which used to handle all political contacts between the two sides. Steinmeier said it was now time to look again at the issue.

"I pushed... for possibilities to reduce risks and exchange information with Russia. This can only mean in the current situation that we try to make this instrument available again," he said, referring to the NRC.

Steinmeier said his NATO peers had agreed to ask alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg to begin preparations for such talks.

"This means that meetings on the level of ambassadors will be made possible again soon," he said.

Stoltenberg said later Wednesday he would "now explore how we can use the council as a tool for political engagement."

He stressed however that as long as the Ukraine crisis remained unresolved and Russia failed to live up to its commitments to support the Minsk peace accords there, it could not be business as usual.

He said the US-led alliance had always wanted political engagement with Russia, even as NATO has boosted its readiness in the face of a more assertive Moscow.

This includes establishing a rapid response force and measures to cope with the type of hybrid warfare -- a mix of conventional force and indirect management -- Moscow demonstrated in Ukraine.

NATO diplomatic sources said convening the NRC in itself would not be that significant but Steinmeier's proposal got a sympathetic hearing when the foreign ministers met late Tuesday.

They said US Secretary of State John Kerry was also positive on the idea.

Kerry said separately Wednesday he believed Russia could play "an extremely constructive and important role" in Syrian peace efforts.

Some NATO members, however, remain sceptical, especially in eastern Europe where they fear Russia wants to reassert its Soviet-era influence, the sources said.

 

 

Polish call to scrap NATO-Russia deal 'extraordinarily dangerous': Moscow

 
‎29 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎11:29:48 PMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) Nov 26, 2015 - Russia's foreign ministry on Thursday slammed as "extraordinarily dangerous" Poland's call to annul a NATO act that prevents it from having permanent military bases on its soil.

"We consider these statements to be extraordinarily dangerous and exceptionally provocative," Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Poland's new right-wing Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski on Wednesday called for scrapping the 1997 act on NATO-Russia relations to let the alliance install the bases, saying the document causes "inequality" between new and old members of the alliance.

Zakharova said that Waszczykowski's statement was part of an attempt to rally Western public opinion ahead of next year's NATO summit in Warsaw and that the annulment of the deal could "bring down the existing European security system."

"We see here the desire to convey the irreversible course taken by the alliance on the military containment of our country," she said in a briefing.

The Polish foreign ministry insisted Thursday evening that Moscow had "clearly misunderstood" Waszczykowski.

"Of course he was not referring to the NATO-Russia Founding Act adopted in 1997, but to political declarations by NATO concerning the deployment of large military units in Central Europe."

The 1997 document stipulates that older NATO members "have no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members" like Poland, Hungary or the Baltic countries.

It adds that NATO "will carry out its collective defence and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces."

Russia has long insisted this provision clearly rules out permanent bases and troop deployments.

Poland wants NATO-Russia deal scrapped: minister
Warsaw (AFP) Nov 25, 2015 - Poland wants a 1997 deal on NATO-Russia ties to be scrapped to let the alliance install permanent military bases in Polish soil, something that Moscow insists the agreement rules out.

Poland's new right-wing Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski insisted in an interview published Wednesday that the deal must go because it causes "inequality" between new and older NATO members.

The 1997 document stipulates that older NATO members "have no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members" like ex-communist Poland.

Russia has long insisted this provision also rules out permanent bases and troop deployments.

Asked whether he wants the 1997 agreement annulled, Waszczykowski told the liberal Gazeta Wyborcza daily: "Yes. This agreement was political in character, it was not legally binding, and was concluded in a different international context.

"We demand an equal level of security" between older and new NATO members, he added.

"NATO cannot have two levels of security, namely one for Western Europe with US troops, with military bases and defence installations and another for Poland, without these elements.

"Poland is Russia's neighbour and this is why we're speaking up."

In 1999, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary became the first ex-communist states to join NATO as the western defence alliance expanded into Warsaw Pact territory controlled by Moscow during the Soviet era.

Subsequent waves of expansion saw 12 formerly communist states join NATO. Russia has long opposed the expansion in the area it still considers a backyard.

Waszczykowski is a key member of Poland's new eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) government. Led by former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the PiS is also well known for its hardline stance on Russia.

He said Poland was prepared to take Russia to court if it fails to promptly return the wreckage of the jet that crashed in Smolensk, western Russia, in 2010 killing then-president Lech Kaczynski -- Jaroslaw's identical twin.

Waszczykowski however underscored Poland's strong economic ties with top EU trading partner Germany and vowed that "Warsaw won't do anything that could damage this relationship."

But he said there were "certain issues on which we differ", namely security issues.

"The Germans think this (scrapping the 1997 deal) will cause tension with Russia. We ask: whose comfort are you more concerned about? A state that is your NATO and EU ally or a non-member that is engaged in its third war: with Georgia, Ukraine and now, Syria," Waszczykowski said.

 

 

Russia targets Turkish economy over downed warplane

 
‎29 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎11:29:48 PMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) Nov 26, 2015 - Russia on Thursday pledged broad retaliatory measures against Turkey's economy in revenge for the downing of one of its warplanes, as recriminations between Moscow and Ankara reached fever pitch.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan angrily rebuffed his Russian counterpart's demands for an apology and said Vladimir Putin had snubbed a phone call from him after Tuesday's incident.

The downing of the plane on the Syrian border has raised fears it could fuel a wider geopolitical conflict, and highlighted the difficulty of forging consensus on the fate of Syria as French President Francois Hollande held talks with Putin in Moscow.

While Russia ruled out any military retaliation against NATO member Turkey over the plane incident, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev gave his ministers two days to work out "a system of response measures" in the economic and humanitarian spheres.

He said the punitive steps for what he termed "this act of aggression" could include halting joint economic projects, restricting financial and trade transactions and changing customs duties.

Measures could also target transport and tourism after Putin told citizens not to travel to Turkey, a hugely popular tourist destination. The foreign ministry urged those already in Turkey to return home due to "existing terrorist threats".

Russia also tightened control over Turkish food imports over alleged safety standard violations.

Economy minister Alexei Ulyukayev did not rule out that the measures could hit two major projects with Turkey -- the planned Turk Stream gas pipeline and the Akkuyu nuclear power plant -- in a move that looked set to rattle cages in energy-poor Turkey.

Separately, Turkey on Thursday summoned the Russian ambassador to Ankara over an "unacceptable" violent demonstration over the plane shooting that took place outside the Turkish embassy in Moscow, the foreign ministry said.

- 'Shame on you' -

Ahead of the Hollande talks on the Syrian crisis, Putin and Erdogan traded barbs, with the Russian leader saying he was waiting for an apology and Erdogan ruling out any such move.

"We are under the impression that the Turkish leadership is deliberately pushing Russian-Turkish relations into deadlock. We regret that," said Putin.

He flayed Turkey for "treacherous stabs in the back" and accused its leadership of buttressing Islamic State jihadists financially and militarily.

Erdogan said Putin had refused to answer his call and insisted his country did not buy any oil from the Islamic State (IS) group.

"Shame on you. Those who claim we buy oil from Daesh are obliged to prove it. If not, you are a slanderer," he said in a speech, using an alternative name for IS.

"I think if there is a party that needs to apologise, it is not us," he told CNN separately.

In a later interview with France 24 television Erdogan however conceded that Turkey "would have acted differently" if it had known the jet was Russian.

Analysts said that while both countries can ill-afford a permanent rupture in ties, the clash of egos between the two leaders could further damage relations.

"Their desire not to lose face has the potential to weaken otherwise pragmatic calculations to contain the crisis," said Anthony Skinner, director of political risk at Verisk Maplecroft consultancy.

- Moscow targets rebels -

The shooting down of the aircraft is thought to be the first downing of a Russian plane by a NATO member since 1952 when US pilots brought down a Soviet plane near Vladivostok during the Korean War.

Tuesday's incident led to the deaths of one of the two pilots and of a soldier who took part in a failed rescue operation -- Moscow's first combat losses since the start of its Syria campaign.

On Thursday, Moscow said its forces had wiped out Syrian rebel groups operating in the area where its jet was brought down, unleashing a huge bombardment after rescuing the second pilot.

Moscow also said it had now stationed its most hi-tech missile defence system at its airbase in Syria.

Turkey insists its forces repeatedly warned the Russian aircraft, an assertion backed up by the United States, which said however that it was not yet clear which side of the border the jet was on when it was targeted.

Some observers believe Ankara downed the jet out of anger over Moscow's strikes against ethnic Turkmen in Syria, a minority it views as an ally in its struggle against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Moscow, an Assad ally, claims the plane never entered Turkish airspace and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has branded the incident a "planned provocation."

The tensions have threatened to derail Hollande's efforts to cobble together a broad anti-IS coalition in response to the November 13 attacks in Paris that left 130 dead and were claimed by the jihadist group.

 

 

Poland wants NATO-Russia deal scrapped: minister

 
‎29 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎11:29:48 PMGo to full article
Warsaw (AFP) Nov 25, 2015 - Poland wants a 1997 deal on NATO-Russia ties to be scrapped to let the alliance install permanent military bases in Polish soil, something that Moscow insists the agreement rules out.

Poland's new right-wing Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski insisted in an interview published Wednesday that the deal must go because it causes "inequality" between new and older NATO members.

The 1997 document stipulates that older NATO members "have no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members" like ex-communist Poland.

Russia has long insisted this provision also rules out permanent bases and troop deployments.

Asked whether he wants the 1997 agreement annulled, Waszczykowski told the liberal Gazeta Wyborcza daily: "Yes. This agreement was political in character, it was not legally binding, and was concluded in a different international context.

"We demand an equal level of security" between older and new NATO members, he added.

"NATO cannot have two levels of security, namely one for Western Europe with US troops, with military bases and defence installations and another for Poland, without these elements.

"Poland is Russia's neighbour and this is why we're speaking up."

In 1999, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary became the first ex-communist states to join NATO as the western defence alliance expanded into Warsaw Pact territory controlled by Moscow during the Soviet era.

Subsequent waves of expansion saw 12 formerly communist states join NATO. Russia has long opposed the expansion in the area it still considers a backyard.

Waszczykowski is a key member of Poland's new eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) government. Led by former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the PiS is also well known for its hardline stance on Russia.

He said Poland was prepared to take Russia to court if it fails to promptly return the wreckage of the jet that crashed in Smolensk, western Russia, in 2010 killing then-president Lech Kaczynski -- Jaroslaw's identical twin.

Waszczykowski however underscored Poland's strong economic ties with top EU trading partner Germany and vowed that "Warsaw won't do anything that could damage this relationship."

But he said there were "certain issues on which we differ", namely security issues.

"The Germans think this (scrapping the 1997 deal) will cause tension with Russia. We ask: whose comfort are you more concerned about? A state that is your NATO and EU ally or a non-member that is engaged in its third war: with Georgia, Ukraine and now, Syria," Waszczykowski said.

 

 

Under junta rule, Thailand pivots towards China

 
‎29 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎11:29:48 PMGo to full article
Bangkok (AFP) Nov 25, 2015 - Chinese fighter jets thunder through blue skies above an air force base in northeast Thailand, a symbol of the blossoming military and political ties between the junta-run country and its authoritarian northern neighbour.

For the last two weeks Thai and Chinese planes have been taking part in the inaugural joint air force drill, an exercise culminating later this week with a performance by Beijing's acrobatic air team.

For Group Captain Chanon Mungthanya, a Royal Thai Air Force spokesman involved in the drill at Korat, it is a valuable opportunity to interact with his Chinese counterparts.

"Our relationship will go up a level during this exercise," he told AFP.

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

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

Meanwhile Thailand is doing a pivot of its own.

"The junta is obviously much more comfortable with China because they speak the same language and commit the same practices: authoritarianism," said Puangthong Pawakapan, a Thai politics expert at Chulalongkorn University.

- China critics deported -

Beijing swiftly recognised junta chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha and is pushing plans for a multi-billion dollar Chinese-built rail network through the kingdom.

Thailand is also considering whether to spend $1 billion on Chinese submarines.

But rights groups say this closeness has unpleasant consequences inside Thailand, with the junta seemingly happy to do Beijing's dirty work.

In July more than 100 Uighur refugees were deported to China, despite warnings from the United Nations that the Muslim minority faced the risk of persecution.

Thai authorities insist the deadly August Bangkok shrine blast was not a revenge attack, even though the majority of victims were ethnic Chinese and two Uighurs have been charged.

Three weeks after those deportations, in comments that caused much media merriment, Thailand's then foreign minister General Tanasak Patimapragorn lavished praise on Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi.

"If I were a woman I will fall in love with his excellency," he said.

Earlier this month two Chinese dissidents who had been granted refugee status by the UN, one of whom had been living in Thailand for years, were abruptly arrested and sent to Beijing. A third has gone missing in Thailand.

"Thailand is no longer a safe place for anyone with anti-CPC (Communist Party of China) views," professor Puangthong said.

Paul Chambers, director of the Institute of South East Asian Affairs, said the junta is "playing the realist... juggling connections with China, Japan and the US to obtain the highest dividend for the Thai state".

But Chambers believes the recent deportations are something new.

"It does show the Chinese that the Thai military is willing to take enormous flak to help Beijing out."

- Delicate balance for US -

For the United States, events in Thailand create a quandary.

Obama has made reasserting American influence in the Asia-Pacific region a flagship of his foreign policy.

But the "pivot" has fallen victim to diplomatic distractions in the Middle East and other trouble spots.

It has also struggled to gain traction at a time when democratic progress across Southeast Asia shows signs of stagnation.

Thailand chafes under a junta seemingly in no rush to hold elections. Cambodian strongman Hun Sen retains his grip after more than 30-years of rule. Vietnam and Laos remain intolerant one-party states.

Washington cancelled some military aid after the Thai coup and continues to call for a return to democracy. But it is also wary about pushing away a regional ally.

Earlier this year it pressed ahead with the Cobra Gold exercise, Asia's largest military drill, conducted annually in Thailand.

"Thailand has pivoted toward China but Bangkok's edging toward Beijing is not at all a total plunge," said Chambers.

Washington, he says, still holds significant influence, especially if the recently agreed Trans-Pacific Partnership becomes a reality and Thailand chooses to join.

A spokeswoman at the US embassy in Bangkok said Washington's close relationship with Thailand has "endured and flourished through many challenging times".

"This does not prevent us from addressing issues of concern, including about democracy and human rights," she said.

Back on Korat airbase, new friendships between Thai and Chinese soldiers are being forged.

"We can chat, we can have our military help each other out," said Group Captain Chanon. "We eat together, get to know one another, become tired and practise together".

 

 

Reality check for Putin after Turkey shoots down plane

 
‎29 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎11:29:48 PMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) Nov 25, 2015 - President Vladimir Putin has found himself in a bind after the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkey, which highlights the risks of his gung-ho Syria campaign and the difficulty of forging consensus on the war-torn country's future.

The dramatic escalation in tensions between Russia and NATO member Turkey comes as Putin prepares for talks Thursday in Moscow with France's Francois Hollande on building a broad coalition to fight Islamic State (IS) jihadists.

Putin, who supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, has sought to capitalise on shifting dynamics in the West in the wake of the November 13 attacks in Paris that were claimed by IS.

Welcoming Hollande's call for greater cooperation on combatting the jihadists in Syria, he ordered his military to work with NATO member France "as allies" -- a first since World War II.

But analysts say that the downing of the Russian plane on Turkey's border serves as a reminder that global and regional powers are unlikely to band together in a broad coalition given their stark differences on the Syrian conflict, not least on the fate of Assad, a friend of Moscow but a foe of Turkey and the West.

- Global coalition unlikely -

"It is impossible to imagine Russia and Turkey in the same coalition," Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the government-linked Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, told AFP.

"But the situation did not change -- and maybe even improved -- as far as Russia's cooperation with the United States and France is concerned."

Turkey's NATO allies called for a rapid de-escalation of tensions and stressed the need to prevent such incidents in the future.

Russia, for its part, said it would not retaliate militarily and Moscow's ambassador to France, Alexander Orlov, even said Moscow was ready to establish a "joint staff" to fight the Islamic State together with Paris, Washington and Ankara.

But Putin's fury was on full display Tuesday when he accused Turkey of betraying Russia and backing Islamic State and suggested Russia could retaliate with economic and political measures.

"Judging by the president's face yesterday, no losses to Russian companies will be able to stop him," Lukyanov said.

"The entire model of economic ties with Turkey -- tourism, food, consumer goods, construction and so on -- all of this will be under huge pressure."

Putin's domestic critics flayed the Kremlin strongman for the loss of one of the warplane's pilot and another soldier who was killed during a failed operation to rescue the crew.

Their deaths became Russia's first known combat casualties since Moscow began a bombing campaign in Syria on September 30.

The loss of the Russian jet was also the first known downing of a plane over Syria since a Jordanian aircraft came down over the country in 2014.

- 'Humiliation of adventurer' -

Political observer and satirist Viktor Shenderovich accused Putin of taking the country to the brink of war with a NATO member.

"The international humiliation of the military adventurer had to take place one way or another," Shenderovich wrote in a blog, predicting the Kremlin would try to harness the incident for political gain.

"There is no doubt they will manage to use the nation's shock for their own political purposes; not for the first time," he said.

Some Russian analysts suggested Turkey shot down the Russian jet out of anger over Putin's cavalier attitude to the conflict and apparent disregard for Ankara's interests in the war-torn country.

While Putin insisted the plane posed no threat to Turkey, Ankara said Moscow was bombing Syria's Turkmen, a minority it views as an ally in its struggle against the Assad regime.

"The Turks want Russia to acknowledge that along their border there lies a zone not suitable for sorties and bombings," military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer told AFP.

"Russia is not simply bombing the Turkmen, it is clearing a path for an offensive by Assad and Hezbollah," he added.

"This could lead to the ethnic cleansing of Turkmens, which is unacceptable for Turkey."

Russia said it would ratchet up its firepower in Syria and send its most advanced air defence systems to its airbase there, adding that bombers flying sorties would be accompanied by fighter jets.

The military buildup will in turn increase the risk of new incidents.

"The longer the operation, the greater the risks," Lukyanov said.

"You have to be a complete lunatic to believe -- after everything we have seen in the Middle East over the past 15 years -- that an intervention in a civil war in the Middle East will be easy and problem-free."

 

 

Putin inaugurates museum honouring ex-leader Yeltsin

 
‎29 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎11:29:48 PMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) Nov 25, 2015 - Late Russian leader Boris Yeltsin's "nuclear button" briefcase went on display Wednesday as a major new museum devoted to the legacy of Russia's first president opened in the Urals.

Russian President Vladimir Putin -- whom an ailing Yeltsin anointed as his heir on New Year's Eve 1999 with the words "Take care of Russia" -- unveiled the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Centre in the former leader's home city of Yekaterinburg in the Ural mountains.

Putin called the museum a "tribute to the memory of Russia's first president" and the radical change the country went through in the 1990s.

"I remember the words of Boris Nikolaevich that the whole country now knows: 'Take care of Russia,'" Putin said at the ceremony.

"They were addressed to all of us, the current and future generations. Boris Nikolaevich wanted our country to be strong, prosperous and happy. We have already done a lot to achieve those goals."

Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev laid flowers at a monument to Yeltsin and toured the museum accompanied by his widow Naina and daughter Tatyana Yumasheva.

The Boris Yeltsin centre showcases Yeltsin's pivotal role in ushering in free-market policies after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but public opinion remains broadly negative eight years after his death.

"It's wonderful that we will be launching such a tradition -- a tradition of respect for a president who stepped down and his legacy," his widow Naina Yeltsina told Moskovsky Komsomolets tabloid.

Yeltsin led Russia from 1991 to 1999 before stepping aside and nominating his protege Putin, then a little-known spy boss, to succeed him.

He died in 2007 at the age of 76.

-'The most dramatic moments'-

The museum recreates Yeltsin's Kremlin office with the original furniture and row of rotary dial telephones.

In a glass case sits the famous briefcase, which had a button inside authorizing the use of nuclear weapons -- now with the electronics removed.

Exhibits that aim to immerse visitors in the atmosphere of the 1990s include mockups of an empty grocery store and a living room with the ballet Swan Lake playing on loop on state television, as happened in 1991 when Soviet hardliners staged a failed coup.

After winning public support at the barricades that year, Yeltsin came to power with an ambitious agenda of unpopular reforms.

But his heavy drinking and heart problems tarnished his reputation and his approval ratings fell to single figures.

Among the politicians interviewed for videos shown in the exhibition was Yeltsin's former first deputy prime minister, Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was gunned down in Moscow in February.

"He was a rebel, Yeltsin," said Nemtsov.

"I can't say he was very up on political and economic theory, but he understood in practice all the stupidity of the Soviet planned system."

Yeltsin's daughter Yumasheva, who was one of his most trusted advisors, told TASS state news agency the centre aimed "to tell the truth about the 1990s", from the constitutional and economic crises of the day to the first Chechen War.

The museum's website quotes Yeltsin as saying that thanks to him, "Russia will now never go back to the past."

A Levada poll in December found just 11 percent of Russians rated Yeltsin positively, while 40 percent said they viewed him negatively. The rest took a neutral view or gave not answer.

 

 

Hague court begins hearing into South China Sea row

 
‎29 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎11:29:48 PMGo to full article
The Hague (AFP) Nov 24, 2015 - An international tribunal on Tuesday began hearing a case brought by the Philippines over disputed islands in the South China Sea, in an increasingly bitter row with China.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration "commenced the hearing on the merits and remaining issues of jurisdiction and admissibility," the Hague-based tribunal said in a statement.

Manila has called for the tribunal, which is more than a century old, to rule on the dispute, appealing to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, putting it in conflict with several neighbours, and is a party to the Convention but has rejected the court's jurisdiction on the issue.

"Our position is clear: we will not participate to or accept the arbitration," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing earlier Tuesday.

The hearing, expected to last until November 30, is being held behind closed doors. But Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are allowed to have observers present.

Beijing has never precisely defined its claims to the strategic waterway, through which about a third of all the world's traded oil passes.

The waters -- claimed in part by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei -- have become the stage for a tussle for dominance between Beijing and Washington, the world's two largest economic and military powers.

Following a stand-off between Chinese ships and the weak Philippine Navy in 2012, China took control of a rich fishing ground called Scarborough Shoal that is within the Philippines' claimed exclusive economic zone.

Beijing has in recent years rapidly built artificial islands, which neighbours fear will be used as military outposts.

Manila hopes that a ruling in its favour from the court, which was established in 1899, could put pressure on Beijing to rein in its territorial ambitions.

In a July hearing in The Hague, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario warned the very integrity of UN maritime laws was at stake.

China's behaviour had become increasingly "aggressive" and negotiations had proved futile, del Rosario said.

 

 

China under fresh fire over sea rows as US courts SE Asia

 
‎29 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎11:29:48 PMGo to full article
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) Nov 22, 2015 - China came under renewed criticism Sunday over its rising profile in the South China Sea as it jostled with the United States for regional influence at the conclusion to a week of top-level diplomacy.

Asia-Pacific leaders met in Malaysia with China finding itself in the firing line over its land reclamation projects that have turned tiny atolls into fully-fledged islands with potential military uses.

"The world is watching," to see if Beijing will behave like a "responsible global leader" in the standoff, Philippine President Benigno Aquino told the assembled leaders.

The talks -- which included the United States, China, Japan and others -- were hosted by the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

President Barack Obama, who earlier in the week repeated US calls for China to stop the land reclamation, announced Sunday he would host the ASEAN leaders at a meeting in the United States next year.

"This region ... is critical to security, prosperity and human dignity around the world," he said, while also pledging continued trade, diplomatic, and security support for the region.

The annual season of summitry, which began a week ago in Turkey for the Group of 20 meeting, and continued with regional forums in Manila and Kuala Lumpur, has been overshadowed by the string of recent deadly extremist attacks.

But attention in Malaysia shifted back to Chinese actions, which have raised fears of potential conflict at sea.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe waded into the fray, calling for the South China Sea, a key route for global seaborne trade, not to be militarised, while refraining from directly naming China, according to Kyodo news agency.

- 'Political provocation' -

China insists on sovereignty over virtually all the resource-endowed South China Sea, which is also claimed in part by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, and non-ASEAN member Taiwan.

Beijing has displayed irritation with Washington's expressions of support for the claims of China's neighbours, and once again refused to budge on the issue in Kuala Lumpur.

With Obama present, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told Sunday's closed-door summit that countries "from outside the region" should stop inflaming tensions over the maritime dispute, a Chinese official said afterward.

The official, Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, also criticised the recent US deployment of naval vessels to the South China Sea.

Washington has said the move was meant to stress the right to free passage in waters China claims, but Liu called it a "political provocation."

At the same time, China offered its own carrot to ASEAN, announcing a new raft of infrastructure loans totalling some $10 billion.

ASEAN on Saturday issued a joint statement stressing the need to maintain freedom of navigation and over-flight rights in the South China Sea.

Washington says navigation in a sea through which much of the world's trade passes could be threatened by actions such as China's island-building.

ASEAN also called for quicker progress on agreeing a code of conduct at sea with Beijing.

China has been accused of dragging its feet on the code -- which could hamper its freedom of action at sea -- and seeking to run out the game clock while it works to turn its disputed territorial claims into a fait accompli.

Obama also stressed US support for the code, and said on Saturday that "for the sake of regional stability, claimants should halt reclamation, new construction, and militarisation of disputed areas."

- ASEAN draws closer -

Earlier Sunday, the heads of ASEAN signed an agreement to formally establish the region as an EU-style common market.

Actually realising the vision of the "ASEAN Economic Community" remains a distant goal due to significant non-tariff and other barriers, and large development gaps across the diverse region.

Diplomats have admitted Sunday's declaration has no practical effect and was largely meant to avoid having ASEAN -- regularly criticised for its lack of concrete achievements -- miss its own deadline of 2015 for the AEC.

But the move takes the region a small step closer to a hoped-for single Southeast Asian market with free flow of goods, capital and skilled labour across borders.

Philippine leader says 'world is watching' China in sea row
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) Nov 22, 2015 - Philippine President Benigno Aquino told an Asia-Pacific summit on Sunday that "the world is watching" whether China would behave as a responsible power in the simmering standoff over maritime territory.

Aquino kept up a drumbeat of growing criticism of China's expansion of tiny atolls into fully-fledged islands, as leaders including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met in Malaysia.

The issue has increasingly loomed over the regional diplomatic and security outlook, with China accused of upsetting the status quo by moving to enhance its presence in the South China Sea.

"We are hopeful that China would honour its word and respect the rule of law," Aquino said, according to a copy of his address to the 18-country East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur.

Aquino's comment referred specifically to a dispute with China over maritime territory, which Manila is bringing before an international court.

"The world is watching and expects no less from a responsible global leader," Aquino said.

Beijing has vowed not to take part in the case, saying the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague has no jurisdiction over a matter concerning Chinese sovereignty.

Heads of government from 18 countries including the United States, China, India, Russia, Japan and nations in Southeast Asia are meeting for the annual East Asia summit, this year hosted by Malaysia.

A Philippine diplomat confirmed Aquino made the comments in the closed-door meeting.

The Kuala Lumpur diplomatic and political meetings follow a trade-related forum in Manila earlier in the week that included many of the same leaders.

The maritime issue has become the stage for a big-power confrontation between China and the United States, which warns that Beijing's actions could threaten freedom of navigation.

US President Barack Obama, who also attended both summits this week, has called on China to halt its land reclamation.

China has declared ownership of virtually all of the South China Sea, conflicting with the various claims of Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei.

The Philippines has been the most vocal in challenging China.

Aquino said Beijing's island reclamation was "in total disregard of international law" and its assertiveness had "come to a point wherein we are now no longer allowed to enter areas within our Exclusive Economic Zone".

Manila insists the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which the Philippines and China have both ratified, should be used to settle the bitter row.

"The great equaliser is the rule of law. Under the rule of law, right prevails over might," he told his fellow leaders.

 

 

Can Obama avoid LBJ's Vietnam mistakes in Syria and Iraq?

 
‎29 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎11:29:48 PMGo to full article
Washington DC (UPI) Nov 22, 2015 - Two and a half years ago, the specter of preemptive military action against Iran to halt its nuclear ambitions loomed. Citing President Lyndon Johnson's ultimately catastrophic decision to use the Tonkin Gulf incidents as the reasons for launching retaliatory air attacks against North Vietnam that would trap America in a quagmire, this column argued caution in not provoking an unnecessary crisis with military strikes. Fortunately, diplomacy has so far produced a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that, if fully implemented, will prevent Iran from ever obtaining nuclear weapons.

The lesson that should be learned is that every war the U.S. has started -- including the second Iraq War -- it has lost. And other parallels exist between President Johnson and the Vietnam War and President Barack Obama's promise to "disrupt and destroy the Islamic State." LBJ never resolved the contradiction between his desire to end the Vietnam War with his inability to win it. The tragic compromise was gradual escalation that led to the deaths of over 58,000 American service personnel and countless Vietnamese.

In early 1968, distraught and emotionally crippled by the war, Johnson informed the nation that he would not seek a second elected term "as your president." He was a beaten man. And Johnson's anguish over the war undoubtedly contributed to his early demise.

Obama cannot run for another term. And Obama clearly is not suffering from the same degree of anguish as Johnson did, in part because American casualties have been a fraction of the Vietnam War's and because Obama has made good on his campaign promises to extricate America from Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet, for whatever reasons, the president has become defensive, lackluster in making the case for his strategy other than asserting it is working and, worst, unwilling to accept its self-evident failings in defeating IS.

In that regard, Obama and Johnson may share a common desperation in being unable to reconcile the contradictions that led to defeat in Vietnam and are plaguing the United States in combating IS. Ending IS rests in resolving three sets of contradictions that so far have been both elusive and largely ignored.

The first relates to eliminating the breeding grounds and the source for IS.

The second involves deciding whether the top priority is to eliminate Syrian President Bashar al Assad's rule or to defeat IS while reconciling common and conflicting interests with Russia and Iran, who currently have the largest anti-IS capability in Syria of any outside powers.

Third is balancing Turkish animosity towards the Kurds while utilizing Pesh Merga and other Kurdish forces to defeat IS.

Decades of unspeakable Sunni versus Shia and Shia versus Sunni violence in Iraq have metastasized IS. Unless and until reconciliation between the Shia majority and Sunni minority is established, IS will have a permanent source of recruits and a home base from which to expand. So far, the Baghdad government has been incapable or unwilling to reach accommodation with the Sunni minorities.

The administration cannot deliver on its demand that Assad must go as a prerequisite for defeating IS and at the same time rely on Russia and Iran to support the U.S.-led coalition against IS. The administration also argues, wrongly in my view, that Assad is the major factor in the rise of IS. But its bombing and drone campaigns are surely creating as many enemies as are being killed. Hence, these contradictions remain.

Last, the rift between Turkey and the Kurds limits the degree to which the latter can be used in the fight against IS.

Whether Obama is in denial over these contradictions or implacably believes that his strategy is working is unclear. It could be both. Yet, without recognizing these realities, Obama is repeating LBJ's errors that led to defeat and humiliation in Vietnam.

The next president will not be inaugurated for another 14 months. It will take at least six to 12 months for that administration to form and be fully capable of dealing with the crises and conflicts it faces, notably IS. Unfortunately, two years is too long to wait.

At best, the coalition is not losing the war against IS. At worst, as the Communist and Nazi parties succeeded in turning Russia into the Soviet Union and Germany into Hitlerism, IS could spread its Caliphate to other states in the region. This is not another hypothetical Domino theory that got us into so much trouble in Vietnam. But it is plausible and should worry us greatly.

________________________________________________________________________

Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist; Chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business and Senior Advisor at Washington DC's Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security (BENS). His latest book is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace.

 

 

US troops begin training Ukrainian regular forces

 
‎29 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎11:29:48 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Nov 23, 2015 - US military experts on Monday began training Ukrainian soldiers and special operations forces in the war-torn country, the Pentagon said.

US troops had already deployed in small numbers to Ukraine to train National Guard forces, but under a plan first announced in July they are now helping regular military units.

The US troops "will be training five battalions of active-duty troops and one battalion of special operations forces personnel," spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said.

More than 8,000 people have been killed since pro-Russian insurgents took up arms against Ukraine's pro-Western government last year following the ouster of a Kremlin-backed president in the capital Kiev.

Washington has made repeated pledges of support for Ukraine, and has committed more than $265 million in training and equipment since 2014, Davis said.

"This is part of our ongoing efforts to contribute to Ukraine's long-term military reform and professionalism and to help them improve Ukraine's internal defense capabilities and training capacity," he added.

The United States and its NATO allies have backed Ukraine diplomatically and have denounced what they see as Russia's intervention to support the rebels and prolong the destabilizing conflict.

But they have been cautious not to be drawn directly into military confrontation with Moscow, offering only limited training support for Kiev's units rather than arms shipments.

The United States has sent non-lethal military aid including Humvees, counter-mortar radars, night vision goggles, body armor and medical equipment to Ukraine.

 

 

Obama set to challenge China at Asia-Pacific summit

 
‎16 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎07:48:12 AMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) Nov 15, 2015 - US President Barack Obama is set to challenge China when Asia-Pacific leaders gather in the Philippines this week, speaking out on a territorial row and lobbying to set pro-American trade rules.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will also be in Manila for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, an annual event that is meant to forge unity on free trade within the region.

But this year's meeting risks becoming entangled in various US-China power struggles, including over the South China Sea where Chinese island building in disputed waters has caused alarm in the United States and with its Asian allies.

The global menace of terrorism will also be an unwanted talking point after gunmen massacred more than 120 people in a series of coordinated attacks in Paris on Friday.

Philippine authorities had already undertaken their biggest security operation for the summit, which will gather leaders from 21 Pacific Rim economies on Wednesday and Thursday, but they vowed after the French carnage to do even more.

While China said it wanted the summit to focus only on trade, the French attacks and US attention on the South China Sea showed this was unrealistic, according to Curtis S. Chin, a former US ambassador to the Manila-based Asian Development Bank.

"One cannot separate the economic and the non-economic in today's interconnected world," Chin, now an Asia fellow of the Milken Institute, a non-partisan think-tank, told AFP.

"That's as true in the battle against ISIS (Islamic State group) as in the search for a peaceful resolution to the many territorial disputes with China that haunt development in the South China Sea."

- Sovereign rights -

China insists it has sovereign rights to nearly all of the sea, even waters approaching the coasts of its Asian neighbours.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims to some of the waters, which are home to some of the world's most important shipping trade routes.

China's island building in the Spratlys archipelago, which is close to the Philippines, prompted the US military to recently deploy a missile destroyer and B-52 bomber planes to the area.

China had insisted repeatedly in the lead-up to the summit that the South China Sea dispute was not relevant to the trade talks.

But US National Security Advisor Susan Rice said the dispute would be a "central issue" during Obama's three-day trip to the Philippines starting on Tuesday, and a subsequent visit to Malaysia for another regional summit.

Rice also emphasised Obama would raise the issues of "maritime security" and "freedom of navigation", terms commonly used when referring to the dispute.

The Philippines, which has hauled China before a United Nations tribunal over the row, initially promised to respect that demand.

But in his first press conference as official APEC spokesperson on Friday, Philippine foreign ministry spokesman Charles Jose talked at length about China's "aggressive" actions in the sea.

Jose also said that, while the issue was not on the official agenda, leaders may discuss it at their retreat, one of the summit's key events where the delegates speak less formally.

- Promoting trade deals -

Obama will also use both legs of his Asian trip to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) mega-trade deal, which was signed last month by 12 APEC nations but excludes China.

On the sidelines of APEC, the leaders of the TPP nations will meet for the first time since the signing.

"TPP is central to our vision of the region's future and our place in it," Rice said.

"(It) is a critical step towards a high-standard free trade area in Asia and the Pacific, and our goal of revitalising the open rules-based economic system that the US has led since World War II."

China has flagged it will push on with its own effort to steer regional economic rules with a planned Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.

"We need to actively work for the establishment of FTAAP," Chinese vice commerce minister Wang Shouwen told a briefing in Beijing.

China sought to champion the FTAAP at last year's APEC summit, which it hosted, and Wang promised a report would be released in Manila on its progress.

APEC members account for 57 percent of the global economy and 40 percent of the world's population, with the diverse grouping including Papua New Guinea, Peru, Japan and Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indonesia's Joko Widodo are the only major leaders of APEC nations who have said they will not attend.

 

 

Japan spots Chinese spy ship near disputed isles

 
‎16 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎07:48:12 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) Nov 13, 2015 - Japan said Friday it was monitoring waters near islands disputed with China in the East China Sea after it spotted a naval intelligence ship from the country operating in a new area for the first time.

Japan's Defence Ministry said late Thursday a P-3C patrol aircraft observed the Dongdiao-class intelligence vessel near territorial waters of the Senkaku Islands, which Japan administers but China claims as the Diaoyus.

The ship repeatedly moved back and forth in the area until Thursday evening before departing, never breaching Japan's 12-nautical-mile territorial waters, the ministry statement said.

Japanese defence minister Gen Nakatani called the ship's moves "unusual" at a regular press conference Friday, saying it made "repeated eastward and westward moves in one day".

The defence ministry will keep up monitoring of the Chinese navy and "make utmost efforts in patrolling the sea and air surrounding Japan", Nakatani said.

In Beijing, the Chinese government defended the ship's operations as standard.

"The Chinese naval vessel is conducting normal activities," spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing.

"It is in line with international law," he added. "There is nothing disputable about that."

Japan and China have routinely butted heads over ownership of the uninhabited islets, as Chinese state ships -- mostly coast guard -- and aircraft have approached them on and off to back up Beijing's claims and test Japan's response.

Relations between Japan and China hit multi-year lows after the Japanese government in September 2012 moved to increase its formal control by nationalising some of the islands.

But China and Japan -- Asia's two biggest economies, respectively -- have taken steps to improve ties.

They issued carefully worded statements on the dispute ahead of a summit last year in Beijing between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The two sides basically acknowledged they had different views on tensions emanating from the issue but agreed on the need for keeping them under control.

Distrust, however, remains high as China is wary of moves by Abe to raise Japan's military profile while Tokyo frets about Beijing's increasing regional and global assertiveness.

The latest move marked the first time a Chinese naval ship operated in the area between the disputed islands and the populated southern Japanese island of Miyako, a defence ministry spokeswoman earlier told AFP.

Nakatani himself declined to comment on the ship's aims but stressed that the Chinese military "is rapidly boosting their activities at sea and in the air".

Japan assumes that China "will try to expand the area of its activities further in the future", Nakatani added.

The 6,000-tonne vessel is armed with one 37 millimetre and two dual 14.5 millimetre cannons, the ministry said, citing IHS consultancy group's Jane's Fighting Ships site.

The mass circulation Yomiuri Shimbun daily reported that Japan will strengthen border security as a result of the spotting.

Anonymous sources from the ministry told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper the Chinese ship may have been there on an intelligence mission ahead of a planned drill this month by Japan's naval forces.

 

 

Okinawa governor refuses order on US base landfill work

 
‎16 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎07:48:12 AMGo to full article
Tokyo Nov 11, 2015 - The governor of the southern Japanese island of Okinawa on Wednesday rejected a state order to proceed with landfill work on a new US military base in the latest move in a nearly 20-year battle over the controversial project. Outspoken governor Takeshi Onaga told reporters he will "do his best" to prevent the government from building the base. The dispute is over a proposal, first mooted in 1996, to move the US Marines' Futenma air base from a densely populated city in the central part of the island to a remote area in the north. The plan, however, has become the focus of anger among locals, who insist the base should be shut and a replacement built elsewhere in another part of Japan or overseas. Last month, Onaga cancelled approval for work on the facility, saying that "defects" had been found in the go-ahead given by his predecessor in 2013. But the Japanese government later overturned Onaga's revocation. Onaga said that the government's recent actions towards Okinawa are "extremely unjust". Japanese media reports said that the dispute is now likely headed to the courts for resolution. Okinawans have long complained that the rest of Japan must share the burden of hosting the US military presence, which has brought with it noise pollution, road accidents and occasional crimes by US service members. Okinawa, which was occupied by the United States for 27 years after World War II, is home to more than half of the 47,000 American military personnel stationed in Japan. Okinawa, which accounts for less than one percent of Japan's total land area, hosts about 75 percent of US military facilities in the country. Tokyo and Washington have repeatedly backed the base transfer plan, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe insisting it was "the only solution" for eliminating the danger to residents of the Futenma base. Work in the Henoko district of Nago city in the island's north is only in the initial stages with crews setting up sea floats and a makeshift bridge necessary for landfill work. There is widespread agreement that Futenma's current site -- in the middle of a crowded urban area where US aircraft are a nuisance to thousands of locals -- is a danger to residents. The US says it will not close the base until a replacement facility is ready. Opponents say building the replacement facility in Henoko would seriously damage nearby coral reefs and the delicate habitat of the dugong, a rare sea mammal.
 

U.K. armed forces lead NATO exercise in Baltic states

 
‎16 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎07:48:12 AMGo to full article
Washington (UPI) Nov 10, 2015 - U.K. armed forces are leading a NATO land training exercise in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in an effort to support military strength in the region.

The exercise, known as Arrcade Fusion, brings in around 1,400 troops from 18 NATO countries. For the training event, the U.K has committed 800 troops in addition to 350 Army logistics vehicles. The exercise aims to enhance the responsive capabilities of NATO's new Rapid Reaction Force, set to become operational in 2016.

The U.K.'s participation in Arrcade Fusion marks another example of British military training in Eastern Europe, which NATO has given more attention since Russia has become more politically active in the area with Moscow's annexation of Crimea and support for militant separatists in eastern Ukraine.

"This exercise underlines our commitment to the sovereignty of the democratic nations of Eastern Europe," U.K. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said in a statement. "It builds on our decision to deploy RAF jets and company sized units to the Baltic region. It will also provide crucial training to ensure the effectiveness of the new Rapid Reaction Force when it launches next year."

Fallon announced additional military training support for Ukrainian forces in early October, with British troops limited to non-combat roles. U.K. Armed Forces also committed their armored battle group in NATO Exercise Dragon in October, which took place in Poland, and involved 800 ground troops and 130 military vehicles.

Arrcade Fusion is set to run through November.

 

 

U.S., Chinese naval forces conduct group passage exercise

 
‎16 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎07:48:12 AMGo to full article
Washington (UPI) Nov 11, 2015 - Vessels from both the U.S. Navy and the People's Republic of China's People's Liberation Army Navy conduced a joint exercise off the coast of Florida.

The training event was a group sail and passing exercise, and marked the first visit to Florida by the People's Liberation Army Navy [PLA(N)]. For the exercise, PLA(N) committed three ships, including Jiangkai II-class frigate Yiyang, Luyang II-class destroyer Jinan, and Fuchi-class oiler Qindaohu. The U.S. Navy committed ships assigned to Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 26, which includes Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS Stout and USS Mason, and Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Monterery.

"The purpose of this exercise was to foster international maritime cooperation between our Navies," Lt. j.g. Lisa Lacross said in a statement on the exercise. "The PASSEX was executed well by all parties involved and allowed us to demonstrate a variety of seamanship skills."

The exercise allowed both naval forces to work on navigation and maneuvering in formation, while also building a working relationship between Chinese and U.S. naval personnel. The group sailing event came as ships assigned to DESRON 26 prepare for deployment in 2016.

"What a unique opportunity to conduct a PASSEX with the Chinese Navy as part of our own routine training off the coast of Florida, " DESRON 26 Commodore Capt. Brian Fort said. "The Sailors aboard Mason, Monterey and Stout will be able to tell their family and friends that they did something that was a first

Chinese navy visits Cuba, amid Havana-Washington thaw
Havana (AFP) Nov 10, 2015 - A Chinese naval flotilla arrived in Cuba Tuesday to bolster close military ties between the two Communist-ruled allies, its commander Wang Jianxun said.

"This is the first time a (Chinese) military flotilla has come to the island," Wang said at the Port of Havana.

And it is really "a chance to strengthen ties between the navies and armed forces of both countries."

Cuba and China "share ideals and a shared independent development path aimed at building socialism," he said in a report in Cuban official media. The visit had not been announced earlier in state media.

Three vessels took part in the flotilla, but did not discharge artillery fire as is often the case with visiting flotillas.

China is a key political ally of Cuba, and its number-two trade partner after Venezuela. Beijing also is one of the few sources of credit available to cash-strapped Havana.

The visit comes as former Cold War foes the United States and Cuba work on normalizing ties. The neighbors across the Florida Straits renewed their diplomatic relations in July after a 50-year standoff.

 

 

Philippines pledges warm welcome for China's Xi despite sea row

 
‎16 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎07:48:12 AMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) Nov 10, 2015 - The Philippines pledged a warm welcome for China's leader Xi Jinping at an economic summit in Manila next week, officials said Tuesday, despite a bitter row over disputed islands.

President Benigno Aquino and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario made the pledge in rare talks with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is in Manila on a working visit ahead of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

"The president mentioned that he welcomed the decision of President Xi Jinping to attend the APEC summit," Aquino spokesman Herminio Coloma told reporters after Wang's courtesy call.

"He assured the foreign minister that it is in the culture of the Filipinos as hosts to make our guests feel the warmth of Filipino hospitality," Coloma added.

The Chinese minister, who did not speak to the press, visited the Philippines "to ensure that President Xi's visit will be smooth, safe and successful", Filipino foreign ministry spokesman Charles Jose told reporters.

"(Wang) expressed hope that contentious issues will not be raised," Jose said, adding that the Filipino side will not be seeking to discuss the South China Sea because of its pending case before the United Nations.

"In the context of APEC we agreed that APEC is an economic forum and it won't be the proper venue to discuss political and security issues," Jose added.

- Maritime dispute off agenda -

The visits by Wang and Xi offers a rare opportunity for top-level talks between the Asian neighbours, which have seen diplomatic relations plummet in recent years over rival claims to parts of the South China Sea.

The Philippines has been angered over what it has branded China's "bullying" and "hypocritical" tactics, including building artificial islands and taking control of a rich fishing shoal in Filipino-claimed waters.

China has in turn been angered over the Philippines' efforts to have a UN tribunal rule on the dispute, as well as by Manila encouraging its defence ally the United States to exert military and political influence.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters approaching the coasts of its Asian neighbours.

Marciano Paynor, head of the hosts' APEC summit organising committee, told reporters Monday the maritime row would be off the summit agenda.

"I will reiterate that when we meet at APEC, it's all economic issues and we do not take up bilateral, specific bilateral issues in APEC," Paynor added.

Discussing the Beijing officials' visits to Manila, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Tuesday that China wanted to improve relations with its neighbour.

"We believe that we need to properly deal with our disputes in the South China Sea to ensure that they do not disrupt our relationship with our neighbouring countries."

However, Hong had said Monday that the onus rested on the Philippines to improve ties with Beijing.

His comments came after a landmark summit between Xi and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou at the weekend -- the first such meeting since the two sides split at the end of a civil war in 1949.

Those talks raised hopes of a further thaw in relations between the two former rivals.

Aquino's only meetings with Chinese leaders included a very brief encounter with Xi on the sidelines of last year's Beijing APEC summit and talks with Hu in Beijing in his 2011 state visit.

 

 

Running mates: Bush 41 and 43's biggest mistakes?

 
‎16 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎07:48:12 AMGo to full article
Washington DC (UPI) Nov 08, 2015 - President George H.W. Bush's latest book will hit the shelves Tuesday. The book has already reopened old wounds over September 11th and the second Iraq war. Known as 41 to differentiate himself from son George W. Bush, America's 43rd president, the father had unkind things to say about 43's vice president, Richard B. Cheney, and secretary of defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld. And 41 rebuked 43 for the "Axis of Evil" speech linking Iraq with North Korea as enemies of the West.

But suppose either 41 or 43 had chosen other vice presidential running mates. How different the world might have been. In early 1992, George H.W. Bush seemed electorally invincible. After the 100-hour destruction and eviction of Saddam Hussein's army from Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Bush's popularity rose to 90%. The Soviet Union had imploded. Bush's economic plans were gaining traction. As Ronald Reagan promised, this was truly "morning in America."

Governor Bill Clinton would win the Democratic nomination for president, but the White House was reluctant to take the challenger seriously. After all, Clinton was viewed in the demeaning terms of a "draft dodging, pot-smoking womanizer." Yet, the polls were moving in Mr. Clinton's favor and Ross Perot was mounting a third party movement to oppose President Bush.

That summer, former Defense and Energy Secretary and CIA Director James Schlesinger met with President and Mrs. Bush. Concerned that Bush could lose in November, Schlesinger presented the president with a brilliant idea. Why not pick a new vice president?

Bush had selected the junior senator from Missouri Dan Quayle as his running mate in 1988. Quayle had never recovered from the battering he took in the October vice presidential debate against Senator Lloyd Bentsen from Texas. In the debate, Quayle made the error of comparing himself to President John F. Kennedy. Bentsen, a decorated World War II veteran, was waiting in ambush. "I knew Jack Kennedy. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy!" Quayle was incinerated.

Schlesinger suggested General Colin Powell, then in his last year as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as the Quayle alternative. Mrs. Bush warmed to the idea. The president considered the suggestion and then declined to dump Quayle. Whether Powell would have accepted or whether his selection would have overcome Perot's 19 percent take of the vote is unknowable. Vice presidents rarely affect the general election. But a Bush 41 second term would clearly have altered who would have been in charge in 2001.

In 2000, George W. Bush asked former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney to form a vice presidential search committee. The outcome was not surprising. Cheney would be on the ticket. That made sense at the time. Cheney had the experience Bush lacked in Washington. Unfortunately, Cheney would dominate White House decision making for the first term and some of the second. Among the consequences were the catastrophic second Iraq War and the destabilization of the region that continues to threaten peace and stability.

But suppose Bush 43 had favored Powell over Cheney? Of course, Powell may not have accepted, preferring to become Secretary of State. In 1996, he and his family seriously considered his running for the presidency. In the end, the general decided he would not seek the Oval Office.

Running as the number two, however, would have been less onerous. The prospect of becoming the first African-American to rise to the second highest office in the land was compelling. Powell also would have brought the necessary foreign and national security experience to the White House, including two tours in combat in Vietnam where he had once been wounded in action.

Perhaps had Powell and not Cheney been vice president, the post-September 11th response to the al-Qaida attacks would not have ended in nation building in Afghanistan. Nor might 43 been so keen to intervene in Iraq in March 2003, as Powell was never in favor of that decision. But being a loyal soldier, the Secretary of State made the administration's case for war at the United Nations in February 2003, categorically assured by then-CIA Director George Tenet and Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

That a Vice President Powell might have run in 2008 against Barack Obama would have produced possibly the most exciting presidential race in America's history. Of course, none of this happened. Still, speculation over the consequences of a Powell vice presidency under either Bush 41 or 43 is intriguing. Would the disasters following September 11th been averted or minimized? The latest book by 43 suggests the answer would have been yes.

___________________________________________________________

Harlan Ullman is Chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business; and Senior Advisor at both Washington D.C.'s Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security. His latest book is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace.

 

 

China president to attend APEC summit despite row

 
‎16 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎07:48:12 AMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) Nov 9, 2015 - Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend an Asia-Pacific summit in the Philippines next week, officials said Monday, quashing the host's concerns he would snub the event over a territorial dispute.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will visit Manila on Tuesday to prepare for Xi's presence at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit, both governments said.

"The Chinese foreign ministry in Beijing has officially announced this morning that Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend the APEC economic leaders' meeting in Manila," Philippine foreign department spokesman Charles Jose told AFP.

The visits by Wang and Xi will offer a rare opportunity for top-level talks between the Asian neighbours, which have seen diplomatic relations plummet in recent years over rival claims to parts of the South China Sea.

The Philippines has been angered over what it has branded China's "bullying" and "hypocritical" tactics, including building artificial islands and taking control of a rich fishing shoal in Filipino-claimed waters.

China has in turn been angered over the Philippines' efforts to have a United Nations tribunal rule on the dispute, as well as its encouraging of the United States to exert military and political influence.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters approaching the coasts of its Asian neighbours.

In discussing the upcoming visits to Manila, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Monday that China wanted to improve relations with the Philippines.

"For reasons known to all, bilateral relations are facing difficulties, which is not something we want to see," Hong told reporters in Beijing.

"We value bilateral ties, and we would like to properly resolve relevant issues through consultations and negotiations."

But Hong emphasised the onus rested on the Philippines to improve ties.

"We hope the Philippines can work towards the same direction together with China... deal with relevant issues in a constructive way and create favourable conditions for the improvement of bilateral ties," he said.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino's only meeting with a Chinese leader in recent years was a very brief encounter with Xi at a tree planting ceremony on the sidelines of the last APEC summit, which China hosted.

Most leaders from the 21-member APEC grouping, including US President Barack Obama, had already accepted invitations from the Philippines to attend the Manila edition, which starts on November 18.

The silence until Monday from Beijing over whether Xi would attend had fuelled speculation in the Philippines that he intended to snub Aquino because of the row.

 

 

Poland's PM-in-waiting taps controversial defence minister

 
‎16 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎07:48:12 AMGo to full article
Varsovie (AFP) Nov 9, 2015 - Poland's future conservative premier stirred controversy Monday with her choice of defence minister, known for accusing Russia of playing a role in the deadly 2010 crash of a Polish presidential jet.

Future prime minister Beata Szydlo tapped veteran rightwinger Antoni Macierewicz, 67, for the job.

After the death of president Lech Kaczynski and scores of other senior Polish officials when the plane crashed in Smolensk in Russia, Macierewicz suggested it may have been deliberate.

Without offering decisive proof, he accused Moscow of instigating an attack on Kaczynski's jet in collusion with Poland's then prime minister Donald Tusk, now the EU president.

Szydlo spoke in Warsaw alongside Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the Law and Justice (PiS) party and widely regarded as the mastermind behind all of the faction's moves in the run up to and following its victory in the October 25 general election.

It scored an unprecedented majority, allowing it to govern alone.

Even though investigators in Moscow and Warsaw concluded that pilot error was to blame for the Smolensk crash, Kaczynski -- the late president's twin brother -- has also insisted the crash was not an accident.

"This requires an honest investigation by the justice administration and a normally functioning prosecutor's office," Kaczynski said of the crash.

"No extraordinary institutions, no international commissions -- unless perhaps someone abroad proposes this -- but rather a normal investigation," he told reporters.

- Coal miner's daughter -

Szydlo is expected to be formally tapped as prime minister by PiS-backed President Andzej Duda after outgoing centrist premier Ewa Kopacz resigns this week.

Kaczynski chose the 52-year-old as the party's candidate after she ran a victorious presidential campaign for political greenhorn Duda in May.

A coal miner's daughter with a degree in ethnography, Szydlo became a member of parliament with PiS in 2005. On the campaign trail, she targeted voters with promises of lower taxes and higher welfare spending.

Key figures in her future cabinet include veteran diplomat Witold Waszczykowski, 58, as foreign minister. He recently criticised Warsaw's tendency to follow Berlin's lead in foreign affairs and insists Poland must "firmly defend Polish national interests" within the European Union.

He served as Poland's ambassador to NATO in Brussels from 1997 to 1999, when it was among the first ex-communist countries to join the Western defence alliance.

Zbigniew Ziobro, 45, will return to the justice portfolio he held in 2005-2007 when he was accused of meddling in the prosecution of certain rival politicians.

The trained lawyer was among the founders of the PiS in 2001, but was barred from it in 2011 after falling out with Jaroslaw Kaczynski. The two however joined forces for the general election.

Mariusz Kaminski, the controversial former head of the Central Anti-corruption Bureau (CBA), has been tapped as intelligence services coordinator.

Last March, Kaminski was found guilty of overstepping his jurisdiction as CBA chief. Although sentenced to three years behind bars and banned from public office for a decade, his lawyers have said they will appeal the verdict which has not yet come into force.

Eurosceptic economist Mateusz Morawiecki, 47, will serve as development minister, also responsible for the economy, while legal expert Pawel Szalamacha, 46, will take over as finance minister.

 

 

Top Chinese general visits Djibouti amid base speculation

 
‎16 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎07:48:12 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) Nov 10, 2015 - A top Chinese military officer visited Djibouti at the weekend, official media reported, prompting a state-run newspaper Tuesday to downplay concerns Beijing is planning to establish a base in the strategically vital African entrepot.

The chief of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) general staff, General Fang Fenghui met Djibouti's president at the weekend, the official PLA news source China Military Online reported.

Fang told President Ismail Omar Guelleh that China was willing to "deepen pragmatic cooperation between the two countries and two militaries", the report paraphrased.

Beijing is expanding its military heft and reach as China becomes more powerful, with annual double-digit defence budget increases and its first aircraft carrier entering service.

A former French colony, Djibouti guards the entrance to the Red Sea and, ultimately, the Suez Canal, and has been used by international navies -- including China -- as a base in the fight against piracy from neighbouring Somalia.

In May, Guelleh told AFP that "discussions are ongoing" with China for a military base in the tiny Horn of Africa nation, saying that Beijing's presence would be "welcome".

Chinese officials say the country does not have any overseas military bases.

But Chinese contracts to build or manage Indian Ocean ports have raised concerns it is seeking to establish a so-called "string of pearls" in the region.

The state-run Global Times on Tuesday said that Fang's visit had prompted overblown fears of Chinese military expansion.

"It is unfair to hype up the 'China threat' as China's military base will mainly serve as a supply station even if it is created to support escort groups engaging in anti-terrorist and anti-piracy missions," it paraphrased a navy military expert, Li Jie, as saying.

It also cited unnamed analysts urging people "not to politicise or over-interpret the visit".

The US, France and Japan already have facilities in Djibouti, and China Military Online said that Fang visited the Chinese guided missile frigate Sanya, which was making a port call after patrolling in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast for more than 90 days.

The defence ministry reposted its report on its website.

 

 

Xi stresses China sea claims, but won't 'bully' neighbours

 
‎10 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎09:09:11 AMGo to full article
Singapore (AFP) Nov 7, 2015 - Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday repeated his country's uncompromising claims to the South China Sea but pledged that it would not "bully" its weaker neighbours.

The comments by Xi were in line with China's oft-stated position but come as Beijing's assertiveness in the strategic waterway has raised concerns of potential future conflict.

"Let me make this clear: The South China Sea islands have been China's territory since ancient times," Xi said in a speech during a visit to Singapore.

"It is the bounded duty of the Chinese government to uphold China's territorial sovereignty and legitimate maritime right and interests."

China has long laid verbal claim to virtually the entire South China Sea, but in recent years has moved to back that up.

It is now using land reclamation to expand previously insignificant sea features into full-fledged islands and further underpin its claims.

China's neighbours have said the actions violate a regional code among the rival claimants against taking actions that upset the status quo.

Xi said some "Chinese" islands are currently being "occupied" by other countries, but vowed that China's intentions were peaceful.

"What we in China believe... is that the strong and rich should not bully the weak and poor," he said.

He added that "China will continue to seek resolution of the disputes through negotiation and consultation".

The United States has warned that China's actions could threaten freedom of navigation in a body of water that is vital for world trade.

On October 27, the US Navy sent a destroyer on a sail-by near the site of one of the man-made islands to assert its right to free passage, drawing an angry response from China's foreign ministry.

"There has never been any problem with the freedom of navigation and overflight, nor will there ever be any in the future because China needs unimpeded commerce through these waters more than anyone else," Xi said.

He added that "non-Asian countries should understand and respect this and play a constructive role", an apparent reference to the United States.

Xi is in Singapore for a state visit that suddenly took on new significance when it was announced last week that he would meet Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou while in the city-state.

It will be the first meeting between leaders of the two sides since their bitter split in 1949 at the end of the Chinese civil war, which was won by Mao Zedong's Communists.

Gunboat diplomacy: US skipper recalls chummy exchanges with Chinese
Aboard The Uss Theodore Roosevelt (AFP) Nov 6, 2015 - As the United States and China engaged in a standoff last week over an American naval vessel in Chinese-claimed waters, frontline officers from the two sides bantered about chicken wings and Halloween preparations.

Washington sent the guided missile destroyer USS Lassen to the South China Sea for a "sail-by" of Chinese-built islands that have raised concerns over Beijing's deepening toe-hold in the strategic waterway.

The move brought angry denunciations from China, which said its sovereignty had been violated, with US defence officials countering that American ships would continue such sailings.

But despite the big-power ramifications, radio contact between the two sides at the scene was frequent and surprisingly relaxed, according to an account of the close encounter by the USS Lassen's skipper, Commander Robert Francis.

"Every day a US ship is down here, we interact with the Chinese," Francis said.

"It's not uncommon for one of my officers on the decks to pick up the radio and start talking (to the Chinese)."

Francis spoke to reporters on Thursday after being helicoptered over from his ship to the USS Theodore Roosevelt -- also cruising the South China Sea -- during a visit to the giant aircraft carrier by US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, who was on a diplomatic swing through Asia.

"We picked up the phone and said, 'Hey, what are you guys doing this Saturday? We got pizza and wings, we're doing this, we're planning for Halloween as well,'" Francis said, recalling exchanges with the Chinese navy.

"So, discussions of that nature, just trying to show we are normal sailors like them, have families just like them."

- 'Just a normal day' -

On October 27, the USS Lassen cruised within about six miles (10 kilometres) of Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands, a sprinkling of reefs and islets at the heart of the South China Sea that also is claimed in whole or part by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Subi reef is just one of the South China Sea sites where Chinese dredgers are creating expanding land masses capable of hosting large facilities, including runways.

A Chinese destroyer shadowed the USS Lassen, repeatedly querying why it was in "Chinese waters".

"I wouldn't call them warnings," Francis said.

The US vessel's carefully stage-managed "freedom of navigation" transit -- close enough to see construction cranes and other features on land -- was meant to subtly challenge China's sovereignty claims and stress the right to international free passage.

The South China Sea has long been viewed as a potential flashpoint for military conflict.

Those concerns have grown in recent years as China has taken a more assertive stance toward its long-standing insistence that virtually the entire sea is sovereign Chinese territory.

The island-building programme has accelerated within the past two years, and rival claimants to the body of water say it violates a regional code against provocative moves that could upset the maritime status quo.

Francis said he was surprised by the attention drawn by last week's encounter, calling the episode "just a normal day."

"I got a call from my mother and she was going, 'Hey, what's going on with you in China? I heard you were in China,'" he said.

"I was like, 'Mom, I'm not in China. I'm OK, I'm on the ship.'"

 

 

In, out or in-between: Obama's foreign policy

 
‎10 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎09:09:11 AMGo to full article
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UPI) Nov 5, 2015 - The White House has announced that it is reviewing its military options for what was once the intention of "disrupting and destroying the Islamic State" in Syria and Iraq. Critics (or realists) have argued that the Obama administration has already chosen to withdraw from the Middle East in favor of a strategic pivot to Asia and the president's aversion to being trapped in the quagmire that is consuming Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. No one can fault Mr. Obama for attempting to avoid committing billions or trillions of dollars and U.S. lives to another failed enterprise.

Yet, without strong U.S. leadership, as nature abhors a vacuum, others will assert themselves.

Vladimir Putin is doing nicely in that regard. While leading from behind is not necessarily a bad policy choice, unless allies and friends move in, that strategy will fail. There is also another problem regarding this review over what to do about IS.

The president has asked the Pentagon to provide a range of military options for review. But what is the overall strategy that frames these options and sets the objectives and aims to be achieved? It is reported that the White House strategy for Russia has been classified. That said, what is the broader strategy for the region beyond platitudes and broad intentions? Many argue there is none. And others complain that whatever the strategy is, clearly it is not working.

Three broad foreign policy choices lie ahead. The United States can be more forceful, aggressive and engaged in the Middle East. This will require explicit actions that combine using the whole political-military-economic toolbox to demonstrate greater commitment to the Middle East. Matching this shift with the declaratory pivot to Asia probably can be accommodated by using the Pentagon term of "rebalancing."

If this were the choice, then establishing some form of quasi-military alliance or relationship, possibly through more expansive use of NATO with the Gulf Cooperative Council, would be a strong political signal. As recommended in this column previously, using the Combined Air Operations Center in Doha, Qatar as the basis for developing closer ground force integration as a prelude to potentially establishing a joint Arab-Western land force of some sort could follow. And, while this may be a bridge too far, as NATO created a NATO-Russia Council (with mixed results), perhaps Iran might be invited in as an observer sometime in the future as and if the nuclear agreement is successfully implemented.

The second choice is indeed to reduce engagement or, more politically, to continue to rebalance east. The argument here is that the United States has invested enough in terms of resources. While IS is existential to the region, it is the region that must respond. The United States can act in support. However, it need not lead. This was the same assumption the Obama team used in withdrawing with a date certain from Afghanistan to force the Afghans to look after their own security. Objective observers can assess how well or how badly that assumption has worked out so far.

The last choice is in-between, or what cynics call the Goldilocks solution of porridge not too hot nor too cold. In essence this is playing at the margin. Doing enough to be seen as engaged and not enough to be caught in the maelstrom that is consuming much of the region. Obviously, in these last two choices, a further implicit assumption is that Russia would be assuming a larger role in Syria along with Iran and Hezbollah.

If the administration could be assured that moving the security burden to Russia and Iran had some chance of producing a political solution in Syria, that would be a smart play. The major downsides are what happens if that does not work: That Russia and Iran exacerbate the situation, or succeed and enhance their influence at the expense of the United States, our Arab allies react accordingly and Republicans flay the administration irrespective of outcome for deserting the region?

The simple solution is the most unlikely. The administration needs a real strategy for the region and for dealing with Russia and Iran. Simply reviewing military options will not work. As the famous Chinese general and military philosopher Sun Tzu wrote a millennium ago, tactics without strategy would assure defeat.

Since its first days in office, the administration has eschewed the use of strategic thinking in developing its policies. Campaign sound bites and promises and politically expedient pressures have superseded what should have been true strategic thinking. The outcome, while not irreversible, is surely too likely.

__________________________________________________________

Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist; Chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business; and Senior Advisor at both Washington D.C.'s Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security. His latest book is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace.

 

 

US defense chief warns of conflict in S. China Sea

 
‎10 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎09:09:11 AMGo to full article
Simi Valley, United States (AFP) Nov 7, 2015 - US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Saturday warned that land reclamation efforts and a military buildup in the South China Sea could lead to conflict between nations in the region.

Speaking at a defense forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, the Pentagon chief also said America was adapting its military posture to counter increased Russian "aggression."

Appearing on the final leg of an eight-day trip that included meetings with defense ministers from several nations in the Asia-Pacific region, Carter said his concerns about the frantic pace of land reclamation in the South China Sea were broadly shared.

"The United States joins virtually everyone else in the region in being deeply concerned about the pace and scope of land reclamation in the South China Sea," Carter told an audience of senior defense figures.

Carter added he was worried about "the prospect of further militarization, as well as the potential for these activities to increase the risk of miscalculation or conflict among claimant states."

The Reagan National Defense Forum is an annual event that sees dozens of America's top defense figures -- including politicians from both political parties -- discuss America's defense policies.

Carter used his platform to take a swipe at recent Russian military moves.

"At sea, in the air, in space and in cyberspace, Russian actors have engaged in challenging activities," he said.

"And, most disturbing, Moscow's nuclear saber-rattling raises questions about Russian leaders' commitment to strategic stability, their respect for norms against the use of nuclear weapons and whether they respect the profound caution nuclear-age leaders showed with regard to the brandishing of nuclear weapons."

In an echo of some of Reagan's own attempts to use technology to counter a Soviet nuclear threat, Carter talked up some of America's new high-tech weaponry, including an electromagnetic railgun that can fire projectiles at an astonishing 4,500 miles (7,250 kilometers) per hour.

- 'Surprising' new technologies -

He added that the United States was modernizing its nuclear arsenal, investing in new technologies such as drones and a new long-range bomber, as well as lasers and new systems for electronic warfare.

The defense chief hinted at additional new weapons that would be "surprising ones I really can't describe here."

Additionally, "we're updating and advancing our operational plans for deterrence and defense given Russia's changed behavior," Carter said.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and has been supporting a pro-Moscow separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Russian jets also started bombing Syria on September 30.

Moscow says the campaign aims to counter the Islamic State militant group but the West says Moscow is trying to support President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Carter's trip was dominated by questions over China's continued land reclamation efforts and military buildup in the South China Sea.

On Thursday, he flew out to the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier as it was sailing in the South China Sea.

The enormous supercarrier was accompanied by the guided missile destroyer the USS Lassen, which last month sailed past a series of islets in Subi Reef in the Spratly Island chain.

There, China is using dredgers to turn reefs and low-lying features into larger land masses for runways and other military uses to bolster its claims of sovereignty in the region.

The Lassen conducted a "freedom of navigation operation" as a way to rebuff China's those claims.

"We've done them before, all over the world. And we will do them again," Carter said of the sail-by.

Carter said he chose to talk about Russia at the Reagan library as the Cold War was a defining theme of the US leader's presidency.

Still, he also made some conciliatory gestures to both China and Russia, suggesting there potentially was room for both countries to be part of broader international security structure.

"We do not seek a cold, let alone a hot war with Russia. We do not seek to make Russia an enemy," he said.

Gunboat diplomacy: US skipper recalls chummy exchanges with Chinese
Aboard The Uss Theodore Roosevelt (AFP) Nov 6, 2015 - As the United States and China engaged in a standoff last week over an American naval vessel in Chinese-claimed waters, frontline officers from the two sides bantered about chicken wings and Halloween preparations.

Washington sent the guided missile destroyer USS Lassen to the South China Sea for a "sail-by" of Chinese-built islands that have raised concerns over Beijing's deepening toe-hold in the strategic waterway.

The move brought angry denunciations from China, which said its sovereignty had been violated, with US defence officials countering that American ships would continue such sailings.

But despite the big-power ramifications, radio contact between the two sides at the scene was frequent and surprisingly relaxed, according to an account of the close encounter by the USS Lassen's skipper, Commander Robert Francis.

"Every day a US ship is down here, we interact with the Chinese," Francis said.

"It's not uncommon for one of my officers on the decks to pick up the radio and start talking (to the Chinese)."

Francis spoke to reporters on Thursday after being helicoptered over from his ship to the USS Theodore Roosevelt -- also cruising the South China Sea -- during a visit to the giant aircraft carrier by US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, who was on a diplomatic swing through Asia.

"We picked up the phone and said, 'Hey, what are you guys doing this Saturday? We got pizza and wings, we're doing this, we're planning for Halloween as well,'" Francis said, recalling exchanges with the Chinese navy.

"So, discussions of that nature, just trying to show we are normal sailors like them, have families just like them."

- 'Just a normal day' -

On October 27, the USS Lassen cruised within about six miles (10 kilometres) of Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands, a sprinkling of reefs and islets at the heart of the South China Sea that also is claimed in whole or part by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Subi reef is just one of the South China Sea sites where Chinese dredgers are creating expanding land masses capable of hosting large facilities, including runways.

A Chinese destroyer shadowed the USS Lassen, repeatedly querying why it was in "Chinese waters".

"I wouldn't call them warnings," Francis said.

The US vessel's carefully stage-managed "freedom of navigation" transit -- close enough to see construction cranes and other features on land -- was meant to subtly challenge China's sovereignty claims and stress the right to international free passage.

The South China Sea has long been viewed as a potential flashpoint for military conflict.

Those concerns have grown in recent years as China has taken a more assertive stance toward its long-standing insistence that virtually the entire sea is sovereign Chinese territory.

The island-building programme has accelerated within the past two years, and rival claimants to the body of water say it violates a regional code against provocative moves that could upset the maritime status quo.

Francis said he was surprised by the attention drawn by last week's encounter, calling the episode "just a normal day."

"I got a call from my mother and she was going, 'Hey, what's going on with you in China? I heard you were in China,'" he said.

"I was like, 'Mom, I'm not in China. I'm OK, I'm on the ship.'"

 

 

Push for muscular military leaves many Japanese uneasy

 
‎10 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎09:09:11 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) Nov 6, 2015 - Japan's move to expand the role of its armed forces has left both veterans and fighting families uneasy in a pacifist country unsure whether a military that has never fired a bullet in anger is ready for combat.

Since the carnage of World War II, Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) have been banned from waging any kind of combat beyond defence of the nation thanks to a US-imposed 1947 constitution.

As a result, Japan's post war troops have never shot a bullet at an enemy, or been felled by one in a foreign land -- a track record many are proud of.

But in September the government of nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rammed through legislation allowing the nation's troops to fight abroad.

It caused significant uproar both at home and overseas, especially among regional neighbours, including China and Korea, which suffered under Japan's wartime aggression.

The legislation will give the government the power to send the military into overseas conflicts to defend allies, even if Japan itself is not under attack.

Abe sees an increasingly muscular and flexible military as necessary to protect against an increasingly powerful China and unpredictable North Korea.

But opponents fear the vague wording could see Japan dragged into far-flung foreign conflicts similar to the US invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan while regional neighbours who suffered under Japanese occupation, particularly China and Korea, are incensed.

Military families are themselves divided over the move.

"I feel more apprehension than relief over the legislation," explained one mother whose husband is stationed at a ground forces base on Tokyo's outskirts.

"When I talked about the issue with my husband, he said he would have to go wherever if an order was issued. But for family members, it's an extremely worrisome development," she added, asking AFP not to use her name for fear of any backlash.

But another army wife in her 40s said she believed the legislation would beef up Japan's security by strengthening the country's alliance with the United States, which welcomed Abe's move.

It would also, she said, embolden Japanese soldiers to protect themselves if they came under fire during peacekeeping operations.

"Currently, SDF servicemen are not allowed to fire a gun even if he or she faces the danger of getting killed," she told AFP.

- 'Sacrificing your life' -

Japanese troops have been deployed in peacekeeping missions with increasing frequency, including a small detachment controversially sent to Iraq, as well as ongoing anti-piracy missions off the Horn of Africa.

But during the deployment in war-torn Iraq, Japanese soldiers, on a reconstruction mission, had to be under protection of other foreign troops, who were in charge of keeping security.

While Japan's military may be neutered by what it can do under the post-war constitution, the country nonetheless boasts an impressive array of weaponry with highly trained personnel.

Fourth generation battle tanks, state-of-the-art fighter jets, frigates, destroyers and helicopter carriers are just some of the tools at Japan's disposal as well as the US-made Aegis defense missile system.

The post-war years saw the military often ridiculed by a deeply pacifist public scarred by the shame of defeat and the loss of some 3.1 million Japanese lives.

But in recent decades the military have burnished their reputation for disaster relief, particularly in the wake of the 1995 Kobe earthquake and the devastating 2011 quake-tsunami disaster.

Veterans say the new legislation makes it much more likely that the enemy of the future will be a hostile human, rather than Mother Nature.

"The chances that Japan will work together with the US military will increase for sure," said Inoru Fukanuma, 49, former Air Self-Defence Force captain who had worked as a mechanic and instructor for 18 years.

That means Japanese troops "may have to be deployed close to battlefields," thereby increasing the risk of losing their lives or killing others even if they are on logistical support missions, he said.

Whether a sceptical Japanese public -- or the military themselves -- would accept coffins returning home draped in white and red flags remains to be seen.

"My former colleagues tend to say they can't simply die for an uncertain amount of compensation for their families and...for ambiguous causes with public opinion divided," Takao Izutsu, a 45-year-old former ground SDF ranger, told AFP.

"If all the Japanese people praise the SDF for what they were asked to do that's a consolation, but a majority of people are against the legislation. What's the point of sacrificing your life?"

 

 

Historic Ma-Xi summit heavy on rhetoric but schism remains

 
‎10 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎09:09:11 AMGo to full article
Taipei (AFP) Nov 8, 2015 - The summit between the presidents of China and Taiwan promised warmer ties and was loaded with historic symbolism as both men sought to secure their legacy -- but there were few concrete results in their bid to mend decades of estrangement.

China's Xi Jinping and Taiwan's Ma Ying-jeou shook hands for more than a minute to herald the start of a meeting once unthinkable due to the enmity between the two sides.

Xi's rhetoric likened China and Taiwan to part of the same family, while Ma urged cooperation and harmony in a surprisingly cordial exchange.

It was the first time leaders had met since they split at the end of a civil war on the mainland in 1949, with Taiwan now a democracy with a fierce sense of its own identity.

But while the language and gestures sought to reflect a message of burgeoning friendship, there were no agreements announced.

"It's historic, because it's the first (meeting), but I would not go as far as to say that it's very important because it was engaged in generalities -- no specific issues were addressed, no promises were made that we know of, and Ma Ying-jeou, six months from now, will no longer be president of Taiwan," said J. Michael Cole, a fellow of the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute.

Ma will step down next year with the China-sceptic opposition expected to win presidential elections in January as public concern over closer ties with Beijing grows.

The summit was a chance for Ma to publicly seal the dramatic seven-year rapprochement since he came to power and to underline what he says is a legacy of stability and peace for the region.

For Xi, it was an opportunity to reiterate his ultimate ambition of reunification.

"Beijing's desire is to emphasise interdependence between Taiwan and China, not to reduce it. So it is in Beijing's interest to maintain as many channels of communication as possible," said Jean-Pierre Cabestan political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University.

- No concessions -

The meeting triggered protests in Taiwan where opponents accuse Ma of selling out the island, while supporters praised him for raising sensitive issues.

Ma said he had expressed concern to Xi over missiles aimed at Taiwan and had also argued for an end to the marginalisation of the island internationally.

But there was no sign that Xi had moved on either subject.

"Xi... did not unilaterally or voluntarily commit or promise some kind of international leeway or space for Taiwan. He could have done that, and he did not," said Titus Chen, associate professor at the Institute of China and Asia-Pacific Studies at National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan.

The language of brotherhood and family would only exacerbate fears in Taiwan, Chen said.

"This kind of narrative or discourse is losing its popularity in Taiwan," he adds.

"I don't want to be a subject or citizen of China, that would put myself at great risk or violate my own political values. I think the divergence on political values - that's the biggest obstacle."

- 'Path to reunification' -

Meanwhile Xi's performance received praise in China, with several online commentators predicting that reunification could be achieved within 10 years. Analysts there hailed the meeting as a success.

"Under the circumstances of political sensitivity and unresolved political differences, disputes were put aside and there was dialogue with mutual respect," said Zhu Songling, head of Beijing Union University's Taiwan Research Institute.

"In terms of the timeline of reunification, before the two Germanys agreed, many scholars and politicians were very pessimistic, but that's just the way of history - chance determines the turning points of history," he added.

Others said Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who are expected to win the presidency, would have to follow Ma's example if they got into power -- historically the party has been pro-independence.

"For the mainland, curbing Taiwanese independence depends on hard power, and peaceful reunification on soft power," said Li Fei, deputy director of the Taiwan Research Institute of Xiamen University.

"Consideration of the Taiwanese people's wishes -- this is an issue for the future.

- Democratic firewall -

But the fundamental historic differences between the two sides and the schism between their political cultures is a rift many still see as extremely difficult to bridge.

Taiwanese would accept warmer relations if China respected the island's democratic culture and sovereignty, says J. Michael Cole -- but that is vastly at odds with Xi's unification message.

"The biggest impediment to what China is trying to achieve is Taiwan's democracy," says Cole.

"That is the firewall, in Taiwan, that is becoming increasingly consolidated.

"It is the resistance to being taken over by China."

 

 

True colours: China summit foments Taiwan's green-blue split

 
‎10 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎09:09:11 AMGo to full article
Taipei (AFP) Nov 6, 2015 - In Taiwan's decades-long debate over independence or reunification with mainland China, the colours blue and green symbolise a rift that polarises friends and families and has been deepened by this weekend's historic summit.

Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou's meeting with China's leader Xi Jinping in Singapore on Saturday has unleashed a visceral response on the island, a cold war outpost which has long sheltered under a United States pledge of protection.

But as the island wearies of the seemingly irreconcilable split over its identity and future, exemplified by the colour-coded political parties, some are seeking to breach the divide.

The summit could be a turning point for Taiwan, a self-ruling democracy which split from China in 1949 following a civil war, and which Beijing views as a renegade province awaiting reunification -- by force if necessary.

The blue camp favours closer ties with China, with the staunchest "dark blues" supporting full unification.

The greens strongly reject any "one China" principle, viewing Taiwan as an entirely separate entity. "Dark greens" call for formal independence from China -- a move that would risk an armed response.

Ma's Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) is the main blue party, while the opposition Beijing-sceptic Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) represents the greens.

"Taiwan traditionally has been split between the KMT and DPP, or the unification and independence they each represent," says Wang Yeh-lih, a political science professor at National Taiwan University.

"The blue supporters will back the Ma-Xi meeting, and the greens will of course oppose it. Taiwan has never had a high degree of consensus on this."

The blue, taken from the KMT banner of a white sun against a blue sky, is associated with the party's urban strongholds in the north, while green evokes the DPP's grassroot rural support, particularly in the island's south.

The announcement of Saturday's talks provoked strong responses from from political leaders, academics and the general public, with the blue camp saying it was long overdue and the greens accusing Ma of selling out Taiwan.

While citizens have become used to the split, some fear the enduring impact across an island that is heading to presidential elections in January as Ma bows out.

"My family is open-minded, but the problem has affected relationships between some of my friends. They argue until they are red in the face, defending their political ideas or their favourite parties," says Jesmine Su, a 30-year-old office worker from the southern city of Tainan.

"The phenomenon is bad for Taiwan... it has led people not to look at issues in a rational manner, from individuals and families to different political parties," she said.

- A third way? -

Ma has overseen a dramatic rapprochement with China since he came to power in 2008, yielding a tourism boom, the opening of flight routes, and more than 20 trade agreements.

But there is scepticism from voters who believe that only big business has benefited from the pacts, while the Taiwanese economy remains in the doldrums and salaries are static.

There are also fears that closer ties will risk Taiwan's sovereignty and security as Beijing tries to impose control, concerns that have seen public support for the president and his party plummet.

But while Ma's leadership has stoked divisions, there are also those who seek a path beyond the green-blue polarisation, and independent candidates with a fresh approach have benefited at a local level.

"I'm part of the population that doesn't care about green or blue. I care about the present, the reality, who can really make Taiwan better," said Hu Chih-cheng, 48, a building manager in Taipei who is among those embracing the new credo.

With the economy flagging, livelihood issues have become central to voter sentiment, for some overriding their traditional leanings.

Some analysts say the line between the camps is far more nuanced and flexible than it might initially appear as pragmatism weighs on ideology.

"There are of course many people who are diehard greens or diehard blues, but a much larger majority of voters base their support on the performance and policies of the parties," says Jonathan Sullivan from the University of Nottingham's School of Contemporary Chinese Studies.

"If the blue-green cleavage was absolute, we wouldn't see the kind of fluidity and volatility in election results in Taiwan," he said.

"Remember that after 2008 the DPP was supposedly finished, while the KMT rose to ascendancy. Now the opposite is happening."

 

 

UK 'letting down' allies over IS in Syria: defence chief

 
‎10 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎09:09:11 AMGo to full article
London (AFP) Nov 8, 2015 - The head of Britain's armed forces on Sunday said the country was "letting down" allies by not participating in air strikes against Islamic State group jihadists in Syria.

Britain is part of a coalition hitting IS targets in Iraq, but its parliament has yet to be convinced of the need to join air strikes in neighbouring Syria and an influential committee of MPs recently advised against action.

"To an extent yes, we are letting our allies down by not being a full player," General Nicholas Houghton, the chief of the defence staff, told Sky News on Sunday.

"The source of their power, their command and control, their logistics, their organisation, the place from which they issue orders to international terrorists is from within Syria.

"In the most simplistic way it's like being asked to win a football match but not being able to go into the opponents' half," he added.

However, the defence chief stressed that Britain could make only "make a contribution to the international" effort.

"In the end the military dimension is done by regional platers, by Muslim countries," he later told the BBC.

"I don't think we should play the decisive military role because it runs the risk of adding fuel to the radicalisation of IS as an abhorrent cult."

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond later denied that the government had given up on a parliamentary vote.

"We are in exactly the same place that we've been for months," he told the BBC.

"When we think its right to do so, when we think we have a consensus, we will go to the House of Commons."

Hammond said the government was still in an "exploration" period with the opposition Labour party, which recently elected leftist Jeremy Corbyn as its leader, and was yet to establish if it had the cross-party support required to win a vote to extend the air strikes.

He admitted that Britain's decision "wasn't going to tip the balance" in Syria and called for a political solution to bring about a ceasefire in the four-year civil war.

- 'Illogical' -

The government has argued that it is illogical to conduct air strikes in Iraq and not neighbouring Syria, saying the two countries are "a single theatre of conflict".

But the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee -- a cross-party MPs' body which scrutinises Britain's foreign policy -- said in a new report that Prime Minister David Cameron's focus on joining air strikes was "incoherent" and "a distraction".

However, the crash of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt, which Britain believes was probably the result of a bomb, has once again thrust the issue centre stage.

Britain has suspended scheduled flights out of Sharm el-Sheikh as a result, and has sent over aircraft to fly home Britons remaining in the resort.

That decision was initially criticised by Russia, which is already hitting targets in Syria, but Houghton said Sunday that the common enemy of IS presented "an opportunity for an element of political convergence between America, ourselves, the West and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin."

Hammond on Sunday warned that air passengers worldwide faced more security checks, "additional costs and additional delays," if it were found that an IS bomb was responsible.

In Iraq, Britain is currently part of a coalition of more than 60 countries and has eight Tornado jets flying missions plus an unconfirmed number of Reaper drones.

This was approved by parliament in September last year, but the government was defeated on a vote to strike Syria in 2013.

 

 

Kiev completes arms pullout from eastern front: army

 
‎10 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎09:09:11 AMGo to full article
Pisky, Ukraine (AFP) Nov 7, 2015 - Ukraine's military said Saturday it has finished withdrawing its weapons from the eastern frontline with pro-Russia rebels, where clashes have erupted in recent days despite a ceasefire.

Ukrainian soldiers withdrew their 82 mm calibre mortars from the villages of Pisky and Opytne near the ruins of Donetsk airport, which was ravaged by intense fighting last year, army spokesman Oleksandr Zavtonov told AFP.

Kiev's withdrawal came after pro-Moscow rebels said they pulled out their light arms from the area on Thursday.

A military convoy transporting mortars could be seen moving away from government positions in Pisky towards an arms depot, an AFP journalist said.

A Ukrainian soldier told AFP that troops near the front now have only firearms left.

"We do not respond to the rebels' provocations or shots. But if we must defend ourselves, we now only have guns, Kalashnikov (rifles) and stones," said 39-year-old Eduard, a soldier in Ukraine's 93rd Brigade.

Saturday's pullout completed the government's weapons withdrawal from the Donetsk area and was in line with a trust-building September 1 pact that ordered the withdrawal of all weapons with a calibre under 100 mm.

While the deal led to a marked de-escalation in one of Europe's deadliest crises since the Balkans wars of the 1990s, it remains unclear whether this semblance of calm will last.

The plan is to create a 30-40 kilometre (18-25 mile) buffer zone in the conflict. A similar withdrawal took place in the separatist Lugansk area in October.

A peace deal signed in February in Minsk calls for a vote to be held in the separatist regions under international auspices. Those elections have now been pushed back to early 2016.

Both the government and the rebels say they have honoured a pullout deal regarding larger weapons.

But the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), tasked with overseeing the withdrawal, has said some heavy weapons remain deployed on both sides of the frontline.

- 'Volatile' -

Chief OSCE monitor Ertugrul Apakan said this week that the ceasefire was "largely holding" but that the situation remains "volatile".

On Saturday the government and the separatist rebels exchanged blame over continued violence.

Kiev accused the rebels of firing at their positions using guns, grenade launchers and mortars. Four soldiers were wounded after they stepped on a landmine, the government added.

The rebels meanwhile accused Kiev loyalists of pounding Donetsk with a rocket launcher.

"Ukrainian volunteer battalions are bombing Donetsk in order to derail the Minsk (peace) agreement and to provoke a response from us," the separatists' defence ministry spokesman Eduard Bassurin said.

The conflict, which erupted in the aftermath of 2014's pro-democracy revolt, has left more than 8,000 people dead.

Russia denies instigating and backing the revolt in reprisal for last year's ouster of a Moscow-backed president in Ukraine and the subsequent leadership's decision to tie its future to the European Union and the NATO military bloc.

 

 

NATO exercises send clear message to potential foes: Stoltenberg

 
‎10 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎09:09:11 AMGo to full article
Zaragoza, Spain (AFP) Nov 4, 2015 - NATO's biggest military exercise in more than a decade sends a clear message to friends and foes alike that it is ready to face the challenges of a fast-changing world, alliance head Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday.

"While our aim is to train and exercise, we are also sending a clear message to our nations and to any potential adversary," Stoltenberg said.

"NATO does not seek confrontation but we stand ready to defend all allies," he said as troops, armoured vehicles and aircraft battled it out at the San Gregorio training grounds near the northeastern Spanish city of Zaragoza.

The training moves were part of the much larger Trident Juncture exercise launched last month.

The drill is putting some 36,000 troops through their paces for five weeks in Italy, Spain and Portugal to demonstrate the improved readiness levels NATO judges necessary to cope with new threats.

Leaders of the 28-nation, US-led military alliance, shocked by Russian intervention in Ukraine, agreed in September last year to upgrade its rapid response force, more than doubling its size to around 40,000 troops.

They also approved setting up what is known as the Very High-Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), a smaller "spearhead" unit which can put boots on the ground within 48 hours, rather than the weeks and possibly months needed for the larger unit to get to a crisis spot.

"Trident Juncture is an important part of NATO's long-term adaptation to a changed and new security environment," Stoltenberg said.

If the Ukraine crisis provided the initial impetus, war and turmoil across North Africa and the Middle East are also major concerns for NATO.

Turkey, with NATO's second largest armed forces, is especially exposed as the Syrian war drives millions of refugees onto its soil and then onto Europe, creating a major humanitarian crisis.

Russian intervention in Syria and several incursions by its aircraft into Turkish airspace have also frayed nerves, although tensions appear to have eased recently as Washington and Moscow push for a political solution to the conflict.

Stoltenberg stressed that Russia had been invited to the Trident Juncture exercises, and complained that Moscow had not reciprocated when holding its own training drills.

He told reporters that NATO foreign ministers would discuss security on its southern borders at a December meeting, adding that the alliance planned to deploy surveillance drones to Sicily from next year to boost its situational awareness.

"I would like to underline that NATO has done a lot to meet security challenges to the south," he said, stressing the creation of the VJTF and the alliance's improved overall readiness.

 

 

NATO chief says alliance must counter Russia military build-up

 
‎10 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎09:09:11 AMGo to full article
Lisbon (AFP) Nov 5, 2015 - NATO head Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday the alliance must counter a Russian military build-up in the Baltic, the Black Sea and the eastern Mediterranean which could give Moscow control of key areas in a crisis.

He said the 28-nation, US-led alliance must also consider doing more to reassure eastern member states once ruled from Moscow who have been badly unnerved by Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

As ties with the west have deteriorated, Russia has boosted its military presence in its Kaliningrad enclave, which sits west of and on the blind-side of the Baltic states.

Moscow has meanwhile deployed troops, aircraft and navy ships to Syria to bolster long-time ally President Bashar al-Assad.

Stoltenberg warned that Russia is acquiring the ability and presence to exercise control over strategic points and NATO must ensure it can carry out its own missions in such a changed environment.

"This is a military build-up which provides the Russians with what many experts call Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities," he told reporters at the Portuguese naval base of Troia south of Lisbon.

"We have to be sure we are able to overcome these capabilities so we can reinforce and deploy forces if needed," he said, after watching troops take part in the Trident Juncture exercise, NATO's biggest in more than a decade.

"The question on our agenda now is how to overcome, how to deal with the increased A2/AD capabilities of Russia in the Baltic, the Black Sea and now in the Mediterranean."

- Stepped-up presence -

Stoltenberg made his remarks when he was asked about what more NATO should do to reassure eastern member states who fear for their future in the face of a more assertive Russia.

They want NATO to do more and have suggested the alliance could even set up permanent bases on their soil.

NATO has previously ruled out that possibility for fear of breaching treaties agreed with Russia banning such a presence.

But Stoltenberg said Thursday there was no real distinction to be made between permanent and the sort of temporary, rotating NATO deployments of troops, ships and planes which have all been stepped up since the Ukraine crisis broke.

NATO has also set up forward command units in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, and pre-positioned equipment so that its new high speed rapid reaction force can hit the ground running in any crisis.

"We have already increased our presence and we are looking into the question of whether we should increase it even more," Stoltenberg said, adding that the issue would be on the agenda for the next NATO leaders summit in Warsaw in July 2016.

Stung by Russia's intervention in Ukraine, NATO leaders agreed last year to reverse years of defence spending cuts and to upgrade its rapid response force, more than doubling its size to around 40,000 troops.

They also approved what is known as the Very High-Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), a smaller "spearhead" unit which can put boots on the ground within 48 hours.

The Trident Juncture exercise is NATO's biggest since 2002, putting some 36,000 troops through their paces over five weeks in Italy, Spain and Portugal.

 

 

 

 

 

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The History of the House of Rothschild

by Andrew Hitchcock

 

 

  • Hitchcock also wrote a history for the bankers:

 

 

  • One of our listeners added images and photos and turned this Rothschild document

into a PowerPoint presentation. It is very large; 67 megabytes:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rothschilds have been in control of the world for a very long time, their tentacles reaching into many aspects of our daily lives, as is documented in the following timeline.  However, before you jump to the timeline, please read this invaluable introduction which will tell you who the Rothschilds are as oppose to who they claim to be.

The Rothschilds claim that they are Jewish, when in fact they are Khazars.  They are from a country called Khazaria, which occupied the land locked between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea which is now predominantly occupied by Georgia.  The reason the Rothschilds claim to be Jewish is that the Khazars under the instruction of the King, converted to the Jewish faith in 740 A.D., but of course that did not include converting their Asiatic Mongolian genes to the genes of the Jewish people.

You will find that approximately 90% of people in the world today who call themselves Jews are actually Khazars, or as they like to be known, Ashkenazi Jews.  These people knowingly lie to the world with their claims that the land of Israel is theirs by birthright, when in actual fact their real homeland is over 800 miles away in Georgia.

So, next time you hear an Israeli Prime Minister bleating about the so-called persecution of the Jews, consider this, every Prime Minister of Israel has been an Ashkenazi Jew.  Therefore when all these Prime Ministers have curried favour with the West for their re-establishment of a Jewish homeland, they have knowingly and deliberately lied to you, as they were never from that region, and they well know it, because it is they who call themselves Ashkenazi Jews.

The Book of Revelation, Chapter 2, Verse 9, states the following which would appear to be about these Ashkenazi Jews:

"I know thy works, and tribulation and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan."
The most wealthy bloodline in the world bar none and the leader of the Ashkenazi Jews in the world today is the Rothschild family.  As you will see in the timeline, the Rothschilds have obtained this position through lies, manipulation and murder.  Their bloodline also extends into the Royal Families of Europe, and the following family names:  Astor; Bundy; Collins; duPont; Freeman; Kennedy; Morgan; Oppenheimer; Rockefeller; Sassoon; Schiff; Taft; and Van Duyn.

However, these are not the only bloodlines to worry about.  You are probably aware of the centuries old pratice undertaken by many Ashkenazi Jews whereby they would change their name, in order for them to appear part of the dominant race of the country in which they lived, so as they could obtain influential positions in that country, which they would then exploit to serve their real masters elsewhere.  There is plenty of evidence to prove the Rothschilds continue that deceptive tradition.

Furthermore the Rothschilds are known to sire many children secretly that they can put into positions of power when required.  This started with the very first man who took the name Rothschild, who had a secret sixth son.  Finally, remember the world is a diverse place, I could if I wanted change my name to Rothschild, or any of the names listed above, and that would not make me part of this family anymore than converting to Judaism in 740 A.D. will make these Ashkenazis Jewish.

Please, therefore, do not automatically assume someone you see with the name Rothschild or any of the names listed above are part of the Rothschild criminal network.  Furthermore and most importantly, the majority of Ashkenazi Jews are innocent and not part of this network.  Check the facts out for yourself first, this article is designed to inform people who the enemy is, not single out people of a particular race or people with a particular surname, who may have nothing to do with this Rothschild criminal network.
 

1743: Mayer Amschel Bauer, an Ashkenazi Jew, is born in Frankfurt, Germany, the son of Moses Amschel Bauer, a money lender and the proprietor of a counting house.

 

Moses Amschel Bauer places a red sign above the entrance door to his counting house. This sign is a red hexagram (which geometrically and numerically translates into the number 666) which under Rothschild instruction will end up on the Israeli flag some two centuries later.

 

1753: Gutle Schnaper, an Ashkenazi Jew (future wife of Mayer Amschel Bauer), born to respected merchant, Wolf Salomon Schnaper.

1760: During this decade Mayer Amschel Bauer works for a bank owned by the Oppenheimers' in Hanover, Germany.  He is highly successful and becomes a junior partner. Whilst working at the bank he becomes acquainted with General von Estorff.

Following his father's death, Bauer returns to Frankfurt to take over his father's business. Bauer recognises the significance of the red hexagram and changes his name from Bauer to Rothschild, after the red hexagram or sign signifying 666 hanging over the entrance door ("Rot," is German for, "Red," "Schild," is German for, "Sign").

 

Now Mayer Amschel Rothschild, he discovers that General von Estorff is now attached to the court of Prince William IX of Hesse-Hanau, one of the richest royal houses in Europe, which gained its' wealth by the hiring out of Hessian soldiers to foreign countries for vast profits (a practice that continues today in the form of exporting, "peacekeeping," troops throughout the world).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The European Union (flag pictured) is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe".

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South Sudan must sustain efforts to protect human rights, says UN official

Conflict in Darfur
Date 2003–2009 /2010

 

Location Darfur, Sudan
Belligerents
Sudan JEM factions
Bandera Darfur.svg SLM (Minnawi faction)
Sudan LJM
Allegedly supported by:
 Chad
 Eritrea
Sudan Janjaweed
Sudan Sudanese Armed Forces
Sudan Sudanese Police
Foreign Mercenaries
African Union
 
United Nations
Commanders and leaders
Sudan Khalil Ibrahim
Sudan Ahmed Diraige
Bandera Darfur.svg Minni Minnawi
Sudan Abdul Wahid al Nur
Sudan Omar al-Bashir
Sudan Musa Hilal
Sudan Hamid Dawai
Sudan Ali Kushayb
Sudan Ahmed Haroun
Rodolphe Adada
United Nations
Martin Luther Agwai
Strength
NRF/JEM: Unknown N/A 9,065
Casualties and losses
unknown
  • 178,258-461,520 excess deaths
  • 2,850,000 Displaced (UN estimate)
  • 450,000 Displaced (Sudanese estimate)
unknown 51 peacekeepers killed

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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