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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.









Behold a Black Horse

 Behold a Black




Price R 249.00 




Behold a Black Horse:

 Economic Upheaval and Famine


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


•2 MP3 files

•1 PDF Notes file






Xi tells Kerry: Pacific Ocean big enough for China and US

‎24 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎11:54:11 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) May 17, 2015 - China's relationship with the US is "stable" despite tensions in the South China Sea, President Xi Jinping told top American diplomat John Kerry Sunday, adding that the Pacific Ocean is "vast enough" for both powers, state media said.

Xi met with Kerry in Beijing as tensions between the world's two biggest economies mount over Chinese island-building in strategic but disputed waters.

The United States is weighing sending warships and surveillance aircraft within 12 nautical miles -- the normal territorial zone around natural land -- of artificial islands that Beijing is building in the South China Sea.

Such a deployment could lead to a standoff on the high seas in an area home to vital global shipping lanes.

Beijing regards almost the whole of the South China Sea as its own, and satellite images show China is rapidly building an airstrip on an artificial island in the Spratly archipelago, which is also claimed in whole or part by US ally the Philippines, and Vietnam, among others.

But on Sunday Xi told Kerry that, "in my view", relations between the two countries "have remained stable on the whole", according to state-run news agency Xinhua.

"The broad Pacific Ocean is vast enough to embrace both China and the United States," Xi said.

He called for the two sides to handle disputes "in an appropriate way so that the general direction of the bilateral relationship will not be affected".

"The new type of China-US relationship has witnessed early harvest," he added.

Xinhua said Kerry, who arrived in China Saturday, "echoed" Xi's evaluation of bilateral ties before the two met for talks behind closed doors.

Chinese leaders had been defiant in talks with Kerry on Saturday, with foreign minister Wang Yi telling him that Beijing was "unshakeable" in its defence of sovereignty.

Kerry appeared less assertive in public, saying at a press conference Saturday that Washington was "concerned about the pace and scope of China's land reclamation".

He urged Beijing to "take actions that will join with everyone to reduce tensions".

Senior State Department officials had said ahead of the meeting that Kerry would take a tough line and "leave his Chinese interlocutors in absolutely no doubt that the United States remains committed to maintaining freedom of navigation".

An American naval commander has dubbed Beijing's massive land reclamation effort as China's "great wall of sand".

Xi is due to pay a state visit to the United States in September, and Xinhua said he looked forward to discussing bilateral ties with US President Barack Obama in a "candid and in-depth way".

Kerry flew to Seoul in South Korea later Sunday.



Russia flexes Central Asia military might amid Afghan fears

‎24 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎11:54:11 AMGo to full article
Dushanbe, Tajikistan (AFP) May 17, 2015 - Russia has deployed hundreds of troops for drills in Central Asia with its ex-Soviet allies in a show of force as anxiety grows over a surge in fighting in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Around 2,500 personnel from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) are taking part in joint exercises due to run to Wednesday in Tajikistan. The move is seen as re-enforcing Moscow's role as the main guarantor of the fragile region's security after US troops leave Afghanistan.

The Russian deployment of about 500 troops for the drills started last week, bolstered by soldiers from Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Belarus.

Tajikistan is in a strategic spot, bordering Afghanistan's Kunduz province where over 200 people have died and 10,000 been displaced by a militant offensive.

Russia's foreign ministry says it is "particularly concerned" by the violence, which Afghan local authorities claim has seen the Taliban link up with jihadists from the Islamic State group battling in Syria and Iraq.

The uptick in Afghan fighting has rattled Moscow's ex-Soviet allies in Central Asia, and some have looked towards Russia for reassurance.

Tajikistan hosts a Russian military base and has called for Moscow to step up its military assistance to the country.

It is the only CSTO member of the three Central Asian states bordering Afghanistan, which also include Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

The Kremlin and its partners in Central Asia have been accused in the past of exaggerating a post-Washington 'spillover' effect in the region.

But some experts argue states such as Tajikistan and Turkmenistan would be unable to contain a hypothetical breakout of fighting in Afghanistan's fractious northern provinces without significant outside help.

"The armed forces of many of these states are critically weak with thoroughly corrupted command structures," Vasily Kashin, an expert at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow, told AFP.

"One moderate incursion could be devastating. Russia would have no choice other than swift military intervention."

Tajikistan on Friday said it had stopped issuing foreigners travel permits for a remote region along the Afghan frontier, citing heavy fighting on the other side of the border.

- Shunning Russia's bloc -

At present there are just under 10,000 US troops stationed in Afghanistan. While Afghan leader Ashraf Ghani secured a pledge from President Barack Obama in March to slow down scheduled withdrawals for 2015, the United States remains committed to pulling out all but 1,000 troops by the end of 2016.

Yet even though the region has major concerns about the conflict in Afghanistan, some countries have shunned the opportunity to be part of the CSTO bloc, which is often associated with Moscow's divide-and-rule policies in Central Asia.

Uzbekistan, a country of 30 million which has a short border of around 140 kilometres (90 miles) with Afghanistan, quit the bloc in 2012.

"Stability in Uzbekistan means stability in Central Asia," said Rafik Sayfullin, a political analyst based in the Uzbek capital Tashkent and a former member of the state's security council.

"If Russia is interested in this, why does it practically give away tanks to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and sell them for twice the price to Uzbekistan?"

In closed-off Turkmenistan, which like Uzbekistan has turned to China and the West as well as Russia to upgrade its military, a defence official rebuffed rumours Ashgabat had appealed to Russia or other foreign partners to help guard its border with Afghanistan.

"Any activities of the security services of Turkmenistan are strictly connected with the country's permanently neutral status," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"Turkmenistan can receive military aid from any country, but never troop reinforcements," the official said.

Springtime attacks have become an annual strategy for the Taliban and other militant Afghan groups opposed to the US-backed regime in Kabul.

But claims that fighters from the Islamic State group are also terrorising the country -- made by Afghan officials but yet to be confirmed by IS itself -- could complicate the threat emanating from Afghanistan, said Deidre Tynan, regional project director for the International Crisis Group.

While the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which includes China as well as Russia, is "growing more active" in Central Asia, the CSTO remains the "foremost security bloc in the region," according to Tynan.

"So far the CSTO has talked a lot without really doing that much," the analyst said.

"It remains to be seen how it would handle a crisis from over the border in Afghanistan if one were to occur."




India's Modi tells China to 'reconsider' approach

‎24 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎11:54:11 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) May 15, 2015 - Visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told his Chinese counterpart on Friday that Beijing needs to "reconsider its approach" to relations between the Asian giants, as the Hindu nationalist leader departed from the usual diplomatic pleasantries.

Modi, who despite his hardline reputation has moved to engage with Beijing since his election last year, made the remarks after being welcomed to the Great Hall of the People by Premier Li Keqiang.

"I stressed the need for China to reconsider its approach on some of the issues that hold us back from realising full potential of our partnership," Modi said, adding that he "suggested that China should take a strategic and long-term view of our relations".

His comments stood out from the usual public declarations by diplomatic visitors to Beijing, who normally stick to uninterrupted pledges of friendship and good relations.

The world's two most populous nations are jockeying for regional influence in Asia and their relationship is coloured by a brief but bloody 1962 border war over the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, parts of which Beijing claims as South Tibet.

Another bone of contention is what Beijing sees as Delhi's support of the Dalai Lama -- a Nobel Peace Prize laureate whom China considers a separatist -- and the Tibetan government in exile, both based in India.

"Our relationship has been complex in recent decades," Modi said, adding there were issues that "trouble smooth development of our relations".

"But, we have a historic responsibility to turn this relationship into a source of strength for each other and a force of good for the world," he said, adding that the Chinese leadership had been "responsive" in the meetings.

"We are committed to set a new direction between the two largest Asian countries," he said.

- 'More common interests than differences' -

Modi began his three-day visit on Thursday in Xian, the capital of Chinese President Xi Jinping's home province Shaanxi, where he was hosted by the head of state. This was the first time Xi had welcomed a foreign leader to his hometown, Chinese media reported.

In another moment of warmth, a selfie of Modi and Li smiling in the sunshine at what appeared to be Beijing's Temple of Heaven was posted on both the Indian leader's Sina Weibo Chinese social media account and Twitter -- access to which is blocked in China.

"It's selfie time!" Modi captioned the picture on Twitter. "Thanks Premier Li."

After their formal meeting, Li said in a speech: "We do not deny that there are some disagreements between us, but we have far more common interests than differences.

"We agree that we need to keep up the momentum on the special representatives' talks on the boundary question and seek a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution."

The two countries signed 24 documents, including agreements to cooperate in fields ranging from aerospace and railways to tourism and education, although no details were given, as well as open consulates in Chennai and Chengdu.

But China has become increasingly assertive in territorial disputes in recent years and relations remain delicate, as demonstrated by the mixed rhetoric.

"The bilateral relationship is still vulnerable to many sensitive issues," said an editorial in the Global Times, affiliated with the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily. "Lack of mutual trust still disturbs both sides."

China is India's biggest trading partner with two-way commerce totalling $71 billion in 2014. But India's trade deficit with China has soared from just $1 billion in 2001-02 to more than $38 billion last year, Indian figures show.

After his meeting with Li, Modi told students at Beijing's elite Tsinghua University that India's democracy and youthful population were key assets for his country.

"India has 1.2 billion people, and 800 million below 35 years old," he said. "This is a very good advantage, and democracy is also a key advantage to us."



Beijing rebukes US over South China Sea islands row

‎24 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎11:54:11 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) May 16, 2015 - China's foreign minister told top US diplomat John Kerry on Saturday that Beijing was "unshakeable" in its defence of sovereignty, as tensions between the powers mount over Chinese island-building in strategic but disputed waters.

The United States is weighing sending warships and surveillance aircraft within 12 nautical miles -- the normal territorial zone around natural land -- of artificial islands that Beijing is building in the South China Sea.

Such a move could lead to a standoff on the high seas in an area home to vital global shipping lanes and believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits.

Beijing regards almost the whole of the South China Sea as its own and after talks in the Chinese capital Foreign Minister Wang Yi said sternly: "The determination of the Chinese side to safeguard our own sovereignty and territorial integrity is as firm as a rock and it is unshakeable."

Kerry was less assertive in public, saying at their joint press conference that Washington was "concerned about the pace and scope of China's land reclamation" and urged it "to take actions that will join with everyone to reduce tensions".

The region needed "smart diplomacy", he said, rather than "outposts and military strips".

Senior State Department officials had said ahead of the meeting that Kerry would take a tough line and "leave his Chinese interlocutors in absolutely no doubt that the United States remains committed to maintain freedom of navigation".

"That's a principle that we are determined to uphold," the official added.

The world's top two economies have significant commercial ties and Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to pay a state visit to the United States in September.

But China's ambitions for a place on the world's political stage commensurate with its economic role have seen it cross the United States in multiple fields, and the two have long-running disputes over issues ranging from trade to cyberspying to human rights.

At the same time the United States is China's second-biggest trading partner after the European Union, with two-way commerce worth $555 billion last year, according to Chinese figures.

Beijing is the heavily indebted US government's biggest foreign creditor, figures from Washington showed Friday, reclaiming top spot from Japan with more than $1.26 trillion in Treasury bonds.

Kerry was due to meet senior political and military leaders later.

- 'Hegemonic presence' -

Beijing bases its territorial claims in the South China Sea on a segmented line dating back to Chinese maps of the 1940s.

US officials increasingly believe Washington needs to send a clear signal about China's activities around the Spratly Islands and other disputed territories, while avoiding triggering a crisis.

Pentagon officials last week revealed that Beijing is building artificial islands on top of South China Sea coral reefs at an unprecedented pace, in a land reclamation effort dubbed a "great wall of sand" by one American commander.

The rapid construction comes to 2,000 acres (800 hectares), with 75 percent of the total created in the last five months alone, and includes a runway said to be 3,100 metres (10,200 feet) long.

US government officials stress that under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, only natural land masses create a territorial claim, not artificial islands.

"You can't build sovereignty," an official said.

But the United States has never ratified the convention itself.

Beijing's increasing assertiveness has raised deep concerns across the region in recent years -- as well as its South China Sea claims, which overlap with those of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, it is in dispute with Japan over islets in the East China Sea.

Beijing defends the island-building as taking place within its own territory and intended to enhance its ability to carry out international obligations such as search and rescue.

In a commentary Saturday, China's official news agency Xinhua said the United States was guilty of "thinly veiled hypocrisy".

"The United States is not a party in the South China Sea disputes, which are between China and other claimants and should be handled by those directly involved," it said.

"Washington has no valid grounds whatsoever to point an accusing finger at Beijing over South China Sea. Instead, it needs to look at itself in the mirror," it went on, accusing the United States of seeking "a pretext to maintain its hegemonic presence in the region".

The United States is pursuing a foreign policy "pivot" towards Asia which has rattled China.



US planes keep distance from Chinese 'islands' -- for now

‎24 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎11:54:11 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) May 22, 2015 - US surveillance aircraft and naval ships have yet to test China's territorial claims around artificial islands built in the South China Sea, but the Pentagon warned Thursday that could be "the next step".

Although the United States does not recognise China's claims of sovereignty around the man-made structures, American P-8 surveillance planes and naval vessels patrolling the area have not ventured within 12 nautical miles of the artificial islands -- the standard territorial zone around natural land.

"That would be the next step," Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren told reporters.

Asked if the military would move to within that sensitive zone, he said: "We don't have any announcement to make on next steps. We are going to continue our routine flights."

US officials have said they are weighing sending warships and surveillance aircraft within 12 nautical miles of the man-made islands in the South China Sea to test Beijing's controversial territorial claims.

But the move could raise tensions and lead to a standoff on the high seas -- in an area vital to global shipping lanes.

Beijing regards almost the whole of the South China Sea as its own.

The US Navy has released video from a P-8 Poseidon surveillance flight in the South China Sea which received several warnings from the Chinese military.

It showed a flotilla of vessels carrying out reclamation works in one lagoon, and an airstrip under construction on another island.

"You can see here the landing strip and on the back side there is the taxi way," an officer says, pointing at a screen, adding that "hundreds of metres" have been built in "the past couple of months."

The officer explained the huge dredging operation, taking material from the seabed as part of the reclamation project to provide fresh space for construction.

- 'Great wall of sand' -

The new video came after a CNN television crew aboard a P-8 Poseidon plane captured a tense radio exchange between the US aircraft and Chinese forces in the area.

"This is the Chinese navy... This is the Chinese navy... Please go away... to avoid misunderstanding," a voice can be heard telling the Americans.

The Chinese navy issued eight such warnings during the P-8's flight near the Fiery Cross Reef, one of the sites of Beijing's massive land reclamation effort, CNN reported.

American pilots replied in each case that they were flying through "international airspace".

Journalists are rarely allowed to fly in a sophisticated P-8 spy plane, much less permitted to film inside the cockpit, as the CNN crew was.

The Chinese warnings to the US aircraft are typical and occur frequently, a navy official told AFP.

"It's not uncommon," the official said, adding that the Chinese sometimes send military aircraft to visually identify American planes in the area.

China's Global Times newspaper said in an editorial that the access given to CNN showed the US was "trying to sensationalise China's reclamation activities on some reefs and islets in the South China Sea in a bid to impose more pressure on China".

"Washington is purposefully raising tensions with China, a move that has created a higher risk of a physical confrontation between both sides," it added.

Earlier, Beijing said it had "indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha islands and adjacent waters", using its name for the Spratly islands.

"We hope that relevant countries can respect China's sovereignty in the South China Sea, avoid taking actions that may escalate or complicate the matters, and contribute to regional peace and stability," Beijing's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.

With Beijing pursuing land reclamation at an unprecedented pace, a US naval commander has accused China of building a "great wall of sand" in the South China Sea to bolster its territorial claims.




China's Xi says Japan friendship 'worth cherishing'

‎24 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎11:54:11 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) May 23, 2015 - China's President Xi Jinping struck a friendly tone on relations with Japan Saturday, but touched on disputes over history which still add to tensions between the East Asian giants.

Ties between Beijing and Tokyo have warmed over the past year, but strains over territorial disputes and attitudes towards wartime history persist.

Xi told a forum in Beijing that "peace and friendly cooperation between China and Japan is the common will of the people, and the general trend of events".

He added that "friendship" between the countries "deserves cherishing and protecting," at the event, attended by Japanese delegates including former economy minister Toshihiro Nikai.

High-level meetings between China and Japan were suspended for two years amid a row over disputed islands until Xi and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met last year. They held talks again last month.

During his Beijing visit, Nikai delivered a personal letter to Xi from Abe, Japan's Kyodo news agency said, without giving further details.

Echoing regular pronouncements from Beijing, Xi also mentioned the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in the second world war, and added that "the facts of history cannot be distorted".

"The efforts of anyone seeking to distort or beautify the facts of Japan's acts of militaristic invasion will not be accepted by the people of China," he added.

His remarks came just a day after China renewed its call for Japan to "face up to" its 20th century history after Abe's wife visited a shrine which Beijing sees as a symbol of Tokyo's warring past.

China is preparing a massive military parade in September to mark the 70th anniversary, and also creating a public holiday.

China's defence ministry said that its army planes on Thursday for the first time flew over the Miyako Strait, between Japan's Miyako and Okinawa Islands.



NATO to hold summit in Warsaw in July 2016

‎24 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎11:54:11 AMGo to full article
Brussels (AFP) May 22, 2015 - NATO announced Friday it will hold its next summit in Warsaw on July 8-9 next year as it tackles perceived threats from Russia to the east and jihadists to the south.

The Polish capital is the former host of the Warsaw Pact, the anti-NATO alliance between Moscow and its eastern satellites that existed until the Soviet bloc collapsed in 1991.

At their last summit in Wales in September NATO leaders agreed to bolster the alliance's eastern defences amid charges that Russia has provided troops and equipment to support Kremlin-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

"This summit comes at a crucial time for the alliance, as the tectonic plates of Euro-Atlantic security have shifted both in the east and the south," Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

"We are already implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War," Stoltenberg said.

Leaders of the 28 NATO countries, including military superpower the United States as well as former Soviet satellite countries in the east, will determine how to adapt best to the perceived new threats, he said.

"NATO remains ready to defend all allies against any threat from any direction," he added.

The Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia -- which were under Soviet rule from the end of World War II to 1991 -- now fear Moscow could try to destabilise them to test NATO's commitment to collective defence.

Lithuania said earlier this month that the three will soon formally ask NATO to deploy several thousand troops as a deterrent to Russia.

NATO is also on guard to the south where the militant group Islamic State has made dramatic headway in Iraq and Syria as well as gained a foothold in Libya.

Stoltenberg also said NATO "will stress our long-term commitment to Afghanistan" even though it withdrew bulk of its troops from the central Asian country at the end of 2014.



China 'severely concerned' over US spying accusations

‎24 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎11:54:11 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) May 21, 2015 - China said Wednesday it was "severely concerned" over the arrest of one of its citizens in the US, one of six Chinese nationals charged with economic espionage.

US prosecutors accused the Chinese suspects, who include three university professors, with a years-long scheme to steal mobile phone technology trade secrets for Beijing's benefit.

"China is severely concerned about this," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing, adding Beijing would defend its citizens' rights.

According to a 32-count criminal indictment the group led a long-running effort to obtain US trade secrets for universities and companies controlled by the Chinese government.

Among those charged were Tianjin University professor Hao Zhang, who was arrested as he entered the US on Saturday, US officials said.

The five others named in the indictment were believed to be in China, according to a US justice department official.

All could face lengthy prison sentences if convicted. The charges they face include economic espionage, theft of trade secrets and various conspiracy counts, with penalties that could include 10 to 15 years in prison plus fines.

It is the 11th case brought over economic espionage under a 1996 law, according to the US justice department.

Last year the US indicted five Chinese military officers for stealing information from energy, steel and aluminium companies, as well as trade unions.

Washington has long accused China of cyberspying in order to benefit Chinese companies, while Beijing frequently says it is itself a victim of hacking.

China is increasingly concerned about US cyberspying and has ordered many government departments to avoid using foreign technology.

- 'Washington's growing paranoia' -

"The Chinese government firmly opposes and combats thefts of trade secrets, in accordance with law," foreign ministry spokesman Hong said. "As for this case, we are still checking on the details."

A commentary in state-run news agency Xinhua said the six accused had fallen "victim to Washington's growing paranoia", but did not elaborate on their case specifically, warning instead that if the US continued to bring "unwarranted charges against innocent people" it could "dent" bilateral relations.

In a scheme that allegedly dates back to 2006, the six are accused of stealing trade secrets relating to so-called FBAR technology from companies two of them worked for, California-based Avago Technologies and Massachusetts-based Skyworks Solutions. It enables mobile phones and other devices to filter radio signals and improve performance.

According to the indictment a Chinese company set up as a joint venture between Tianjin University's investment arm and individuals including some of the defendants, ROFS Microsystems, manufactured rival products.

David Johnson, FBI special agent in charge in San Francisco, called the scheme a "methodical and relentless effort by foreign interests to obtain and exploit sensitive and valuable US technology through the use of individuals operating within the United States".

Zhang, 36, is a former Skyworks employee and a full professor at Tianjin University.

"We know about academic exchanges and research, but we haven't seen any evidence that these professors were spies," said a man in the Tianjin University propaganda department surnamed Feng. "We don't have anything to do with spying."

Zhang, arrested at Los Angeles International Airport, appeared before a US magistrate on Monday who ordered him held and transported to San Jose to face the charges.

Calls to ROFS Microsystems by AFP were not answered.



Fighters captured in Ukraine admit to serving in Russia's army: OSCE

‎24 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎11:54:11 AMGo to full article
Kiev (AFP) May 21, 2015 - European mediators in the Ukrainian crisis said Thursday that two men captured by Kiev's troops had confessed to being members of the Russian armed forces sent in to back up pro-Moscow separatist fighters.

The revelation by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) provides some of the strongest independent evidence to date of Russian President Vladimir Putin's direct involvement in the 13-month war in the neighbouring nation.

Kiev and its Western allies have long accused the Kremlin of covertly coordinating the loosely organised rebel units' tactics and backing them up with high-tech weapons and troops in their fight against Ukraine's pro-Western government.

Russia denies the allegations and says the claims are part of a US-led campaign to topple Putin and contain Russia's regional interests.

The OSCE said the two wounded servicemen said in an interview conducted at Kiev's military hospital that they were armed when wounded and taken prisoner by Ukrainian government forces in the separatist eastern province of Lugansk on Saturday.

"Both individuals claimed that they were members of a unit of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. They claimed that they were on a reconnaissance mission. They were armed but had no orders to attack," the security body said in a report.

"One of them said he had received orders from his military unit to go to Ukraine; he was to 'rotate' after three months. Both of them said they had been to Ukraine 'on missions' before," the OSCE added.

There was no initial response to the findings from either the Kremlin or Russia's foreign ministry.

But initial state media coverage of the findings suggest that Moscow may try to either downplay or ignore the report.

Russia's TASS news agency misquoted the OSCE as saying that both Russians "claimed that they used to serve in a unit of the Russian Armed Forces."

Ukraine has charged the captured men -- identified as Captain Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Sergeant Aleksander Aleksandrov -- with involvement in "terrorist activity" and promised to release them should they fully confess during a public trial.

Russian state TV aired an interview with Aleksandrov's wife on Wednesday saying that the 28-year-old professional soldier had quit his army reconnaissance unit in December.

Putin has described Russians discovered fighting in Ukraine as either "volunteers" or off-duty soldiers who crossed into the war zone out of patriotic pride and to take on the far-right extremists who Moscow claims are running Kiev.

- Burning bridges -

The Ukraine crisis has chilled Moscow's ties with Washington to a degree last seen in the Soviet era and driven the new pro-Western leadership in Kiev to treat Russia as an existential threat.

Kiev lawmakers on Thursday annulled five crucial security agreements with Moscow that had allowed Russia to transport troops to a separatist region of Moldova and purchase weapons that are only produced in Ukraine.

The deals were first suspended when Russia seized Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in the wake of bloody street protests that toppled a Moscow-backed president in February 2014.

But Thursday's decision means that legislative support from Ukraine's dominant nationalist and pro-European parties would be required before such cooperation could resume once the separatist conflict is resolved.

It also underscores how little a truce deal brokered in February has done to rebuild trust between Moscow and Kiev.

"The chances of Ukraine and Russia resuming the type of military and technological cooperation that they enjoyed just a few years ago appear highly unlikely in the mid-term perspective," independent military analyst Mykhaylo Pashkov said.

One of the cancelled agreements notably allowed Moscow to send peacekeeping forces across Ukraine to Moldova's Russian-speaking Transdniester region.

Several senior Russian officials signalled their alarm at the sudden complication.

"There is no way for us to reach (Transdniester) other than through Ukraine," an unnamed diplomat in Russia's foreign ministry told Interfax.

A second politically-charged agreement cancelled by Kiev required the neighbours to protect each others' state secrets. It was adopted with former spy Putin's arrival in the Kremlin in 2000.

Another arrangement covered basic Russian military transports across Ukraine and a fourth concerned mutual arms purchases.

Ukraine inherited several huge Soviet-era arms manufacturing sites that once formed the backbone of Russia's armed forces.

The final agreement covered intelligence sharing.



Ideological mountain to climb for China-India business

‎24 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎11:54:11 AMGo to full article
Shanghai (AFP) May 20, 2015 - India's democratically elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi viewed Shanghai's gleaming skyscrapers at the weekend in search of pointers for his economy, but China believes its one-party state is a key reason for its growth miracle.

China began moving away from its closed-off, Maoist command economy in 1978, recruiting market forces under Deng Xiaoping's "reform and opening up" banner to power its rise to the world's number two economy.

State infrastructure investment and favourable treatment for foreign companies have made Shanghai the planet's largest port, a gateway to the world for Chinese goods.

"Shanghai is indeed among the Chinese cities with the most advanced economies," Shanghai Vice Mayor Zhou Bo proudly told Modi.

In 1980, as China was embarking on change, the Asian giants' GDPs were almost identical, according to the World Bank -- with India a fraction ahead on $189.6 billion at current prices, compared to $189.4 billion for its northern neighbour.

Since then different paths have been followed either side of the Himalayas and by 2013, China's GDP was almost five times higher, $9.24 trillion compared with $1.88 trillion.

Wen Fude, director of Sichuan University's Institute of South Asian Studies, said Beijing has moved more decisively on economic reform than New Delhi.

"China first threw open the door (to foreign investment), then dealt with the legal basis," he told AFP. "Every time India opens the door, it's just a small crack."

Now India is seeking Chinese help in the areas in which it is strong: building high-speed rail lines and power plants, as well as setting up the manufacturing bases that made China the workshop of the world.

"We have to learn from you," Modi told a Shanghai business forum, citing China's foreign investment environment, infrastructure creation and export-led development model.

Economically, nationalist Modi is seen as a liberalising reformer whose home state Gujarat boomed under his rule, and his election last year raised enthusiastic hopes among foreign investors.

- Democracy 'not suitable' -

But, for their part, Chinese officials and analysts hold up their country's one-party state among the reasons for its success. Under "socialism with Chinese characteristics", the authoritarian government is able to ram through projects it considers a priority.

"It's worth India learning from China's ways of governing the country, the way the Chinese government does things... and paying attention to people's livelihoods," said Lin Minwang, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University.

In a compact with its people, the Communist Party has delivered decades of rapid economic growth and improved living standards in return for acceptance of its rule, crushing what it views as dissent.

Lin believes that India's labour unions have too much power, while its government has undue difficulties expropriating land.

"India enjoys democracy, but maybe at this stage it's not too suitable," he told AFP, echoing a common belief of Chinese officials about their country.

China's Communist party fears an independent labour movement could threaten its grip on power, so it allows only one, government-linked trade union. Local authorities often drive people off their property with little compensation, helping free up land for development.

- Bag of gold -

Modi pointed out the areas in which his country excels.

"You are the 'factory of the world', whereas we are the 'back office of the world'," he said. "You give thrust on production of hardware, while India focuses on software and services."

Most of the more than 20 business deals announced during Modi's visit involved Chinese financing for Indian companies in infrastructure projects, but nimble private Chinese firms such as smartphone maker Xiaomi also see India as a potential consumer market.

"India is the only country that has a population of over a billion aside from China," its founder Lei Jun was quoted as saying last month. "Its economy is taking off."

The International Monetary Fund forecasts India's economy to expand 7.5 percent this year, well ahead of China's 6.8 percent.

Chinese officials stress the similarities between the two countries: both are developing countries with large populations.

But they have other parallels too: endemic corruption and overbearing state regulators.

In an op-ed in the Global Times newspaper this week, Mao Hongtao, a former manager of China First Metallurgical Group's Indian operations, lamented the problems he experienced with visas, business registration, taxation and efficiency.

"It is as though you are taking a bag of gold to the other side of the river bank to invest in and develop business, but the bridge you have to cross is a floating bridge," Mao wrote.

"You feel insecure while walking on the floating bridge and it is difficult to reach the other side given the uncertainty."

Few foreign investors in China would fail to recognise such sentiments.

Even so, China's commerce minister Gao Hucheng urged India to improve its business environment, before citing Deng Xiaoping: "The real Asia-Pacific Century or Asia Century must wait for China, India and other neighbouring countries to develop, then it will arrive."


US weighs moves to counter China's 'wall of sand'

‎14 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎04:22:48 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) May 13, 2015 - The US military might deploy warships and surveillance aircraft near artificial islands being built by China to challenge Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea, officials said Wednesday.

But the US officials acknowledge such a move may fail to halt Beijing's massive land reclamation effort, recently dubbed China's "great wall of sand" by an American naval commander.

The Pentagon is weighing a range of options, including sailing destroyers or other naval ships within 12 nautical miles of the man-made islands, as well as flying P-3 and P-8 surveillance planes overhead, two defense officials told AFP.

The maritime and air patrols would be designed "to demonstrate support for freedom of navigation" and "to reassure our allies," said one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"We have never recognized these artificial islands as legitimate claims," the official said.

"We see freedom of navigation as a fundamental, underlying principle that has to be upheld."

The Wall Street Journal first reported the options under consideration.

US officials admitted that China has been building at a rapid pace in recent years and that concerns expressed by the United States and regional governments so far have had little effect.

Last week, Pentagon officials revealed that China has been building artificial islands on top of coral reefs at an unprecedented pace. The rapid construction comes to 2,000 acres (800 hectares), with 75 percent of the total just in the last five months.

Washington is concerned China's increasingly assertive stance carries a military dimension that could undermine the sovereignty of neighboring nations and undercut America's naval and economic power in the Pacific.

However, China on Wednesday denounced any possible expansion in the US military's presence in the area.

"Freedom of navigation does not mean that the military vessels or aircraft of a foreign country can wilfully enter the territorial waters or airspace of another country," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing in Beijing.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters approaching the coasts of its Asian neighbors.

The disputed waters are home to vital global shipping lanes and are believed to be rich in oil and gas.

Washington has flexed its military muscle previously to try to counter what it considers Beijing's aggressive moves.

Last November, two long-range B-52 bombers flew over China's newly-declared Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea.



'Critical' for Putin to implement Ukraine truce: NATO

‎14 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎04:22:48 AMGo to full article
Antalya, Turkey (AFP) May 13, 2015 - NATO leaders on Wednesday warned President Vladimir Putin to waste no time in implementing a fragile peace deal to end the fighting in Ukraine, after the Russian strongman's meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry raised hopes of a slackening in tensions.

Kerry said at the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in the southern Turkish city of Antalya -- hours after talking with Putin in Russia -- that now was a "critical" time for Moscow to fulfil the obligations in the ceasefire agreed in Minsk earlier this year.

He said there was an "enormous moment of opportunity" to bring to an end over a year of fighting in eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russia separatists which has dragged relations between Moscow and the West to a new post-Cold War low.

"I think there was strong agreement among all of the NATO members that this is a critical moment for action by Russia, by the separatists, to live up to the Minsk agreement."

He added that it was also "critical" for observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to be allowed into the conflict areas to monitor the truce.

The intensity of the fighting in eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russia separatists has declined since the Minsk deal but deadly clashes remain frequent.

- 'Moment of opportunity' -

Kerry met Putin on Tuesday for the highest level US visit to Russia since the Ukraine conflict erupted in 2013, in a possible sign of a cautious thaw between the two sides.

The talks lasted for four hours and even though there was no concrete breakthrough, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had said that the talks helped the two sides to "better understand each other".

Kerry said in Antalya the United States and its NATO allies would prefer not to keep sanctions in place against Russia but would retain the measures in order to ensure peace in Ukraine.

"This is an enormous moment of opportunity for the conflict... to find a path of certainty and resolution," said Kerry, who earlier met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin.

"And we hope very, very much that President Putin, Russia, the separatists, will come together to work with Ukraine in order to fully implement it (Minsk) and make progress," said Kerry.

Klimkin said he was "not worried at all" by Kerry's talks with Putin.

"I am completely 100 percent convinced that the US will follow its strategic interest and goal and this is to support independent Ukraine," he said.

- 'Now time to act' -

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned Russia that it has to immediately halt its support of the separatists and withdraw heavy weaponry from the conflict zone, as other officials expressed doubt about Moscow's sincerity.

"Actions speak louder than words," Stoltenberg said.

"Now is the time to act... there is urgency when it comes to fulfilling the Minsk agreement," he said.

Stoltenberg said the ceasefire was "ever more fragile".

A statement after a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission in the afternoon said there continued to be ceasefire violations "primarily by Russian-backed separatists".

It accused Moscow of "continued support" for the separatists, "including the transfer of weapons".

The statement also expressed concern over a "wide-ranging" military build-up by Russia in Crimea, as well as talk Moscow could even install nuclear weapons on the annexed Black Sea peninsula.

The NATO ministers are meeting for two days in the Turkish resort city, the first time since 2011 that such a meeting is being held outside Brussels.

However, Kerry left early to attend a summit of Gulf leaders hosted by President Barack Obama.

The West accuses Russia of arming separatists in eastern Ukraine and even sending its own troops across the border. Russia denies the charges.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier denied that a "turning point" had been reached with the Kerry-Putin meeting, saying there were still numerous obstacles in the way.

"We have to expect that it will stay a long, protracted and difficult process."

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who last Sunday met Putin in Moscow, said that in Ukraine "we are not yet where we want to be... we don't yet have a complete ceasefire", speaking alongside visiting Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.



NATO worried by 'wide-ranging' Russia Crimea build-up

‎14 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎04:22:48 AMGo to full article
Antalya, Turkey (AFP) May 13, 2015 - NATO on Wednesday expressed alarm over a "wide-ranging" military build-up by Russia in Crimea, as well as talk that Moscow could even install nuclear weapons on the annexed Black Sea peninsula.

A statement issued during two days of talks by the military alliance's top diplomats, in the Turkish resort of Antalya, said "we do not and will not" recognise Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

"We condemn Russia's ongoing and wide-ranging military build-up in Crimea and are concerned by Russia's efforts and stated plans for a further military build up in the Black Sea region," it added.

The statement warned this risked having "further implications" for stability in the region.

It also expressed alarm over "statements by the Russian leadership" about the possible stationing of nuclear weapons in Crimea.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg added: "We are deeply concerned by statements of possible future stationing of nuclear weapons and development systems in Crimea."

A NATO source told AFP that such statements had been repeatedly made by Russian officials since March.

In March, Russian foreign ministry official Mikhail Ulyanov, who heads the ministry's non-proliferation department, did not rule out Russia stationing nuclear weapons in Crimea.

"Russia surely has the right to station nuclear weapons on its territory, if it considers it necessary, in any region," he said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said it was illegal for Russia to so much as evoke the possibility of stationing nuclear weapons on Crimea.

"The messages from the Russian side about the sheer possibility is a complete breach of international obligations," he said.

On the future of Crimea, Klimkin said: "Crimea was Ukrainian, is Ukrainian and will be Ukrainian."

The NATO-Ukraine Commission also slammed the "worsening rights situation" in Crimea under Russian rule, in particular the treatment of the Crimean Tatar Turkic minority.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 in a move that was widely condemned by the international community but was greeted as a great patriotic victory at home.

NATO also warned President Vladimir Putin to waste no time in implementing a fragile peace deal to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine, after the Russian strongman's meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday raised hopes of a slackening in tensions.



China media laud Russia ties, naval exercises

‎14 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎04:22:48 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) May 12, 2015 - Chinese state-run media lauded Beijing and Moscow's increasing closeness Tuesday, dismissing Western suspicion over the relationship as the two countries began their first joint naval exercises in European waters.

The drills, involving nine Russian and Chinese warships and set to last 11 days, were launched at a Russian naval base near the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, Moscow's defence ministry said late Monday.

It is the People's Liberation Army's farthest naval exercise from China's home waters.

The vessels will sail for the Mediterranean on Tuesday, China's official Xinhua news agency said, adding that the drills "clearly demonstrate that both countries will work with each other to safeguard peace and post-war international order".

The commentary hit out at the West, saying that the exercises show "those suspicious of such cooperation" that "closer China-Russia relations can contribute to a better world".

Chinese President Xi Jinping was in Moscow last week to attend a massive military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany.

But the event was snubbed by many Western leaders, who blame Russian President Vladimir Putin for the current crisis in Ukraine.

The Russian defence ministry statement said the naval exercise was "not directed against a third party and has nothing to do with the political situation in the region", adding it would "further deepen the friendly and practical cooperation between the two countries".

The West may have cold shouldered Russia, but relations between Moscow and Beijing have become increasingly warm in recent months and years.

Xi and Putin have developed strong personal ties and their countries, both permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, often take similar stances there on divisive issues such as the conflict in Syria.

"The West should ask themselves whether they did something irksome to both Russia and China, whose close relationship is disturbing them so much," China's Global Times, affiliated with the official Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, wrote in an editorial.

"Despite cultural differences, both nations, unlike the US and Japan's 'master and servant' ties, are on an equal footing."

But the paper also cautioned against any type of formal military pact between the two countries, which were allies and then rivals during the Cold War.

"History keeps reminding China and Russia that an alliance is not in the best interest of both sides," the editorial said.

Beijing and Moscow's joint exercises came as two Japanese destroyers and one of the Philippines' newest warships began historic naval exercises in the flashpoint South China Sea on Tuesday, showcasing a deepening alliance in an area where China has been increasingly assertive.

The day-long war games are the first bilateral naval exercises between the former World War II enemies.

Beijing is planning a huge military parade later this year to commemorate victory over Japanese forces as well as the broader defeat of the Axis powers, with Russian troops expected to participate for the first time.

A final date for the parade has not been set.



Turkey says 'nothing justifies' Russia policy ahead of NATO talks

‎14 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎04:22:48 AMGo to full article
Antalya, Turkey (AFP) May 12, 2015 - Turkey on Tuesday said nothing can justify Russia's actions in Ukraine and other ex-Soviet states, in a rare strong criticism of its increasingly close ally ahead of a NATO meeting.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, whose country is a key member of NATO, said Ankara was prepared to play a "constructive role" in the disputes between Russia and the West over Ukraine.

But he said: "Nothing can justify what Russia has been doing in its neighbourhood."

"Ukraine. Crimea. Georgia," he said, referring to the fighting in Ukraine, Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and its recognition of two breakaway regions of Georgia after a 2008 war.

He also reaffirmed Ankara's concerns over the Muslim Tatar minority, a Turkic people with strong connections to Turkey who feel sidelined and repressed under the new Russian rule in Crimea.

Cavusoglu said a group of Turkish lawmakers had visited Crimea to look at the situation of the Tatars and would make public their conclusions.

But he also said that the West had made mistakes in presenting Ukraine with a stark choice between Europe and Russia.

"Unfortunately while the Berlin Wall has fallen, the wall in our minds has not."

Turkey's ties with Russia have warmed in recent months as it goes through a cool period in relations with the European Union.

The two sides are also working on an ambitious project for a new Black Sea gas pipeline and Turkey has been relatively restrained in its criticism of Russia's actions in Ukraine.

But Cavusoglu said along with the threat posed by Islamic State jihadists, the threat from the "east" would be a key issue at the two-day NATO foreign ministers meeting starting Wednesday in Antalya.

The West accuses Russia of arming separatists in eastern Ukraine and even sending its own troops across the border. Russia denies the charges.



India's Modi heads to China as rivals seek common ground

‎14 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎04:22:48 AMGo to full article
New Delhi (AFP) May 12, 2015 - India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi will take his global investment push to China this week, as Asia's rival superpowers look to put aside a festering border dispute and identify areas of economic cooperation.

Modi will fly out for his first visit as premier to China before heading to South Korea where he will also seek help to upgrade India's creaking infrastructure.

After Modi hosted China's President Xi Jingping last year in his home state of Gujarat, Xi will return the favour by giving him a tour of his ancestral home province of Shaanxi before they head to Beijing.

Modi will also meet business chiefs in the financial hub of Shanghai, seeking to deliver on election promises for foreign investment in India's crumbling rail and other infrastructure.

"I firmly believe this visit to China will strengthen the stability, development and prosperity of Asia," Modi wrote on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter, of the three-day visit that begins Thursday.

Despite a reputation as a hardline nationalist, Modi moved quickly to engage with Beijing after winning power last May. His main focus in his first year in office has been to revive India's stuttering economy, courting other economic powerhouses such as the United States, Japan and Germany.

Ties between China and India have long been strained over the border dispute and Beijing's recent push to forge closer ties with countries in India's backyard has caused some alarm in New Delhi.

- Border 'tranquility' -

But in a sign of Modi's pragmatic approach towards Beijing, he has appeared relaxed about China's ambitions, saying it has a "right" to seek greater influence.

During Xi's visit to India last September -- the first visit by a Chinese president in eight years -- the two men spoke of their desire to place cooperation above competition and ensure "tranquility" along their border.

The two countries fought a brief but bloody border war in 1962 over the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, areas of which Beijing claims as South Tibet.

However, in an interview with Time magazine last week, Modi said the two countries have shown "great maturity" in recent decades over the border issue and were committed to "economic cooperation".

For his part, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said the "boundary question is a problem left over from history", albeit a "difficult" one for the two countries.

Phunchok Stobdan, a China expert at Delhi's Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, said mutual "mistrust" remained below the surface but Modi knows there is little point in being confrontational.

- Pragmatism prevails -

"China is our immediate neighbour so there are compelling reasons for India to be mellow with Beijing," Stobdan told AFP.

"It's a very pragmatic thing to understand and recognise China's strength rather than try and compete with them. Cooperation with China is the need of the hour as far as India is concerned."

Li told India Today magazine that China stands ready to "deepen our strategic and cooperative partnership" as well as economic ties that include two Chinese industrial parks in India.

"Cooperation between China and India is a huge treasure house waiting to be discovered," the premier said.

Analysts said Modi would be seeking greater access to China's markets for its vast pharmaceuticals industry, and progress on funding for Indian infrastructure projects.

"There will clearly be a focus on trade and on infrastructure, such as the development of high speed rail," Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Beijing's Renmin University, told AFP.

China is India's biggest trading partner with two-way commerce totalling $71 billion in 2014. But India's trade deficit with China has soared from just $1 billion in 2001-02 to more than $38 billion last year, Indian figures show.

Trade will also be the main focus of Modi's two-day visit to South Korea which begins on Monday after a stopover in Mongolia.

As well as talks with President Park Geun-Hye, Modi is also expected to meet business leaders.

Oh Hwa-Suk of the Seoul-based India Economy Research Institute said Korean firms such as Samsung, Hyundai and LG have become major players since India opened its doors to foreign investors two decades ago and others were hoping to reap similar benefits.

"South Korea has made far less investment in India than other Asian rivals like China or Japan despite the country's vast growth potential," he told AFP.

"And India, given its rocky relations with the regional rival China, is more likely to be keen on attracting investment from South Korea."




Philippines and Japan hold historic naval drills in flashpoint waters

‎14 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎04:22:48 AMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) May 12, 2015 - Two Japanese destroyers and one of the Philippines' newest warships began historic naval exercises in the flashpoint South China Sea on Tuesday, showcasing a deepening alliance aimed at countering a rising China.

The day-long war games, the first bilateral naval exercises between the former World War II enemies, took place less than 300 kilometres (186 miles) from a Philippine-claimed shoal now under Chinese control.

Philippine authorities insisted the exercises were merely focused on building military capabilities, but security analysts said they were clearly a signal to China over bitter maritime territorial disputes.

"First they demonstrate that China's Pacific neighbours are beginning to balance against China," professor Michael Tkacik, a foreign policy expert at the Texas-based Stephen F. Austin State University, told AFP.

"Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and assorted other states are threatened by China's behaviour, even as far away as India. Thus, the Philippines and Japan are jointly making an important statement about how seriously they view China's actions."

China has caused deep concern regionally in recent years as it has become more aggressive in staking its claims to the South China Sea and Japanese-claimed islands in the East China Sea.

China insists it has sovereign rights to nearly all of the South China Sea.

However the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have competing claims to parts of the sea, which is vital to the global shipping industry and is believed to contain huge deposits of fossil fuels.

- Chinese control -

In 2012, China took control of Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone and more than 650 kilometres from the nearest major Chinese landmass.

Chinese coastguard vessels have since guarded the shoal and denied Filipino fishermen access, triggering a series of protests from the Philippines that have been brushed aside in Beijing.

Although the Philippine Navy declined to say exactly where Tuesday's exercises took place, it said the vessels would sail into the South China Sea from a former US naval base in Subic Bay, about 270 kilometres southeast of Scarborough Shoal.

"It would be naive for anyone to think this is just an ordinary joint exercise in the light of some assertive actions by China in the South China Sea," Wilfrido Villacorta, an international relations lecturer at the Manila-based De La Salle University, told AFP.

He described this as a "natural reaction" by the Philippines after recent "provocations".

Villacorta cited in particular China's recent flurry of reclamation activities on reefs in the Philippine-claimed Spratlys archipelago, turning them into islands capable of hosting significant military outposts.

China has repeatedly rejected allegations it is breaking international law in the South China Sea, insisting it has sovereign rights to the waters.

China hit out at the Philippines again on Tuesday, as it reasserted its rights to the Spratlys, which it calls the Nansha islands.

"The Chinese side is firmly opposed to the Philippines' occupation of some of the maritime features of China's Nansha islands by force," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing.

"Facts have proven once again that the Philippines is the real rule breaker and troublemaker."

Security analysts said Japan's decision to deploy warships into the South China Sea for the exercises, part of a broader trend to give military support to the Philippines, would anger China.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua said the exercises were being "closely" followed, describing them as "hyping up tensions".

China and Japan are separately engaged in a bitter and longstanding row over ownership of a Japanese-controlled island chain in the East China Sea. They are known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.



Philippines to turn disputed sea outcrops into tourist draws

‎14 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎04:22:48 AMGo to full article
Thitu Island, South China Sea (AFP) May 11, 2015 - The Philippines plans to turn some disputed South China Sea islands into tourist sites to promote peace as China builds suspected military facilities on nearby reclaimed reefs, Filipino officials said Monday.

Military chief of staff General Gregorio Catapang announced the plan as he flew to Thitu, the largest of nine outcrops garrisoned by Filipino forces in the Spratly archipelago, and overflew the eight others.

He said the military would help local officials put in place next year a ferry service.

It would take tourists from Palawan island in the Philippines, the nearest large land mass, to those islands and reefs in the Spratly islands which are held by Manila.

"What we want to happen is, from Palawan we can pass by Patag island, Lawak, Likas and then Pagasa. We can go back via Panata, Kota island and then Ayungin Shoal and back," Catapang said, using the Filipino name for some of the Filipino-held islands.

"It can be a good tourism effort," the general told reporters.

Catapang said the project could help improve the port and runway facilities of Thitu, known in the Philippines as Pagasa, amid what the Philippines has described as massive reclamation and construction activity which began last year on nearby Subi Reef and other Chinese-held features.

The Philippine military has said these structures could be turned into large naval and air bases that would allow China, which claims most of the South China Sea, to deploy forces to bolster its claim.

Eugenio Bito-onon, the mayor of the municipality of Kalayaan on Palawan which includes Thitu, said the tourism project would be launched next year after the town council buys a 25-metre (82-foot), 10-million-peso ($224,000) steel-hulled boat.

The municipality also plans to build lodging houses for up to 30 tourists at a time and offer them souvenir merchandise, he added.

As of now the island, about 450 kilometres (280 miles) or a 26-hour boat ride from Palawan, is home to 356 civilians and a small military detachment. But there are no tourist facilities apart from its airstrip.

"This would promote Kalayaan for tourism and draw adventure and technological expeditions here," Bito-onon added.

"For the past 20 years, a lot of people have been dying to come here but cannot because of the inadequate (infrastructure). There is no regular transportation," he added.

Asked if the Philippine government would be able to protect the tourists, Catapang said: "Yes, of course. We will assure them that they will be protected."

He declined to discuss details.

"Our message to our Filipino brothers and sisters is to help Mayor Bito-onon to jumpstart his tourism for peace because... if there will be tourism, you will help the economy here," Catapang said.



Kerry to visit China this week, then SKorea

‎14 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎04:22:48 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) May 11, 2015 - US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet senior officials in China late this week, and then stop in Seoul for talks with South Korean leaders, the State Department announced Monday.

Kerry will make the Asia trip after high-stakes talks in Russia due Tuesday with President Vladimir Putin, where the tensions over Ukraine, the Iran nuclear negotiations and Syria will be addressed.

During May 16-17 talks in Beijing, America's top diplomat "will meet senior leaders of the Chinese government to advance US priorities ahead of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue this summer and the planned visit to the United States of President Xi Jinping this fall," State Department acting spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.

Kerry's visit follows accusations by US defense officials that China has dramatically ramped up its land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea this year.

The unprecedented rapid construction of artificial islands in the strategic waters comes to 2,000 acres (800 hectares), with Beijing expanding acreage "on the outposts it occupies by some 400 times," a US defense official said.

That revelation came as the Pentagon released its annual report to Congress on the state of China's military, which repeated accusations that Beijing was staging cyber attacks to scoop up information on American defense programs.

In Seoul, Kerry will sit down with South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se to discuss global, regional and bilateral issues as well as Park's upcoming visit to the United States, Harf said.

The visit comes two months after a bizarre attack in Seoul in which an activist slashed the US ambassador to South Korea in the face, sending him to the hospital for dozen of stitches. The assailant has been charged with attempted murder.

The issue of trade could figure in the talks in both countries, as the United States is seeking to finalize a massive trade pact with 11 Pacific rim countries, but not including China or South Korea.



China Warns Philippines Military to Stay Away from Disputed Territory

‎14 ‎May ‎2015, ‏‎04:22:48 AMGo to full article
Moscow (Sputnik) May 09, 2015 - China has warned Philippine military planes six times to leave disputed areas of the South China Sea and may be "testing the waters" to see if it can establish a no-fly zone in the region, senior Philippine military officials said. "As we were conducting routine maritime air patrols and flying in international airspace, our air force aircraft were challenged over the radio," Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez told a Senate hearing in Manila on Thursday.

Lopez, commander of the Philippine Western Command, said the pilots ignored the warnings, replying that they are navigating international space. While Lopez did not provide a timeframe, another senior Philippine air force official who asked to not be identified told Reuters that the six warnings had come in the past three months.

That official added that China could be "testing the waters" to see if it can enforce an air exclusion zone above the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea, where multiple countries have overlapping territorial claims. Recent satellite images show China has made rapid progress in reclaiming land around seven reefs it occupies in the Spratlys, including building what appears to be an airstrip on one of the artificial islands, Reuters reported.

"The Chinese said our planes were in their military security area," Vice Admiral Lopez told senators. In late 2013, China imposed an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), in which aircraft are supposed to identify themselves to Chinese authorities, above the East China Sea. The United States and Japan condemned the move.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had every right to set up ADIZs if it so wished. The situation in the South China Sea is stable, she added, and China and Southeast Asian countries want peace there.

"Under these conditions, I think that individuals hyping up an ADIZ, that China possibly wants to set one up in the South China Sea, this obviously has ulterior motives," she said. On April 19, a Chinese warship challenged a Philippine air force plane that was approaching Subi Reef, which is part of the Spratlys. The pilot reported hearing the radio message: "Foreign airplane, you are approaching my military security area, please go away quickly in order to avoid misjudgment."

Lopez said China had expanded the seven reefs it occupies from a few thousand square meters to up to 11 hectares (27 acres) in artificial islands, including two areas close to the Philippine-held Thitu Island, Reuters reported. China has denied accusations its actions are provocative, and even recently accused the Philippines, Vietnam and others of carrying out illegal building work in the South China Sea.

The US military commander for Asia, Admiral Samuel Locklear, said last month that China could eventually deploy radar and missile systems on its outposts that could be used to enforce an exclusion zone should it move to declare one.

Beijing claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims.

Source: Sputnik News



US, Japan widen defense ties in historic sea change

‎28 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:03:03 PMGo to full article
New York (AFP) Apr 28, 2015 - The United States and Japan unveiled new rules for defense cooperation Monday in a historic move that will give Japanese forces a wider global role amid concerns over China's rising sway.

Under the revised guidelines, Japan could come to the aid of US forces threatened by a third country or, for example, deploy minesweeper ships to a mission in the Middle East.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter revealed the new rules alongside Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Gen Nakatani after talks at a New York hotel.

Although officials said the new doctrine is not aimed at China, there has been increasing concern over moves by Beijing to try to scoop up disputed areas of the South China and East China Seas.

But they pointedly made mention of North Korea as another source of tension in the region.

Kerry stressed the United States saw the disputed Senkaku Islands, known in Chinese as the Diaoyus, as firmly under Japan's control.

Washington "commitment to Japan's security remains ironclad and covers all territories under Japan's administration, including the Senkaku Islands," Kerry said.

The sovereignty of the isles has been a source of friction between Tokyo and Beijing for decades.

The top US diplomat said the new guidelines would make Japan safer, and bring greater stability to the Asia-Pacific region.

Historic transition
"Today we mark the establishment of Japan's capacity to defend not just its own territory, but also the United States and other partners as needed," Kerry told a joint press conference.

"This is a historic meeting. It's a historic transition in the defense relationship between our two countries."

The guidelines came a day before US President Barack Obama rolls out the red carpet at the White House for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Nakatani said that since 1997, when the defense ties were last revised, "the security environment in the United States and Japan has changed dramatically."

The new guidelines would "draw a picture of the Japan-US alliance for the next decade and beyond," Nakatani said, revealing he had also laid flowers earlier at the 9/11 memorial in tribute to those killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks.

In an implicit reference to China, Kerry said: "We reject any suggestion that freedom of navigation, overflight and other unlawful uses of the sea and airspace are privileges granted by big states to small ones, subject to the whim and fancy of the big state."

Under the previous rules, Japanese forces could assist American troops only if they were operating in the direct defense of Japan.

Kishida stressed the "importance of the rule of law," adding "we cannot let unilateral action to change the status quo... be condoned."

The amended guidelines were drawn up to reflect a reinterpretation of Japan's constitution by Abe's government last year allowing for "collective defense."

Carter said the new rules removed the constraints of geography, adding that US-Japan cooperation had now moved "from being locally focused to globally focused."

Missile defense
The new guidelines would "allow us to modernize the US-Japan alliance... helping us open new areas of military cooperation," he said.

A US official earlier indicated Japan would now be able to defend US ships engaged in missile defense activities near its territory.

"It means that Japan can respond to attacks on third countries if they are in close association with Japan and if those attacks directly affect Japanese security," the official added.

One possible scenario could have Japan shooting down a missile headed toward the United States, even if Japan itself was not under attack.

The reinterpretation of the constitution and the new defense guidelines are part of Abe's bid to soften Japan's constitutional commitment to pacifism.

The United States imposed the principle after World War II, but now strongly supports Japan's new approach.

Veteran Republican lawmaker John McCain hailed the "historic moment" in ties that would help "meet emerging threats in space, cyberspace, missile defense, and elsewhere."

And he welcomed "a reinvigorated Japan standing side-by-side with the United States to protect the rules-based international order our two nations have worked so hard to sustain and defend."



ASEAN warns sea reclamation 'may undermine peace'

‎28 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:03:03 PMGo to full article
Langkawi, Malaysia (AFP) April 27, 2015 - Reclamation work in the disputed South China Sea, where China has constructed an airstrip and other structures on coral reefs, threaten to "undermine peace, security and stability" in the region, Southeast Asian leaders warned Monday.

Beijing's assertion of sovereignty over almost all the sea -- also claimed in parts by several other Asian nations -- has set off alarm bells with its neighbours and beyond as China stakes its claim with growing boldness.

A statement to be issued at the close of the one-day summit in Malaysia notes "serious concerns" over land reclamation on reefs whose sovereignty is contested. The work has triggered fears of tightening Chinese control over the seaway.

"We share the serious concerns expressed by some leaders on the land reclamation being undertaken in the South China Sea, which has eroded trust and confidence and may undermine peace, security and stability," said the statement by summit chair Malaysia, seen by AFP, which did not mention China by name.

Along with Taiwan, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member-states Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the sea, which is rich in energy reserves and fishery resources, and is a vital conduit for much of world trade.

Satellite photos released earlier this month provided fresh evidence of the scale of the Chinese programme, depicting a flotilla of vessels dredging sand onto a feature known as Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands.

Other photos showed a runway and ship harbour taking shape on Fiery Cross, also in the Spratlys, which was little more than a reef when work began late last year.

- China projects its power -

Similar work is taking place at a handful of other sites, according to defence analysts, who say the construction drive will give China a permanent forward presence far out at sea from which to project its growing power.

The closing statement by Malaysia -- which holds the rotating chair of 10-member ASEAN this year -- instructs the region's foreign ministers to "urgently address this matter" under dialogue mechanisms set up between the bloc and China.

But it stopped just short of a call by the Philippine foreign secretary, who on Sunday challenged ASEAN to "finally stand up" to Beijing by demanding an immediate halt to the reclamation.

Albert del Rosario had warned his regional peers in Kuala Lumpur that China was "poised to consolidate de facto control" of the sea.

Malaysia brushed aside suggestions of a stern response that could antagonise China, but its Prime Minister Najib Razak appealed to Beijing to avoid destabilising actions.

"We hope to be able to influence China that it is also to their interest not to be seen as confronting ASEAN and that any attempt to destabilise this region will not benefit China either," he said.

Despite its unity rhetoric, ASEAN members have diverging agendas, and the bloc avoids pushing China too hard on behalf of its members.

Beijing holds immense trade and diplomatic leverage over ASEAN countries, most of which have no stake in the maritime disputes.

The Philippines and Vietnam have experienced the most direct face-offs with China at sea, including a number of tense confrontations in recent years.

Ian Storey, an analyst with the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said the ASEAN statement was "quite strong" compared to mild past versions.

But he added: "The statement will do absolutely nothing to dissuade China from completing its reclamation programme."

China on Monday said it was willing to work with ASEAN but defended the island-building as being within its "sovereign" territory.

"The accusations made by some countries against China are not reasonable," a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino told fellow regional leaders on Monday that China's actions violate a non-binding 2002 pledge by rival maritime claimants to avoid actions that inflame tensions.

China also is widely believed to be dragging its feet in discussions on turning the earlier pledge into a binding Code of Conduct, so that it can buy time to cement its control at sea.

Aquino said Beijing's actions "pose a threat to the freedom of global commerce and navigation" and cause irreparable harm to the marine environment.



Beijing poised to take 'de facto control' of S. China Sea: Philippines

‎28 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:03:03 PMGo to full article
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) April 26, 2015 - Beijing is poised to take "de facto control" of the South China Sea, the Philippines warned Sunday, but its call for a robust Southeast Asian response at a regional summit was shot down.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the strategic body of water, but Beijing claims nearly all of it, and its increasingly strident territorial assertions have caused concern in the region and beyond.

"(China) is poised to consolidate de facto control of the South China Sea," Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said in Kuala Lumpur a day ahead of an annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.

He singled out a campaign of land reclamation on disputed reefs that has raised the spectre of permanent Chinese bases far out in the sea from which it can enforce its sovereignty.

- 'Stand up for what is right' -

"Is it not time for ASEAN to say to our northern neighbour that what it is doing is wrong and that the massive reclamations must be immediately stopped?" del Rosario asked his fellow ministers.

"Is it not time for ASEAN to finally stand up for what is right?"

But summit host Malaysia later rejected the idea of a response that could antagonise China.

"We must avoid any action that would be counter-productive and bring us further apart, either amongst ourselves, or with China," Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said.

"I don't think ASEAN would like to be given an ultimatum, and by the same token I don't think China would like to be given an ultimatum."

Faced with Beijing's immense trade and diplomatic leverage, ASEAN has a history of failing to agree on strong responses over the issue on behalf of its members with disputed maritime claims.

Concern over Chinese land reclamation was re-ignited this month by satellite photos showing huge amounts of sand being dredged and dumped onto fragile coral reefs claimed by the Philippines.

Defence analysts say some of the new islands will be big enough for airstrips and other large facilities, raising the spectre of deepening Chinese domination of a waterway rich in energy reserves, fishery resources, and a vital conduit for much of world trade.

A draft statement prepared before the gathering calls for "self-restraint" at sea but avoids criticising or even mentioning China by name, a diplomatic source said previously.

- 'Amicable solution' sought -

Anifah said "ASEAN member-states want to see that this matter should be settled amicably", and he suggested China someday allow joint use of the artificial islands.

ASEAN has pushed China for more than a decade to agree on a code of conduct at sea that would prevent rival claimants taking steps that could inflame the situation.

But actual discussions only started in 2013 and have progressed slowly, with analysts saying Beijing is delaying to buy more time to consolidate its foothold.

Del Rosario said China will likely complete its reclamation projects before ever agreeing to a code of conduct, which would be rendered "irrelevant."

Anifah called Friday for China to help "speed up" the process but ASEAN has avoided tough words.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino warned in a recent AFP interview that Chinese actions "should engender fear for the rest of the world", and could threaten freedom of navigation.

The satellite photos released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies showed a flotilla of Chinese vessels dredging sand onto a feature known as Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands.

Other photos showed a runway and ship harbour taking shape on Fiery Cross, also in the Spratlys.

China has angrily rejected criticism, saying it can do as it pleases in waters that are its "indisputable" territory.

Malaysia police said they arrested on Sunday 12 Islamic militants planning attacks in Kuala Lumpur during the ASEAN meeting, seizing materials that could be used to make explosives.

Police did not make clear whether the planned attacks were specifically directed at the diplomatic gathering, but have warned of rising militant activity inspired by the Islamic State jihadists in Syria.



China's island-building to loom large at SE Asia summit

‎28 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:03:03 PMGo to full article
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) April 25, 2015 - China's creation of new island footholds in contested seas will hover over a Southeast Asian summit that has become an annual test of the region's nerve in standing up to its massive neighbour.

The South China Sea hot potato drops this year into Malaysia's lap as the rotating chair of the 10 member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and host of Monday's meeting.

ASEAN states Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the strategic South China Sea, but Beijing claims nearly all of it and has moved aggressively to back that up.

Satellite photos that emerged this month triggered alarm bells by providing fresh evidence of large-scale reclamation works on contested reefs, which suggest that land masses big enough for airstrips and other large facilities are being created.

"It's a very significant escalation. We haven't really seen anything on this scale ever," said Ian Storey, a South China Sea expert at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

"We are talking about construction of significant military and civilian facilities and infrastructure."

- Photographic proof -

The photos show a flotilla of Chinese vessels dredging sand onto Mischief Reef, which is near the Philippines and is claimed by Manila.

The activities there, and more advanced reclamation works elsewhere, raise the spectre of a permanent Chinese presence far out at sea from which it can project its growing might.

Manila also has accused China's coastguard of inciting recent confrontations with Philippine fishing vessels.

President Benigno Aquino warned in a recent AFP interview that China's actions "should engender fear for the rest of the world", and Philippine officials say he will seeks a strong statement of concern from ASEAN members in Malaysia.

But the bloc has a history of failing to reach consensus on any robust response, due to both its members' dependence on China's huge economy for trade and because not all ASEAN states have a stake in the maritime disputes.

Summit hosts Malaysia were caught off-guard in January 2014 when Chinese naval forces conducted exercises near James Shoal, which both countries claim.

During the operation, the sailors swore an oath to defend the sandy bank, according to Chinese media.

A Southeast Asian diplomatic source told AFP that a final summit statement by member states -- currently in a draft form -- will call for "self-restraint", avoiding threats or use of force, and the peaceful resolution of disputes, but will avoid direct criticism of Beijing.

The statement, which could change, also calls for ASEAN-China discussions on a code of conduct to preserve peace in the South China Sea to be expedited, the source said.

- 'Speed up' talks -

ASEAN has pushed China for more than a decade to agree on a code of conduct, but discussions on an agreement only stated in 2013.

Analysts say Beijing is dragging its feet on any rules that could impede its actions at sea, while beefing up its de facto presence in the meantime.

"We want (the talks) to be speeded up and we hope (China) will give us a positive response," Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said Friday.

The Philippines and Vietnam have been the most outspoken countries in the region in criticising Chinese actions, and Manila said in February they were in talks to deepen bilateral cooperation, citing their "common concerns" at sea.

Malaysia avoids antagonising China on the issue, however, and Prime Minister Najib Razak is expected to place more emphasis on his plans to formally declare the establishment of the "ASEAN Economic Community" (AEC) by the end of the year.

ASEAN years ago set an ambitious 2015 deadline for the AEC -- a proposed single economic market with free flow of goods, capital and skilled labour across borders.

The plan envisions leveraging the immense trade and market potential of a region with a fast-growing population of around 630 million and expanding middle class.

But though tariffs have been stripped away, ASEAN diplomats said the AEC remains far-off due to significant non-tariff barriers, vested interests, and large development gaps between member-states.

Diplomats admit the year-end declaration is purely symbolic.

Muslim-majority Malaysia also will push for greater regional cooperation against extremism.

Malaysia and Indonesia both say that scores of their citizens have been lured to the Islamic State jihad in Syria, and have made a number of arrests of suspected IS sympathisers at home.



US army walks cultural minefield training Ukraine troops

‎28 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:03:03 PMGo to full article
Yavoriv, Ukraine (AFP) April 24, 2015 - US paratrooper Gregory Crocker is giving a group of Ukrainian soldiers lesson one in dealing with an unexploded bomb: don't touch it until the experts arrive.

In a mock-up of a house rigged with explosives, the Ukrainian trainees set off alarms when they fiddle with the fake devices -- part of their preparation for fighting pro-Russian separatists in the east.

"Don't neutralise the bomb!" Crocker cries, debriefing them afterwards.

"But..." replies one of his trainees. "It's in the Ukrainian mentality to do just that."

The US 173rd Airborne Brigade started on April 20 training troops of the Ukrainian National Guard at this military base in western Ukraine.

Among the 300 US paratroopers and 900 members of Ukraine's National Guard in Operation Fearless Guardian, there is laughter and camaraderie -- but also language barriers and mutual cultural bafflement.

Ideas differ on everything from how to handle explosives to how to hold a gun.

"We get on well with the Americans. We train together, we eat together, we play sports together in the mornings," says one 32-year-old Ukrainian soldier, who gave his name as Dmytro.

The training is tricky, however, as few of the Ukrainians speak English. Some of those serving as interpreters at times struggle to make sense of the discussions.

"Yesterday we had our first day of training and it was really difficult, and now it is (still) difficult," said one of them, Artem Matza, a 19-year-old National Guard cadet.

"It is hard to understand the Americans because they speak so fast," he added.

"But I think that when we have had one week of training it will be simpler," he added. "We just need practice, that's all."

- Ukrainian-American soldiers -

The US army has brought some of its own interpreters: around 20 of its soldiers on the mission are of Ukrainian origin.

"I was born in Ukraine and lived part of my life here, so I understand both sides very well," said one US soldier, Anton Klokun, in Ukrainian.

He has lived in the United States for the past seven years and joined the US army two years ago.

"I think I am helping both countries this way, and I am delighted to do so," he said.

Another member of the US contingent, Oleksandr Skripnichuk, reckons if he hadn't moved to the United States when he was 10, he would be in the Ukrainian army now.

"I am sorry that I cannot serve the Ukrainian forces, but I am already enlisted in the US army. I fight for America," he said.

"But I am happy that I can come here on this mission and help the Ukrainians defend their country."

- 'Away from the damn bomb' -

A regular force under the control of Ukraine's interior ministry, the National Guard has absorbed militia groups that took part in last year's uprising against pro-Russian former president Viktor Yanukovych.

Many of them lack any formal military training.

Yanukovych's ousting was followed by uprisings by pro-Russians in the east. Fighting between those forces and Ukraine's military has killed more than 6,000 people in the past year.

The US training mission has angered Moscow, which warned it could "destabilise" the situation in Ukraine.

Laughter breaks out as Crocker labours for 10 minutes trying to explain that no one without bomb-defusing training must touch an unexploded device.

He sends his trainees on a fresh simulation exercise in the house supposedly rigged with explosives.

Gradually he appears to win over the sceptical Ukrainians.

As the real conflict continues, "the bombs are going to get better, they will get more dangerous," he warns.

"So get away from the damn bomb."



Malaysia urges Beijing's cooperation in South China Sea

‎28 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:03:03 PMGo to full article
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) April 23, 2015 - Malaysia has called for China to cooperate with Southeast Asia in speeding up talks on a set of rules in the disputed South China Sea, where Beijing's island-building activities have sparked international alarm.

Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, whose country hosts a regional summit next week, also cautioned rival claimants to the strategic seaway against taking actions that stoke tensions, according to an interview published Thursday in The Star.

He said Malaysia planned to use its position as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year to push for progress on a maritime Code of Conduct (CoC) aimed at preventing provocative actions.

"Malaysia hopes China will work together with ASEAN member-states in hastening the conclusion of negotiations on the CoC," Anifah told the newspaper.

ASEAN has pushed China for more than a decade to agree on a legally binding code of conduct, which would build on a non-binding 2002 pledge by parties to respect freedom of navigation, resolve disputes through negotiation, and exercise "self-restraint".

But Beijing is widely believed to be dragging its feet on setting any rules that could impede its freedom of action in a sea it considers its own territory.

China has faced a storm of criticism following the emergence this month of satellite photos showing large-scale dredging and land-reclamation works on once-tiny reefs it controls, but whose sovereignty is contested.

The South China Sea, a vital avenue for world trade, has long been viewed as a potential flashpoint for conflict.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.

But China asserts sovereignty over nearly all of the sea and has prompted deep concern among its neighbours by aggressively building up its presence.

The land-reclamation works raise the spectre of a more permanent Chinese military and maritime presence in the heart of the South China Sea, from which it can project its growing might.

In an interview with AFP last week, Philippine President Benigno Aquino said China's activities "should engender fear for the rest of the world," and could threaten freedom of navigation.

Washington and the Group of 7 (G7) industrialised countries have also voiced concern.

China has hit back, saying the islands are its "indisputable" territory.

The Philippines has said it intends to raise the issue during the ASEAN summit in Malaysia on Monday.

ASEAN has a history of treading carefully with China on the issue, due to Beijing's immense trade and diplomatic leverage over individual members, and because not all 10 member-states have maritime claims.

In his interview with the tabloid Anifah called for "meaningful and tangible progress" on the issue, adding the rival claimants must avoid "activities that can raise suspicions and escalate tension," while not directly accusing Beijing of such moves.



Japan ministers go to Yasukuni hours after China talks

‎28 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:03:03 PMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) April 23, 2015 - Just hours after Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sat down for his first substantial talks with China's Xi Jinping, three of his cabinet ministers Thursday visited the war shrine that Beijing sees as a symbol of Tokyo's violent past.

Visits by the three have the potential to muddy diplomatic waters that were starting to clear after their nationalist boss sat down with the Chinese president on the sidelines of a regional summit in Jakarta.

"I offered my sincere appreciation for the people who fought and sacrificed their precious lives for the sake of the country," National Public Safety Commission chief Eriko Yamatani told reporters after her pilgrimage.

"I pledged efforts for building a peaceful country," said the minister, known for her strident nationalistic views.

She was followed over the next few hours by Haruko Arimura, state minister in charge of female empowerment and internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi.

More than 100 Japanese lawmakers went to the shrine on Wednesday to coincide with its spring festival, even as officials were making final arrangements for the Xi-Abe meet.

Abe had asked his ministers not to visit before the talks happened, according to Jiji Press.

Xi and Abe held discussions in Jakarta for about 30 minutes, their first lengthy pow-wow since both men came to the helm of nations that are bitterly at odds over history and current territorial disputes.

Abe later told reporters that they had a "very meaningful summit meeting" and bilateral relations were improving.

In Tokyo Thursday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, speaking after Yamatani's pilgrimage, said it should have no bearing on warming China ties.

"I don't think there will be (any impact). The visit was made in a personal capacity."

- 'Unlikely to damage' -

Masaru Ikei, professor emeritus at Keio University and an expert on Japanese diplomatic history, said shrine visits like this were somewhat inevitable, but unlikely to be a disaster.

"It would have been better if cabinet ministers had stayed away, as well as the prime minister," he said.

But Abe could not stop ministers from going "in a private capacity", he said, pointing to the political need for conservative politicians to appease their support base.

"There is considerable repulsion among people (on the right) who believe Japan makes too many concessions" on history.

It is often said that Japan-China relations are cold politically but hot economically, he noted.

"There would be no point in worsening ties further when Abenomics seems to be bringing some benefits," he said, referring to Abe's pro-spending economic policies.

"I think it is unlikely to cause major damage" to ties, he added.

In a sign of how much history haunts relations in Asia, Abe's speech in Jakarta on Wednesday touched on World War II, but somewhat soft-pedalled, expressing "deep remorse" and not the "heartfelt apology" former prime ministers have proffered.

"I hope the Japanese side can take seriously the concerns of its Asian neighbours," CCTV News reported Xi as saying.

Yasukuni Shrine honours those who fought and died for Japan, but also includes a number of senior military and political figures convicted of the most serious war crimes.

Yamatani, Arimura and Takaichi are conservative female ministers who also visited the shrine during its autumn festival last year.

Abe, who has not visited since December 2013, sent a symbolic offering of a small tree on Tuesday, sparking anger from Beijing and Seoul.



Nepal rejects Taiwan rescue team offer: minister

‎28 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:03:03 PMGo to full article
Taipei (AFP) April 27, 2015 - Taiwan's foreign minister said Monday the government of earthquake-devastated Nepal had rejected its offer of a 20-man rescue team, but denied diplomatic pressures were behind the decision.

The Taipei-based crew was put on standby Sunday with much of the Nepalese capital in ruins and more than 3,500 confirmed dead, but were told aid was being prioritised from neighbouring countries.

"The Nepalese told us that it would first accept such aid from neighbouring countries like India and Pakistan, considering the chaotic conditions in Nepal, and to take advantage of the golden window for rescue operations," minister David Lin said at a press conference in Taipei.

China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province and shares a border with Nepal, has also dispatched a 62-member rescue team to Kathmandu along with a group of medics.

More than 90 people have been killed in India and China since the quake struck.

Lin denied local media speculation that politics were a factor in the Nepalese government's decision, but he was unable to explain why Nepal had accepted a team from Japan, even though Tokyo is around 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) further away from Kathmandu than Taipei.

Nepal does not recognise Taiwan, considered by China as part of its territory awaiting to be reunited since their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

Lin said however that Taiwan's government, civil aid and religious groups were working together to send several medical groups to Nepal Tuesday.

"We now are centring our relief efforts on medical service, rehabilitation and raising funds for the Nepalese people," he said, adding that Taiwanese government has donated $300,000 in humanitarian aid to Nepal.

As of late Monday, 21 Taiwanese travellers in Nepal were still unaccounted for.



Philippines accuses China coastguard of armed robbery

‎28 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:03:03 PMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) April 23, 2015 - The Philippines accused the Chinese coastguard on Thursday of robbing Filipino fishermen at gunpoint during a series of confrontations at a disputed shoal in the hotly contested South China Sea.

Fishermen aboard three vessels with clear Chinese coastguard markings boarded two Philippine fishing boats in Scarborough Shoal on April 11, then took the crew's catch, the Philippine fisheries bureau said.

In one incident, the Filipino fishermen "were threatened and pointed with a gun before the Chinese forcibly took their fishes," according to an incident report from the bureau sent to AFP.

The gunmen also destroyed the Filipinos' fishing equipment, the report said.

The two boats were among 20 Filipino vessels on an expedition in Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, it said.

A week later three Chinese coastguard ships fired water cannon on a Philippine fishing boat, injuring at least three crewmen and destroying the ship's glass windows, according to a separate report from the bureau.

"This is unacceptable because the area is within our exclusive economic zone," Philippine fisheries bureau head Asis Perez told AFP.

"No country has the right to stop our fishermen from doing their jobs. That's against international law."

Asked about the incidents on Thursday, Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose said the government would file a diplomatic protest.

The Scarborough Shoal lies 220 kilometres (about 140 miles) off the main Philippine island of Luzon, and is 650 kilometres (408 miles) from Hainan island, the nearest major Chinese land mass.

China took control of the shoal following a tense standoff between Chinese maritime patrol vessels and the Philippine navy in 2012.

Armed Chinese coastguard vessels have patrolled the shoal since then, restricting access for Philippine fishing boats, Manila has said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Wednesday Filipino fishermen had "no permission" from the Chinese government to be in the shoal.

"The Chinese side calls on the Philippine side to show earnest respect for China's territorial sovereignty, step up its regulation and education of the fishermen and stop all actions infringing upon China's territorial sovereignty, and rights and interests," he said.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters and islands close to the coast of the Philippines and other Asian neighbours.

Renewed tension over the Scarborough Shoal has come amid alarm in the Philippines and the United States over giant Chinese reclamation on seven contested reefs in the Spratlys archipelago --also in the South China Sea.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims in the sea, which hosts vital shipping lanes and is believed to contain vast mineral reserves.

Earlier this week, close to 12,000 Filipino and American soldiers kicked off expanded war drills, including an amphibious assault exercise, at a navy base facing Scarborough Shoal.

The exercise simulated re-taking a Philippine island occupied by invaders.

An editorial by the Beijing-based Global Times ridiculed the US-Philippines alliance, calling Manila a "cute little submissive" to Washington.

But Jose parried the attack, saying: "Unable to defend their unlawful position (in the disputes), our northern neighbour has reduced its lack of a response to name-calling."



Japan PM says may drop formal apology in WWII statement

‎28 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:03:03 PMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) April 21, 2015 - Japan's leader Shinzo Abe drew sharp rebukes from China and South Korea Tuesday after sending an offering to a controversial war shrine, and saying he may not repeat a formal apology for his country's World War II rampage.

Abe, an unabashed nationalist, made a symbolic donation to Yasukuni Shrine, the supposed repository of the country's war dead including 14 infamous war criminals.

The gift of a sakaki tree -- sacred in Shintoism -- appeared to indicate that Abe would not visit Yasukuni during a three-day Spring festival which began Tuesday.

But Beijing and Seoul, which see the shrine as a symbol of Japan's lack of repentance for wartime wrongdoing, were angered by the offering at a time when the focus is increasingly on a statement Abe will make marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Observers are waiting to see whether he will make direct reference to his country's "colonial rule and aggression" and express "remorse" and apologise, as previous premiers did on the 50th and 60th anniversaries.

For China and South Korea, which suffered under the yoke of Japan's imperial ambition, Abe's language will be a crucial marker of Tokyo's acceptance of guilt for its march across Asia in the 1930s and 1940s which left millions dead.

South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-Il said war criminals were "worshipped as God-like figures" at the leafy Tokyo shrine.

"Japanese political leaders should be aware that paying respects and expressing gratitude to such a shrine is an act of denial of the basic premise on which Japan was allowed back into the international community in the wake of WWII," he told reporters in Seoul.

Hong Lei, a spokesman for the China's foreign ministry, cautioned Abe over the symbolic importance of this year's anniversary.

"The Japanese leader must take concrete steps to honour (the country's) commitment of looking squarely at and reflecting upon its history of aggression, properly handle relevant issues, and win the trust of its neighbours and the international community," Hong said.

- 'Strong message' -

Abe suggested in a TV interview broadcast late Monday that provided he says he agrees with previous statements, "I don't think I need to write it again."

Beijing and Seoul argue that Tokyo has not properly atoned for its warmongering and insist that a landmark 1995 statement expressing deep remorse must stand.

But Abe wants Japan to have what he says is a less masochistic view of its history. He has caused waves by quibbling over the definition of "invade" and provoked anger by downplaying Tokyo's formalised system of sex slavery in military brothels.

Japan is regularly lambasted by Beijing and Seoul for a perceived failure to atone for the past, and for being unwilling to face history squarely.

Last week Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami said Japan must continue saying sorry for its aggression until its former victims say "enough".

Omitting a direct apology in the summer statement would damage Japanese diplomacy, Tetsuro Kato, visiting professor at Tokyo's Waseda University, told AFP.

"Japan's relations with neighbouring countries could become worse," he said.

"Denying the history of aggression or simply not mentioning it would be a very strong message" of the wrong kind, he said.

Yasukuni shrine also received offerings from Health, Labour and Welfare Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki as well as the chiefs of both chambers of parliament.

While the shrine honours more than two million Japanese war dead, it also includes senior military and political figures convicted of prosecuting Japan's aggressive conflict -- and houses a museum that paints Japan as a frustrated liberator of Asia and a victim of WWII.

Abe went to the shrine in December 2013, sparking fury in Asia and earning him a diplomatic rebuke from the United States.

Scores of conservative lawmakers, possibly including cabinet ministers, are expected to go to the shrine on Wednesday to mark the spring festival.

Abe is due to leave later Tuesday for an Asia-Africa summit in Indonesia and will visit the United States later this month. Both occasions are expected to provide clues to the content of his summer statement.



China blasts Obama over military 'muscle' in South China Sea

‎12 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎06:29:39 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) April 10, 2015 - Beijing hit back Friday at US President Barack Obama's criticism of Chinese construction in the disputed South China Sea, arguing that it is Washington that has greater military "muscle".

The Chinese foreign ministry's retort came a day after Obama warned that Beijing was "using its sheer size and muscle to force countries into subordinate positions", amid reports of controversial Chinese land reclamation efforts.

"The US leader talked about China's 'sheer size and muscle', but one can also see clearly who has the biggest size and muscle in the world," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing.

She called on Washington to "genuinely make efforts to safeguard peace and stability" in the region.

Beijing asserts sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, including areas near the coasts of other states, using a line that first appeared on Chinese maps in the 1940s.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all have overlapping claims.

Newly-released satellite images on the website of the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank show a flotilla of Chinese vessels dredging sand onto a feature known as Mischief Reef.

Before-and-after images of other outcrops in the Spratly Islands show aircraft runways appearing from jungle, smooth-sided solid masses where there once was coral and man-made harbours replacing natural reefs.

Analysts say the pictures show how China is attempting to create "facts in the water" to bolster its territorial claim.

Manila, among the most vocal critics of Beijing's actions in the region, on Friday appealed to the international community to intervene conceding it and other countries were powerless to stop China's construction of the artificial islands.

"We are asking the international community to tell China that what it is doing is wrong, and to ask China to stop this reclamation work," Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose told AFP.

China's declared defence budget of 886.9 billion yuan ($142.9 billion) this year is 55 times the Philippines' 115.5 billion pesos ($2.6 billion).

Manila believes Beijing is rushing the reclamation to undermine a United Nations ruling expected next year on a Philippine challenge to its claims, Jose said.

"We think China has a plan and they think they have the means to do it and they can actually do it. So that's why they're doing it," he said.

On Thursday, Obama waded into the debate, telling a town hall meeting during a visit to Jamaica that Beijing should not push around countries with which it is in dispute in the South China Sea.

"Just because the Philippines or Vietnam are not as large as China doesn't mean that they can just be elbowed aside," Obama said.

The United States has no claim of its own in the region, but broadly supports its Asian allies against Chinese pressure and has asserted that freedom of navigation is in its national interest.

Hua on Friday maintained that China has maintained "security and peace" in the region and was working with neighbouring countries.



Russia supplying weapons, troops to Ukraine separatists: report

‎12 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎06:29:39 AMGo to full article
Frankfurt (AFP) April 11, 2015 - NATO believes that Russia has supplied more troops and weapons to pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine, a German newspaper reported on Sunday.

"We have noticed again support for the separatists, with weapons, troops and training. Russia is still sending troops and arms from one side of the open border with Ukraine to the other," a NATO official, who was not named, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Such acts would violate the Minsk peace accords, which are supposed to end the fighting in Ukraine.

The accusations emerge as the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France are set to meet on Monday in Berlin to assess the implementation of the Minsk accords.

The situation in Ukraine remains tense, with frequent violations of the peace deal.

The OSCE ha sent monitors to east Ukraine but demanded this week that both Ukraine's pro-Russian separatists and its regular army stop intimidating or restricting the movements of the organisation's 400 monitors.



China defends land reclamation on disputed islands

‎12 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎06:29:39 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) April 9, 2015 - Beijing reaffirmed its right to build on disputed islands in the South China Sea on Thursday after satellite imagery emerged of construction operations turning tropical reefs into concrete artificial islands.

The newly released images prompted concern from the United States, which warned China that its island building activity posed a threat to regional stability.

"In our view, China's land reclamation and the construction activity are fuelling greater anxiety within the region," State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters.

Rathke said Washington is concerned that China "might militarise outposts on disputed land features of the South China Sea.

"So we are watching these developments closely and we continue to raise our concerns with China as well as with others in the region to urge all parties to avoid destabilising activities," Rathke said.

The Philippines -- one of the most vocal of China's neighbours in defending its competing territorial claim -- reacted strongly, calling for the Asian giant to "dismantle" the reclaimed land.

"They have to dismantle it," said Peter Paul Galvez, spokesman for Manila's defence department. "It is a concern not only of our country and region but of the whole international community."

A series of satellite images posted on the website of the Center for Strategic and International Studies show a flotilla of Chinese vessels dredging sand onto Mischief Reef and the resulting land spreading in size.

Before-and-after images of other outcrops in the Spratly Islands record runways appearing from jungle, smooth-sided solid masses where coral once lay, and man-made harbours replacing natural reefs.

Analysts say the pictures show how China is attempting to create facts in the water to bolster its sovereignty claims.

Beijing asserts sovereignty over almost the whole of the South China Sea, including areas close to the coasts of other littoral states, using a nine-segment line based on one that first appeared on Chinese maps in the 1940s.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all have overlapping claims.

- 'Indisputable sovereignty' -

"China exerts indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha islands and affiliated waters," said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, using the Chinese name for the islands, which literally means "Southern Sand".

"Such construction is totally within China's sovereignty, and it is legitimate, sensible and lawful. It does not influence nor target any specific country."

The works were to "safeguard the territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests of China", she said, adding: "We will build more civilian facilities."

The Philippines has taken its sovereignty claim to the United Nations for arbitration, a process rejected by Beijing.

Manila has troops stationed on some islands it controls, which also have civilian residents.

"As we have mentioned more than once, actually since this administration started, we have been warning everyone of the implications of their (China's) actions, of their aggressive means so like today, these reclamations... will have further implications in the long term," defence spokesman Galvez told AFP.

The South China Sea is home to strategically vital shipping lanes and is believed to be rich in oil and gas, and the territorial dispute has raised concerns in Washington, with the US asserting that freedom of navigation is in its national interest.

The new satellite photographs were taken by Digital Globe, a commercial provider of satellite images, and analysed by CSIS.

"It appears that China's building projects are part of an expansive territorial grab or to make China's disputed Nine-Dash Line claim a reality," US Navy Lieutenant Commander Wilson VornDick wrote in an analysis on the CSIS site.

The director of the centre's Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Mira Rapp-Hooper, told the New York Times: "China's building activities at Mischief Reef are the latest evidence that Beijing's land reclamation is widespread and systematic."

US admiral Harry Harris last month reportedly said that Chinese reclamation efforts in the area had created more than four square kilometres of artificial landmass.



NATO tests rapid reaction forces in Czech, Dutch drills

‎12 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎06:29:39 AMGo to full article
Chrudim, Czech Republic (AFP) April 9, 2015 - NATO tested its newly forged rapid reaction forces for the first time Thursday with drills in both the Czech Republic and the Netherlands involving some 1,500 troops, an alliance official said.

Some 900 German and 200 Dutch troops have been deployed in exercises in the Netherlands while in the Czech Republic some 150 national troops are involved, as well as soldiers in other countries, said Captain Marek Marszalek from the Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy.

The Czech troops "got the task two days ago to move from the barracks to the embarcation point," he told reporters at the Chrudim airfield some 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Prague.

Dubbed Noble Jump, the exercises are designed to test NATO's Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), established in the wake of the alliance's September 2014 summit in Wales, which was focussed on reinforcing the alliance's eastern flank amid jitters over Russia.

"The key task is to check the new concept of fast deployment within dozens of hours following the command, not dozens of days as before," Czech Army Major General Jiri Baloun told reporters at Chrudim as the first-ever VJTF drill started.

"It is a tight schedule that we have gone through but that is necessary," Brigadier-General Kees Matthijssen told AFP at exercises in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.

"We have to make sure that all soldiers with their equipment, with their unit equipment, with vehicles... are ready at the latest within 48 hours," he added.

Czech troops loaded army vehicles onto trains in brilliant sunshine while other units at the Pardubice airport near Chrudim boarded a CASA military aircraft simulating take-off preparations.

"The scenario is placed in the Baltic states. You can imagine the context yourselves," Baloun said.

Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and its meddling in eastern Ukraine have triggered concern in ex-communist eastern and central European states that joined NATO after the Cold War.

Tension is particularly high in the Baltic states, which emerged from nearly five decades of Soviet occupation in the early 1990s.

"So far I'm pretty happy, we've identified lessons, we'll incorporate them into procedures and we'll take them with us to the next exercise somewhere in June that will also include a deployment," said Matthijssen.

The next Noble Jump drill focussed on rapid troop deployment is planned for June in Poland.

Some 25,000 NATO troops will be deployed in Italy, Portugal and Spain for another VJTF drill in October and November, said Marszalek.



China turns Nationalist veterans from outcasts to propaganda heroes

‎12 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎06:29:39 AMGo to full article
Mangshi, China (AFP) April 8, 2015 - For decades after World War II Nationalist soldier Zeng Hui was ostracised by China's Communist authorities, despite having fought against arch-enemy Japan.

But, at more than 100 years old, he has been brought back into the fold as Beijing seeks unity against Tokyo.

In a wheelchair, military decorations pinned to his chest, the centenarian struggles to list the battles in which he fought against the Japanese in the 1940s. "Songshan," he enunciates at one point.

After WWII, the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) army lost China's brutal civil war to Mao Zedong's Communists in 1949. Its chief Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan, along with most of the leadership, but many rank and file such as Zeng stayed behind.

He spent years being persecuted under the Maoist regime, when those declared class enemies faced confinement, beatings and worse. Even now he will not speak of what happened to him.

"My father was a member of the Kuomintang," said his son Zeng Longxiang, 63. "Because of the Cultural Revolution, he dares not speak too much of the battles in which he participated. And we, the children, we never dared to broach the subject."

But in a new era -- Chiang died 40 years ago at the weekend -- Beijing is promoting the Kuomintang veterans as a symbol of the struggles against Japan.

A gold-fringed banner in Zeng's home in Mangshi, deep in the southwestern province of Yunnan, declares him a "pillar of the nation", and a medal pinned to his overcoat is emblazoned: "Hero of the War of Resistance Against Japanese Occupation."

- 'Tooth and nail' -

Japan controlled vast swathes of China, from Manchuria to Indochina, during World War II. By 1938, Chiang's Nationalist government had retreated inland to set up a provisional capital in Chongqing.

With the Nationalists dependent on Allied resupply along the Burma Road or by air over the "Hump" of the Himalayas, Yunnan became a vital strategic lifeline.

The China-Burma-India theatre saw desperate, bloody combat when the Imperial Japanese Army tried to force its way into India, the jewel of the British Empire in Asia.

Conscripted into the KMT army in 1942, Xiang Xueyun was sent to join the Allied efforts. "India was occupied by the Japanese and we fought tooth and nail against them in the jungle," he told AFP.

In Yunnan, it was mainly Chinese Nationalist forces who confronted the Japanese, say veterans and historians.

"The Kuomintang were fighting a real war, while the Communists were more like guerrillas," said Xiang, now 90.

But after the Communist civil war victory, history was rewritten and the role played by the Nationalist army obscured.

Chiang was the first target for vilification.

In his Selected Works, Mao Zedong argues that Communist fighters were "facing enemy lines", while Chiang fled to the remote southwest. At the end of the war, "he descended from his mountain to reap the fruits of victory", Mao wrote.

But in recent years, the propaganda machine has changed course, and at the Kuomintang war cemetery in Yunnan's Tengchong, the headstones of thousands of Nationalist "martyrs" have been restored after being ruined by Mao's Red Guards.

"The city of Tengchong was liberated by KMT troops," said guide Yang Shuangjiao. "The Communists also contributed, but to a lesser extent."

Large photos of Chiang hang in a nearby museum, including an image of the "Generalissimo" toasting with Mao. China's main state television, CCTV, broadcast a report praising Nationalist General Dai Anlan last week.

"Today the Communist Party highlights the united front policy towards the KMT and Taiwan," Jean-Pierre Cabestan, head of the political science department at Hong Kong Baptist University, told AFP.

"Now there is a new amnesia when talking about the fierce struggle Mao led against Chiang between 1927 and 1937, and especially between 1946 and 1949 to establish his dictatorship over the country."

- 'Impress Japan' -

Beijing regularly accuses Tokyo and nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of refusing to own up to its wartime past. One English exhibit in the Tengchong museum reads: "The Japanese right wing forces are expanding rapidly in Japan. They visit Yasukuni Shrine and keep challenging the international order established after World War II.

"They even want to have a finger on Diaoyu islands belonging to China. Therefore it is quite necessary to alert the revival of the Japanese militarism."

China will hold a rare major military parade this year, with one objective being to "impress Japan", according an editorial in the People's Daily, the official Communist Party mouthpiece.

The Chinese government is trying to "reactivate and strengthen the anti-Japanese sentiments across Asia and among ordinary Chinese," said Cabestan.

But the one place the message might not resonate is Taiwan itself, he added.

The anniversary of Chiang's death passed on the island with barely a ripple. President Ma Ying-jeou visited his mausoleum, but media attention was limited and the Beijing-sceptic opposition is pushing for the statues that marked his authoritarian rule to be taken down.

Most Taiwanese "have feelings of friendship and closeness with contemporary Japanese society", said Cabestan. "The old Nationalist fighters belong to a bygone era."



US, Japan trust each other but both wary of China: poll

‎12 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎06:29:39 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) April 8, 2015 - Over seven decades after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and dragged the United States into a global war, Americans and Japanese overwhelmingly trust each other and are wary of China, an opinion poll has shown.

In contrast to the oft-heard calls from Beijing for more Japanese contrition over World War II, around two-thirds of Americans believe Tokyo has apologised enough or has no need to say sorry.

The findings, released Tuesday by the US-based Pew Research Center come just weeks before Shinzo Abe is set to travel to the United States, where he will become the first Japanese prime minister to address a joint session of the US Congress.

His speech will be carefully watched for any indication of how he will mark the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII later in the year, with Beijing urging him to "show sincerity" over his nation's past crimes.

But the poll by Pew found no significant animosity exists between people in Japan and the US, despite their four years of war until 1945 and the subsequent American occupation until 1952.

"Adversaries in World War II, fierce economic competitors in the 1980s and early 1990s, Americans and Japanese nonetheless share a deep mutual respect," the think tank said in its annual report based on the survey of 1,000 people from each country.

About 68 percent of Americans trust Japan and 75 percent of Japanese trust the United States, the survey showed, while only 30 percent of Americans and seven percent of Japanese trust China.

Six in ten Americans believe that the rise of China as a military and economic power makes relations between Japan and the United States more important, it said.

At the same time, "more Americans, especially young Americans, think it is important to have strong economic ties with China than believe it is important to have such ties with Japan," it said.

"A majority of Americans see Japan as a status quo economic power, neither rising nor declining."

Japanese brands fare well in US public opinion, with Sony seen in a favourable light by 88 percent of respondents and carmaker Toyota by 85 percent.

However, for Brand Abe, the news was not so good: "only 11 percent of Americans have a favourable view of current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe."

"But this can largely be attributed to the fact that 73 percent say they have never heard of him," it said.

On questions of history, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed 140,000 people and 70,000, respectively, has long divided Americans and Japanese.

In the latest survey, 56 percent of Americans say they believe the use of nuclear weapons was a justified means of ending the war; 34 percent said it was not.

In Japan, only 14 percent say the bombing was justified, versus 79 percent who say it was not.

"Despite this lingering disagreement over the justification for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, few Americans or Japanese believe Japan owes an apology for its actions during WWII," it said.

A total of 61 percent of Americans say either Japan has apologised sufficiently for the war or no apology is now necessary, against 29 percent who say Japan has not apologised enough for its actions during the conflict.






Japan rebuffs international outcry over new history textbooks

‎12 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎06:29:39 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) April 7, 2015 - Japan on Tuesday rebuffed neighbouring countries' protests about newly-approved textbooks after complaints about references to disputed territory and their bitter shared history.

The education ministry announced on Monday that all 18 new social studies textbooks for use in junior high schools assert Japanese ownership of two separate island groups at the centre of disputes with China and South Korea.

New school books also fail to use the word "massacre" when referring to Japan's mass slaughter of Chinese civilians in Nanjing in 1937, preferring the term "incident".

The textbook dispute surfaces regularly in the three-way row over events in the first half of the 20th century, when Japan invaded and occupied large tracts of Asia.

But it has come at a particularly sensitive time as the region prepares to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and with a rising tide of nationalism in China, Japan and South Korea.

Immediately after Monday's announcement, the South Korean foreign ministry summoned Japanese ambassador Koro Bessho to protest over the textbooks.

"The Japanese government carried out another provocation by approving school textbooks that strengthen unfair claims over our territory," the ministry said in a statement.

Tokyo and Seoul are at odds over the sovereignty of a pair of sparsely-inhabited rocks in waters between them, administered by Seoul as Dokdo but claimed as Takeshima in Japan.

"This clearly shows that the Japanese government seeks to inculcate the distorted views on history and territory into the minds of the young generation and tries to repeat the wrongs it committed in the past," it said.

In Tokyo Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga rejected those claims.

"Our country's textbook screening is carried out impartially and neutrally, based on professional and academic deliberations," Suga told a news conference.

"Since our country's stance on Takeshima and history recognition have been consistent, we responded to (South Korea) by saying we cannot accept their protest."

A Japanese education ministry official confirmed that one of the new history textbooks did not refer to the mass killing in Nanjing, while "many others have described it as an incident, not a massacre".

China says 300,000 civilians and soldiers died in a spree of killing, rape and destruction in the six weeks after the Japanese military entered the then-capital on December 13, 1937.

While some foreign academics put the number of deaths lower, no mainstream respected historians dispute there was a massacre.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China was "gravely concerned about what is happening in Japan".

"The Nanjing massacre is an atrocity committed by Japanese militarism during its war of aggression against China, which is based on irrefutable evidence and conclusions were drawn long ago on this," she said.

"Japan's treatment and perception of relevant issues actually show whether Japan can hold an honest, responsible and correct perception of history. History is history, it cannot and should not be allowed to be changed wilfully."

Separately on Tuesday, Japan issued its annual "blue book" on foreign policy, saying: "The starting point of Japan's coherent path as a peaceful nation is our pledge not to fight a war again and keep peace, based on our deep remorse over the past war."



Czech leader, US ambassador clash over Moscow visit

‎12 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎06:29:39 AMGo to full article
Prague (AFP) April 6, 2015 - Czech President Milos Zeman and the US ambassador to Prague have clashed over the leader's plan to travel to Moscow for a World War II victory anniversary, an event largely snubbed by Western leaders.

In a TV interview last week, US ambassador Andrew Schapiro questioned the staunchly pro-Russian Zeman's wish to be "probably the only EU head of state" to attend the May 9 parade on Moscow's Red Square marking the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany.

He added, however, that it was not up to him to tell the Czech president what to do.

Zeman is one of a handful of world leaders set to attend the event ignored by most Western leaders amid tensions over Russia's role in Ukraine.

In an interview on Sunday, Zeman said that the door to his official residence, Prague Castle, "will be closed" to Schapiro following his criticism.

"I can't imagine the Czech ambassador to Washington giving travelling advice to the US president," Zeman told the parlamentnilisty.cz news site.

"And I won't let any ambassador meddle in my plans to travel abroad," added the 70-year-old leftwinger, in office since 2013 as the first-ever directly elected Czech head of state.

The spat intensified when Czech leftwing Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka on Monday criticised Zeman's response and urged the president to adopt a "more professional approach to foreign policy."

In Washington, the US State Department said it understood "the desire to honour all those who sacrificed in World War II".

"And of course, each country can make its own decisions about attendance," said spokeswoman Marie Harf, adding: "We haven't decided about ours yet."

But she said now was not the time for "business as usual" with Moscow, stressing "the importance of unity with our European allies and partners in pressing Russia to stop fuelling the conflict in eastern Ukraine."

Most Western leaders have given Russian President Vladimir Putin the cold shoulder while German Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised to visit Moscow on May 10.

Besides Zeman, those known to be planning to attend the WWII commemoration in Moscow include Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and North Korea's Kim Jong-Un as well as the leaders of India, South Africa, Mongolia, Cuba and Vietnam.



Pentagon chief heading to Japan, S.Korea next week

‎12 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎06:29:39 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) April 3, 2015 - Pentagon chief Ashton Carter will travel to Japan and South Korea next week to underscore President Barack Obama's commitment to a strategic shift towards Asia, even as crises in the Middle East preoccupy Washington.

Carter embarks on the first of two trips to Asia on Tuesday, stopping in Tokyo and Seoul before meeting the head of US Pacific Command in Hawaii, officials said.

In May, Carter will return to the region for the annual Shangri-La security conference in Singapore followed by a visit to India, which he has worked closely with in the past to bolster defense ties.

The two visits in two months to Asia will "affirm defense relationships with allies and build upon key initiatives of the rebalance to the region," the Pentagon said in a statement.

But while Obama has tried to make the Asia-Pacific region a higher priority for US strategy, upheaval across the Middle East -- including the rise of Islamic State jihadists -- has repeatedly diverted his administration's attention.

Since August, the United States has led a coalition carrying out air strikes against the IS group in Iraq and Syria, and last week Obama approved intelligence and logistical support for a Saudi-led air war in Yemen against Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

Before flying to Japan, Carter will deliver a speech on the US "rebalance" to Asia on Monday at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona.

Carter, who took office in February, will stress "the strong link between national security and economic security and the full-court press the administration will continue to take on the rebalance, " the Pentagon said.

In his visit to Japan, Carter's talks will focus on new guidelines for the two countries' military cooperation that are expected to be signed later in April, officials said.

The guidelines would set out an expanded role for Japan's Self-Defense Forces, allowing Tokyo's troops to come to the aid of US forces under attack.

After two days in Tokyo, Carter on Thursday will head to Seoul, where he will "reiterate" Washington's strong commitment to South Korea's security in the face of provocations and threats from the North Korean regime, officials said.

On Saturday, Carter is due to meet top officers at the US military's Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii.



Poland to build watch towers at Russia's Kaliningrad border

‎08 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎05:51:31 AMGo to full article
Warsaw (AFP) April 6, 2015 - Poland will build six watchtowers to survey its 200-kilometre-long border with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, the police said Monday.

The six towers will be up to 50 metres (164 feet) high and ready in June for round-the-clock surveillance, the spokeswoman for Poland's border police told the PAP news agency.

They will cost more than 14 million zloty (3.7 million euros, $3.8 million), Miroslawa Aleksandrowicz said, adding that 75 percent of the amount would come from an EU fund for external borders.

Kaliningrad is near the Baltic Sea, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, both EU members. Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite said last month that Russia had sent nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, which could "reach even Berlin".

Russia's seizure and annexation of Crimea, support for separatists in eastern Ukraine and stepped-up military drills have caused unease in the Baltic states and Poland, which lay behind the Iron Curtain a quarter of a century ago.

More than three million Russians and an equal number of Poles passed through border posts to heavily militarised Kaliningrad last year.



Tokyo, Okinawa remain apart in US base row

‎08 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎05:51:31 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) April 5, 2015 - Shinzo Abe's right-hand man and the governor of Okinawa remained apart in a lingering row over the construction of a US air base at a meeting Sunday ahead of the Japanese premier's visit to Washington later this month.

The base's construction, first mooted in 1996, has been stymied by local opposition from islanders who say they bear a disproportionate burden in hosting more than half of the 47,000 US service personnel stationed in Japan.

In the latest twist in the two-decade row, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told Governor Takeshi Onaga: "We hope to get your understanding on the plan... for maintaining the deterrent power of the Japan-US alliance."

However, the Okinawan governor countered that while he understood the importance of the alliance with the US, any national security plan must have the Japanese people's support.

"Okinawa never voluntarily offered (land) for bases. I'm convinced that it is impossible to construct a new base", Onaga said, referring to a plan to replace the urban Futenma Air Base with one on a rural coastline at Nago.

After the meeting, he told reporters: "I will never step back on the base issue," criticising the government's top-down approach.

Hundreds of anti-base protesters rallied outside the hotel in Okinawa's capital Naha where the talks took place, holding banners that read "rescind the relocation plan!"

The anti-base camp -- who want the base off Okinawa -- struck a blow late last month when Onaga said coral just outside the permitted zone at the site on the island's northeast coast had been damaged and demanded a halt to the work.

The central government last week muscled the governor out of the way, suspending his stop-work order, and ahead of Abe's week-long US tour starting on April 26, which will focus on deepening trade and military ties.

The prime minister will meet US President Barack Obama on April 28 during the trip which ends May 3.

Abe and Onaga will meet before the US tour, the Mainichi Shinbun reported, citing unnamed sources from the Okinawa government.

- Base construction to continue -

Fisheries minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on Monday defanged the stop-work order with a suspension while the issue is probed, effectively kicking it into the long grass.

Suga later told reporters that Sunday's meeting "was the first step for talks between the government and Okinawa," but added the government will continue work on construction of the base.

The once-independent kingdom of Okinawa was annexed by Japan in the 19th century and was under US control from the end of World War II in 1945 until 1972.

While most Japanese value the protection the US alliance gives them, especially in the context of Beijing's growing regional assertiveness, a sizable proportion of Okinawans want a dramatic reduction in their numbers.

The shuttering of Futenma and the opening of a replacement base at Nago, 50 kilometres (30 miles) away, was first agreed in 1996 as the US sought to soothe local anger after the gang-rape of a schoolgirl by servicemen.

But it has been stymied ever since, with local protesters blocking the move, arguing any new base should be built elsewhere in Japan or abroad.

In 2013 Onaga's predecessor Hirokazu Nakaima, formerly a staunch opponent, dropped his objection to the new base after Tokyo promised a hefty annual cash injection to the local economy.

Many islanders saw this as a betrayal and in November kicked him out of office in favour of Onaga.





US, Philippines set to hold expanded war games

‎08 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎05:51:31 AMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) April 6, 2015 - The United States and the Philippines will double the size of their annual war games this month, with some exercises to be staged close to a South China Sea flashpoint, the Filipino military said Monday.

The 10-day exercises between the long-time allies will be held as fears grow in the Philippines that China is seeking to take control of the strategically vital and resource-rich sea.

Nearly 12,000 soldiers will be involved in this year's edition in several locations in the Philippines, including a naval station directly facing the disputed waters, military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc said.

That number, which includes 6,600 American troops, compares with a total of 5,500 soldiers who participated in last year's Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises, Cabunoc said.

He emphasised the expanded war games highlighted the deepening military alliance between the Philippines and its former colonial ruler.

"The higher strength of Balikatan 2015 for this year only reflects the Philippines' and the United States' growing commitment to enhance our capability to conduct joint military and non-military activities," Cabunoc told AFP.

He said the decision to expand the numbers involved in the games was not directed at China, which claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters and reefs close to Southeast Asian nations and far from its nearest major landmass.

However, part of the exercises will be held from Zambales naval base, which is located 220 kilometres (137 miles) east of Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

The shoal is a rich fishing ground within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone but has been controlled by China since 2012.

The Balikatan exercises, which start on April 20, will also be held on the central island of Panay, Palawan in the southwest and a former American airbase north of Manila.

Cabunoc said the exercises involved maritime security and disaster response drills, as well as civic projects.

Spokespeople for the US and Chinese embassies in Manila were unavailable for comment on Monday.

The Philippines has repeatedly protested at China's increasingly assertive actions in the South China Sea and has sought closer military ties with the United States in an effort to counter it.

The US and Philippines signed an agreement last year that will allow a larger American military presence in the Philippines.

However it has not yet been implemented, as the Supreme Court is hearing challenges to it from anti-US groups.

Aside from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have competing claims to parts of the South China Sea.



US 'concerned' by China but not adversary: Pentagon chief

‎08 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎05:51:31 AMGo to full article
Phoenix (AFP) April 6, 2015 - The United States is "deeply concerned" by some of China's behavior but the top world powers do not need to be adversaries, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Monday as he prepared to head to Asia for key talks with regional allies.

Speaking at Arizona State University before a trip aimed at underscoring President Barack Obama's strategic "rebalance" towards Asia, Carter said the US remained committed to helping maintain peace in the region.

But the Pentagon chief said Washington was troubled by China's activities in the realms of defense spending, cyber-space and regional territorial spats.

"We and many other countries are deeply concerned about some the activities China is undertaking," Carter said.

"Its opaque defense budget, its action in cyberspace, and its behavior in places like the South and East China seas raise a number of serious questions."

An escalation of tension between the United States and China need not be inevitable, however, Carter said.

"The US and China are not allies but we don't have to be adversaries. A strong constructive US relationship is essential for global security and prosperity," he said, acknowledging that Sino-US relations would be "complex" as both nations sought to "compete and cooperate."

Carter noted agreements signed between China and the US last year aimed at building confidence between the two superpowers and said another pact to prevent "dangerous air-to-air encounters" would be completed later this year.

"Assuring peace and prosperity and progress across Asia Pacific as China continues to rise will be your generation's central strategic challenge," Carter told his audience.

The Obama administration's "rebalance," he argued, was "helping create the right incentives and conditions to encourage China to play by the rules of principled international order."

Carter's trip to Asia is the first of two scheduled in the coming months. He will stop in Tokyo and Seoul before meeting the head of US Pacific Command in Hawaii on his way back to the United States.

In his visit to Japan, Carter's talks will focus on new guidelines for the two countries' military cooperation that are expected to be signed later in April, officials said.

The guidelines would set out an expanded role for Japan's Self-Defense Forces, allowing Tokyo's troops to come to the aid of US forces under attack.

After two days in Tokyo, Carter on Thursday will head to Seoul, where he will "reiterate" Washington's strong commitment to South Korea's security in the face of provocations and threats from the North Korean regime.

On Saturday, Carter is due to meet top officers at the US military's Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii.

Carter will return to the region in May for the annual Shangri-La security conference in Singapore followed by a visit to India, which he has worked closely with in the past to bolster defense ties.



China official to visit Japan in sign of hastening thaw

‎08 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎05:51:31 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) April 6, 2015 - A senior official from China's National People's Congress will be in Tokyo this week, Japan's lower house said Monday, the highest-profile Chinese visitor since 2012 as a thaw in relations sets in.

Ji Bingxuan, a vice-chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, will lead a delegation from the Chinese parliament from Wednesday through Saturday, a parliamentary spokeswoman said.

The visit is the latest sign that relations between Asia's two biggest powers are getting back on an even keel after three years of squabbling over their bitter shared history and the ownership of disputed islands.

Japan and China held security talks last month, their first such dialogue since January 2011.

Tokyo and Beijing are at loggerheads over the sovereignty of an island chain in the East China Sea that Japan administers as the Senkakus, but China claims as the Diaoyus.

Relations soured in 2012 when the Japanese government nationalised some of the islands.

Beijing subsequently halted most high-level contacts with Tokyo, and ships and planes from the two sides have shadow-boxed in the area ever since.

The diplomatic ice was broken last November when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping shared a frosty handshake on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

This week's delegation was invited by Japan's House of Representatives, the lower house of parliament.

Ji is expected to hold talks with lower house speaker Nobutaka Machimura during the stay, the spokeswoman said.



China ex-security chief charged with bribery, power abuse

‎08 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎05:51:31 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) April 3, 2015 - China's former security chief Zhou Yongkang was charged Friday with bribery, abuse of power and disclosing state secrets, authorities said, making him the most senior official prosecuted in decades and setting the stage for a dramatic trial.

Zhou -- seen as an adversary of President Xi Jinping -- is the most prominent victim of the Communist Party's much-publicised anti-corruption drive, which has targeted high-level "tigers" as well as low-level "flies".

He had a background in the oil industry and accumulated vast power as he rose through the ranks to become a member of the ruling party's elite Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), the most powerful body in China.

"The defendant Zhou Yongkang... took advantage of his posts to seek gains for others and illegally took huge property and assets from others, abused his power, causing huge losses to public property and the interests of the State and the people," said the indictment, posted online by prosecutors.

"The social impact is vile and the circumstances were extraordinarily severe," it said, adding that he also "intentionally leaked state secrets".

The document was filed with a court in the northern port of Tianjin, the Supreme People's Procuratorate added, but it gave no indication of a trial date.

Chinese courts are closely controlled by the ruling party and a guilty verdict is a certainty.

The proceedings will be the most significant in China since the infamous Gang of Four -- which included Mao Zedong's widow Jiang Qing -- were put on trial and blamed for the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.

Xi has consolidated enormous power since taking office in 2012 and Zhou's fate will "establish Xi Jinping's ultimate authority over the entire country", said Willy Lam, a politics specialist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

"This will strike fear into the hearts of his opponents or potential opponents, because Xi Jinping has total control over the entire anti-corruption apparatus," he added.

Zhou's fall sent shockwaves through the ruling party. After months of rumours, party authorities announced last July they were investigating him, and he was expelled from the party and formally arrested in December.

Now 72, he retired in 2012 as part of a once-a-decade leadership handover, but senior Chinese politicians normally remain significant players even after officially stepping down, and are generally immune from retribution.

Days after Zhou's arrest, the Communist Party's flagship People's Daily newspaper branded him a "traitor" and likened him to several past turncoats who were all executed -- setting off speculation that Zhou himself could face a similar fate.

Under Chinese law bribery can carry the death penalty in some circumstances, while the maximum penalty for leaking state secrets is seven years in prison.

Lam said a suspended death sentence -- normally commuted to life imprisonment -- was possible, but added: "This is the most senior official since the Cultural Revolution to have been incriminated for corruption. So to set an example to all, Xi Jinping might favour a death sentence."

- Faction fighting -

Communist authorities have touted the anti-corruption drive as a root-and-branch reform of the party to address an issue that causes deep and widespread public anger.

But critics note that China has failed to implement institutional safeguards against graft, such as public asset disclosure, an independent judiciary, and free media, leaving the effort open to being used for political faction-fighting.

The Communist party is riven by internal divisions but consistently seeks to present a united front to outsiders.

Several of Zhou's associates have also been brought down in the campaign, among them Jiang Jiemin, the former head of the body that regulates China's state-owned firms.

He is a former head of the China National Petroleum Corporation, a post previously held by Zhou, and the two are reportedly part of a Communist Party faction with roots in the oil industry, known as the "petroleum gang".

The hearings will be the first time Zhou has been seen in public since October 2013. Officials have promised that they will be open in accordance with Chinese law, but attendance at previous high-profile cases has been closely controlled.

When former high-flyer Bo Xilai -- a Zhou ally who fell after a scandal around the killing of a British businessman -- was prosecuted for bribery, non-official media were limited to a "live" written transcript of events, whose accuracy was impossible to verify independently.

The China director of Human Rights Watch, Sophie Richardson, said on Twitter: "Zhou Yongkang, pivotal in denying so many the right to a fair trial, won't get one himself."



Sri Lanka says no deal to restart Chinese port project

‎01 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:57:05 AMGo to full article
Colombo (AFP) March 30, 2015 - Sri Lanka has yet to resolve a dispute with China over a $1.4 billion development in Colombo despite a state visit to Beijing last week, a minister said Monday.

New Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena suspended the Chinese-backed construction of a "port city" in the capital following allegations that environmental clearances had not been obtained.

Some reports had indicated the project would go ahead following Sirisena's three-day visit to Beijing last week.

But Deputy Foreign Minister Ajith Perera said the president had not discussed the project with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

"We have given them (Chinese companies) time to produce the environmental approvals, but they have not done that yet," the minister told reporters in Colombo.

Sirisena made India his first foreign destination after winning elections in January, seeking to rebuild ties with Delhi damaged by tensions over Beijing's influence on the island under his predecessor.

India is understood to be uneasy about China getting a foothold just outside the port of Colombo, which handles a considerable amount of Indian cargo.

If it goes ahead, the planned development would include a marina and a Formula One track -- all just 250 kilometres (150 miles) from India's coast.



Russia continues Asian pivot

‎01 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:57:05 AMGo to full article
Moscow (UPI) Mar 30, 2015 - With Russian energy interests pivoting east, the head of Russian bank VTB said Monday he was looking to get listed on the Chinese stock exchange.

Andrei Kostin said, on his way to an Asian investment forum, that his bank was requesting a rating from China's Dagong Global Credit Rating Co.

"We are heading in that direction," he said. "It is the right decision given the current situation."

Rating is one of the preliminary steps toward entering the Chinese stock exchange as a listed company.

The Chinese rating agency in early March gave Russian energy company Gazprom Neft a AA credit rating, denoting a stable outlook for its debt portfolio and long-term production potential.

Parent company Gazprom received one of its best outlooks in the industry, a AAA, despite sanctions imposed on Russia's energy sector in response to crises in Ukraine.

China's credit enthusiasm contrasts ratings from Western agencies. Ratings agency Moody's in February lowered its assessment of seven Russian financial institutions, including the banking arm of Gazprom, because of recessionary threats.

Sanctions on banking and energy companies, in conjunction with the low price of oil, have struck a major blow to the Russian economy. The U.S. Treasury Department placed VTB on its list of Russian entities sanctioned because of the Kremlin's stance on lingering crises in Ukraine.

Russia's pivot toward the Asia-Pacific offers a buffer against a European Union frustrated with the former Soviet Union's influence in the regional energy sector. The European market gets about a quarter of its gas from Russia, though most of that runs through Ukrainian pipelines.



Let a hundred flowers bloom: China, Korea, Japan in cherry trifle

‎01 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:57:05 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) March 30, 2015 - A perennial debate over the birthplace of the cherry blossom has taken a fresh turn as a Chinese industry group claims the Asian giant is the tree's true home, rather than Japan or claimant South Korea.

Cherry blossoms have long been associated with Japan, where viewing the short-lived blooms is an enduringly popular pastime to herald the arrival of spring.

In recent years, some South Korean media have claimed that the country is actually the flower's origin -- sometimes provoking prickly reactions in Japan.

But according to He Zongru, executive chairman of the China Cherry Industry Association, both are wrong, and the Middle Kingdom is the blossom's true birthplace.

He cited a Japanese monograph on cherry blossoms which stated that the flower originated in the Himalayan mountains of China and did not arrive in Japan until the Tang dynasty more than 1,100 years ago.

"We don't want to get into a war of words with Japan and South Korea, but we want to assert a fact: Many historical documents confirm that the cherry blossom's place of origin is in China," He said, according to the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily on Monday.

"As Chinese people, we have a responsibility to let more people know this history," he added.

For decades, Tokyo has given the prized plant to countries including the US as a gesture of goodwill, and every spring people across Japan gather under cherry blossom trees to eat, drink and admire.

Thousands of visitors line the banks of Washington's Tidal Basin every spring to catch a sight of the city's pink and white flowers, which were a gift from Japan in 1912.

In Beijing, the most popular place to view them is Yuyuantan Park, home to more than 2,000 cherry trees -- roughly 200 of which were given to China by Japan in the early 1970s, when the two countries re-established diplomatic ties.

Nonetheless the row reflects tense relations among the three Asian rivals, which are frequently at odds with each other on issues including Japan's 20th-century history -- when it colonised Korea and parts of China, culminating in World War II -- and competing territorial claims in regional waters.

Often, such battles see Beijing and Seoul team up against Tokyo, as when China unveiled a memorial last year to a Korean national hero condemned by Japan as a "terrorist" for killing a Japanese official a century ago.

Even so He's message to Seoul in the latest debate was uncompromising.

"Simply put, the cherry blossom originated in China and flourished in Japan," the paper quoted him as saying. "South Korea has nothing to do with it."



Philippines hits back at Beijing over South China Sea

‎01 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:57:05 AMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) March 28, 2015 - The Philippines on Saturday shot back at Beijing's criticism of its activities in the South China Sea, saying they were "in no way comparable to China's massive reclamation activities" in the waters.

It also said accusations that Manila was being "hypocritical" would not distract people from Beijing's own actions which were raising regional tensions.

The statement by foreign affairs department spokesman Charles Jose was the latest volley in an increasingly tense war of words over the sea, parts of which are claimed by both countries as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

"The Philippines' possible undertaking of necessary maintenance and repairs on its existing facilities in the West Philippine Sea... is in no way comparable to China's massive reclamation activities which not only violate international law... but also unnecessarily raise tensions," the statement said.

"West Philippine Sea" is the term Manila uses for the South China Sea where Filipino troops and civilians occupy some islands.

The Philippines has recently been among the most vocal in criticising China's development of isolated outcroppings in the waters into large facilities capable of hosting bases and even airstrips.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippines would resume its own construction of facilities in the sea, prompting Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying to denounce his remarks on Friday.

"This does not only violate China's territorial sovereignty but also reveals (the Philippines') hypocritical nature," she said.

In response, the Philippines said: "China's recent statement... should not distract us from the real issues in the South China Sea which are China's illegitimate 'nine-dash line' claim and China's unilateral and aggressive behaviour in asserting that claim as exemplified by its massive and unrestrained 'reclamation'."

Reacting to the controversy, Philippine President Benigno Aquino affirmed his support for del Rosario, his spokeswoman Abigail Valte said on Saturday.

She also said that any repairs of Philippine facilities would not violate a "Declaration on the Code of Conduct" sealed between China and Southeast Asian countries in 2002.

The non-binding accord is intended to avoid raising tensions in the disputed territory.

Valte also stressed that the Philippines had made its position clear in a challenge it had filed before a United Nations tribunal in March 2014 to declare what Manila said was China's claim to 70 percent of the sea as illegal.

The Philippines has also filed numerous diplomatic protests against what it calls China efforts to assert its claims to the territory shown in a "nine-dash line" in several Chinese maps.

The UN tribunal is due to rule early next year on Manila's challenge to Beijing's claims.



Russia to join China-led development bank: official

‎01 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:57:05 AMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) March 28, 2015 - Russia is to sign up to the Chinese-led development bank AIIB, first deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov said Saturday at an international forum in China, cited by Russian news agencies.

"I'd like to inform you that Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken the decision that Russia will participate in the capital of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)," Shuvalov said at China's Boao Forum, quoted by RIA Novosti state news agency.

The Beijing-backed AIIB, unveiled in October, is a multinational lender that the United States perceives as a threat to the Washington-led World Bank.

It has proved highly successful with countries that are US allies, however, with Britain, Germany, France, Italy and this week South Korea all saying they intend to join the $50 billion (46 billion euro) bank.

Russia has sought to align itself more closely with China in recent years and these efforts have intensified amid a freeze in relations with the Western powers, which have imposed harsh economic sanctions over Moscow's role in the Ukraine conflict.

"We are glad to have the opportunity to build up cooperation in the format of China and the Eurasian Economic Union," Shuvalov said, referring to a free trade union championed by Putin made up of Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Belarus, which came into force in January.

"We in Russia are sure that joint work in developing Eurasian partnership and the Silk Route economic belt will create further opportunities for the development of the countries of the Eurasian Union and China," he said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said this month that "practical cooperation between China and Russia is based on mutual need" and has "enormous internal impetus and room for expansion."

China is hungry for Russia's vast hydrocarbon resources, while Western sanctions have made seeking stable markets an urgent need for Putin, whose economy has been hit hard by the fall in prices for oil, a major source of revenue.

Both countries are permanent members of the UN Security Council, where they have in the past jointly used their veto power against Western-backed moves such as in the civil war in Syria.



China hits out at Japan over defence spending worries

‎01 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:57:05 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) March 26, 2015 - China dismissed Japanese concerns about its defence spending as "ridiculous" on Thursday after Tokyo commissioned its biggest-ever helicopter carrier.

Both sides are boosting their military budgets as they grow increasingly wary of each other's ambitions in the Asia-Pacific region, facing off over a maritime territorial dispute and how to interpret Japan's motivations and actions during World War II.

Japan is uneasy about what it sees as China's growing assertiveness, including through regular double-digit increases in its defence spending, and on Wednesday commissioned its biggest warship since World War II, the helicopter carrier Izumo.

The 248-metre (810-feet) Japanese-built vessel can carry nine helicopters and is aimed at beefing up Tokyo's maritime defences in the East China Sea.

In 2012, China commissioned its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, and has said its plans more.

Tokyo has repeatedly called on Beijing to be more transparent about its military outlays but Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying hit back, saying that despite Japan's far smaller number of people it spends a hefty amount on defence.

"Japan's population accounts for only about one-tenth that of China," Hua told a regular briefing on Thursday.

"But its per capita national defence spending is about five times that of China," she added.

"Given this, Japan's criticism of China's national defence is quite ridiculous."

It was unclear on what figures Hua based her comparison.

Earlier this month China unveiled a military budget of 886.9 billion yuan ($142.9 billion) for 2015. With a population of 1.37 billion, that equates to about $104 per person.

Japan's defence spending for fiscal 2015 has been set at 4.98 trillion yen ($42.1 billion), or about $329 per capita, just over three times as much as China.

Kyodo news agency said the Izumo cost around 120 billion yen.

Beijing is suspicious of moves by Tokyo to increase its defence profile under nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has called for his country to throw off the constraints of its "peace" constitution imposed by the United States after World War II, which ended 70 years ago this year.

Asked about the Izumo, Chinese defence ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng told a monthly briefing on Thursday: "Due to historical reasons, any move or actions by Japan in the military and security field is worth the vigilance of its Asian neighbours."

Separately, Geng criticised reported comments by the commander of the US Seventh Fleet suggesting it would back efforts by Southeast Asian nations to form a combined maritime force to patrol areas of the South China Sea.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, a position that conflicts with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as with Taiwan.

US officials have called for a multilateral agreement to end all actions that risk further inflaming tensions in the region, which includes US allies.

"If ASEAN members were to take the lead in organising something along those lines, trust me, the US 7th Fleet would be ready to support," Bloomberg News quoted Vice Admiral Robert Thomas as saying.

"We urge the US side to stop making irresponsible remarks", Geng said, adding it should "respect the efforts made by the relevant countries in finding a peaceful solution" to the issue.

"We hope that the United States will stop their provocative remarks and actions."



Japan PM not to attend China's war parade: report

‎01 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:57:05 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) March 25, 2015 - Japan's prime minister is set to rebuff a prickly invitation to a Chinese military parade, a report said Wednesday, as the former World War II enemies jockey over the telling of their shared history.

Tokyo has not officially replied to Beijing's comments on the march, being held to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the conflict, but it is unlikely that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will go, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.

The parade will officially celebrate "Victory Day of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression".

Beijing regularly invokes Japanese wrongdoing last century, a strategy that experts say is intended to burnish the ruling credentials of the Chinese Communist Party.

Earlier this month China's foreign minister said Abe would be welcome if he is "sincere", and that Japan should face up to its wartime past and not "lose its conscience".

Asked whether Abe would be invited to the march, Wang Yi said: "We will extend invitations to the leaders of all relevant countries and international organisations."

"We welcome the participation of anyone who is sincere about coming."

China's foreign ministry regularly urges Japan to "show sincerity" over history, signalling that it does not believe Tokyo is earnest enough.

Abe has said he will release a fresh statement on World War II this year, one that will "in general" stand by previous apologies for wartime misdeeds. However, the exact wording of the statement is being carefully watched for any signs of backsliding.

The parade is just one of a number of possible flashpoints in a relationship heavily coloured by attitudes to history and the fluctuating power balance between Asia's two largest economies.

Tokyo is uneasy about what it sees as Beijing's growing assertiveness in the region, including through the regular double-digit rises in its military spending.

"Japan is asking China to improve the transparency of its military budget, so it's impossible for the prime minister to attend," a senior Japanese diplomat told the daily.

Japan also wearies of what it says is China's constant references to the past, which it says ignore the benign behaviour of the last seven decades.

"In the 70th anniversary year... we think it is important for us to show willingness to tackle common challenges the global community faces in a forward-looking manner," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

He declined to comment on whether Abe would attend the Chinese parade.

"We have told them our country's way of thinking regarding such an official ceremony," he said.



Moscow-friendly Greece could 'paralyse' NATO

‎01 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:57:05 AMGo to full article
Warsaw (AFP) March 25, 2015 - A Moscow-friendly Greece could paralyse NATO's ability to react to Russian aggression, former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski warned Wednesday.

Athens could use its veto to slow the alliance's response if Russia set its sights on its Baltic member states, he told Poland's Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

The Cold War-era hawk, who worked for president Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981, said Poland too "could be a target" after Russia's annexation of Crimea last year, as well as former Soviet states such as Moldova, Georgia and oil-rich Azerbaijan.

NATO's Article 5 commits the 28-member alliance to respond collectively if a member is attacked, he said.

"But NATO is bound by the principle of unanimity," Polish-born Brzezinski said, warning that the alliance "could be paralysed for some time...namely by Greece, which is a friend of Russia and wields veto power."

Greece's radical left government is cultivating ties with Russia amid Athens' scramble to avoid bankruptcy.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 8 in Moscow before returning for an annual Victory Day parade in May.

Greek officials have openly floated the prospect of Athens turning to Russia or China for help if loan talks with the EU end in failure.

Since it sliced Crimea away from Ukraine last year, Russia has engaged in sabre rattling in the Baltic region.

Earlier this year, Brzezinski urged the US and its allies to deploy troops to Baltic states to deter Russia from staging a possible incursion into the formerly Soviet-ruled countries.

NATO is deploying more aircraft, ships and personnel for exercises on its eastern flank, which lay behind the Iron Curtain a quarter of a century ago.

NATO has also created a force of 5,000 troops capable of rapid deployment and will establish command centres in the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Poland and Romania by 2016.



Ukraine receives first batch of US Humvees

‎01 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:57:05 AMGo to full article
Kiev (AFP) March 25, 2015 - Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday took delivery of ten US armoured vehicles, two days after American lawmakers voted to urge President Barack Obama to provide "lethal" aid to Kiev.

Dressed in camouflage, the Ukraine leader thanked Washington for the 10 Humvees, the first of 30 promised by Washington, as they arrived at Kiev's Boryspil International Airport.

In total, the US plans to send 200 regular Humvees, radios, counter-mortar radars and other non-lethal equipment worth $75 million.

The US House of Representatives on Monday voted 348-48 in favour of putting pressure on Obama to ship "lethal defensive weapon systems" to help Kiev forces defend against Russian "aggression".

Obama has so far resisted calls to provide Kiev with weapons and other heavy military equipment, but House Democrat Eliot Engel, the lead sponsor of the resolution, told colleagues it was time to stop treating the Ukraine crisis "as just some faraway conflict."

The United Nations estimates that more than 6,000 people have been killed in fighting between Ukraine forces and pro-Russian separatists in the country's east since April.

Kiev and its allies in the West accuse Russia of arming and spearheading the pro-Kremlin uprising, but Moscow denies the allegation.

A ceasefire signed on February 12 has largely held despite sporadic fighting along the frontline.



India, China agree to foster peace on disputed border

‎01 ‎April ‎2015, ‏‎07:57:05 AMGo to full article
New Delhi (AFP) March 24, 2015 - India and China agreed Tuesday to foster peace along their Himalayan border after wrapping up two days of talks designed to resolve a long-festering boundary dispute.

In comments issued after the round of talks in the Indian capital, the governments of both countries stressed their common desire to maintain calm and to press ahead with further negotiations.

"Both sides agreed to take necessary steps to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas, which is a pre-requisite for continued growth of bilateral relations," the Indian foreign ministry said.

And the Chinese foreign ministry said both sides had agreed to make "joint efforts to safeguard peace and tranquility of the border area," which has been the scene of several recent military standoffs.

China's special representative Yang Jiechi and Indian national security adviser Ajit Doval led their respective delegations at the talks, which were first agreed during President Xi Jinping's visit to India last year.

The talks that started Monday were part of a push to make progress on the border dispute before Modi's expected visit to China in May.

China defeated India in a brief but bloody war in 1962 but an agreement on their border remains elusive, with each side regularly accusing the other of sending soldiers to encroach on territory.

Tensions peaked last September when hundreds of Chinese troops allegedly moved into the Himalayan territory just as Xi arrived in India on a landmark visit, casting a shadow over his talks with Modi.

While there was no details on how the negotiators were progressing, the Indian foreign ministry statement said both countries had "agreed to further expand such contacts as these constitute important confidence-building measures for maintaining peace and tranquility".

Speaking at a briefing in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that Yang and Doval "spoke highly of the progress we have achieved".

"They agreed to bear in mind the national interests and the benefits of the two peoples, follow the right path and press ahead with the framework negotiations," Hua added.

National security adviser Doval last October said India would strive to fix the border problem with China, but without compromising on its own national security and territory.



Sri Lankan leader to renegotiate China deals on visit

‎27 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎04:59:37 AMGo to full article
Colombo (AFP) March 24, 2015 - Sri Lanka's new president will use a visit to Beijing to renegotiate more than $5.3 billion-worth of Chinese deals signed by his predecessor, a minister said Tuesday, calling it a strategy of "economic self-defence".

President Maithripala Sirisena has already suspended construction work on a major Chinese-funded land reclamation project commissioned by his predecessor Mahinda Rajapakse, who relied heavily on China to rebuild the country's infrastructure during his decade in power.

On Tuesday, finance minister Ravi Karunanayake said Chinese companies operating in Sri Lanka were "corrupt", using unusually blunt language days before Sirisena's first state visit to Beijing.

"What we want to tell the (Chinese) president is that the government of China is clean, but Chinese companies (operating in Sri Lanka) are corrupt," said Karunanayake, who will accompany Sirisena on the trip.

"We are basically saying, look at the costs these people have quoted and look at the internationally accepted rate," he told reporters.

Sri Lanka has already complained that it is paying too much interest on the Chinese loans funding its infrastructure development.

On Tuesday Karunanayake said it was also being overcharged by Chinese contractors undertaking the work.

"China understands that we are a small country and that we have a right to economic self-defence," he said.

"It is our taxpayers who will eventually have to foot the bill, that is why we will tell them (China) that we have a right to self-defence and to protect our people."

Sirisena, who starts his three-day China visit on Wednesday, has already suspended work on a $1.4 billion "port city" land reclamation project in Colombo. India considered the scheme a security risk since the island lies only around 30 kilometres (20 miles) off its southeast coast.

Sirisena has also ordered a review of other Beijing-financed projects and loans amid allegations of corruption.

Karunanayake said Sri Lanka's new government was determined to stamp out corruption, accusing the Rajapakse regime of involvement.

Sirisena made India -- rather than China -- his first foreign trip after winning elections in January, seeking to rebuild ties with Delhi damaged by tensions over Beijing's influence on the island.

Delhi was reportedly furious after Chinese submarines were allowed to dock in Colombo last year when Rajapakse was still in power.

Beijing has been accused of seeking to develop facilities around the Indian Ocean in a "string of pearls" strategy to counter the rise of rival India and secure its own economic interests.



Russian bombers spark NATO scramble, protest in Baltic

‎27 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎04:59:37 AMGo to full article
Vilnius (AFP) March 24, 2015 - NATO jets were scrambled Tuesday to escort Russian fighters and nuclear-capable bombers flying near the Baltic states and Sweden with their transponders switched off, sparking protests over the danger they posed to civil aviation.

Lithuania's defence ministry spokeswoman Asta Galdikaite said NATO air policing aircraft identified two Tu-22 type bombers and two SU-27 jets. The Swedish military also confirmed the aircraft showed up on their ground radar.

"The flights conducted with switched-off on-board transponders are among other things a risk to civil aviation as such flights are not visible on civil air traffic control radars," she told AFP.

"We are tired of having to repeatedly protest against these violations," Foreign Minister Margot Wallstroem told the Swedish TT news agency on Tuesday.

"We need to obtain Russia's respect for existing regulations and put an end to this, which has been incredibly challenging and even dangerous for civil aviation as well," she added.

In December a Russian military plane came dangerously close to a passenger plane from Cimber Air, of the SAS group, which had taken off from Copenhagen headed for Poznan in Poland, according to the Swedish military.

On Tuesday, the aircraft flew from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. Both are EU and NATO members, while Sweden is not.

Galdikaite said Lithuania had seen "an increase in the activity of military aircraft of the Russian Federation over the Baltic Sea this year", adding it was the first time since December that Russian bombers were spotted in the area.

Russia's seizure of Crimea, support for separatists in eastern Ukraine and stepped-up military drills have caused unease in the Baltic states and Poland, which lay behind the Iron Curtain a quarter of a century ago.

Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite said last week that Russia sent nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, which could "reach even Berlin" .

US forces deployed a battery of Patriot surface-to-air missiles near the Polish capital Warsaw this weekend as part of ongoing drills.

NATO is also countering Moscow's moves by deploying more aircraft, ships and personnel for exercises on its eastern flank.

The 28-member alliance already runs an air policing mission in formerly Soviet-ruled Baltic states bordering Russia.

NATO has created a spearhead force of 5,000 troops capable of rapid deployment and will establish command centres in the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Poland and Romania by 2016.

US troops on exercises in eastern Europe are, meanwhile, keeping a high public profile.

Infantry soldiers in a convoy of Stryker armoured personnel carriers returning to Germany from exercises in the Baltic states via Poland and the Czech Republic are meeting and greeting civilians on their 1,800 kilometre (1,120 miles) journey dubbed the "Dragoon ride".



Japan's Abe, Indonesia's Widodo to tighten defense ties

‎27 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎04:59:37 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) March 23, 2015 - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Indonesian President Joko Widodo Monday to forge tighter economic and defence ties, as Tokyo works to court friends in the face of a rising China.

The two nations agreed to tighter cooperation on coastal security, regular talks between their respective defence and foreign ministers, and greater Japanese investment in Indonesia.

"We wish to contribute to the peace and prosperity of this region and the international community by strengthening our strategic partnership with Indonesia, which, like Japan, is a maritime nation and democracy," Abe told Widodo as they began their talks.

Widodo's visit to Tokyo is a part of his week-long tour of Japan and China, aimed at attracting investment and forging closer political ties.

The visit came as Abe actively courts Southeast Asian nations to join Japan to create a counterweight to China, which is locked in territorial disputes with Japan in the East China Sea and with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea.

Widodo has previously told Japanese media that China's claim to virtually all of the South China Sea has no legal foundation.

Indonesia "is ready to play a role of mediator" between Tokyo and Beijing, Widodo told NHK before his trip.

Roughly 1,500 Japanese firms are operating in Indonesia, and Tokyo is Jakarta's top aid donor.

Indonesia, by contrast, counts Japan as the number one destination for its exports, particularly its energy sales.

During his stay, Widodo, who took office in October, will also meet with Japanese business leaders, including executives from Toyota, the world's biggest automaker that has major operations in Indonesia.

Ahead of his visit, the Indonesian leader told Japanese media that he was interested in Japan's assistance to build key infrastructure, such as power plants, highways, and railways.



Sri Lanka's new leader heads to China after winding back ties

‎27 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎04:59:37 AMGo to full article
Colombo (AFP) March 23, 2015 - Sri Lanka's new president heads to Beijing this week for talks with China's leadership, seeking to smooth ruffled feathers after scuttling Chinese-funded projects and seeking stronger ties with regional rival India.

Maithripala Sirisena swept to power in January, ending a decade of rule by Mahinda Rajapakse, whose close alliance with Beijing had irked the island's traditional close ally India.

Sirisena has moved to wind back Beijing's influence, which became the strategically located island's biggest foreign financier and enjoyed significant political and even military influence under Rajapakse.

Sirisena has unnerved China by suspending a $1.4 billion "port city" project in Colombo that India considered a security risk, and ordering a review of other Beijing-financed projects and loans amid allegations of corruption.

Experts say the president will be seeking a divorce of sorts from China during the three-day state visit starting Wednesday, while trying not to upset the economic giant.

Sirisena will hold talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping along with other members of the leadership, Colombo said.

"The former government allowed China a free run in Sri Lanka," Sri Lankan political commentator Victor Ivan told AFP. "President Sirisena wants to maintain a normal relationship that will not irritate India."

The visit is about "bringing balance in Sri Lanka's engagement with two Asian rivals", P. Sahadevan, professor of South Asian studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, told AFP.

- Shifting influence -

Sirisena made India -- rather than China -- his first foreign trip after winning the January elections, seeking to rebuild ties with Delhi damaged by tensions over Beijing's influence on the island.

Delhi was reportedly furious after Chinese submarines were allowed to dock at Colombo port last year when Rajapakse was still in power.

Beijing has been accused of seeking to develop facilities around the Indian Ocean in a "string of pearls" strategy to counter the rise of rival India and secure its own economic interests.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Sri Lanka and other Indian Ocean nations in March in a bid to counter that influence, and reassert Delhi's traditional role in the region.

Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who visited Beijing a month after Sirisena came to power, has said the new administration will not allow Chinese submarines in Colombo.

Colombo is also seeking to renegotiate huge loans given by China for projects at rates as high as 8 percent, Sri Lanka Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake told reporters recently.

China had emerged as Sri Lanka's biggest single financier, accounting for about 40 percent of some $2.03 billion in foreign money spent on infrastructure projects in 2013, according to the latest Central Bank of Sri Lanka report.

China was also one of the few countries to defend Sri Lanka's human rights record under Rajapakse, who angered Western nations for refusing to cooperate with an international probe into allegations of war crimes on the island.

In contrast, the new government has won support from the West for its attempts at reconciliation between ethnic minority Tamils and majority Sinhalese, as well as moves to ensure accountability for crimes committed during the separatist war.

With Western backing and support from Delhi, the government has secured more time to address allegations that troops under Rajapakse's command killed up to 40,000 Tamil civilians while defeating Tamil rebels in the finale of the war that ended in 2009.



Sri Lanka probes ex-envoy over alleged Ukraine arms deals

‎27 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎04:59:37 AMGo to full article
Colombo (AFP) March 22, 2015 - Sri Lanka is investigating its former ambassador to Russia following a media report that he helped arm pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine, the foreign minister said Sunday.

The Colombo-based Sunday Times said the Ukraine government has lodged a formal complaint with Colombo detailing former ambassador Udayanga Weeratunga's alleged arms dealings with the rebels.

"We will conduct a full investigation into this matter," Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told the newspaper.

Samaraweera confirmed his comments in a text message to AFP but did not give details. The government recalled Weeratunga soon after President Maithripala Sirisena came to power in January elections.

Weeratunga, a close relative of defeated former long-time president Mahinda Rajapakse, operated a restaurant in the Ukrainian capital Kiev before he was appointed Sri Lanka's ambassador to Moscow nine years ago, the paper added.

Weeratunga has not spoken about the allegations and could not be contacted on Sunday for comment.

The Sunday Times did not give details of Weeratunga's alleged involvement in weapons sales.

A shaky truce is in force in the conflict in Ukraine's rebel-held east which has claimed more than 6,000 lives in 11 months.

Kiev and the West accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of supporting the insurgency with troops, tanks and heavy weapons -- accusations he denies.

Ex-army chief becomes Sri Lanka's first field marshal
Colombo (AFP) March 22, 2015 - Sri Lanka's new government Sunday conferred the highest military rank of field marshal on retired army chief Sarath Fonseka, who had been jailed for alleged treason by the previous regime.

President Maithripala Sirisena awarded Fonseka the title at a state ceremony in the capital and said he was unjustly treated by the previous government.

Fonseka was thrown in jail after he unsuccessfully tried to challenge a re-election bid by the then-strongman president Mahinda Rajapakse in 2010.

Soon after he toppled Rajapaksein a January election, Sirisena used his executive powers to clear Fonseka of all the allegations, including treason and dabbling in politics while in uniform.

Ensuring justice for Fonseka was a "responsibility undertaken by the (new) government in our quest for justice for the whole of the army", Sirisena said.

Fonseka led troops to victory over the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009, but then fell out with Rajapakse over who deserved the credit.

The decorated general was publicly humiliated and stripped of his rank, pension and medals collected in a 40-year career. He spent two years in jail and lost the right to contest elections for seven years.

The United States considered Fonseka a political prisoner and campaigned for his unconditional release, which eventually came in May 2012.

The new president, who was backed by Fonseka in the run-up to the January 8 election, granted a pardon and completely exonerated him of previous convictions as well as pending charges of treason.

Soon after his 2010 poll defeat, Fonseka was detained on a charge of corruption relating to military procurements and then given a 30-month jail sentence.

In November 2011 he was sentenced to three more years in jail for saying that Tiger rebels who surrendered had been killed on the orders of Rajapakse's brother Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the then-defence secretary.

Fonseka had also angered the government by saying he would testify before any international tribunal probing possible war crimes charges.

Sri Lanka's former government had denied any civilians were killed by its troops at the climax of the 37-year war in 2009, which is believed to have left up to 100,000 people dead.






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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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South Sudan must sustain efforts to protect human rights, says UN official

Conflict in Darfur
Date 2003–2009 /2010


Location Darfur, Sudan
Sudan JEM factions
Bandera Darfur.svg SLM (Minnawi faction)
Sudan LJM
Allegedly supported by:
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
NRF/JEM: Unknown N/A 9,065
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  • 450,000 Displaced (Sudanese estimate)
unknown 51 peacekeepers killed

















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