China and US military hold joint disaster drill

Updated 30 November 2012
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China and US military hold joint disaster drill

CHENGDU, China: The Chinese and US militaries held joint disaster response exercises yesterday, as Beijing increases its global reach and Washington continues its “pivot” to the Pacific.
During the mock drills at a Chinese military base on the outskirts of Chengdu the two sides worked together on computer-generated disaster scenarios — in fictionalized countries.
“China and the US are separated by the Pacific Ocean. Our two militaries joining hands... answers to the aspirations of the two sides,” Tang Fen, of the People’s Liberation Army, told reporters after the two-day exercise finished.
“This plays a very important role in relations between our two nations and two militaries.”
US Major General Stephen Lyons said: “If there is a country out there, and inevitably there will be, that will have a natural disaster, and they call for international help, if US forces and Chinese forces respond, then indeed we’ll find ourselves working together in the field.”
Earlier this week visiting US navy secretary Ray Mabus welcomed China to participate in future US-led joint naval exercises, and reiterated an invitation made by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta when he visited in September.
“The Chinese side thanks the US side for the invite, and will give it positive consideration,” Geng Yansheng, spokesman for the Chinese defense ministry, said in remarks posted on its website yesterday.
Separately, Southeast Asia’s top diplomat warned yesterday of great anxiety over China’s plan to board and search ships that illegally enter what it considers its territory in the disputed South China Sea, saying it could spark naval clashes and undermine confidence in the region’s economy.
Seeking to ease alarm over the issue, China said it attached “great importance” to freedom of navigation in waters that have some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
New rules that take effect on Jan. 1 will allow police in the southern Chinese province of Hainan to board and seize control of foreign ships which “illegally enter” Chinese waters, the official newspaper said on Thursday.
Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the Chinese plan was a “very serious turn of events”.
“It certainly has increased a level of concern and a level of great anxiety among all parties, particularly parties that would need the access, the passage and the freedom to go through,” Surin told Reuters by telephone from Thailand.
Using unusually strong language, Surin said the plan could trigger a major incident that would affect confidence in East Asia, a key engine of global economic growth.
Several countries have overlapping sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas. It is the region’s biggest potential military flashpoint.
A summit of Asian nations this month was overshadowed by disagreements between China and the Philippines over the dispute. Tensions were fanned again by China’s move to issue new passports containing a map of its maritime claims.


Italy tells rescue ship to take migrants to the Netherlands

Updated 4 min 7 sec ago
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Italy tells rescue ship to take migrants to the Netherlands

ROME: Italy’s anti-immigrant interior minister accused a German charity on Thursday of ignoring coast guard orders when its Dutch-flagged ship picked up 226 migrants off Libya’s coast and he said they should be taken to the Netherlands not Italy.
Earlier this month Matteo Salvini pledged to no longer let charity ships offload rescued migrants in Italy, leaving the Gibraltar-flagged Aquarius stranded at sea for several days with more than 600 migrants until Spain offered them safe haven.
On Thursday, Mission Lifeline, a charity based in Dresden, Germany, pulled migrants off two rubber boats in international waters even though it was told by Italy that Libya’s coast guard was coming to get them, a spokesman for the charity said. They would not have been safe if taken back to Libya, he said.
Salvini, also leader of the anti-immigrant League party, addressed the charity in a Facebook video: “You have intentionally not listened to Italian or Libyan authorities. Good. Then take this load of human beings to the Netherlands.”
International maritime guidelines say that people rescued at sea should be taken to the nearest “place of safety.”
The United Nations and other humanitarian agencies do not deem Libya “a place of safety” because they say migrants there are subject to indefinite detention, physical abuse, forced labor and extortion.
A Lifeline statement indicated its vessel was heading northwards with the 226 migrants and called on “the competent authorities to swiftly react according to their obligation to designate a place of safety.”
“They have a Dutch flag, but they are not registered in the Netherlands, and therefore are not under Dutch state flag responsibility,” Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman Lennart Wegewijs said in response, without elaborating.
Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said he had asked the coast guard to investigate state flag issue.
Lifeline spokesman Axel Steier said the migrants aboard its boat included 14 women and four small children. “We didn’t want to wait for the Libyan coast guard because people were in danger,” Steier told Reuters.
Waiting for the Libyans would have constituted allowing “an illegal pushback” of refugees to a country where they are not safe, he added.
With its hard line on rescue boats, Italy’s new populist government has thrust migration back onto the European Union agenda. Italy has seen more than 640,000 land on its shores since 2014 and is currently sheltering 170,000 asylum seekers.
Germany is also seeking to restrict asylum-seekers’ movement in the bloc. An emergency “mini-summit” has been called for Brussels on Sunday to discuss immigration ahead of a full, 28-state EU summit on June 28-29.
Toninelli, who oversees Italy’s ports and coast guard, had called last weekend on the Netherlands to recall Lifeline and another Dutch-flagged ship, Seefuchs. On Thursday, Toninelli said Lifeline was acting “outside of international law.”
“The transport minister is lying,” Steier shot back. “We always act in line with international law. Always.”
Salvini has denounced the charity ships as “deputy traffickers,” suggesting they profit from the rescues.
Earlier this week a tribunal in Palermo shelved an inquiry into whether German charity Sea Watch and Spain’s Proactiva Open Arms were in contact with smugglers, saying no evidence was found.