Philippines boosts defense ties to counter China on sea disputes

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Updated 28 June 2013
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Philippines boosts defense ties to counter China on sea disputes

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is boosting military ties with the United States and Japan as it seeks to counter China’s increased presence in disputed waters in the fish and gas-rich South China Sea.
President Benigno Aquino’s government is crafting an agreement with the US giving its military access to Subic Bay, Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said at a briefing in Manila Thursday. Gazmin and Itsunori Onodera, his Japanese counterpart, also agreed at a meeting Thursday to boost defense cooperation, Japan’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
The deals come amid tensions in the waters, which are beset by competing territorial claims from countries including the Philippines, China, Taiwan and Vietnam. Countries have struggled to agree on rules for operating in the seas, raising the risk of confrontation as China’s military strength grows.
Vietnam and the Philippines have rejected China’s claims in the waters as a basis for joint development of oil and gas reserves. Speaking at a briefing Thursday, China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called on the Philippines to work with other countries in the region and play a positive role in regional stability.
“If and when there is an agreement on access, there will be equipment coming in from the US,” Gazmin said, without giving further detail. Military bases won’t be built in Subic, the former site of an American naval base, and the deal won’t violate the Philippine constitution, he said. Subic Bay is the site of a former US naval base in Zambales province north of Manila, which includes the Scarborough Shoal area disputed with China.
The Philippine Senate in 1991 rejected a treaty that would have extended the lease for US military bases in the provinces of Zambales and Pampanga during the administration of the late President Corazon Aquino. It later ratified a visiting forces agreement allowing the US to keep control of American soldiers facing criminal charges in the Philippines.
“Given how weak we are militarily, we have to depend on other countries,” Clarita Carlos, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, said by phone. “This telegraphs to China that they cannot continue with the provocations.”
The Philippines asked the United Nations in January to rule on its dispute with China, which moved to take control of the Scarborough Shoal a year after a standoff between Philippine and Chinese ships. The shoal is about three times closer to the Philippines than China, the Philippines said in an arbitration note.
Sea cooperation with the Philippines will include port calls by the latter and reciprocal visits by their navy chiefs, Japan’s defense ministry said.
Both agreed to cooperate on the “defense of remote islands” and “protection of maritime interests,” Onodera told reporters in Manila after meeting with Gazmin. Disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea should be resolved “based on the rule of law” and not by force, he said.
The ministers agreed on the importance of the US presence, Onodera said, adding the two nations will work to support the US’ strategic shift toward Asia.
“We have regular exercises with the Americans and we have not talked about specific equipment yet, but we do welcome the inclusion of new technology, very new to us, so this is part of our education,” Gazmin said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may go to countries including the Philippines and Malaysia after Japan’s upper house election which is scheduled on July 21, Kyodo News said, citing an unidentified government official. Abe aims to boost cooperation with countries that are also in territorial disputes with China, the news agency said on June 24.


Trump’s travel ban faces US Supreme Court showdown

Updated 22 April 2018
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Trump’s travel ban faces US Supreme Court showdown

  • The high court has never decided the legal merits of the travel ban.
  • The challengers have argued the policy was motivated by Trump’s enmity toward Muslims.

WASHINGTON: The first big showdown at the US Supreme Court over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies is set for Wednesday when the justices hear a challenge to the lawfulness of his travel ban targeting people from several Muslim-majority countries.
The case represents a test of the limits of presidential power. Trump’s policy, announced in September, blocks entry into the US of most people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Chad previously was on the list but Trump lifted those restrictions on April 10.
The high court has never decided the legal merits of the travel ban or any other major Trump immigration policy, including his move to rescind protections for young immigrants sometimes called Dreamers brought into the US illegally as children. It has previously acted on Trump requests to undo lower court orders blocking those two policies, siding with him on the travel ban and opposing him on the Dreamers. Trump’s immigration policies — also including actions taken against states and cities that protect illegal immigrants, intensified deportation efforts and limits on legal immigration — have been among his most contentious. 
The conservative-majority Supreme Court is due to hear arguments on Wednesday on the third version of a travel ban policy Trump first sought to implement a week after taking office in January 2017, and issue a ruling by the end of June. 
The lead challenger is the state of Hawaii, which argues the ban violates federal immigration law and the US Constitution’s prohibition on the government favoring one religion over another.
“Right now, the travel ban is keeping families apart. It is degrading our values by subjecting a specific set of people to be denigrated and marginalized,” Hawaii Lt. Governor Doug Chin said in an interview.
The Supreme Court on Dec. 4 signaled it may lean toward backing Trump when it granted the administration’s request to let the ban go into full effect while legal challenges played out.
In another immigration-related case, the justices on April 17 invalidated a provision in a US law requiring deportation of immigrants convicted of certain crimes of violence. Trump’s administration and the prior Obama administration had defended the provision.
'Politically correct'
Trump has said the travel ban is needed to protect the US from terrorism by militants. Just before the latest ban was announced, Trump wrote on Twitter that the restrictions “should be far larger, tougher and more specific — but stupidly that would not be politically correct!“
The challengers have argued the policy was motivated by Trump’s enmity toward Muslims, pressing that point in lower courts with some success by citing statements he made as a candidate and as president. As a candidate, Trump promised “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
The Justice Department argues Trump’s statements as a candidate carry no weight because he was not yet president. The policy’s challengers also point to views he has expressed as president, including his retweets in November of anti-Muslim videos posted by a far-right British political figure.
In a court filing last week, US Solicitor General Noel Francisco, representing Trump in court, said those retweets “do not address the meaning” of the travel ban policy.
Francisco cited Trump statements complimentary toward Muslims and Islam, including in a May 2017 speech in Saudi Arabia.
In defending the ban, the administration has pointed to a waiver provision allowing people from targeted countries to seek entry if they meet certain criteria. The State Department said that as of last month 375 waivers to the travel ban had been granted since the policy went into effect on Dec 8.