Japan, China talks end with friendship vows but no breakthrough

Japanese Foreign Ministe r Taro Kono talks to Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi during their meeting at the Zhongnanhai Leadership Compound in Beijing, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 28 January 2018
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Japan, China talks end with friendship vows but no breakthrough

BEIJING: Japan’s foreign minister met China’s top leadership Sunday for rare diplomatic talks that ended with mutual vows to improve their chilly ties but little in the way of concrete proposals.
The world’s second and third largest economies have a fraught relationship, held back by longstanding disputes over maritime claims and Japan’s wartime legacy.
Taro Kono’s visit to China was the first by a Japanese foreign minister in nearly two years and comes as Tokyo pushes for a visit from Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Japan’s top envoy met with his counterpart Wang Yi, top diplomat Yang Jiechi and Premier Li Keqiang.
But on a range of issues — from developing a military hotline, to easing tensions around disputed islands in the East China Sea and to a state visit — Kono came away with little more than vague promises.
In statements and remarks after the talks both Japan and China said they would move toward setting up a military hotline to avoid clashes in the East China Sea and would aim to hold trilateral talks with South Korea.
Japan and South Korea, rattled by North Korea’s repeated missile tests, are keen to enlist support from Beijing in halting Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
“The North Korea issue is now an urgent issue for the whole of international society,” Kono said ahead of talks as he praised progress made in the relationship between the two neighbors.
A statement from China’s foreign ministry listed a handful of modest accomplishments from the talks, including an agreement to avoid double pension payments for those working in each other’s countries.
Both sides also pledged to sign an agreement “as soon as possible” to establish a military hotline to help prevent incidents in the East China Sea.
Frequent maritime patrols by both countries around disputed islets have long been a potential flashpoint and a major impediment to improved relations.
But Japanese foreign ministry spokesman Norio Maruyama conceded that the two countries had yet to agree on a timeline for implementing the concept, which has been under discussion for years.
A trilateral summit between the two countries and South Korea was scheduled for last December, but was postponed after the impeachment of the then-South Korean president Park Geun-Hye.
Maruyama said there was still no clear timeline for when the talks might take place.
“It’s not so easy,” he told reporters. “When we have to manage a very busy schedule among the three leaders... it’s extremely complicated.”
Tokyo has been wooing China with official visits and business delegations, but an exchange of state visits has remained a hard sell.
Maruyama said much would depend on the success of the summit with South Korea, which Japan hopes to host.
If it comes together, Li would lead the Chinese delegation, setting up the possibility of an Abe visit to China and then, eventually, a visit by Xi to Japan, he said.
In his meeting with Kono, Li noted the positive trend in Sino-Japanese ties, but emphasized the “relations are still confronted with uncertainties,” according to China’s official Xinhua news service.
Earlier in the day, Wang told Kono the two countries were at a “crucial stage” in their relationship, adding “there is positive progress, but many disturbances and obstacles remain.”
A longstanding dispute over islands in the East China Sea — known as the “Senkakus” in Japanese and the “Diaoyu” by the Chinese — remains a source of tension.
Tokyo’s decision to “nationalize” some of the islets in 2012 led to a major falling out and the relationship has been slow to recover.
Chinese coast guard vessels routinely travel around the disputed islands, a practice that has brought regular objections from Japan, which controls the region.


Guantanamo prison takes on geriatric airs

Updated 20 October 2018
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Guantanamo prison takes on geriatric airs

  • The population still imprisoned at the military base in Cuba range from middle-aged to elderly
  • With a budget of $12 million, a prison annex has been transformed into a public hospital, complete with modern equipment

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba: The controversial Guantanamo Bay prison still houses 40 aging inmates — and with no plans to close it, many of them will probably remain there until they die.
The population still imprisoned at the military base in Cuba range from middle-aged to elderly — the oldest inmate is 71 — so the prison with a history of torture has taken on some airs of a geriatric facility.
The US Army — directed to ensure Guantanamo can stay open at least another 25 years — has revamped parts of the institution home to terror suspects to include a dedicated medical center and operating rooms.
“There has been a lot of thought put into what preparing for an aging detainee population looks like and what infrastructure we need to have in place to do that safely and humanely,” said Anne Leanos, the public affairs director for Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
With a budget of $12 million, a prison annex has been transformed into a public hospital, complete with a radiology room equipped with an MRI scanner, as well as an emergency room and three-bed intensive care unit.
During a journalist visit to the new clinic, a walker sits in the corner of a room, which has a hospital bed, wheelchair and medical equipment akin to any other infirmary.
But there is no window, and wire mesh serves as a partition, recalling that this is still very much a detention center.
Congress will not allow sick prisoners to travel to the United States for treatment: Guantanamo inmates are considered highly dangerous by the government, which accuses them of participating in various attacks including those of September 11.
No prisoner needs a wheelchair yet — but if the need arises, the clinic is prepared with ramps.
Patients suffer from ailments common for their age: diabetes, hypertension, gastrointestinal diseases and motor disorders.
The second-floor psychiatric ward is equipped with two cells converted into consultation rooms.
A third, completely empty cell is padded and serves as the isolation room for prisoners experiencing psychotic episodes.
Like any staff deployed to Guantanamo, prison psychiatrists usually stay just nine to 12 months on site, limiting the scope of their interaction with prisoners.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visits Guantanamo about four times a year to make sure the prison is complying with detention standards and to assess detainees’ treatment.
Since the infamous detention center opened in 2002, nine inmates have died: seven committed suicide, according to the military, while one died of cancer and another had a heart attack.
The largest contingent — 26 inmates — at the military complex have never been charged with anything, but are considered too dangerous to be released.
One “highly compliant” inmate was on a “non-religious fast,” at the moment of the visit — a euphemism used at the prison to describe hunger strikes prisoners regularly observe in protest.
Acts of rebellion are fairly common — and base commander Admiral John Ring said one inmate was currently under disciplinary action.
“These are the ones that could not be released,” said Ring. “Many of these gentlemen are still at war with the United States.
“Any act of resistance, no matter how small — they are still fighting the war through these minor acts of resistance.”