Philippines verifying photos of China military aircraft on disputed reef

Construction is shown on Mischief Reef, in the Spratly Islands, in this June 19, 2017 satellite image released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). (Reuters file photo)
Updated 19 April 2018
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Philippines verifying photos of China military aircraft on disputed reef

  • China claims almost the entire South China Sea, host to islands claimed separately by Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam
  • China and Southeast Asian countries started negotiations in Vietnam last month on a code of conduct in the South China Sea

MANILA: The Philippines may lodge a protest with China against the reported presence of two military aircraft on a Chinese-built island in the South China Sea, the top Philippine diplomat said, amid concern that China is militarizing the waterway.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer published pictures on Wednesday that it said showed two military transport aircraft on the tarmac of Mischief Reef, which the Philippines claims.
The reef is the closest of the artificial islands that China has developed to the Philippines, and within its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
The newspaper said the photos were taken in January this year. Reuters could not verify the authenticity or date of the pictures.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told reporters the defense and military establishments had been asked to confirm the presence of the aircraft, after which the Philippines could ask China to explain it.
“Filing a protest is one of the diplomatic actions being considered, pending a confirmation from the defense department,” Cayetano said, adding the Philippines has proposed claimants reverse defense enhancements in the Spratly islands.
“Many claimants are putting embankments, radar, and other defensive mechanisms, the challenge now is how to stop it and roll it back,” he added.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a strategic waterway where about $3 trillion worth of sea-borne goods pass every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have conflicting claims in the sea.
The Inquirer showed what it said were surveillance photos obtained from an unnamed source, showing what appeared to be two Xian Y-7 transport planes.
The military declined to comment and China’s embassy in Manila did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
China’s Defense Ministry also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cayetano said claimants were talking to each other as well as “non-regional players” to resolve disputes and avoid a regional arms race.
China and Southeast Asian countries started negotiations in Vietnam last month on a code of conduct in the South China Sea, starting with “less sensitive and less controversial” issues, he said.
Cayetano said they had identified common issues before discussing contentious provisions, such as whether the code would be legally binding and include sanctions against offenders.
He said there was no time frame for conclusion and adoption of the code.
The drafting of the code has been met with widespread skepticism, with some experts convinced China’s uncharacteristic support for it is aimed at placating Southeast Asian states while buying time to completes its military installations in the sea. 


UK prime minister in last-minute push to win Brexit support

A European flag and a British Union flag hang outside Europe House, the European Parliament's British offices in London, Monday, March 18, 2019. (AP)
Updated 18 March 2019
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UK prime minister in last-minute push to win Brexit support

  • May aims to try a third time this week if she can persuade enough lawmakers to change their minds
  • May’s spokesman, James Slack, said Monday that the government would only hold a vote if there is “a realistic prospect of success”

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May was making a last-minute push Monday to win support for her European Union divorce deal, warning opponents that failure to approve it would mean a long — and possibly indefinite — delay to Brexit.
Parliament has rejected the agreement twice, but May aims to try a third time this week if she can persuade enough lawmakers to change their minds. Her aim is to have the deal agreed before EU leaders meet Thursday for a summit in Brussels.
But there was no sign of a breakthrough, and the government faces a deadline of the end of Tuesday to decide whether they have enough votes to pass the deal, so that a vote can be held on Wednesday.
May’s spokesman, James Slack, said Monday that the government would only hold a vote if there is “a realistic prospect of success.”
May is likely to ask for a delay to Brexit at the Brussels summit. If a deal is approved, she says she will ask the EU to extend the deadline until June 30 so that Parliament has time to approve the necessary legislation. If it isn’t, she will have to seek a longer extension that would mean Britain participating in May 23-26 elections for the European Parliament — something the government is keen to avoid.
May’s goal is to win over Northern Ireland’s small, power-brokering Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP’s 10 lawmakers prop up May’s Conservative government, and their support could influence pro-Brexit Conservatives to drop their opposition to the deal.
Still, May faces a struggle to reverse the huge margins of defeat for the agreement in Parliament. It was rejected by 230 votes in January and by 149 votes last week.
Influential Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said he would wait to see what the DUP decided before making up his mind on whether to support May’s deal.
“No deal is better than a bad deal, but a bad deal is better than remaining in the European Union,” he told LBC radio.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Monday he saw “cautious signs of encouragement” that the deal might make it through Parliament this week.
After months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted last week to seek to postpone Brexit. That will likely avert a chaotic British withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29 — although the power to approve or reject a Brexit extension lies with the EU, whose leaders are fed up with British prevarication.
EU leaders say they will only grant it if Britain has a solid plan for what to do with the extra time.
“We have to know what the British want: How long, what is the reason supposed to be, how it should go, what is actually the aim of the extension?” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters in Brussels. “The longer it is delayed, the more difficult it will certainly be.”
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders agreed, saying: “We are not against an extension in Belgium, but the problem is — to do what?“
Opposition to May’s deal centers on a measure designed to ensure there is no hard border between the UK’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Brexit.
The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU until a permanent new trading relationship is in place. Brexit supporters in Britain fear the backstop could be used to bind the country to EU regulations indefinitely, and the DUP fears it could lead to a weakening of the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK
Talks between the government and the DUP are aimed at reassuring the party that Britain could not be trapped in the backstop indefinitely.
May said in an article for the Sunday Telegraph that failure to approve the deal meant “we will not leave the EU for many months, if ever.”
“The idea of the British people going to the polls to elect MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) three years after voting to leave the EU hardly bears thinking about,” she wrote.
But May suffered a setback Monday when former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson refused to support her deal.
Johnson, a staunch Brexiteer, used his column in the Daily Telegraph to argue that the backstop left the UK vulnerable to “an indefinite means of blackmail” by Brussels.