Philippine President Duterte urges Beijing to ‘temper’ behavior in South China Sea

In a change of tone, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said in a speech late Tuesday to business entrepreneurs that China had no right to claim airspace above man-made islands. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2018
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Philippine President Duterte urges Beijing to ‘temper’ behavior in South China Sea

  • China has alarmed and angered its neighbors by claiming dominion over most of the South China Sea
  • ‘You cannot create an island. It’s man-made and you say that the air above this artificial island is yours’

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has urged China to “temper” its behavior in the South China Sea in a rare criticism of the Asian superpower over its program of island-building in disputed waters.
China has alarmed and angered its neighbors by claiming dominion over most of the South China Sea and building a string of artificial islands and military air bases.
But the outspoken Duterte — keen to court trade and investment from Beijing — has mostly withheld criticism.
In a change of tone, Duterte said in a speech late Tuesday to business entrepreneurs that China had no right to claim airspace above man-made islands.
Philippine officials have claimed military pilots are repeatedly warned off by Beijing as their planes approach Philippine-held Thitu island, which lies beside a Chinese air base built on top of Subi Reef.
“You cannot create an island. It’s man-made and you say that the air above this artificial island is yours,” Duterte said, according to a transcript released by the presidential palace Wednesday.
“That is wrong because those waters are what (one) would consider international sea. And the right of innocent passage is guaranteed,” said Duterte, who did not refer to any specific incident.
He added that he did not want to “quarrel” with China.
The comments follow allegations in May of Chinese harassment of Filipino troops at another South China Sea garrison.
Duterte’s national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon told reporters at the time that the Philippines could go to war “if our people are hurt there.”
There was no immediate response from the Chinese embassy in Manila.
In May China landed several combat aircraft — including the long-range, nuclear-capable H-6K — at another island airfield in the sea for the first time, triggering international concern.
Despite this, it has denied militarizing the area, through which roughly a third of all global maritime trade passes.
An international maritime tribunal ruled early in Duterte’s presidency in 2016 that China’s claims to the area have no legal basis.
The Philippines is a military ally of the US, which says it is not taking sides in the various South China Sea territorial disputes.
However, the US navy has forcefully asserted its right to freedom of navigation in the area, repeatedly sailing close to the man-made islands and drawing Chinese protests.
Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the sea.


Near Irish border, the Brexit drama is followed with alarm

Updated 2 min ago
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Near Irish border, the Brexit drama is followed with alarm

  • The border between the UK’s Northern Ireland the European Union’s Republic of Ireland is currently unpoliced and invisible thanks to an EU rule that allows people and goods to travel freely
  • The big fear in the region is that PM Theresa May’s Brexit plan, which aims to safeguard an open border, will fall apart and the UK will leave the EU with no deal on future relations

DUNDALK, Ireland: Families and business owners near the Irish border that separates the United Kingdom from the rest of the EU are watching in apprehension as political chaos in London threatens to torpedo a Brexit deal that aims to avoid a return of customs checks and possible sectarian violence to the region.
The border between the UK’s Northern Ireland the European Union’s Republic of Ireland is currently unpoliced and invisible thanks to an EU rule that allows people and goods to travel freely. The main difficulty in the Brexit talks has been how to not disturb that liberty, which has helped to ensure peace since 1998.
The big fear in this region is that Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan, which aims to safeguard an open border, will fall apart and the UK will leave the EU with no deal on future relations. Overnight, that could bring back customs checks and police watch-points.
“I’d be horrified — absolutely horrified — if there was some sort of border,” said Jim Deary, who lives in Dundalk in the Republic of Ireland and, at the age of 95, can recall the violence that plagued the region for decades.
Just across the invisible border, which is now physically represented by nothing more than a placid river, the sentiment is much the same.
“If this falls, Britain is facing, and Northern Ireland is facing, absolute chaos,” says Conor Patterson, the CEO of an agency that promotes economic growth in Northern Irish border regions of Newry and Mourne. “This is not a theoretical risk, these are real risks.”
In Northern Ireland, Catholic and Protestant communities remain divided decades after 30 years of conflict claimed around 3,700 lives. The peace agreement signed in 1998 provides people with the freedom to identify as Irish or British, or both. Having a border could rekindle identity politics and, potentially, violence.
May’s deal involves a common customs arrangement for the UK and the EU, eliminating the need for border checks, with some provisions that are specific to Northern Ireland. Pro-Brexiteers say that would leave the UK too close to the EU, taking its rules for years, and some are trying to get rid of May — as well as her deal, which is due to be voted on in Parliament.
Economically, this region has a lot to lose from a return of tariffs and customs checks.
In the days of hard borders, trade between the north and south was a fraction of what it is today. It took truck drivers hours to get cleared and across the other side.
On average, commercial vehicles cross the border 13,000 times each day. Some go back and forth several times in a single day. So do ships carrying goods to and from the UK and the Republic of Ireland. An estimated 30,000 people cross the border every day.
The dividing line stretches for 500 kilometers (312 miles) and is dotted with over 250 official road crossings, more than on Europe’s entire eastern flank.
For entrepreneurs who founded and grew their businesses here, taking advantage of the highway connecting Dublin to Belfast, the return of border checks is unthinkable.
Paddy Hughes has a company selling horse supplements and his factory is smack on the border, on the north side. If you walk out left from his gate you’re on the south side.
He has already felt an impact from Brexit, with sales down 35 percent as buyers in the UK, where the pound has fallen sharply since the 2016 Brexit vote, worry about the future.
“People are unsure how to spend their money, whether to spend their money, where their next money is coming from, how much their money is going to be worth, how much things are going to cost in the future, whether they will have a job,” he says.
Some vestiges of the old borders are visible outside Newry, where weeds grow tall around an abandoned customs clearance post where goods used to be checked. Graffiti now covers the metal gates of the inspection booths.
Looking back into the past, Deary recalls when as a child he would go swimming at a spot across the border and had to face border guards.
“It was difficult. Cars were searched and you were asked for identity,” he says. “Since the borders (are open) it is terrific.”