Philippines protests ‘swarming’ of Chinese boats near island

Above, an aerial view of a reef in the disputed Spratly islands in this April 21, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 01 April 2019
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Philippines protests ‘swarming’ of Chinese boats near island

  • Chinese vessels have been sighted more than 600 times near Thitu so far this year, military officials said

MANILA: The Philippines has protested the presence of more than 200 Chinese vessels that were sighted from January to March near a Philippine-occupied island in the disputed South China Sea, officials said Monday.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the Department of Foreign Affairs lodged the protest after the military monitored about 275 Chinese vessels near Thitu island, which is called Pag-asa by Filipinos, in the Spratlys, the most hotly contested region in the busy waterway.
A regional military spokesman, Capt. Jason Ramon, said the number of spotted Chinese boats was 217, about the same number in the last quarter. It was not immediately clear why Ramon and Panelo gave different numbers.
The Chinese vessels have been sighted more than 600 times near Thitu so far this year, military officials said.
Asked if the Chinese flotilla’s presence was a cause for worry, Panelo said, “Anything that concerns the security of the Philippines will always be a concern.”
Panelo did not say when the Philippines protested, but a Filipino diplomat told The Associated Press that the foreign affairs department in Manila sent a diplomatic note to the Chinese Embassy on Friday to express concern over the “swarming of Chinese boats” near Thitu. The diplomat asked not to be named because of a lack of authority to discuss the issue publicly.
China and the Philippines, along with Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei, have been disputing ownership of the strategic waters for decades.
Tensions flared in recent years, when China transformed seven disputed reefs into islands, three of which had military-grade runways, sparking protests and concerns from Western and Asian countries. The artificial islands were later reportedly installed with a missile defense system.
While China also claims ownership of Thitu, where Filipino forces and a fishing community can be found, it apparently started to deploy Chinese navy and coast guard ships and fishing boats in sizable numbers in the area in 2017 after Filipinos tried to erect shelters on one of three sandbars that naturally emerged in recent years between Thitu and a Chinese-occupied man-made island called Subi.
China protested the Philippine attempt to occupy the sandbar, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to order a halt to the planned construction, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said at the time.
Since then, the Chinese vessels have never left the vicinity of the barren sandbars, collectively called Sandy Cay, near Thitu. The nearest sandbar in Sandy Cay is about 2.5 nautical miles (4.6 kilometers) from Thitu island.
Duterte has taken a nonconfrontational approach to the territorial disputes between China and his country as he sought Chinese trade, investment and infrastructure funding. He has refused to immediately take up with China a ruling by a UN-linked tribunal that invalidated Beijing’s sprawling claims in the South China Sea, sparking criticism from nationalists and left-wing groups, which wanted him to demand immediate Chinese compliance with the landmark decision.
Last month, two former Philippine officials filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing Chinese President Xi Jinping of crimes against humanity over his government’s assertive actions in the South China Sea, which they say have deprived thousands of fishermen of their livelihood and destroyed the environment.
Duterte said he doubted the complaint would prosper and stressed his administration had no role in it.
Zhao dismissed the complaint as a baseless political attack that will go nowhere.
“We think it is a kind of political action viciously targeting the Chinese leadership,” Zhao told reporters Monday. “It’s a fabrication and also a misuse of the mandate of the ICC.”


Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

Updated 19 July 2019
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Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

  • Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds
  • Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was remanded in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for 13 days, a day after he was arrested in a case involving a multibillion-rupee liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract to Qatar.
Abbasi, who is also the vice president of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N) party, was presented before Judge Bashir Ahmed of an accountability court on Friday morning. The case has been adjourned until Aug. 1.
Speaking to journalists before his appearance at the court, Abbasi called his arrest “an attack on democracy.”
Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds in the import of LNG that the agency says caused a loss of about $2 billion to the national exchequer. He is also being investigated for allegedly granting a 15-year contract for an LNG terminal to a “favored” company. Abbasi rejects the allegations.
PML-N Sen. Mushahid Ullah Khan said Pakistan was facing “the worst energy crisis of its kind” when his party came to power after the 2013 general election, and the LNG deal was quickly finalized with Qatar to overcome it.
“The industry was shutting down with thousands of people getting unemployed, but this LNG supply helped us reverse the tide,” he told Arab News.
Khan said Pakistan’s LNG contract with Qatar was “the cheapest possible deal” the country could have gotten, and rubbished allegations of corruption and kickbacks.
“If there is something wrong in the contract, why is this government not reviewing it?” Khan asked.
Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar under a 15-year agreement at 13.37 percent of Brent crude price. It is a government-to-government agreement and the price can only be reviewed after 10 years of the contract.
“It is the worst example of political victimization by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government,” PML-N Chairman Raja Zafrul Haq said on Friday after the accountability court remanded Abbasi in NAB custody. “Shahid Khaqan served the nation with dignity and did not commit any wrongdoings,” Haq added.
Abbasi was arrested on his way to Lahore to address a news conference along with PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday.
He served as federal minister for petroleum in the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he finalized an LNG import deal with Qatar. Abbasi then served for less than a year as prime minister following the resignation of Sharif in 2017.
On Thursday, Pakistan opened technical bids of four international companies for the supply of 400 million cubic feet per day of LNG for a period of 10 years to fulfil the country’s rising energy requirements.
Officials told Arab News that a Qatari delegation, led by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in June, resented that Islamabad had ignored its lowest offer of 11.05 percent of Brent for the fresh deal, and instead floated tenders seeking provision of LNG for 10 years from international companies.
The secretary of Pakistan’s Ministry of Energy said: “Yes, this is true. Qatar expressed its annoyance, but we are following our rules. Qatar has not submitted its bid to participate in the process.”
Khan won power last year vowing to root out corruption among what he describes as a venal political elite, and views the probes into veteran politicians — including Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari — as long overdue.
The NAB’s campaign has become a topic of fierce political debate in Pakistan, and its focus on the new government’s political foes has prompted accusations of a one-sided purge. The government denies targeting political opponents.
Commenting on Abbasi’s case, former NAB prosecutor Munir Sadiq said the anti-corruption watchdog would file a reference against Abbasi in an accountability court for prosecution, but only if it found irrefutable evidence against him.
“This case is now at the evidence-collection stage, and the NAB will file a reference in the court if it finds irrefutable corruption evidence against Abbasi during the investigation,” Sadiq said.
He added that any inquiry against Abbasi would be shelved after 90 days if corroborating evidence of corruption was not found.
“If a weak case will be filed against the accused, then he will surely receive support from the court,” Sadiq said.