Beijing blasts US over S. China Sea issue

Updated 11 April 2015
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Beijing blasts US over S. China Sea issue

BEIJING: Beijing hit back Friday at US President Barack Obama’s criticism of Chinese construction in the disputed South China Sea, arguing that it is Washington that has greater military “muscle.”
It said it only seeks peace in the region, rejecting Obama’s comments that Beijing is using its muscle to intimidate neighbors in a region where US officials say China also is aggressively creating artificial land to bolster its position.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s retort came a day after Obama warned that Beijing was “using its sheer size and muscle to force countries into subordinate positions,” amid reports of controversial Chinese land reclamation efforts.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that China advocated talks to resolve tensions between rival claimants to the strategic waters and island groups that sit astride some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, rich fishing grounds and potentially huge mineral reserves.
“I think you will agree with me that China has been a robust force for the preservation and promotion of peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Hua said.
Obama said Thursday that the US is concerned that China is not abiding by international norms and is using its “sheer size and muscle” to bully smaller claimants such as the Philippines and Vietnam.
“We think this can be solved diplomatically, but just because the Philippines or Vietnam are not as large as China doesn’t mean that they can just be elbowed aside,” Obama told reporters while on a visit to Jamaica. Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also claim all or parts of the South China Sea.
In an apparent reference to the US, Hua said: “I think everybody can clearly see who has the biggest size and muscle in the world.” She added that, “We hope the US can ... genuinely play a positive, constructive and responsible role in promoting peace and stability in the South China Sea and the region.”
The US has increasingly expressed concern about continuing Chinese construction that artificially adds land to the reefs and islands it controls in the region, projects documented by aerial photos and eyewitness accounts. US military officials have said they could be aimed at hosting military facilities as part of an “aggressive” effort to exert sovereignty there.
Hua said Thursday that such work was mainly for peaceful civilian purposes such as aiding fishermen, but also served to “meet necessary demands” for defense. She also reiterated China’s stance that its sovereignty over the area gives it the right to carry out whatever work it deems worthy, but that such activities are not directed at any third parties.
China says it wants a code of conduct between the parties to avoid conflicts in the South China Sea, but says the US and other countries without direct claims in the region should stay on the sidelines.
While the US says it takes no position on sovereignty issues, its mutual-defense treaty with the Philippines could draw it into a confrontation with China in the event of a military crisis.
“The US leader talked about China’s ‘sheer size and muscle,’ but one can also see clearly who has the biggest size and muscle in the world,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing.
She called on Washington to “genuinely make efforts to safeguard peace and stability” in the region.
Beijing asserts sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, including areas near the coasts of other states, using a line that first appeared on Chinese maps in the 1940s.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all have overlapping claims.
Newly-released satellite images on the website of the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank show a flotilla of Chinese vessels dredging sand onto a feature known as Mischief Reef.
Before-and-after images of other outcrops in the Spratly Islands show aircraft runways appearing from jungle, smooth-sided solid masses where there once was coral and man-made harbors replacing natural reefs.
Analysts say the pictures show how China is attempting to create “facts in the water” to bolster its territorial claim.
Manila, among the most vocal critics of Beijing’s actions in the region, on Friday appealed to the international community to intervene conceding it and other countries were powerless to stop China’s construction of the artificial islands.
“We are asking the international community to tell China that what it is doing is wrong, and to ask China to stop this reclamation work,” Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose told AFP.


Unspeakable grief: A husband, wife and three children wiped out in Sri Lanka

Updated 16 min 59 sec ago
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Unspeakable grief: A husband, wife and three children wiped out in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO: The dark wooden coffins, sitting side by side, attested to one family’s unspeakable grief.
The Gomez family gathered Tuesday to say a final farewell to five loved ones — a son, a daughter-in-law and three young grandsons — brutally killed as they attended Easter Sunday Mass at Colombo’s St. Joseph’s Shrine.
“All family, all generation, is lost,” said Joseph Gomez, the family patriarch, as tears welled in his eyes. Dozens of family members and neighbors were gathered in his simple home, where the sound of hymns sung by mourners gently wafted in the background and candles flickered beside three coffins. The bodies of two grandsons have yet to be recovered.
Across Sri Lanka, Tuesday was a national day of mourning as families began to lay to rest the more than 320 victims of the bomb blasts that struck a half-dozen churches and hotels in the island nation.
For the Gomez family, the loss was unfathomable: A 33-year-old son, Berlington Joseph, the young man’s 31-year-old wife Chandrika Arumugam, and their three boys, 9-year-old Bevon, 6-year-old Clavon and baby Avon, who would have turned 1 next week. A funeral card with a photo of the family clutched in his hands, the elder Gomez wailed: “I can’t bear this on me, I can’t bear this.”
“My eldest son, my eldest son,” he sobbed as he laid bouquets of red roses and brightly colored daisies on the largest coffin. Next to it was a tiny coffin, a photo of little Avon tucked into a wooden frame nearby.
The coffins, draped with long white tassels, were then carried to a Colombo cemetery and lowered into side-by-side graves.
At St. Joseph’s Shrine, dozens of mourners gathered outside, lighting candles and praying in unison for the victims of Sunday’s blasts as heavily armed soldiers stood guard.
At St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, a funeral service was held Tuesday for victims killed there as they worshipped, led by Cardinal Malcom Ranjith. The church was heavily guarded by hundreds of army, air force and police troops, and soldiers were deployed every 15 feet along the streets of the city some 20 miles north of Colombo.
Throughout the country, people observed a three-minute silence for the victims of the near-simultaneous attacks at three churches and three luxury hotels, and three other related blasts, the deadliest violence to strike Sri Lanka in a decade.
The Sri Lankan government has blamed the attack on National Towheed Jamaar, a little-known local extremist group, and on Tuesday, the Daesh group also claimed responsibility, though it provided no proof it was involved and has made unsubstantiated claims in the past.