China, Philippines argue over defense chief’s island visit

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Philippine troops march as a Philippine Air Force C-130 transport plane carrying Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Armed Forces Chief Gen. Eduardo Ano and other officials, sits on the tarmac at the Philippine-claimed Thitu Island off the disputed Spratlys chain of islands in the South China Sea on April 21, 2017 in western Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
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Students with their teacher walk past a flag near the airport during the visit of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to the Philippine-claimed island Thitu in The Spratlys on April 21, 2017. (AFP / TED ALJIBE)
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Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (3L) gestures as he and military chief Eduardo Ano (R) inspect the runway of the airport during a visit to Thitu island in The Spratlys on April 21, 2017. (AFP / TED ALJIBE)
Updated 22 April 2017

China, Philippines argue over defense chief’s island visit

MANILA, Philippines: China has protested the visit by Manila’s defense and military chiefs to a disputed island in the South China Sea, but the Philippine government maintained Saturday that it owns the territory where Filipino troops and villagers have lived for decades.

The public argument comes amid a thaw in once-frosty relations between the neighbors after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took office last June and moved to rekindle Manila’s friendship with Beijing, which has been strained by the long-seething territorial disputes.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and military chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Ano flew to the island, which Filipinos call Pag-asa, with dozens of journalists Friday to inspect an eroded airstrip. The Philippine government plans to reinforce and lengthen the airstrip and build a dock starting next month to accommodate ships with construction materials, Lorenzana said.

About 1.6 billion pesos ($32 million) has been earmarked for the construction, including a fish port, solar power, water desalination plant, improved housing for soldiers, and facilities for marine research and tourists.

WATCH: Asserting Philippine sovereignty in disputed Spratlys

Accompanied by military top brass, Lorenzana and Ano also met Filipino troops and villagers and took part in a flag-raising ceremony on Pag-asa, which is internationally known as Thitu and is called Zhongye Dao by China. It’s the second-largest island in the South China Sea’s hotly contested Spratlys archipelago.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang expressed China’s displeasure over the high-profile Philippine visits to the island, saying China was “gravely concerned about and dissatisfied” by the island visits and adding that China “has lodged representations with the Philippine side.”

“We hope that the Philippine side could cherish the hard-won sound momentum of development the bilateral relations are experiencing, faithfully follow the consensus reached between the two leaderships, maintain general peace and stability in the South China Sea,” he said.

The Philippine government replied by saying the island was part of an island municipality under its western province of Palawan, which faces the disputed waters.

“Our visits there are part of the government mandate to ensure the safety, well being, livelihood and personal security of our citizens there,” Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said in a statement in Manila.

During the trip to Pag-asa, Chinese forces tried to drive away two Philippine air force planes that carried Lorenzana, Ano and others as they flew near a Chinese man-made island called Subi, just 25 kilometers (15 miles) away.

Lorenzana said their aircraft continued uninterrupted without any incident after Filipino pilots messaged back to the Chinese that they were flying over Philippine territory. The Chinese warned the Philippine aircraft they were entering the periphery of Chinese installations and told to avoid miscalculation.

The Chinese navy has similarly warned US ships and aircraft to leave what Beijing claims as its territory, messages which the Americans also ignored.

China claims virtually the entire sea and has aggressively tried to fortify its foothold by transforming in recent years seven mostly submerged reefs into island outposts, including Subi. Three of the artificial islands were built with runways, along with buildings, towers, radars and more recently weapons systems, to the consternation of other Asian claimant governments and the United States, which insists on freedom of navigation in international waters.


US officials block police ‘extreme tactics’ as protests enter 12th day

Updated 1 min 40 sec ago

US officials block police ‘extreme tactics’ as protests enter 12th day

  • A federal judge in Denver ordered city police to stop using tear gas, plastic bullets and other ‘less-than-lethal’ devices
  • Two police officers in Buffalo, New York, were suspended without pay on Thursday
WASHINGTON: Officials across the United States are moving to rein in police following accusations of excessive force being used against demonstrators, with protests over the killing of a black man in custody set to enter their 12th day on Saturday.
George Floyd, 46, died on May 25 in Minneapolis after a police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee to the neck for nearly nine minutes.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has ordered that all flags at state facilities be lowered to half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Saturday in honor of Floyd, who was originally from the state’s Fayetteville city.
On Friday, marches and gatherings took place in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Miami, New York and Denver, among other places, while protesters massed again, in the rain, in front of the White House. The night-time protests were largely peaceful but tension remains high even as authorities in several places take steps to reform police procedures.
A federal judge in Denver ordered city police to stop using tear gas, plastic bullets and other “less-than-lethal” devices such as flash grenades, with his ruling citing examples of protesters and journalists being injured by police.
“These are peaceful demonstrators, journalists, and medics who have been targeted with extreme tactics meant to suppress riots, not to suppress demonstrations,” US District Judge R. Brooke Jackson wrote in the ruling.
In Minneapolis, Democratic city leaders voted to end the use of knee restraints and choke-holds, where pressure is applied to the neck, while California Governor Gavin Newsom said he would end state police training of carotid restraints similar to the technique used on Floyd.
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state should lead the way in passing “Say Their Name” reforms, including making police disciplinary records publicly available as well as banning choke-holds.
“Mr Floyd’s murder was the breaking point,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a statement. “People are saying enough is enough, we must change.”
Black Lives Matter activists have called for cities to defund police departments. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat who in April proposed increasing law enforcement funding, this week reversed course and said he would seek some $150 million in cuts to the Los Angeles Police Department.
In another sign of how attitudes have changed, National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league had made mistakes in not listening to players, in a video denouncing racism in the United States.
The NFL has been locked in a debate with players over kneeling protests during the playing of the national anthem.
Two police officers in Buffalo, New York, were suspended without pay on Thursday and placed under investigation after a video showed them shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground.
But the decision was met with pushback from the officers’ colleagues, with all 57 members of the police tactical unit quitting in protest at their treatment.
The demonstrations have erupted as the public and businesses struggle to recover from sweeping lockdowns imposed to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Disease experts have said the protests could spark new outbreaks.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has sparred with US President Donald Trump over his sometimes heavy-handed response to the rallies and marches in the nation’s capital, had the slogan “Black Lives Matter” painted in massive yellow letters on a street leading to the White House.
After nightfall, Bowser had light projections spelling out the words beamed onto nearby buildings, which she said on Twitter was a “night light” aimed at Trump.