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.


Thunberg condemns climate inaction as Trump joins Davos

Updated 21 January 2020

Thunberg condemns climate inaction as Trump joins Davos

  • Business leaders are likely to be concerned by the state of the global economy
  • The IMF cut its global growth estimate for 2020 to 3.3 percent

DAVOS: Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg on Tuesday slammed the business elite for doing “basically nothing” on climate change, as the Davos forum braced for an address from US President Donald Trump hours before his impeachment trial begins.

The 50th meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the Swiss Alps resort got under way seeking to thrash out dangers to both the environment and economy from the heating of the planet.

Trump, who has repeatedly expressed skepticism about climate change, is set to give the first keynote address of Davos 2020, on the same day as his impeachment trial opens at the Senate in Washington.

Before his appearance, Thunberg underlined the message that has inspired millions around the world, saying “basically nothing has been done” to fight climate change.

“It will require much more than this. This is just the very beginning,” the 17-year-old said.

Speaking calmly and with a wry smile, Thunberg acknowledged that her campaign which began with school strikes had attracted huge attention without yet achieving concrete change.

“There is a difference between being heard to actually leading to something,” she said.

“I am not the person who should complain about not being heard,” she said to appreciative laughter.

“I am being heard all the time. But the science and the voice of the young people are not at the center of the conversation.”

While the WEF and individual business leaders have been detailing their own concerns about climate change, Greenpeace complained in a new report that some of the world’s biggest banks, insurers and pension funds have collectively invested $1.4 trillion in fossil fuel companies since the Paris climate deal in 2016.

“Pretty much nothing has been done as global Co2 emissions have not been reduced. And that is of course what we are trying to achieve,” said Thunberg.

There are no expectations that Trump and Thunberg, who have exchanged barbs through Twitter, will actually meet, but the crowded venue and intense schedule mean a chance encounter cannot be ruled out.

When Trump and his entourage walked through UN headquarters last year at the annual General Assembly, a photo of the teenager staring in apparent fury at the president from the sidelines went viral.

Tweeting before arriving in Davos aboard his Marine One helicopter, Trump appeared in bullish mood, writing he would “bring Good Policy and additional Hundreds of Billions of Dollars back to the United States of America!”

Although Trump’s Republican party holds a majority in the Senate and is almost sure to acquit him on charges of abusing his power and obstructing Congress, the impeachment adds volatility to an already tense 2020 presidential election.

Sustainability is the buzzword at the Davos forum, which began in 1971, with heel crampons handed out to participants to encourage them to walk on the icy streets rather than use cars, and the signage paint made out of seaweed.

Trump’s opposition to renewable energy, his withdrawal from the Paris accord negotiated under his predecessor Barack Obama, and the free hand extended to the fossil fuel industry puts him at odds with this year’s thrust of the event.

“People are playing a lot more attention to” climate, Eurasia Group president Ian Bremner told AFP at Davos, adding there was “genuine action by some big players,” after investment titan BlackRock said it was partially divesting out of coal.

“But let’s be clear — a big part of this is because we failed for a very long time and governments continue to fail,” he added.

Business leaders are likely also to be concerned by the state of the global economy whose prospects, according to the International Monetary Fund, have improved but remain brittle.

The IMF cut its global growth estimate for 2020 to 3.3 percent, saying that a recent truce in the trade war between China and the US had brought some stability but that risks remained.

“We are already seeing some tentative signs of stabilization but we have not reached a turning point yet,” said IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva.

Activists meanwhile will be pressing for much more concrete action to fight inequality, after Oxfam issued a report outlining how the number of billionaires has doubled in the past decade and the world’s 22 richest men now have more wealth than all the women in Africa.