Russian warships under scrutiny after Philippines trip

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A Philippine Navy band plays as the Russian anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs prepares to dock during the ship's arrival at the international port in Manila on April 8, 2019. Admiral Tributs arrived in Manila along with the Vinogradov and sea tanker Irkut as part of a goodwill visit. (AFP / Ted Aljibe)
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Sailors stand on the deck of the Russian anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs during the ship's arrival at the international port in Manila on April 8, 2019. Admiral Tributs arrived in Manila along with the Vinogradov and sea tanker Irkut as part of a goodwill visit. (AFP / Ted Aljibe)
Updated 08 April 2019

Russian warships under scrutiny after Philippines trip

  • Second visit this year a bid to strengthen ties between Manila and Moscow, experts say
  • The Russian warships' visit coincides with the joint US-Philippine military exercises

MANILA: Three Russian Pacific Fleet warships docked in Manila on Monday for a five-day goodwill visit.

The arrival of the ships, the Admiral Vinogradov, the Admiral Tributs and the Irkut, coincides with the annual US-Philippines Balikatan military exercises, raising questions over the timing of the visit.

The Philippine Navy stressed there was no “political” motive behind the Russian Navy’s move, and that it was not connected to the exercises.

Capt. Sergey G. Alantiev, commander of the Russian detachment, said the visit was to foster naval cooperation with the Philippines, replenish supplies and give shore leave to the crew.

“When we planned this visit with our Philippine counterparts, we did not discuss Balikatan. In fact, I only found out it’s going on very recently,” Alantiev said.

“Since it (Balikatan) doesn’t prevent us from carrying out this visit, and it doesn’t create any inconvenience, we decided to continue.”

The Balikatan exercises began on April 1 and will run until April 12, the day the Russian detachment is due to leave Manila.

This is the second time the Russian Navy has visited the capital this year, and Alantiev noted that port calls by Russian and Philippine vessels to each other’s waters had been taking place on a regular basis for some time.

Last year, the Philippine warship BRP Tarlac made a historic visit to the Russian port of Vladivostok on the country’s Pacific coast.

“We strongly believe that the only way to cope with present-day threats and challenges is through partnership, and by combining efforts and resources,”Alantiev added.

For the Philippine government, hosting Russian Navy warships is an important component of continuing efforts to strengthen ties between the two countries.

“This will enhance and sustain peace, stability and maritime cooperation,” said Capt. Constancio Arturo Reyes Jr. “We are looking forward to strengthening this bilateral relationship.”

The Philippines is the oldest ally of the US in the Asia-Pacific region, but since President Rodrigo Duterte’s election, his administration has pursued an independent foreign policy, veering away from its longstanding US military and economic alliance and shifting towards Russia and China.

When asked whether the visit could be counterproductive to fostering peace as a result of Russia’s frosty relations with the US, Alantiev said: “We have outstanding relations and a good rapport with the US Navy, and all efforts aimed at peace and stability in the region, be they Russian or American, serve the same purpose.”

The Philippines’ defense spokesman, Arsenio Andolong, admitted that the timing of the Russian fleet’s arrival could be interpreted in a number of misleading ways.

“I really want to keep it clear that it’s just a friendly visit. With all due respect to the Americans, Balikatan is being held in our house and we can accept guests to come here. There’s nothing wrong with that,” he told Arab News.

“If they (the Russians) were here to attack the Americans, that’s a different story, but they are here on a diplomatic port call.”

Andolong also stressed that just because the Philippines was opening its doors to Russia and China did not mean that it was turning away from its “big brother” the US, nor that Russia and China were now priorities for Duterte.

“We are now more actively engaging Russia and China in accordance with the President’s ‘friend to all, enemy to no one’ policy. Our ties with the US are still there and our two countries’ alliance is still evident in how we deal with each other. The only change is that the communication has become more honest and straightforward — we say what we want to say and they say what they want to say.

“There are many possibilities if we pursue our current foreign policy, particularly with Russia. I think it’s good — it will allow us to take stock of how the global community is growing in terms of defense. By opening our doors, we are able to develop better understanding of our friends overseas.”

Meanwhile, in a post on Twitter, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said that the US would remain the Philippines’ sole military ally.

“The US (is) the only world power that is a bastion of democracy and human rights, (it) is and will remain our only military ally. We don’t need any other,” he tweeted on Sunday.

 

 

 


Hong Kong protesters sing ‘God Save the Queen’ in plea to former colonial power

Updated 59 min 42 sec ago

Hong Kong protesters sing ‘God Save the Queen’ in plea to former colonial power

  • The Chinese-ruled territory has been rocked by weeks of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests
  • Demonstrators angry about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing in their city’s affairs despite a promise of autonomy

HONG KONG: Hundreds of Hong Kong protesters singing “God Save the Queen” and waving Union Jack flags rallied outside the British Consulate on Sunday demanding that the former colonial power ensures China honors its commitments to the city’s freedoms.
The Chinese-ruled territory has been rocked by weeks of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests, with demonstrators angry about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing in their city’s affairs despite a promise of autonomy.
The Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed in 1984, lays out Hong Kong’s future after its return to China in 1997, a “one country, two systems” formula that ensures freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.
“Sino-British Joint Declaration is VOID,” one placard read. “SOS Hong Kong,” read another.
“One country, two systems is dead,” they shouted in English under the sub-tropical sun, some carrying the colonial flag also bearing the Union Jack. “Free Hong Kong.”
With many young people looking for routes out of Hong Kong, campaigners say Britain should change the status of the British National (Overseas) passport, a category created after Britain returned Hong Kong to China. The passports allow a holder to visit Britain for six months, but do not come with an automatic right to live or work there.
“I am here to demand the UK protect our citizens’ rights in Hong Kong and speak up for Hong Kong under the Joint Declaration,” Jacky Tsang, 25, told Reuters.
The spark for the protests was planned legislation, now withdrawn, that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial, despite Hong Kong having its own much-respected independent judiciary.
The protests have since broadened into calls for universal suffrage.
China says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” arrangement, denies meddling and says the city is an internal Chinese issue. It has accused foreign powers, particularly the United States and Britain, of fomenting the unrest and told them to mind their own business.
Britain says it has a legal responsibility to ensure China abides by the 1984 declaration.
“The Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty between the UK and China that remains as valid today as it was when it was signed and ratified over 30 years ago,” a British Foreign Office spokeswoman said in June.
“As a co-signatory, the UK government will continue to defend our position.”
But it was not immediately clear what Britain could or would want to do defend that position. It is pinning its hopes on closer trade and investment cooperation with China, which since 1997 has risen to become the world’s second-largest economy, after it leaves the European Union at the end of next month.
The Civil Human Rights Front has also called for a mass rally in Victoria Park, just to the east of the central business district, but police have denied permission because of earlier clashes after huge gatherings.
Protesters are expected to turn up early in the afternoon anyway.