Philippines tells China to ‘back off’ after South China Sea standoff

Philippines tells China to ‘back off’ after South China Sea standoff
The BRP Sierra Madre, a marooned transport ship which Philippine Marines live on as a military outpost. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 18 November 2021

Philippines tells China to ‘back off’ after South China Sea standoff

Philippines tells China to ‘back off’ after South China Sea standoff
  • Philippines condemns actions of Chinese coast guard vessels that blocked and used water cannon on resupply boats

MANILA: The Philippines on Thursday condemned “in strongest terms” the actions of three Chinese coast guard vessels that it said blocked and used water cannon on resupply boats headed toward a Philippine-occupied atoll in the South China Sea.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said no one was hurt during Tuesday’s incident at the Second Thomas Shoal but the Philippines boats, which were transporting food to military personnel based there, had to abort their mission.
“China has no law enforcement rights in and around these areas. They must take heed and back off,” Locsin said in a statement, reminding China that a public vessel is covered by a Philippines-United States Mutual Defense Treaty.
Locsin said he had conveyed “in the strongest terms” to China’s ambassador in Manila “our outrage, condemnation and protest of the incident.”
China’s embassy did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
The Second Thomas Shoal, 105 nautical miles (195 km) off Palawan, is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and a small contingent of military have occupied it since 1999 having intentionally grounded a navy ship on the reef.
China regards the shoal as its territory as it falls within the “nine-dash line” that it uses on maps denoting its claim to almost the entire South China Sea. A 2016 international arbitration ruling, however, said the Chinese line had no legal basis.
Locsin said China’s failure to exercise self-restraint “threatens the special relationship” between the two countries.
The office of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been a staunch supporter of China, said it was aware of the incident at the shoal.
“We will continue to assert our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction,” acting spokesperson Karlo Nograles said.
Before the incident, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said authorities had noticed an unusual presence of Chinese maritime militia near the atoll and Philippine-occupied Thitu island. China has denied operating a militia.
There were 19 vessels near Second Thomas Shoal last week, and 45 near Thitu Island, Esperon told reporters, describing those as “very aggressive.”


Solomon Islands PM says riots ‘orchestrated’ to remove him

Solomon Islands PM says riots ‘orchestrated’ to remove him
Updated 41 min 47 sec ago

Solomon Islands PM says riots ‘orchestrated’ to remove him

Solomon Islands PM says riots ‘orchestrated’ to remove him
  • The prime minister said violence that swept the capital had been orchestrated by a few people to topple him

SYDNEY: The prime minister of the Solomon Islands defied pressure to resign Sunday, saying violent rioting that swept the capital had been orchestrated by a few people with “evil intention” to topple him.
“It is very clear that the recent events were well planned and orchestrated to remove me as the prime minister for unsubstantiated reasons,” Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said in an address broadcast to the Pacific island nation.
“I want to show the nation that the government is fully intent and nothing will move us. We must and will never bow down to the evil intention of a few people,” Sogavare said.
Many residents of the Pacific island nation of 800,000 people believe their government is corrupt and beholden to Beijing and other foreign interests.
Protesters have channelled their anger directly at Sogavare and his government, with mobs attempting to torch parliament and the prime minister’s private residence as police fired tear gas and warning shots.
Sogavare has previously blamed the three days of violence — during which rioters incinerated swathes of the capital before the unrest died down at the weekend — on an unscrupulous few leading others astray with false information.
“We must and will never bow down to the evil intention of a few people. We must stand up to intimidation, bullying and violence. We owe this to our children and the majority of our people who cannot defend themselves,” the Solomon Islands leader said.
He said the violence, centered on the capital’s Chinatown, had caused 200 million Solomon Islander dollars ($25 million) in damage and destroyed 1,000 jobs in an economy already squeezed by the impact of the pandemic.
Sogavare said the government was working on a recovery package to help damaged businesses recover.
The prime minister repeated a promise to hold the unidentified “instigators” responsible.
“Rest assured that they will face the full brunt of the law and arrests are already being made as investigations continue, with more arrests to follow,” he said.


Iranian, Chinese and Russian diplomats meet ahead of nuclear talks

Iranian, Chinese and Russian diplomats meet ahead of nuclear talks
Updated 28 November 2021

Iranian, Chinese and Russian diplomats meet ahead of nuclear talks

Iranian, Chinese and Russian diplomats meet ahead of nuclear talks
  • Bilateral and trilateral meetings were held in Vienna ahead of a resumption in nuclear talks to revive a 2015 agreement between Iran and major powers

DUBAI: Iran’s negotiating team, led by Ali Bagheri Kani, held bilateral and trilateral meetings in Vienna on Sunday, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported, ahead of a resumption in nuclear talks to revive a 2015 agreement between Iran and major powers.
“The Iranian team arrived on Saturday in Vienna and started meetings which continued on Sunday at an expert level with the heads of the Russian and Chinese negotiating teams, as well as the EU Coordinator Enrique Mora,” Iranian diplomat Mohammadreza Ghaebi told ISNA.


Australia confirms two cases of COVID-19 Omicron variant

Australia confirms two cases of COVID-19 Omicron variant
Updated 52 min 10 sec ago

Australia confirms two cases of COVID-19 Omicron variant

Australia confirms two cases of COVID-19 Omicron variant
  • Both passengers came from southern Africa and arrived in Australia
  • Another 12 passengers from southern Africa in the same flight did not test positive for COVID-19 but have been placed in quarantine

SYDNEY: Australia confirmed on Sunday that two people arriving from southern Africa over the weekend had tested positive for the Omicron coronavirus variant, adding to a growing number of countries fighting the highly infectious strain.
Health officials in New South Wales, the most populous state, said both passengers had arrived in the state capital, Sydney, on Saturday evening and tested positive for COVID-19 late that night, before genome sequencing confirmed the Omicron variant on Sunday.
Australia joins Britain, Germany and Italy in detecting Omicron cases over the weekend as more nations imposed restrictions on travel from southern Africa.
Both people were asymptomatic, fully vaccinated and in quarantine, said NSW Health. Another 12 passengers from southern Africa were also in 14 days of hotel quarantine, while around 260 other passengers and aircrew have been directed to isolate.
“Close contacts will be contacted regularly, and compliance checks will be undertaken,” the health department said in a statement.
Australia imposed new restrictions https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/australia-declare-new-travel-curbs-due-new-virus-strain-media-2021-11-27 on Saturday on people who have been to nine southern African countries, as the highly infectious variant raises concerns about another wave of the pandemic.
The countries are South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique.
New Zealand announced fresh measures from Sunday evening.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said late on Saturday that only New Zealand citizens will be allowed to travel into the country from the nine southern African nations.
Citizens would be required to stay in managed isolation for a full 14 days, as well as undergo testing, he said in a statement.
Australia early this month eased its international border restrictions for the first time during the pandemic, allowing fully vaccinated residents to return to the country without quarantine after higher vaccination levels.
Australia had largely stamped out infections for most of this year until an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant in late June spread rapidly across its east. About 205,000 cases and 1,985 deaths have been recorded so far, lower than many other countries in the developed world.


Pakistan says militants kill 2 soldiers near Afghan border

Pakistan says militants kill 2 soldiers near Afghan border
Updated 28 November 2021

Pakistan says militants kill 2 soldiers near Afghan border

Pakistan says militants kill 2 soldiers near Afghan border
  • No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Militants targeted a Pakistani military post in the northwestern tribal belt near the Afghan border, killing two soldiers in a firefight, the army said in a statement.
The Pakistani army’s media wing said late Saturday that militants attacked a post in the Datta Khel area of the district of North Waziristan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The area is a former militant stronghold.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
During an intense exchange of gunfire two soldiers were killed, the military said, adding that a search of the area was being carried out to find the militants. It gave no indication of the identity of the attackers.
North Waziristan for years served as a safe haven for militants until the military carried out massive operations to try to clear the area. That forced the militants either to escape across the border into Afghanistan or hide in other mountainous areas near the border. Still, militants often strike against security forces.
Pakistan is holding talks with Islamic militants known as the Pakistani Taliban with the help of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. There is a temporary cease-fire in place.


China study warns of ‘colossal’ COVID outbreak if it opens up like US, France

China study warns of ‘colossal’ COVID outbreak if it opens up like US, France
Updated 28 November 2021

China study warns of ‘colossal’ COVID outbreak if it opens up like US, France

China study warns of ‘colossal’ COVID outbreak if it opens up like US, France
  • China’s daily new cases would reach at least 637,155 if it adopted the United States’ pandemic strategy, the report said

BEIJING: China could face more than 630,000 COVID-19 infections a day if it dropped its zero-tolerance policies by lifting travel curbs, according to a study by Peking University mathematicians.
In the report published in China CDC Weekly by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the mathematicians said China could not afford to lift travel restrictions without more efficient vaccinations or specific treatments.
Using data for August from the United States, Britain, Spain, France and Israel, the mathematicians assessed the potential results if China adopted the same pandemic control tactics as those countries.
China’s daily new cases would reach at least 637,155 if it adopted the United States’ pandemic strategy, the report said.
And daily cases would hit 275,793 if China took the same approach as Britain and 454,198 if it imitated France, it said.
“The estimates revealed the real possibility of a colossal outbreak which would almost certainly induce an unaffordable burden on the medical system,” the report said.
“Our findings have raised a clear warning that, for the time being, we are not ready to embrace ‘open-up’ strategies resting solely on the hypothesis of herd immunity induced by vaccination advocated by certain western countries.”
The mathematicians cautioned that their estimates were based on basic arithmetic calculations and that more sophisticated models were needed to study the evolution of the pandemic if travel restrictions were lifted.
China has maintained a zero-tolerance policy toward COVID-19, saying the importance of containing local cases when they are found outweighs the disruptions caused by efforts to trace, isolate and treat the infected. China reported 23 new confirmed coronavirus cases for Nov. 27, down from 25 a day earlier, its health authority said on Sunday.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday designated a new COVID-19 variant detected in South Africa with a large number of mutations as being “of concern,” prompting some countries to impose travel curbs.