Philippines’ Marcos says South China Sea keeps him ‘up at night’

Philippines’ Marcos says South China Sea keeps him ‘up at night’
Philippine's President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. speaks during a session during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos on January 18, 2023. (Fabrice Coffrini / AFP)
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Updated 19 January 2023

Philippines’ Marcos says South China Sea keeps him ‘up at night’

Philippines’ Marcos says South China Sea keeps him ‘up at night’
  • Marcos discussed disputed maritime territory with China’s Xi in early January
  • At WEF in Davos, he said the situation was very complex and dynamic

MANILA: Tensions in the South China Sea keep Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. up at night, he told participants of the World Economic Forum in Davos, amid an increased presence of Chinese and US warships in the disputed region.

The South China Sea is a strategic and resource-rich waterway claimed by China almost in its entirety, despite a 2016 ruling by an international tribunal that dismissed Beijing’s claims. Other countries, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, also have overlapping claims.

“It’s very dynamic, it’s constantly in flux, so you have to pay attention to it,” Marcos said during a session with WEF President Borge Brende on Wednesday evening.

The situation, he said, “keeps you up at night, keeps you up in the day, keeps you up most of the time.”

Chinese activity in the area has recently increased and last month Manila boosted its military presence in the region after reports that China had started taking several unoccupied land features within Philippine waters.

The tensions come as China is at loggerheads with the US — a Philippine ally that is also trying to increase its influence in Southeast Asia.

“We’re at the very frontline and so whenever these tensions increase, when the ships come out, the Chinese and their coast guard vessels, the Americans answer…we’re watching as bystanders,” Marcos said.

“If something goes wrong here, we are going to suffer.”

He added, however, that the Philippine foreign policy was a “commitment to peace.”

When Marcos made his first state visit to Beijing earlier this month, the South China Sea issue was discussed in his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and they agreed to resolve maritime disagreements through “friendly consultations.”

“We cannot…sweep it under the rug and pretend it’s not happening because there are effects not only in the diplomatic sense, not only in the security sense but even in the livelihood of our citizens,” the Philippine president said.

Two weeks later in Davos, Marcos acknowledged that the situation was very dynamic and complex and that “there are no simple solutions.”

But the Philippines had “no conflicting claims with China,” he added.

“What we have is China making claims on our territory.” 


Philippine ferry fire leaves 12 dead, at least 7 missing

Philippine ferry fire leaves 12 dead, at least 7 missing
Updated 30 March 2023

Philippine ferry fire leaves 12 dead, at least 7 missing

Philippine ferry fire leaves 12 dead, at least 7 missing
  • MV Lady Mary Joy 3 enroute to Jolo island from the southern port city of Zamboanga when it caught fire midway off Basilan close to midnight, says governor

MANILA, Philippines: A ferry carrying about 250 passengers and crew caught fire between Philippine islands and at least 12 people were killed with seven still missing, a provincial governor said Thursday.
Many of those rescued had jumped off the ferry in panic at the height of the fire and were plucked from the sea by the coast guard, navy, another ferry and local fishermen, said Gov. Jim Hataman of the southern island province of Basilan. The search and rescue effort was continuing Thursday.
The governor said most of those onboard the MV Lady Mary Joy 3 were rescued overnight but authorities were double-checking the numbers from different rescue teams, suggesting the figures could change.
The ferry was enroute to Jolo town in Sulu province from the southern port city of Zamboanga when it caught fire midway off Basilan close to midnight, he said.
The dead included at least three children, who apparently were separated from their parents, and at least 23 passengers were injured and brought to hospitals, he said.
“Some of the passengers were roused from sleep due to the commotion caused by the fire. Some jumped off the ship,” Hataman told The Associated Press by telephone.
Most of those who died drowned and were recovered at sea, officials said.
The burned ferry has been towed to Basilan’s shoreline and an investigation was underway, Hataman said.
Sea accidents are common in the Philippine archipelago because of frequent storms, badly maintained boats, overcrowding and spotty enforcement of safety regulations, especially in remote provinces.
In December 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker, killing more than 4,300 people in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.


Taiwan president welcomed, denounced by Chinese community in New York as she arrives for a stopover

Taiwan president welcomed, denounced by Chinese community in New York as she arrives for a stopover
Updated 30 March 2023

Taiwan president welcomed, denounced by Chinese community in New York as she arrives for a stopover

Taiwan president welcomed, denounced by Chinese community in New York as she arrives for a stopover
  • China has threatened reprisals if Tsai meets with US House speaker Kevin McCarthy
  • Tsai is stopping over in the US en route to Guatemala and Belize to shore up ties

NEW YORK: Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen arrived in New York Wednesday for a visit that has triggered threats of reprisal by China if she meets with House speaker Kevin McCarthy — and US warnings for Beijing not to overreact.
Tsai is stopping over in the United States en route to Central America, where she will meet with the leaders of Guatemala and Belize to shore up ties with those diplomatic allies. On her way back to Taiwan she will stop in California, where McCarthy had said he would meet her.
China claims the democratic island as part of its territory to be retaken one day and, under its “One China” principle, no country may maintain official ties with both Beijing and Taipei.
Beijing warned Wednesday that it was vehemently opposed to any meeting between Tsai and McCarthy and vowed to take “resolute measures to fight back” if it goes ahead.

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen acknowledges well-wishers in New York on March 29, 2023. (AP Photo)

The United States responded by saying China should not use Tsai’s stopover as a pretext to act aggressively around the Taiwan Strait.
Tsai was seen arriving at her hotel in New York, where dozens of pro-Beijing demonstrators waving China’s red flag gathered boisterously while nearby a similarly sized group of pro-Taiwan people cheered and waved their banner and the US stars and stripes.
Xu Xueyuan, the charge d’affaires at the Chinese embassy in Washington, said she had spoken directly to US officials numerous times and warned them that Tsai’s trip would violate China’s core interests.
“We urge the US side not to repeat playing with fire on the Taiwan question,” she told reporters, alluding among other things to last year’s visit to Taiwan by then House speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Tsai’s trip follows Honduras’s decision this month to open diplomatic relations with Beijing, leaving Belize and Guatemala among just 13 countries that have official ties with Taipei.
After first visiting New York, Tsai will meet her Guatemalan counterpart Alejandro Giammattei and Belize Prime Minister John Briceno in their respective countries, her office said.
She will then stop in Los Angeles on her way home.
McCarthy has said he will meet Tsai in his home state, although the talks are yet to be confirmed by Taiwanese authorities.
Pelosi’s visit triggered an angry response from Beijing, with the Chinese military conducting drills at an unprecedented scale around the island.

A supporter holds a sign welcoming Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen as she arrives at the Lotte Hotel in Manhattan, New York City, on March 29, 2023. (Reuters)

Analysts say the US stopover comes at a key time, with Beijing having ramped up military, economic and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan since Tsai came to power in 2016, poaching nine of its diplomatic allies.
“Beijing’s attempts to poach Taiwan’s diplomatic partners will lead to Taiwan developing closer ties with the United States,” said James Lee, a researcher on US-Taiwan relations at Academia Sinica.
The United States remains Taiwan’s most important ally — and its biggest arms supplier — despite switching its diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979.
“The loss of official relations with third countries will be offset by a deepening of Taiwan’s unofficial relations,” Lee said.
Recent visits by a Czech delegation and a German minister were met with rebukes from Beijing.
One of Tsai’s most prominent domestic opponents, ex-president Ma Ying-jeou, was in China on Wednesday, the first such trip by a former Taiwanese leader.

China has increased investment in Latin America, a key diplomatic battleground between Taipei and Beijing since the two sides split in 1949 after a civil war.
Taiwan accused China on Sunday of using “coercion and intimidation” to lure away its allies after Honduran Foreign Minister Enrique Reina and his Chinese counterpart Qin Gang officially launched relations in Beijing.
Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the region, made the switch due to economic necessity, Reina had said earlier.
The move continued a trend in Latin America, with Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica all switching diplomatic recognition to Beijing in recent years.
In addition to Guatemala and Belize, Taiwan still has official ties with a handful of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Paraguay and Haiti.


UK military chiefs call for stop to deportation of Afghan war hero to Rwanda

UK military chiefs call for stop to deportation of Afghan war hero to Rwanda
Updated 30 March 2023

UK military chiefs call for stop to deportation of Afghan war hero to Rwanda

UK military chiefs call for stop to deportation of Afghan war hero to Rwanda
  • Home Office: Because veteran did not enter Britain via legal route, his asylum claim may be denied
  • Ex-international development secretary: Govt ‘shirking’ its responsibilities toward Afghans who fought alongside UK

LONDON: Senior military chiefs, politicians and diplomats in the UK have urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to prevent the deportation of an Afghan veteran to Rwanda, The Independent reported on Wednesday.

The war pilot flew 30 combat missions against the Taliban and was forced to flee to Britain. Because he could find no safe and legal route, he traveled on a small boat to reach the country. He was praised by his coalition forces supervisor as a “patriot to his nation.”

However, the Home Office said because he traveled through Italy, Switzerland and France in order to enter England, his claim for asylum in the UK may be denied. 

The Home Office informed the pilot that he “may also be removable to Rwanda,” and that his personal information could be shared with Rwandan authorities, The Independent reported.

Former International Development Secretary Rory Stewart called the pilot’s story “profoundly shocking” because it contradicts the government’s promises made to those in Afghanistan. 

“We are shirking our responsibilities towards Afghans who risked their lives to fight alongside us and who are now at risk of their lives,” he told The Independent. 

Sir Laurie Bristow, who was British ambassador to Afghanistan during the fall of Kabul, said the lives of Afghans who fought for the UK “are at risk as a result.”

He told The Independent: “Many of our own service people owe their lives to Afghans who worked and fought alongside them in Afghanistan.”

Sir Richard Barrons, a former chief of joint operations who served in Afghanistan, said the pilot’s route to Britain should not impact his asylum claim “considering the mess the government made with the evacuation process.”

When confronted on Wednesday about the Afghan veteran’s threatened deportation to Rwanda during the “Today” program, British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said the government is determined to crack down on “criminal gangs who feed the illegal asylum trade” by bringing people to the UK on small boats.

But Col. Simon Diggins, who served as a defense attache in Afghanistan, told The Independent: “We shouldn’t accept the terminology that he got here ‘illegally’; that is not the right language for people like him who have no other means of getting here safely. It is appalling that this man who was in our allied forces is being treated in this way.”

Maj. Gen. Tim Cross, who served in Iraq, the Balkans and Northern Ireland, said: “If this man was a member of Afghan forces fighting alongside the coalition then the risks to him are obvious.

“The whole Afghanistan withdrawal was terribly done, and cases like these are the human consequences of mistakes we made in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Former Defense Minister Kevan Jones told The Independent: “We have a huge debt to these people. This is no way to treat them. It’s a stain on Britain’s great reputation of supporting its friends.

“We always stick by our friends. We should continue to do that. This government is clearly not doing that in this case and many others.”

Sunak has promised to review the veteran’s case. On Monday, he asked the Home Office to look further into his situation.


Fate of Russian girl separated from father over Ukraine unclear

Fate of Russian girl separated from father over Ukraine unclear
Updated 29 March 2023

Fate of Russian girl separated from father over Ukraine unclear

Fate of Russian girl separated from father over Ukraine unclear
  • Maria was taken away from him in early March and placed in a local "rehabilitation centre" for minors, with the pair denied contact
  • The case has garnered national attention, as Moscow cracks down on criticism of the offensive in Ukraine

MOSCOW: The fate of a Russian child who drew a pro-peace sketch was unclear Wednesday, a day after her father fled house arrest to avoid prison time over criticism of Moscow's assault on Ukraine.
Single father Alexei Moskalyov fled house arrest just before a court in the town of Yefremov south of Moscow handed him a two-year sentence for "discrediting" the Russian army.
Since early March Moskalyov has been separated from his 13-year-old daughter Maria as punishment for his criticism of Kremlin policies, a first in modern Russia, experts say.
Maria was taken away from him in early March and placed in a local "rehabilitation centre" for minors, with the pair denied contact.
The case has garnered national attention, as Moscow cracks down on criticism of the offensive in Ukraine.
On Wednesday, Moskalyov's lawyer Vladimir Biliyenko said he had visited the "rehabilitation centre" the day earlier but the girl was not there.
"It seems that they are hiding Masha," he told AFP, referring to the girl by her diminutive name. He said a lot of supporters wanted to see her, too.
The lawyer also said he was not aware of her 54-year-old father's whereabouts.
"I hope he's alive and well," he added.
Biliyenko said it was now "difficult to predict" what will happen to Maria.
Moskalyov is at risk of losing parental rights in a separate trial set to begin on April 6.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday defended Moskalyov's sentencing, describing the father's parenting as "deplorable".
But in a letter published on social media Maria called her father "the bravest person in the world".
"I love you very much and know that you are not guilty of anything," the letter read.
"Everything will be ok and we will be together. You are my hero," the letter said.
Moskalyov's lawyer confirmed the authenticity of the letter.
The lawyer also criticised Russia's children's rights commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova and rights commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova for not getting involved in the case.
"The fate of a child is being decided here and they are not interested," he said.
A local rights activist, Yelena Agafonova, said she was prepared to take the girl in.
"We will apply for custody of Masha, we are preparing the documents," she told AFP.
She believed the case was a "show case to demonstrate what will happen to those who do not agree" with Moscow's offensive in Ukraine.
Russia's top human rights organisation Memorial, which has been outlawed by the authorities, said it considered Moskalyov a "political prisoner".
Memorial said that his case was "an attempt to intimidate all opponents" of the conflict.


Seven jailed in Belgium terrorism probe: prosecutor

Seven jailed in Belgium terrorism probe: prosecutor
Updated 29 March 2023

Seven jailed in Belgium terrorism probe: prosecutor

Seven jailed in Belgium terrorism probe: prosecutor
  • The seven, five Belgians as well as a Turk and a Bulgarian, were charged with participation in the activities of a terrorist group
  • Five of them were also charged with "preparation of a terrorist offence", the prosecutor said

BRUSSELS: Seven people were imprisoned in Belgium Wednesday in two investigations into “possible terrorist attacks,” the federal prosecutor’s office said.
The seven, five Belgians as well as a Turk and a Bulgarian, were charged with participation in the activities of a terrorist group.
Five of them were also charged with “preparation of a terrorist offense,” the prosecutor said.
Raids were conducted late Monday on homes in the capital Brussels, the port city of Antwerp and the border town of Eupen, the federal prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday.
Eight were arrested in the raids, but one of the suspects arrested in Antwerp has since been released.
These were in relation to two inquiries — one led by federal police in Brussels and the other by an investigating magistrate in Antwerp.
The parallel investigations triggered a raid in Molenbeek, an inner-city Brussels district that has been the focus of some previous terror probes.
More details of the potential targets of these attacks have not yet been released.
The investigations in Antwerp and Brussels had initially focused on “two young adults suspected of violent radicalism,” state broadcaster RTBF reported.
The country’s biggest ever criminal trial of nine suspects accused of taking part in the March 2016 suicide bombings that killed 32 people is underway in Brussels.