China, ASEAN to intensify negotiations on South China Sea code

China, ASEAN to intensify negotiations on South China Sea code
Above, activists in Manila protest China’s presence in the disputed South China Sea. (AFP)
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Updated 22 February 2023

China, ASEAN to intensify negotiations on South China Sea code

China, ASEAN to intensify negotiations on South China Sea code
  • China and ASEAN to jointly safeguard peace and stability in the strategic trade corridor, through which about $3.4 trillion of goods pass each year
  • Beijing claims much of the South China Sea and has built islands from which it is capable of deploying advanced weaponry

JAKARTA: Negotiations on a code of conduct (COC) for the South China Sea will be intensified this year, Indonesian and Chinese officials said on Wednesday, as the region frets over China’s assertiveness in the strategic waterway.
Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi met with Chinese counterpart Qin Gang in Jakarta, ahead of a round of negotiations on the code starting in March.
“Indonesia and ASEAN would like to produce an effective, substantive and actionable (code of conduct),” Retno said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional bloc that Indonesia chairs this year.
Qin added that China and ASEAN will jointly safeguard peace and stability in the strategic trade corridor, through which about $3.4 trillion of goods pass each year.
China would work with ASEAN countries to accelerate consultations on the code, he said.
Beijing claims much of the South China Sea and has built islands from which it is capable of deploying advanced weaponry. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei also have some overlapping claims.
China and ASEAN countries agreed in 2002 to work toward creating a code of conduct and it was 15 years before moves were underway to create a framework for negotiations.
Some experts have accused China of intentionally holding up a process to create a binding set of rules, noting its use of grey-zone tactics and strategic ambiguity to press its territorial claims. China says it is committed to seeing the process through.
The code would advance a 2002 commitment by all parties to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight and “(refrain) from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features.”
The latest talks would take place against a backdrop of increased diplomatic protests against China from the Philippines, which has increased overtures to Western powers like the United States and Australia to counter what it calls China’s “aggressiveness.”
Qin on Wednesday said Southeast Asian nations “should not be forced to take sides.”
“New cold war and competitiveness of great powers shouldn’t appear in the Asia-Pacific region. We believe that Indonesia and ASEAN will make their judgment and choice independently and autonomously in the fundamental interest of the stability, development and prosperity of the region,” he said.
They also discussed the crisis in military-ruled Myanmar, where ASEAN has struggled to get the generals to implement an agreed ‘five-point consensus’ for peace after the 2021 coup.
“As ASEAN chair, Indonesia will embark on engagements with all stakeholders in Myanmar, with the one goal of opening up a possibility of an inclusive national dialogue,” Retno said, adding Indonesia appreciates China’s support for the process.


US conducts strike near site of Shabab attack in Somalia

US conducts strike near site of Shabab attack in Somalia
Updated 28 May 2023

US conducts strike near site of Shabab attack in Somalia

US conducts strike near site of Shabab attack in Somalia
  • Al-Shabab militants drove a car laden with explosives into the base, prompting a gunfight, local residents and a Somali military commander told AFP

WASHINGTON: The United States conducted an airstrike that destroyed stolen Al-Shabab weapons and equipment in Somalia near an African Union military base that was attacked by the group, officials reported Saturday.
The base in Bulo Marer, 120 kilometers (75 miles) southwest of the capital Mogadishu, was housing Ugandan troops when it was raided Friday in an attack claimed by the Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group.
In a statement, US Africa Command said that it “destroyed weapons and equipment unlawfully taken by Al-Shabab fighters,” without specifying when or where the weapons were stolen.
“US Africa Command conducted an airstrike against militants in the vicinity” of Bulo Marer on Friday, in support of the Somali federal government and the AU force known as ATMIS, it said.
Al-Shabab militants drove a car laden with explosives into the base, prompting a gunfight, local residents and a Somali military commander told AFP.
It was not immediately known if there were any casualties from the Al-Shabab attack.
US Africa Command said its “initial assessment is that no civilians were injured or killed” in its operation.
Pro-government forces backed by ATMIS forces launched an offensive last August against Al-Shabab, which has been waging an insurgency in the fragile Horn of Africa nation for more than 15 years.
The 20,000-strong ATMIS force has a more offensive remit than its predecessor known as AMISOM.
The force is drawn from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, with troops deployed in southern and central Somalia.
Its goal is to hand over security responsibilities to Somalia’s army and police by 2024.

 


Russia unleashes ‘largest’ drone attack on Ukrainian capital ahead of Kyiv Day

Russia unleashes ‘largest’ drone attack on Ukrainian capital ahead of Kyiv Day
Updated 54 min 35 sec ago

Russia unleashes ‘largest’ drone attack on Ukrainian capital ahead of Kyiv Day

Russia unleashes ‘largest’ drone attack on Ukrainian capital ahead of Kyiv Day
  • Air defense systems downed at least 20 drones moving toward Kyiv

KYIV: Russia unleashed multiple waves of air strikes on Kyiv overnight in what officials said appeared to be the largest drone attack on the city since the start of the war, as the Ukrainian capital prepared to celebrate the anniversary of its founding on Sunday.
In what also appeared to be the first deadly attack on Kyiv in May and the 14th assault since the start of the month, officials said air defense systems downed at least 40 drones moving toward Kyiv with falling debris killing one person.
The pre-dawn attacks came on the last Sunday of May when the capital celebrates Kyiv Day, the anniversary of its official founding 1,541 years ago. The day is typically marked by street fairs, live concerts and special museum exhibitions — plans for which have been made this year too, but on a smaller scale.
“The history of Ukraine is a long-standing irritant for the insecure Russians,” Andriy Yermak, the head of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, said on his Telegram channel.
Preliminary information indicated the air raid was the largest drone attack on Kyiv since the start of Russia’s invasion in February 2022, Serhiy Popko, the head of Kyiv’s military administration said. Russia used the Iranian-made Shahed drones in the attack, he added.
Reuters was not able to independently verify that information.
“Today, the enemy decided to ‘congratulate’ the people of Kyiv on Kyiv Day with the help of their deadly UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles),” Popko said on the Telegram messaging app.
“The attack was carried out in several waves, and the air alert lasted more than five hours.”
Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the victim was a 41-year-old. The military administration said at least two people were injured.
Several districts of Kyiv, by far the largest Ukrainian city with a population of around 3 million, suffered in the overnight attacks, officials said, including the historical Pecherskyi neighborhood.
Reuters witnesses said that during the air raid alerts that started soon after midnight, many people stood on their balconies, some screaming offensives directed at Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and “Glory to air defense” slogans.
With a Ukrainian counteroffensive looming 15 months into the war, Moscow has intensified missile and drone strikes after a lull of nearly two months, targeting military facilities and supplies. Waves of attacks now come several times a week.
In the leafy Holosiivskyi district in the southwestern part of Kyiv, falling debris set a three-story warehouse on fire, destroying about 1,000 square meters (10,800 square feet) of building structures, Mayor Klitschko said.
A fire broke out after falling drone debris hit a seven-story non-residential building in the Solomyanskyi district west of the city. The district is a busy rail and air transport hub.
In the Pecherskyi district, a fire broke out on the roof of a nine-story building due to falling drone debris, and in the Darnytskyi district a shop was damaged, Kyiv’s military administration officials said on Telegram.

 


NATO urges Kosovo to de-escalate tension with Serbia

NATO urges Kosovo to de-escalate tension with Serbia
Updated 28 May 2023

NATO urges Kosovo to de-escalate tension with Serbia

NATO urges Kosovo to de-escalate tension with Serbia
  • Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti defended police actions in escorting the new mayors the previous day

BRUSSELS: NATO on Saturday urged Kosovo to dial down tensions with Serbia, a day after its government forcibly accessed municipal buildings to install mayors in ethnic Serb areas in the north of the country.
The resulting clashes on Friday between Kosovan police and protesters opposed to the ethnic Albanian mayors prompted Serbia to put its army on full combat alert and to move units closer to the border.
“We urge the institutions in Kosovo to de-escalate immediately and call on all parties to resolve the situation through dialogue,” said Oana Lungescu, a spokeswoman for the transatlantic military alliance, in a Twitter post.
She said KFOR, the 3,800-strong NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, would remain vigilant.
Things were still tense in the north part of the country where heavily armed police forces in armored vehicles were guarding municipality buildings.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti defended police actions in escorting the new mayors the previous day.
“It is the right of those elected in democratic elections to assume office without threats or intimidation. It is also the right of citizens to be served by those elected officials,” Kurti said on Twitter on Saturday.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday criticized Kurti’s government for its actions in the north, saying they “unnecessarily escalated tensions, (were) undermining our efforts to help normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia and will have consequences for our bilateral relations with Kosovo.”
Almost a decade after the end of a war there, Serbs in Kosovo’s northern region do not accept Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and still see Belgrade as their capital.
Ethnic Albanians form more than 90 percent of the population in Kosovo, with Serbs only the majority in the northern region.

 


Iraq seeks multi-sector engagement with Philippines after 10-year gap

Iraq Embassy Charge d’Affaires Dr. Khalid Ibrahim Mohammed poses for a photo at the Iraqi Embassy in Manila on May 24, 2023.
Iraq Embassy Charge d’Affaires Dr. Khalid Ibrahim Mohammed poses for a photo at the Iraqi Embassy in Manila on May 24, 2023.
Updated 28 May 2023

Iraq seeks multi-sector engagement with Philippines after 10-year gap

Iraq Embassy Charge d’Affaires Dr. Khalid Ibrahim Mohammed poses for a photo at the Iraqi Embassy in Manila on May 24, 2023.
  • The last time the Iraq-Philippines joint committee convened was in 2013
  • 4,000 Filipinos live and work in Iraq, and many are married to Iraqi nationals

MANILA: Iraq is seeking a reboot in relations with the Philippines after a lull of 10 years, its head of mission has told Arab News, as Baghdad eyes possible cooperation in agriculture, oil, health and tourism.

Formal relations between Iraq and the Philippines were established in 1975 with the opening of the Iraqi embassy in Manila. Five years later, the Philippines opened its mission in Baghdad, but in the early 2000s both countries closed their respective diplomatic offices.

The embassies were later reopened, and in 2012 the two countries signed an agreement to boost diplomatic exchanges and develop bilateral relations. But the last time the Iraq-Philippines Joint Committee Meeting was held was in 2013.

Iraq is hoping to persuade tourists from the Philippines to explore the country known as the ‘cradle of civilization,’ as it was the site of the Mesopotamians who developed the world’s first writing, agriculture and cities.

Iraq Embassy Charge d’Affaires, Dr. Khalid Ibrahim Mohammed

“Now we are restarting ... Iraq is keen to strengthen relations with the Philippines at various levels,” Iraq Embassy Charge d’Affaires Dr. Khalid Ibrahim Mohammed told Arab News earlier this week. “There are a lot of things we can do with the Filipinos ...  we actually need many projects. And we are looking now for partners.”

Mohammed, who took up his post a few months ago, said that while Iraq has, in the past two decades, been the scene of prolonged conflict, it was already witnessing security and stability.

A number of cooperation proposals, particularly relating to agriculture, health, education, security, and oil, were being prepared for the Philippine side, and Mohammed said the Philippines has been invited to participate in his country’s largest expo, the Baghdad International Fair, in November.

“(The fair) is an appropriate opportunity to exchange experiences, display Philippine products, learn about the Iraq market close-up, and see the great openness that the country is experiencing,” he said.

Currently, around 4,000 Filipinos live and work in Iraq, many of whom have Iraqi spouses.

To strengthen connections, Baghdad has launched a Study in Iraq program, offering scholarships to Filipino students.

Mohammed said Iraq is also hoping to persuade tourists from the Philippines to explore the country known as the “cradle of civilization,” as it was the site of the Mesopotamians who developed the world’s first writing, agriculture and cities.

For Filipinos, who are predominantly Catholics, a major attraction could also be the ancient city-state of Ur, where Abraham was born. According to Mohammed, the state has allocated 9,000 square meters for the construction of “the tourist city of Ur, which will be one of the largest tourist cities in the Middle East.”

Mohammed added that tourist traffic could flow both ways, too.

“Maybe very soon you will see the first Iraqi (tourist) group visit the Philippines” he added. “It’s now under process.”

 


Pope Francis holds talks with head of Muslim World League in the Vatican

Pope Francis holds talks with head of Muslim World League in the Vatican
Updated 28 May 2023

Pope Francis holds talks with head of Muslim World League in the Vatican

Pope Francis holds talks with head of Muslim World League in the Vatican

LONDON: The Secretary-General of the Muslim World League, Sheikh Mohammad Al-Issa, on Saturday held talks with Pope Francis at his office in Saint Martha House in the Vatican, the organization said.

The two sides discussed a number of issues related to shared values and the civilizational alliance, it added.

Following the meeting, Alissa said he was delighted with the sincere, brotherly and deep dialogue with Pope Francis at his residence. 

“We discussed our shared values and building bridges between civilizations based on effective and sustainable initiatives,” he added. “I appreciate Pope Francis’s kind hospitality and noble sentiments.

Pope Francis held a number of private meetings on Saturday after resuming his regular appointments a day after canceling his schedule due to a fever.