China, Philippines assess ties amid escalating sea disputes

China, Philippines assess ties amid escalating sea disputes
Senior Chinese and Filipino diplomats’ discussions would focus on the long-seething territorial spats in the disputed South China Sea. (Reuters)
Updated 23 March 2023

China, Philippines assess ties amid escalating sea disputes

China, Philippines assess ties amid escalating sea disputes
  • Discussions would focus on the long-seething territorial spats in the disputed South China Sea
  • Marcos administration has filed at least 77 of more than 200 diplomatic protests against China’s increasingly assertive actions

MANILA: Senior Chinese and Filipino diplomats were meeting in Manila on Thursday to review their relations amid thorny issues, including Beijing’s alarm over a Philippine decision to allow the US military to expand its presence to a northern region facing the Taiwan Strait and escalating spats in the disputed South China Sea.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong and Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro were leading the talks aimed at assessing overall relations on Thursday. The discussions would focus on the long-seething territorial spats in the disputed waterway on Friday, the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said.
The back-to-back meetings are the first under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in June last year. He met Chinese President Xi Jinping in a state visit to Beijing in January where both agreed to expand ties, pursue talks on potential joint oil and gas explorations and manage territorial disputes amicably.
But the territorial conflicts have persisted as a major irritant in relations early in the six-year term of Marcos, whose administration has filed at least 77 of more than 200 diplomatic protests by the Philippines against China’s increasingly assertive actions in the disputed waters since last year alone.
That included a February 6 incident when a Chinese coast guard ship aimed a military-grade laser that briefly blinded some crew members of a Philippine patrol vessel off a disputed shoal. Marcos summoned the Chinese ambassador to Manila to express concern over the incident, but Beijing said the Philippine vessel intruded into Chinese territorial waters and its coast guard used a harmless laser gadget to monitor the vessel’s movement.
Early last month, the Marcos administration announced it would allow rotating batches of American forces to indefinitely station in four more Philippine military camps. Those are in addition to five local bases earlier designated under a 2014 defense pact between the longtime treaty allies.
Marcos said Wednesday the four new military sites would include areas in the northern Philippines. That location has infuriated Chinese officials because it would provide US forces a staging ground close to southern China and Taiwan.
The Americans would also have access to military areas on the western Philippine island province of Palawan, Marcos said, adding that the US military presence under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was aimed at boosting coastal defense.
Palawan faces the South China Sea, a key passage for global trade that Beijing claims virtually in its entirety but a United Nations-backed arbitration tribunal ruled in 2016 that historical claim had no legal basis under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Seas.
China had dismissed the ruling, which Washington and other Western governments recognize, and continues to defy it.
When asked to react to the Philippine decision, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a news briefing in Beijing on Wednesday that defense cooperation between countries “needs to be conducive to regional peace and stability and not targeted at or harmful to the interests of any third party.”
Wang warned countries in the region “to remain vigilant and avoid being coerced or used by the US” without naming the Philippines.
A recent statement issued by the Chinese Embassy in Manila was more blunt and warned that the Manila government’s security cooperation with Washington “will drag the Philippines into the abyss of geopolitical strife and damage its economic development at the end of the day.”
The Biden administration has been strengthening an arc of military alliances in the Indo-Pacific to better counter China, including in any future confrontation over Taiwan. The US moves dovetail with Philippine efforts to shore up its territorial defense amid its disputes with China in the South China Sea.
Two senior Filipino officials said that the Philippine government would extend the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows the temporary presence of US forces and their defense equipment in the country. The Philippine Constitution prohibits the permanent basing of foreign troops in the country and their involvement in local combat.
The agreement, signed in 2014, would initially be effective for 10 years and would remain in force automatically unless terminated by either side with a one-year advance written notice.
The two officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they lack authority to discuss the issue publicly.

Macron visits children wounded in knife attack

Macron visits children wounded in knife attack
Updated 14 sec ago

Macron visits children wounded in knife attack

Macron visits children wounded in knife attack

FRANCE: French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday said the health of the preschool children badly wounded in a mass knife attack by a Syrian refugee was “heading in the right direction,” as police questioned the attacker.
Four children — aged between 22 months and three years old — were stabbed on Thursday in a playground in the Alpine town of Annecy, a normally idyllic lakeside spot popular with tourists.
While France was in shock over the blood-curdling attack, there was a deluge of praise on social media for rescue workers and a man hailed as a hero for chasing the attacker out of the area.
Prosecutors insisted they did not see a terror motive, but the rampage intensified tensions in France over immigration, with right-wing politicians seizing on the suspect’s origins.


While prosecutors insisted they did not see a terror motive, the rampage intensified tensions in France over immigration.

Macron and his wife Brigitte arrived in the southeastern city of Grenoble, where three of the children are being treated, and are to visit those who have “contributed in helping and supporting them,” the presidency said.
“Everything that I was told is heading in the right direction,” he said in Annecy after visiting the wounded toddlers in hospital, adding that news on their condition was positive.
He added after the visit: “Attacking children is the most barbaric act there is” but also made clear his “pride” over the work of rescuers.
The fourth child, a Dutch citizen, is in a Swiss hospital over the border in Geneva. She is “out of danger,” the Netherlands’ Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said.
One of the victims is British and the others French.
Macron was also to meet a man named Henri who is being hailed as a hero for chasing the attacker from the playground.
“Pray for the children, I am doing fine,” he wrote on Instagram as the hashtag #MerciHenri trended on social media.
Regional prosecutor Line Bonnet-Mathis said the detention of the suspect, named as Abdalmasih H., who is under investigation for attempted murder, had been extended after a psychiatric examination.
Recently divorced from a Swedish national and in his early 30s, the suspect had previously lived for 10 years in Sweden where he was granted refugee status in April, security sources and his ex-wife said.
“He called me around four months ago. He was living in a church,” his ex-wife said, adding that he left Sweden because he had been unable to get Swedish nationality.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told broadcaster TF1 that “for reasons not well explained he had also sought asylum in Switzerland, Italy and France.”
It emerged that his application in France was rejected last Sunday as he already enjoyed refugee status in Sweden.


British immigration restrictions complicate Nigeria migration dreams

Suella Braverman
Suella Braverman
Updated 12 min 34 sec ago

British immigration restrictions complicate Nigeria migration dreams

Suella Braverman

LAGOS: When 28-year-old Deborah Okunawo left Nigeria for the UK on a study visa last year, going with her husband made settling down easier.
Nigeria’s erratic academic calendar, characterized by frequent and protracted university strikes, economic woes and rising insecurity forced Okunawo and thousands of others to “japa” — a word in the Yoruba language that means “to flee.”
“Migrating to a new country can bring up different challenges like cultural shocks and loneliness,” said Okunawo, a postgraduate student at the University of Lincoln in eastern England.
“Having my best person around me gives me a shoulder to lean on.”
Her husband Tosin is also able to work and earn a living to support the family.
But Nigerians who hope to emulate them have suddenly seen their plans clouded.
With the UK government keen to crackdown on net migration which has risen to record levels, restrictions have been introduced from next year, including on family members accompanying foreign students for non-research postgraduate courses.
“We have seen an unprecedented rise in the number of student dependents being brought into the country with visas,” British Home Secretary Suella Braverman said last month.
The government in London made no specific mention of Nigerian students but numbers traveling to the UK for postgraduate studies along with family members have skyrocketed in recent years.
Nigerian nationals studying in the UK grew from 6,798 in 2017 to 59,053 as of December 2022, according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics or ONS.
As those number grew, so did the number of dependents: in 2019 there were 1,586 but last year there were 60,923.
“By nationality, Nigeria saw a large increase in the proportion of sponsored study-related visas granted to dependants, from 19 percent in 2019 to 51 percent in 2022,” said the ONS in February.
In Nigeria, and among students already in the UK, there are suspicions that the new measures are targeted at them.
Braverman — an immigration hard-liner — has said foreign postgraduate students used the study route as a “backdoor to work,” and their family members put “untenable” pressure on public services.
Her get-tough approach chimes with the Conservative government’s vows to “take back control” of the country’s borders following the country’s exit from the EU.
The policy has coincided with a surge in net immigration but also labor shortages Brexit has created in areas such as agriculture, the hospitality sector, health care, science and technology and IT.
There is also the contribution that foreign students make to the British economy including through hefty tuition fees.
In 2022, they brought in nearly $42 billion ($52 billion) compared to a cost to the government of £4.4 billion, according to London Economics, a politics and economics consultancy.
Busayo Olayiwola, a 33-year-old quantity surveyor in Ibadan, southwest Nigeria, before she left for the UK with her husband, said the majority of the students and their dependents “pay tax, national insurance (contributions to the health system) without access to any public funds.”
“The country is generating a lot of money from foreign students as well,” said Olayiwola.
The British government did not comment about whether it was primarily targeting Nigerians.
But a spokesperson said immigration policies “continue to be kept under constant review to ensure they support the UK’s excellent academic reputation.”
High poverty rates, a struggling economy and 33.3 percent unemployment in Nigeria has made Britain an expensive destination for students, even for those in the middle class.
Experts, however, said the new restrictions may have an upside for the country’s economy in the coming months.
Without dependents, Nigeria may experience an “uptick in remittances” from its students in the UK.
“They may feel a greater need to financially support the families they had to leave behind,” said Subomi Plumptre, the CEO of Lagos-based investment firm Volition Capital.
But the restrictions are also leading some Nigerians to look elsewhere: several prospective postgraduate students in the commercial hub Lagos and capital Abuja said they are investigating postgraduate alternatives in places such as Canada.
More than 15,000 Nigerians were granted permanent residence in Canada in 2021, up from 4,400 five years earlier.
Wale Oni, a Nigerian who teaches at the University of Salford near Manchester, northwest England, hopes that Nigerian authorities will take a cue from the restrictions and focus on stopping the “brain drain.”
“You see UK varsities in the big cities advertising their programs and luring Nigerians in with attractive offers such as post-study work visas and opportunities to bring their dependents,” he said.
“But what plans are in place by the Nigerian government to reverse the trend?“


Southern India makes history with first women-only Hajj flight 

Pilots, crew members and passengers of a women-only Hajj flight pose for a photo before departing from Kozhikode on June 8.
Pilots, crew members and passengers of a women-only Hajj flight pose for a photo before departing from Kozhikode on June 8.
Updated 09 June 2023

Southern India makes history with first women-only Hajj flight 

Pilots, crew members and passengers of a women-only Hajj flight pose for a photo before departing from Kozhikode on June 8.
  • Air India Express flight from Kozhikode carried 145 female pilgrims and six crew 
  • Kerala has the highest percentage of women pilgrims traveling without a mahram

NEW DELHI: An Indian Hajj flight run exclusively by women and carrying only female pilgrims has made history, authorities said on Friday, after it reached Saudi Arabia from the southern state of Kerala. 

The Air India Express flight from Kozhikode arrived in Jeddah on Thursday night carrying 145 pilgrims. 

It was operated by Capt. Kanika Mehra, First Officer Garima Passi, and four cabin crew members. 

At the airport, the women were accompanied by Minority Affairs State Minister John Barla, who distributed their boarding passes. 

“I am very proud,” C. Mohammed Faizi, chairman of the Kerala Haj Committee, told Arab News. 


Kerala this year also boasts a higher overall percentage of female Hajj pilgrims than other Indian states. 

The passengers of the special flight are part of a group of 4,000 Indian female pilgrims who this year will reach the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah on their own. 

India tweaked its Hajj policy following last year’s decision by Saudi Arabia to lift a rule that required female pilgrims to be accompanied by a mahram, or male guardian. 

Most of the Indian pilgrims who applied for Hajj in the Ladies Without Mahram category are from Kerala. 

“Without mahram, there are about 2,000 … The largest number without mahram are from Kerala,” Faizi said, attributing the high number to the level of education in Kerala and the fact that many women in the state are used to traveling to the Middle East to meet their relatives working there. 

Kerala this year also boasts a higher overall percentage of female Hajj pilgrims than other Indian states. 

“Sixty percent are women,” Faizi said. 

Muslims constitute about a fourth of Kerala’s population of 35 million. 

About 11,000 of them will be performing the Hajj pilgrimage this year under India’s quota of 175,000, and approximately 60 percent of them will be women. 

Former British prime minister Boris Johnson resigns as MP

Former British prime minister Boris Johnson resigns as MP
Updated 09 June 2023

Former British prime minister Boris Johnson resigns as MP

Former British prime minister Boris Johnson resigns as MP

LONDON: Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is stepping down as a member of parliament with immediate effect, triggering a by- election in his marginal seat.

Johnson had been fighting for his political future with a parliamentary inquiry investigating whether he misled the House of Commons when he said all COVID-19 rules were followed.

Parliament’s privileges committee had the power to recommend that Johnson be suspended from parliament for more than 10 days if they were to find he did mislead parliament recklessly or deliberately, potentially triggering an election for his seat.

Johnson said he had received a letter from the “privileges committee making it clear — much to my amazement — that they are determined to use the proceedings against me to drive me out of parliament.”

“I am being forced out by a tiny handful of people, with no evidence to back up their assertions, and without approval even of Conservative party members let alone the wider electorate,” Johnson said in a statement.

“It is very sad to be leaving parliament — at least for now — but above all I am bewildered and appalled that I can be forced out.”

Johnson, whose premiership was cut short in part by anger in his own party and across Britain over COVID rule-breaking lockdown parties in his Downing Street office and residence, accused the committee of acting of being the “very definition of a kangaroo court.”

“Most members of the committee — especially the chair — had already expressed deeply prejudicial remarks about my guilt before they had even seen the evidence,” he said.

“In retrospect it was naive and trusting of me to think that these proceedings could be remotely useful or fair.”

Johnson also used his resignation statement to deliver an attack on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s premiership.

“When I left office last year the government was only a handful of points behind in the polls. That gap has now massively widened,” he said.

“Our party needs urgently to recapture its sense of momentum and its belief in what this country can do.”

Saudi Arabia invites Philippine expats, investors to join Vision 2030 projects

Saudi Arabia invites Philippine expats, investors to join Vision 2030 projects
Updated 09 June 2023

Saudi Arabia invites Philippine expats, investors to join Vision 2030 projects

Saudi Arabia invites Philippine expats, investors to join Vision 2030 projects
  • Philippine authorities are also eyeing the Kingdom’s expanding job market
  • Saudi ambassador sees opportunities in tourism, renewable energy, infrastructure

MANILA: Filipino expatriates play a vital role in Saudi-Philippine ties, Riyadh’s ambassador to Manila said on Friday, as he invited professionals and investors to join the Kingdom’s megaprojects under Vision 2030.
More than 800,000 Philippine expats live in Saudi Arabia, which is their preferred work destination abroad.
The overseas Filipino workers, or OFWs, are not only key drivers of the Philippine economy and main contributors to its foreign reserves but also — as officials often say — the country’s “ambassadors” all over the world.
In the context of Saudi Arabia, they are one of the main actors helping the Philippines develop and sustain good ties with the Kingdom.
“Filipino expatriates in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia play a vital role in strengthening the ties between our two nations. They contribute significantly to the Saudi economy and society through their hard work, skills, and dedication,” Saudi Ambassador to the Philippines Hisham S.A. Al-Qahtani told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
“Their presence has helped build bridges of understanding and friendship between our peoples. The Filipino community in Saudi Arabia serves as a strong bond, fostering cultural exchange, and enhancing cooperation in various sectors. Their contributions are highly valued and appreciated.”
Even more opportunities for the Philippines — in terms of work, investment and joint projects — are becoming available under the Saudi Vision 2030 economic diversification plan.
“The Philippines can support this vision by further strengthening bilateral trade and investment ties, exploring opportunities for joint ventures and partnerships, and sharing expertise in sectors of mutual interest,” Al-Qahtani said.
“The Kingdom welcomes Philippine businesses and investors to participate in its diversification efforts, particularly in non-oil sectors such as tourism, renewable energy, infrastructure, and human capital development.”
Human capital development reflects Saudi Arabia’s efforts to improve the professional competence of employees in its labor market and regulate the quality of employment, while ongoing clean energy and sophisticated infrastructure megaprojects aim to help the economy pivot away from its traditional dependency on fossil fuels.
Tourism, also, is currently a booming sector in the Kingdom as the government plans to triple its employment to 1.6 million people and contribution to gross domestic product to 10 percent by 2030.
“Saudi Arabia remains committed to providing opportunities for Filipino expatriates in various fields,” the Saudi ambassador said.
“Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative has opened doors for economic diversification, investment, and innovation, which can create new prospects for Filipino expatriates. The Kingdom welcomes skilled and talented individuals from the Philippines to contribute to its development.”
Philippine officials have also been eyeing the emerging opportunities and last month announced they were in talks with Saudi authorities for a special mass hiring program that could see 1 million jobs for skilled Filipinos.
Philippine Department of Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople announced in late May that a delegation from the Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development was expected in Manila in June to develop the program.