Philippines summons Chinese ambassador over maritime confrontations in South China Sea

Philippines summons Chinese ambassador over maritime confrontations in South China Sea
A Chinese Coast Guard ship, right, uses a water cannon on a Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessel as it approaches Scarborough Shoal in the disputed South China Sea on Dec. 9, 2023. (Philippine Coast Guard via AP)
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Updated 11 December 2023
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Philippines summons Chinese ambassador over maritime confrontations in South China Sea

Philippines summons Chinese ambassador over maritime confrontations in South China Sea
  • 5th time this year Philippines has summoned Beijing’s envoy
  • Filipino military chief claims he was onboard ship harassed by Chinese vessels

MANILA: The Philippines summoned the Chinese ambassador on Monday and flagged the possibility of declaring him persona non grata following two back-to-back incidents between Philippine and Chinese vessels near disputed shoals in the South China Sea.

Manila said the Chinese coast guard and maritime militia fired water cannons at its resupply boats, causing “serious engine damage” to one, while another was “deliberately” rammed, as China’s coast guard accused Philippines’ vessels of “deliberately colliding” with its ship.

The Philippines has lodged a diplomatic protest over the weekend collisions and summoned on Monday China’s ambassador to the Philippines, Huang Xilian, for the fifth time this year.

“The Chinese Ambassador has also been summoned,” Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Teresita Daza told reporters.

“We note that this is the fourth time this year, with the two incidents happening just over the weekend, that water cannons have been used against Philippines vessels.

“More alarmingly, this is the third incident where dangerous maneuvers by Chinese vessels have resulted in a collision since the Oct. 22 RORE (rotation and resupply) mission.”

The maritime confrontations had occurred in the Second Thomas Shoal and Scarborough Shoal, which are claimed by both the Philippines and China.

Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entirety of the strategic South China Sea based on its so-called nine-dash line stretching over 1,500 km off its mainland and cutting into the exclusive economic zones of several countries, including the Philippines.

In 2016, an international tribunal at The Hague dismissed the expansive Chinese claim, a ruling that Beijing does not recognize as it increased activities in the area in recent years, including developing its military presence by building artificial island bases.

“With this case, I think it’s something that will have to be seriously considered whether the incidents or the series of incidents merit having him (Chinese ambassador) be a persona non grata,” Daza said during the press conference.

The chief of staff of the Armed Forces, Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., said he was onboard the Filipino supply boat that was sprayed with a water cannon and rammed on Sunday.

“I was outside at the bow of the ship taking videos when they started firing water cannon at us, so we took shelter … we went inside the ship, and that was the time they bumped us,” Brawner told reporters. “After they bumped and fired water cannon at us, the Chinese Coast Guard cut in front of us several times ... when they got ahead of us, they even reversed course to try to hit us again.”

“I’m angry, because why are we being treated like this in our own exclusive economic zone?” Brawner told Arab News. “Our mission was only to bring supplies (to our troops), why do we need to be harassed?”


S. Korean, US troops will begin major exercises next week in response to N. Korean threats

S. Korean, US troops will begin major exercises next week in response to N. Korean threats
Updated 8 sec ago
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S. Korean, US troops will begin major exercises next week in response to N. Korean threats

S. Korean, US troops will begin major exercises next week in response to N. Korean threats

SEOUL: South Korean and US troops will begin their expanded annual military drills next week in response to North Korea’s evolving nuclear threats, the two countries said Wednesday, a move that will likely enrage North Korea because it views its rivals’ joint training as an invasion rehearsal.

In recent months, North Korea has inflamed animosities on the Korean Peninsula with fiery rhetoric and continued missile tests. While it’s unlikely for North Korea to launch full-blown attacks against South Korea and the US, observers say the North could still stage limited provocations along the tense border with South Korea.

On Wednesday, the South Korea and US militaries jointly announced that the allies will conduct Freedom Shield exercise, a computer-simulated command post training, and a variety of separate field training, from March 4-14.

Col. Lee Sung-Jun, a spokesperson for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that the allies’ drills are designed to bolster their joint capabilities to prevent North Korea from using its nuclear weapons. He said the allies are to carry out 48 field exercises this spring, twice the number conducted last year, and that this year’s drills would 

involve air assault, live-firing and bombing training.

“Our military is ready to punish North Korea immediately, strongly and to the end in the event of its provocation, and we’ll further strengthen our firm readiness through the upcoming drills,” Lee said. 

Col. Isaac L. Taylor, a spokesperson for the US military, said the allies’ exercises have been defensive in nature and that there is solid evidence that “a high readiness rate” helps ensure deterrence.

North Korea didn’t immediately respond to the drills’ announcement. North Korea has reacted to previous major South Korea-US military drills with its own missile tests.

North Korea has sharply intensified its weapons testing activities since 2022 in part of its efforts to expand its nuclear and missile arsenals. This year, the North already conducted six rounds of missile tests — five of them reportedly involving cruise missiles — and other weapons launches.


UK pro-Palestinian marches to continue until government calls for ceasefire, protesters say

UK pro-Palestinian marches to continue until government calls for ceasefire, protesters say
Updated 8 min 17 sec ago
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UK pro-Palestinian marches to continue until government calls for ceasefire, protesters say

UK pro-Palestinian marches to continue until government calls for ceasefire, protesters say
  • Cleverly said that the protesters had “made their point” and were putting “huge pressure” on police

LONDON: Pro-Palestinian marches in the UK will continue to take place with thousands participating despite calls by British Home Secretary James Cleverly to end demonstrations, organizers have said.

The UK capital has been the scene of some of Europe’s largest pro-Palestine protests since October, with regular marches every fortnight in central London drawing hundreds of thousands.

Protest organizers said that the demonstrations would continue “at the very least until we see an immediate ceasefire” in Gaza, The Times reported.

Organizers vowed to continue taking to the streets even if a “humanitarian pause” was agreed on, arguing that this would only be a “stay of execution” for Palestinians.

Cleverly said that the protesters had “made their point” and were putting “huge pressure” on police. He added that the demonstrations in London, as well as those in other towns and cities across the UK, were “not really saying anything new.”

Ministers are concerned about the drain on police resources, with estimates suggesting that the protests have cost £25 million and caused thousands of rest days for officers to be canceled, The Times reported.

The government is debating changing protest rules to require organizers to give police more than the current six days’ notice.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign condemned the UK government’s “growing attacks on the right to protest.”

According to PSC Director Ben Jamal, people will “continue to march in huge numbers because the genocide has not stopped.”

He promised to fight back against the “repressive environment” being “whipped up” by the government.

Other groups that have joined the protests criticized the police’s response to the marches, which began in October, after Israel began its bombardment and military invasion of Gaza with nearly 30,000 people killed.

Chris Nineham, a founding member of the Stop the War Coalition, said that there were fewer arrests per person at pro-Palestinian marches than at the Glastonbury Festival or a Premier League football match, The Times reported.

He accused Scotland Yard of “extraordinary hysteria” and “overpolicing.”

UK Policing Minister Chris Philp said that there had been 600 arrests at the marches to date, but emphasized that free speech and the right to protest were the foundations of a democratic society.

On Saturday, the PSC plans to stage protests at dozens of Barclays bank branches across the country, which has financial ties to arms companies that sell weapons to Israel.

Earlier in February, a group of pro-Palestinian activists blocked the bank’s Canary Wharf headquarters and protested with a banner that read: “Are you sure you want to close your account? YES.” They chanted, among other things: “Barclays, Barclays, you can’t hide, you’re enabling genocide,” as well as “Your profits are covered in Palestinian blood.”
 


Ukraine needs $3 billion in financial aid per month in 2024, Kyiv says

Ukraine needs $3 billion in financial aid per month in 2024, Kyiv says
Updated 28 February 2024
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Ukraine needs $3 billion in financial aid per month in 2024, Kyiv says

Ukraine needs $3 billion in financial aid per month in 2024, Kyiv says
  • “We cannot allow a delay in attracting external financing,” Marchenko said
  • The EU finally approved its 50 billion euro four-year facility for Ukraine this month

KYIV: Ukraine needs about $3 billion in foreign financial aid on a monthly basis to get through 2024, Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko said on Wednesday, highlighting the challenges Kyiv faces as US support begins to falter.
Marchenko said Ukraine’s macroeconomic stability during the war with Russia had been possible due to a steady inflow of international financial aid from Kyiv’s allies, something he added remained crucial this year.
“In 2024, the monthly need for external financing will reach about $3 billion. We cannot allow a delay in attracting external financing,” Marchenko said in a statement.
Ukraine has received more than $73 billion in financial aid from its Western partners in the two years since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.
So far this year the level of support has been much lower as major packages from the European Union and the United States have suffered major delays.
The EU finally approved its 50 billion euro four-year facility for Ukraine this month but the US financial and military support package remains stuck in Congress, blocked by Republican lawmakers.
Addressing finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of Seven major industrialized nations on Wednesday, Marchenko said the government had been more active on the domestic debt market this year and looked for other ways to increase its budget revenues.
Senior executives of several of Ukraine’s biggest state-owned companies have told Reuters they had paid some of their obligatory budget payments in advance to help the government cover the budget deficit.
Ukraine’s budget gap is about $37 billion this year.
Ukraine channels most of its budget revenues into the defense effort and relies on foreign aid to pay pensions and state employees’ wages, and to cover social and humanitarian spending.
Finance ministry data shows Ukraine received about $1.2 billion from Japan and Norway in the first two months of this year.
“International donors’ help is not just a financial issue, but an opportunity to support millions of Ukrainians who need it and to save the lives of thousands of soldiers,” Marchenko said.


EU watchdog wants new search and rescue rules after hundreds of migrants drown off Greece

EU watchdog wants new search and rescue rules after hundreds of migrants drown off Greece
Updated 28 February 2024
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EU watchdog wants new search and rescue rules after hundreds of migrants drown off Greece

EU watchdog wants new search and rescue rules after hundreds of migrants drown off Greece
  • European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said current rules prevent the EU’s border and coast guard agency Frontex from fulfilling its obligations to protect the rights of migrants
  • Up to 750 people were believed to be crammed aboard the Adriana when it sank off Greece last June

BRUSSELS: The European Union’s administrative watchdog called Wednesday for a change to Europe’s search and rescue rules following an inquiry into last year’s sinking of a rusty fishing boat, the Adriana, carrying hundreds of migrants while traveling from Libya to Italy.
European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said current rules prevent the EU’s border and coast guard agency Frontex from fulfilling its obligations to protect the rights of migrants or act independently of national authorities when boats they use are in distress.
Up to 750 people were believed to be crammed aboard the Adriana when it sank off Greece last June. Just 104 people were rescued — mostly migrants from Syria, Pakistan and Egypt — and 82 bodies were found. Human rights groups accused Greek authorities of failing to properly investigate. Italian authorities were also involved in the incident.
“Why did reports of overcrowding, an apparent lack of life vests, children on board and possible fatalities fail to trigger timely rescue efforts that could have saved hundreds of lives?” O’Reilly asked.
Frontex provides surveillance and other support to the 27 national authorities — plus those of some EU partner countries — to help protect their maritime and land borders. In emergencies, it is obliged to follow the orders of those authorities and has no power to coordinate rescue missions.
O’Reilly said documents inspected during her inquiry showed that Frontex made four separate offers to assist Greek authorities with aerial surveillance of the Adriana but received no response. Current rules prevented Frontex from going to the ship without Greek permission.
“We must ask ourselves why a boat so obviously in need of help never received that help despite an EU agency, two member states’ authorities, civil society and private ships knowing of its existence,” O’Reilly said.
Thousands of people die or go missing in the Mediterranean each year in desperate attempts to reach Europe in barely seaworthy boats to escape poverty, war, abuse or discrimination. But the EU and member countries do not have a search and rescue mission actively patrolling.
The Italian authorities set up a search and rescue effort in 2013, but it was abandoned due to accusations that it only inspired more people to come. Italy and others have actively sought to stop charity ships from doing such work, sometimes by impounding their vessels.
“If Frontex has a duty to help save lives at sea, but the tools for it are lacking, then this is clearly a matter for EU legislators,” O’Reilly said. She said cooperation with national coast guards by Frontex when it lacks autonomy “risks making the EU complicit in actions that violate fundamental rights and cost lives.”
Reacting to the ombudsman’s findings, the agency said it “is deeply committed to saving lives and we’re always looking for ways to do our job better, especially when it comes to search and rescue missions.”
Frontex welcomed the ombudsman’s acknowledgement that the agency had followed all laws and procedures when alerting Greek and Italian authorities.
It said an assessment by Frontex’s own fundamental rights officer “confirms our adherence to international laws and the adequacy of our support to national authorities, alongside the proper conduct of search and rescue operations.”
EU member countries and lawmakers are currently negotiating a new overhaul of the bloc’s asylum and migration rules, and are trying to push it through before Europe-wide elections on June 6-9. The reforms do not include any proposals for proactive search and rescue missions.


UK’s governing Conservatives struggle to contain fallout from Islamophobia claims

UK’s governing Conservatives struggle to contain fallout from Islamophobia claims
Updated 28 February 2024
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UK’s governing Conservatives struggle to contain fallout from Islamophobia claims

UK’s governing Conservatives struggle to contain fallout from Islamophobia claims
  • Baroness Sayeeda Warsi: ‘It’s definitely not a party I recognize’
  • New poll finds 58% of members believe Islam is a threat to British way of life

LONDON: Britain’s governing Conservative Party has once again found itself embroiled in accusations of Islamophobia following the remarks of its former Deputy Chair Lee Anderson.

Speaking on GB News last week, he claimed that London Mayor Sadiq Khan, one of the UK’s highest-profile Muslim politicians, had “given away control of the capital to his mates,” describing him as under the control of Islamists.

Party bosses purportedly pushed Anderson to apologize in an effort to mitigate the fallout, but failed. He has since doubled down, claiming he has public support.

A day after the comments were made, a party spokesperson confirmed that while remaining an MP, Anderson would no longer serve his Ashfield constituents as a Conservative but rather as an independent, in what is expected to be a highly contentious election year.

If the hopes were that a relatively swift, if not immediate, ousting from the party would calm the situation, such hopes have proved misplaced.

Many are pointing not to the event but its handling as indicative of structural Islamophobia within the Conservative Party, with commentators noting that the suspension came not for the comments themselves but for defying party requests that he apologize.

One of the Conservatives’ own leading figures, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi — the first Muslim to serve in the British Cabinet — told LBC Radio: “It’s definitely not a party I recognize, but it’s not a party that so many of my colleagues recognize.

“I’ve had colleagues on the phone … just despairing. I’ve had very senior ex-cabinet colleagues saying, ‘they’re just jokers.’

“What disturbs me more is that this kind of divisive far-right conspiratorial rhetoric is now in the mainstream, and this has real-life consequences.”

Polling by Opinium of 521 Conservative Party members indicated that 58 percent consider Islam a threat to the British way of life, with 52 percent believing an ever more prominent conspiracy theory that pockets of Europe are under Shariah law and “no-go” areas for non-Muslims.

For some, the figures explain Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s repeated refusal to describe Anderson’s comments as Islamophobic, instead describing them as “unacceptable” and “wrong,” while denying claims that the party has Islamophobic tendencies.

Responding to Sunak, Khan told Sky News that he had been left “bewildered” by the party’s refusal to “call this (Islamophobia) out.”

“They should say what the problem is. The problem is that you have a senior Conservative saying things that are clearly racist, anti-Muslim and Islamophobic — this is leading to an environment where anti-Muslim crime is spiraling,” Khan said.

“What they’re doing is pouring petrol on the flames of Islamophobia. You wouldn’t put up with antisemitic tropes. Racism is racism.”   

Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf made the point more explicitly, telling STV News that the Conservative Party has a “structural” issue with Islamophobia, and that Anderson’s comments and the response are “just a further demonstration that Islamophobia is normalized.”

The evidence is not hard to find, with another furore having broken out last year when Khan’s Conservative opponent in the summer mayoral election, Susan Hall, whose candidacy has been mired in controversy, said Jewish Londoners were afraid of him and endorsed a tweet describing him as the “mayor of Londonistan.”

These are not the highest-profile Conservatives to have peddled Islamophobic rhetoric in recent years, nor is Anderson the first to have targeted Khan.

The mayor’s 2016 opponent Zac Goldsmith had to launch an investigation into his own team after claims of Islamophobic comments, with subsequent suggestions that he had been running a racist campaign in an endeavor to beat Khan.

Then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s subsequent appointment of Goldsmith to the House of Lords only added fuel to the fire. Johnson himself said women in burkas look like letterboxes.  

Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman earlier this month claimed that the UK is losing its identity and capacity to peacefully coexist with different faiths and races because Islamists are taking over.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, she said of Islamists: “We see their influence in our judiciary, our legal profession, and our universities.”

She added that they are next coming “for Parliament,” in a diatribe all too familiar with that seen across a range of far-right electoral strategies.

Britain’s largest Muslim body, the Muslim Council of Britain, has written to Conservative Party Chair Richard Holden demanding an investigation.

“Our view is that Islamophobia in the party is institutional, tolerated by the leadership and seen as acceptable by great swathes of the party membership. Leaders can shape the agenda and narrative and play a role in Islamophobic hate crime,” the letter stated.

“Islamophobic hate crime has trebled according to Tell Mama. These issues cannot — and must not — be ignored.”

Business Minister Nus Ghani, senior backbencher Sajid Javid and Conservative peer Gavin Barwell also condemned Anderson’s comments, but Warsi remains one of the few to have pointed out the wider issues in her party.

And it is a drum she has been beating for more than a decade, having noted in 2011 that around Conservatives, Islamophobia had “passed the dinner-table test.”