Philippines, Japan sign key defense pact amid rising tensions in South China Sea 

Special Philippines, Japan sign key defense pact amid rising tensions in South China Sea 
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa shakes hands with Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro after signing the Reciprocal Access Agreement in Manila on July 8, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 08 July 2024
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Philippines, Japan sign key defense pact amid rising tensions in South China Sea 

Philippines, Japan sign key defense pact amid rising tensions in South China Sea 
  • Philippines-Japan Reciprocal Access Agreement is Tokyo’s first such pact in Asia 
  • Manila, China have increasingly faced off in disputed waters since last year 

MANILA: The Philippines and Japan signed a key defense pact on Monday, allowing the deployment of troops on each other’s soil for joint military exercises amid escalating tensions in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. 

The Reciprocal Access Agreement was signed at a ceremony in Manila by Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa, and was witnessed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. 

Under the agreement, Japanese forces will be able to deploy to the Philippines for combat training and vice versa. The pact, which is the first of its kind to be signed by Japan in Asia, would take effect after ratification by the countries’ legislatures. 

The deal coincides with China’s increasing activities in the disputed South China Sea and follows a string of maritime confrontations between Manila and Beijing in the contested waters. 

“The RAA brings our defense partnership to an unprecedented height,” Philippine Secretary for Foreign Affairs Enrique A. Manalo said at a joint press conference. 

“We reaffirmed our shared goals of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, promoting regional economic growth, and addressing the increasing and complex challenges in the region and beyond.”

Tokyo and Manila are also working together to improve the capacity of the Philippine Coast Guard, Manalo said, which includes Japan’s financing of new maritime vessels for the PCG that will enhance its “ability to patrol our vast waters and to conduct maritime law enforcement.” 

After signing the agreement, Manalo and Teodoro held talks with Kamikawa and Japan’s Defense Minister Minoru Kihara on ways to further deepen relations. 

“We have confirmed that we will work to strengthen the international order, which is open to all, to promote security and defense cooperation, and to work with the region and the international community on these issues,” Kamikawa said. 

Japan has had a long-standing territorial dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea, while Chinese and Philippine coast guard and navy ships have been involved in a series of tense incidents in the South China Sea since last year. 

The Philippines said China disrupted a resupply mission in the contested waters last month with an “aggressive and illegal use of force” in an incident that saw a Filipino navy officer lose a finger. 

The incident sparked statements of support from the international community, including Japan, which expressed serious concern over “dangerous actions” in the South China Sea. 

Manila and several other countries have overlapping claims in the resource-rich waterway, where the bulk of the world’s commerce and oil transits. The strategic waters were claimed by China almost in its entirety, though it was rejected in a 2016 ruling by an international tribunal in The Hague. 

Don McLain Gill, an international studies lecturer at De La Salle University in Manila, said Monday’s agreement showed Japan’s “steadfast commitment in being the Philippines’ major economic and defense partner.” 

Under the new pact, Japan might be able to join the Philippines and the US for their annual joint drills known as Balikatan, which this year involved more than 16,000 military personnel, said Joshua Espena, vice president of Manila-based research organization International Development and Security Cooperation.

“The RAA will prove to be a critical upgrade to the Philippine-Japan security partnership,” Espena told Arab News. 

“While Tokyo is trying to improve its image away from its World War II legacy, it is also taking more commitments to contribute to the regional order, hence the massive outreach and assistance to Manila,” he said. 

“Since the RAA will ensure the flow of forces from Japan to the Philippines and vice versa, this means a more sustained forward presence between the two US allies in fostering collective deterrence against China.”


Malaysia marks coronation of new king

Malaysia marks coronation of new king
Updated 7 sec ago
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Malaysia marks coronation of new king

Malaysia marks coronation of new king
  • Billionaire King Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar pledges to govern fairly during the 5-year term

KUALA LUMPUR: Traditional pomp and cannon fire on Saturday marked the coronation of Malaysia’s billionaire King Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar, who pledged to govern fairly during the five-year term he will serve under a unique rotating monarchy system.
Sultan Ibrahim, 65, was sworn in on Jan. 31. Saturday’s coronation at the national palace formalized his role as Malaysia’s 17th king in a ceremony steeped in Malay culture and pageantry.
Nine ethnic Malay state rulers take turns as Malaysia’s king for five-year terms under the country’s rotating monarchy, which began when Malaysia gained independence from Britain in 1957. Malaysia has 13 states but only nine have royal families, some which trace their roots to centuries-old Malay kingdoms that were independent states until they were brought together by the British.
Donned in black and gold traditional ceremonial outfit and headgear, Sultan Ibrahim and Queen Raja Zarith Sofiah were greeted by military salute before they proceeded to the throne. The heads of the other royal families, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Bahrain King Hamad Isa al Khalifa were seated on a stage beside the throne.
At the start of the proceedings, a copy of the Qur’an was presented to the Sultan who kissed it. The monarch received a gold dagger, a symbol of power. Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim then pledged his government’s loyalty and said the royal institution was a pillar of strength for the nation. He then proclaimed Sultan Ibrahim as Malaysia’s new king.

 


Biden’s ability to win back skeptical Democrats is tested at a perilous moment for his campaign

US President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks at a press conference during NATO’s 75th anniversary summit, in Washington.Reuters
US President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks at a press conference during NATO’s 75th anniversary summit, in Washington.Reuters
Updated 20 July 2024
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Biden’s ability to win back skeptical Democrats is tested at a perilous moment for his campaign

US President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks at a press conference during NATO’s 75th anniversary summit, in Washington.Reuters
  • Rep. Mark Takano, the top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, called on Biden to “pass the torch,” to Vice President Kamala Harris

WASHINGTON DC: Despite a week of campaign stops, interviews and insistence that he is the best candidate to confront Republican Donald Trump, President Joe Biden hasn’t softened the push for him to exit the 2024 race.
Biden has weighty options before him this weekend that could set the direction of the country and his party as the nation heads toward the November election with an energized GOP after the Republican nominating convention to send Trump back to the White House.
Rep. Mark Takano, the top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, on Saturday added his name to the list of nearly three dozen Democrats in Congress who say it’s time for Biden to leave the race. The Californian called on Biden to “pass the torch,” to Vice President Kamala Harris.
Harris, meanwhile, earned backing from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who told MSNBC on Saturday that the vice president is “ready to step up” to unite the party and take on Trump should Biden decide to bow out. Warren said knowing that “gives me a lot of hope right now.”
More lawmakers are expected to speak out in the days ahead. Donors have raised concerns. And an organization calling on Biden to “Pass the Torch” planned a rally Saturday outside the White House. Biden has insisted that he’s all in.
“There is no joy in the recognition he should not be our nominee in November,” said Democratic Rep. Morgan McGarvey of Kentucky, one of the Democrats urging Biden’s exit from the race. “But the stakes of this election are too high and we can’t risk the focus of the campaign being anything other than Donald Trump.”
The standoff has become increasingly untenable for the party and its leaders, a month from the Democratic National Convention that should be a unifying moment to nominate their incumbent president to confront Trump. Instead the party is at a crossroads unseen in generations.
It’s creating a stark juxtaposition with Republicans who, after years of bitter and chaotic infighting over Trump, have essentially embraced the former president’s far-right takeover of the GOP, despite his criminal conviction in a hush money case and pending federal criminal indictment for trying to overturn the 2020 election before the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
From his beach home in Delaware, Biden, 81, is isolating with a COVID infection, but also politically with a small circle of family and close advisers. White House doctor Kevin O’Connor said Friday that the president still had a dry cough and hoarseness, but his COVID symptoms had improved.
The president’s team insisted he’s ready to return to the campaign this coming week to counter what he called a “dark vision” laid out by Trump.
“Together, as a party and as a country, we can and will defeat him at the ballot box,” Biden said in a statement Friday. “The stakes are high, and the choice is clear. Together, we will win.”
But outside the Rehoboth enclave the debate and passions are intensifying.
A donor call with some 300 people Friday was described as a waste of time by one participant, who was granted anonymity to discuss the private conversation. While the person was complimentary of Harris, who spoke for five minutes, the rest of the time was filled by others who brushed aside donor concerns, according to the participant.
Not only are Democrats split over what Biden should do, they also lack consensus about how to choose a successor.
Democrats who are agitating for Biden to leave do not appear to have coalesced around a plan for what would happen next, for now. Very few of the lawmakers have mentioned Harris in their statements, and some have said they favor an open nominating process that would throw the party’s endorsement behind a new candidate.
Democratic Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Peter Welch of Vermont have both called for Biden to exit the race and said they would favor an open nominating process at the convention.
“Having it be open would strengthen whoever is the ultimate nominee,” Welch said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Other Democrats say it would be politically unthinkable to move past Harris, the nation’s first female vice president, who is Black and Southeast Asian, and logistically unworkable with a virtual nominating vote being planned for early next month, before the Democratic convention opens in Chicago on Aug. 19.
Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum, who has called on Biden to step aside, explicitly endorsed Harris as a replacement.
“To give Democrats a strong, viable path to winning the White House, I am calling upon President Biden to release his delegates and empower Vice President Harris to step forward to become the Democratic nominee for President,” McCollum said in her statement.
It’s unclear what else, if anything, the president could do to reverse course and win back lawmakers and Democratic voters, who are wary of his ability to defeat Trump and serve another term after his halting debate performance last month.
Nearly two-thirds of Democrats say Biden should withdraw from the presidential race and let his party nominate a different candidate, according to a new AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, sharply undercutting his post-debate claim that “average Democrats” are still with him even if some “big names” are turning on him.
At the same time, a majority of Democrats believe Kamala Harris would do a good job in the top slot, according to a separate AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.
Biden, who sent a defiant letter to Democrats in Congress vowing to stay in the race, has yet to visit Capitol Hill to shore up support, an absence noticed by senators and representatives.
The president did conduct a round of virtual conversations with various caucuses in the past week — some of which ended poorly.
During a call with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, one Democrat, Rep. Mike Levin of California, told Biden he should step aside. During another with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Biden became defensive when Rep. Jared Huffman of California asked him to consider meeting with top party leaders about the path forward.
Huffman was one of four Democratic lawmakers who called Friday for Biden to step aside.
At the same time, Biden still has strong backers. He picked up support Friday from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ campaign arm and has backing from leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.


More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza

More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza
Updated 20 July 2024
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More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza

More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza
  • Rides will run across London, Belfast, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and South Wales

LONDON: For three weeks, more than 1,200 people will be cycling in cities across the UK, calling on the newly-elected Labour government to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and to end arms sales to Israel.
The Big Ride was founded in 2015 by activists seeking to combine a passion for cycling with solidarity for Palestine.
This year’s events start on Saturday and run until Aug. 10 in London, Belfast, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and South Wales.
The grassroots organization will also be raising funds for Palestinian charities, including the Middle East Children’s Alliance, The Amos Trust, and the Gaza Sunbirds para cycling team, which continue their work in Gaza amidst the ongoing conflict.
Ellen Logan, one of the organizers of The Big Ride, said: “For years we’ve witnessed the daily oppression of the Palestinian people — discrimination, subjugation, and inhumanity. And now we’ve spent the last 10 months watching a live-streamed genocide. Everyone should be outraged and campaigning for an end to this violence.”
Logan added: “We use our bikes and freedoms to raise awareness and provide crucial aid for children and disabled cyclists on the ground in Gaza.”
A recent letter published in British medical journal, The Lancet, estimated the actual death toll in Gaza could be as high as 186,000.
British actress Maxine Peake, who is participating in the cycling event, said: “The Big Ride for Palestine has been raising awareness of this for nearly 10 years now. This year, more riders than ever have signed up, so please join a Big Ride near you.”
 


Monsoon rains pound India financial hub

Monsoon rains pound India financial hub
Updated 20 July 2024
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Monsoon rains pound India financial hub

Monsoon rains pound India financial hub
  • A woman died and four others were injured after sections of a four-story building came crashing down in Grant Road
  • Monsoon rains lash much of India from June to September and are vital to replenishing rivers, groundwater in the country

Mumbai: Monsoon rains pounded India’s financial hub of Mumbai on Saturday, causing the partial collapse of a residential building that killed at least one person, a municipal official said.
A woman died and four others were injured after sections of a four-story building came crashing down in Grant Road, an affluent suburb in the south of the city.
“The woman who died was not a resident of the building,” a spokesperson for the city’s municipal body told AFP.
The spokesperson did not confirm whether any residents of the building were missing or had been trapped under the rubble.
Images posted on social media showed rescuers clearing the rubble in the rain.
Monsoon rains lash much of India from June to September and are vital to replenishing rivers and groundwater in the country but the deluge also causes widespread destruction.
Building collapses are common during this period, with old and rickety structures buckling under days of non-stop rain.
In 2021, in the western state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, 200 people were killed by monsoon-triggered floods and landslides that also forced a quarter of a million to evacuate their homes.
 


Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount

Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount
Updated 20 July 2024
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Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount

Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount
  • Supreme Court hearing on contentious job quotas expected on Sunday
  • At least 103 people dead, including 44 killed in Dhaka on Friday alone

DHAKA: The Bangladeshi military was deployed to the streets to impose a nationwide curfew on Saturday, after more than 100 people were killed in clashes between police and students protesting government job quotas.

The curfew follows a communications blackout that has left the country of 170 million cut off from the world. Television channels were off air and most local news websites were down as the government shut internet services a day earlier.

“Army members will operate in aid to the civil administration under the guidance of district administrators and city commissioners,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Kamal told Arab News.

In the capital, the military joined riot police and thousands of Border Guard personnel after the Dhaka Metropolitan Police banned all gatherings amid increasing numbers of casualties.

Students have been demonstrating since the beginning of July against a rule that reserves a bulk of government jobs for the descendants of those who fought in the country’s 1971 liberation war.

At least 103 people have been killed in the past five days and thousands injured, according to a count based on reports in the local media. On Friday alone, at least 44 people were killed in Dhaka, which saw intense clashes between protesters, government supporters and security forces.

Air Commodore (Rtd) Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury, a security analyst, told Arab News that the nationwide military-backed curfew and the amount of violence across the country were “something unprecedented.”

He was referring to reports that numerous administration offices were set on fire and government vehicles vandalized on Friday. On Thursday, the headquarters of a state-owned television station was set ablaze.

“We have not seen such vandalism earlier in the country where many significant government establishments were vandalized and set on fire,” Choudhury said.

The government abolished the controversial quota system after student protests in 2018, but the High Court reinstated it in June, triggering protests.

An appeal hearing is expected at the Supreme Court on Sunday morning.

Under the quota system, 56 percent of public service jobs are reserved for specific groups, including women, marginalized communities and children and grandchildren of freedom fighters — for whom the government earmarks 30 percent of the posts.

These quotas, which reserve hundreds of thousands of government jobs, hit young people directly.

The country’s unemployment rate is the highest among people aged between 15 and 29 — more than a fourth of Bangladesh’s population — who constitute 83 percent of the total unemployed.