Duterte’s split with the U.S.? Not so fast, say Philippines officials

CNN reports: Philippines officials have gone into damage control mode after controversial President Rodrigo Duterte said the country’s long-term alliance with the United States was over.

Philippines Trade Minister Ramon Lopez told CNN the country “would not stop trade and investment with the US.”

“(Duterte) has decided to strengthen further and rekindle the ties with China and the ASEAN region,” Lopez said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

There was widespread shock after Duterte announced his “separation” from the US, suggesting he would cut both economic and military ties, in favor of moving closer to Beijing.

“America has lost now. I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow,” President Duterte told business leaders in Beijing on Thursday.

“And maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”

In a statement Friday, Duterte’s office said the Philippines had no intention to renege on treaties or agreements with established allies.

The President’s comments were “an assertion that we are an independent and sovereign nation, now finding common ground with friendly neighbors with shared aspirations in the spirit of mutual respect, support and cooperation,” the statement said. [Continue reading…]

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7 signs that China is serious about combatting climate change

Grist reports: Two years after President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that their countries would work together to combat climate change, Republicans and conservatives in the U.S. continue to cite China’s rising carbon emissions as a reason not to bother cutting our own.

Earlier this month, Donald Trump’s economic advisor Stephen Moore claimed that limiting our carbon pollution is pointless because of China’s supposedly growing coal dependency. “Every time we shut down a coal plant in the U.S., China builds 10,” Moore told E&E News. “So how does that reduce global warming?”

Not only is Moore’s statement simply untrue, but the broader conservative theory behind it is badly outdated. China’s coal use and carbon emissions have dropped for the last two years. In 2015, China cut its coal use 3.7 percent and its emissions declined an estimated 1–2 percent, following similar decreases in 2014. [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s failed ‘Asian pivot’ leaves China ascendant

Simon Tisdall writes: Tsai Ing-wen is new to the job and the strain is beginning to show. Elected president of Taiwan in a landslide victory, she took office in May, buoyed by high approval ratings. Yet in a few short months, Tsai’s popularity has plunged by 25%. The reason may be summed up in one word: China. Suspicious that Tsai’s Democratic Progressive party, which also won control of parliament, harbours a pro-independence agenda, Beijing suspended official and back-channel talks with its “renegade province” and shut down an emergency hotline.

More seriously, for many Taiwanese workers, China also curbed the lucrative tourist trade, which brought millions of mainland visitors to the island during the accommodating presidency of Tsai’s predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou. Cross-strait investment and business have also been hit.

Tsai faces contradictory pressures. The public wants the benefit of closer economic ties with China but Beijing’s intentions are rightly distrusted by a population that increasingly identifies itself as Taiwanese, not Chinese. Given President Xi Jinping’s ominous warnings that reunification cannot be delayed indefinitely, China’s military build-up and hawkish suggestions that Beijing may resort to force, Taiwanese ambivalence is wholly understandable.

This dilemma – how to work constructively with a powerful, assertive China without compromising or surrendering national interests – grows steadily more acute. It is shared by states across the east and southeast Asian region. From Indonesia and the Philippines to Vietnam, Japan, Seoul, Malaysia and Singapore, the quandary is the same. But the answers proffered by national leaders are different and sometimes sharply at odds. [Continue reading…]

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Saudis buy Chinese killer drones

David Axe reports: Saudi Arabia is the world’s newest drone power. And that could be a problem, since the Saudis are in the midst of a rather nasty war.

Riyadh has signed a contract with Chinese firm Chengdu for an unspecified number of Pterodactyl drones, Saudi media reported in late August and early September.

The 30-foot-long, propeller-driven Pterodactyl, which Chengdu apparently modeled on America’s iconic Predator and Reaper drones, can fly for hours at a time carrying cameras and missiles. Operators on the ground control the unmanned aerial vehicle via satellite.

As far as killer drones go, the Pterodactyl probably isn’t terribly sophisticated — its sensors are certainly less capable than U.S.-made models — and that can mean the difference between life and death for innocent people caught in the crossfire as flying robots hunt militants on the ground.

Just ask people in Iraq. The Baghdad government acquired rudimentary CH-4 killer drones from China in late 2015. On one of the type’s very first missions against suspected ISIS terrorists in January, the drone’s operators accidentally targeted pro-government militamen, killing nine fighters and wounding 14. [Continue reading…]

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Why Kim Jong Un tested a nuclear warhead now

Gordon G Change writes: North Korea is hailing a “successful” fifth nuclear test, which it carried out Friday morning local time.

The device tested, which created a 5.3-magnitude tremor at its Punggye-ri test site, was reportedly in the 20- to 30-kiloton range, much more powerful than the North’s previous detonations. The last test, in January, yielded only about seven to nine kilotons.

The North Koreans have been ready to test this device since May. So why did they wait until now? Some are suggesting the detonation celebrated North Korea’s Foundation Day, marking the 68th anniversary of the establishment of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. But from all indications, the Kim regime tested at this time because it realized China would not impose costs for the detonation.

The test took place three days after Pyongyang’s nuclear envoy traveled to Beijing. Choe Son Hui, deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry’s U.S. affairs bureau, arrived in the Chinese capital on Tuesday.

We don’t know what Choe — who was deputy chief envoy to the six-party denuclearization talks, which have been dormant since 2008 — and her interlocutors said this week. Nonetheless, it was evident that the North Koreans were confident of the Chinese reaction.

At the moment, Beijing is far more upset with Seoul than Pyongyang.

In July, South Korea and the United States announced they would deploy the American-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system on South Korean soil. Beijing is worried that THAAD’s high-powered radars will reach into China and could help the U.S. shoot down Chinese missiles. Washington denies that is the case and has been willing to share technical information, but Beijing has not been mollified. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. and China ratify Paris Agreement, upping pressure on other nations

Inside Climate News reports: China and the United States, the two biggest emitters of the carbon pollution that has brought global warming to a crisis point, formally ratified the Paris climate agreement on Saturday. Their move propels the ambitious global pact toward its entry into force by the end of this year.

The leaders acted the day before a meeting in Hangzhou of the G20 group of international economic powerhouses. Those nations account for almost all current emissions, and must all act swiftly to strengthen their commitments if the Paris accord is to meet its objectives.

Appearing together, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping pledged to extend their countries’ Paris commitments to encompass “mid-century, long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies.” The treaty’s ultimate objective is to bring the whole world to zero net emissions of greenhouse gases as quickly as possible.

For the Paris agreement to take force early, 55 countries representing 55 percent of global CO2 emissions must ratify it. Together, China and the U.S. account for about 38 percent of emissions. According to the World Resources Institute, 24 other parties have already ratified, but together those parties only account for another 1 percent of emissions. The fastest way to hit the 55/55 goal would be for the European Union and a smattering of additional countries to sign on. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: With China, the US and a host of smaller countries signed up, the biggest emitter left outstanding is the EU, which negotiated the agreement as a bloc. The EU is unlikely to be able to ratify the accord any time soon, because of the mechanics of getting legal surety from its 28 member states.

There is a way around this. Nicholas Stern, chairman of the Grantham Institute on Climate Change and author of the landmark 2006 report on the economics of climate change, called on EU member states and the UK to ratify the agreement individually, through their national parliaments, to speed up the process. EU members are legally parties to the accord at a national as well as a bloc level, so if enough major countries – including the UK and Germany – were to enact the necessary processes then the accord could pass the final hurdle.

“This is a tremendous opportunity,” Stern told the Guardian. “It’s very important for the credibility of the process [of gaining global agreement on climate action through the UN] to get the treaty ratified this year. EU countries can and should ratify as soon as possible. It’s not sensible to hold back, when they could make a big difference.” [Continue reading…]

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China seeks closer military ties with Syria

Reuters reports: China wants to have closer military ties with Syria, state media on Tuesday cited a senior Chinese officer as saying during a rare visit to the war-torn Middle Eastern country.

While relying on the region for oil supplies, China tends to leave Middle Eastern diplomacy to the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, namely the United States, Britain, France and Russia.

But China has been trying to get more involved, including sending envoys to help push for a diplomatic resolution to the violence there and hosting Syrian government and opposition figures.

Guan Youfei, director of the Office for International Military Cooperation of China’s Central Military Commission, met Syrian Defence Minister Fahad Jassim al-Freij in Damascus, China’s Xinhua state news agency said. [Continue reading…]

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The specter of an accidental China-U. S. war

The Wall Street Journal reports: The last time America and China went to war—in Korea in 1950—they fought each other to a standstill.

Later that decade, as the Cold War ramped up, they came close to blows again; the Eisenhower administration repeatedly threatened “Red China” with nuclear devastation as tensions bubbled over Taiwan.

Today, given the astronomical stakes at play, many assume that armed conflict between the two giants is out of the question. They are each other’s largest trading partner. Military confrontation wouldn’t only threaten these huge flows but also student exchanges, scientific collaboration, joint technical projects and the myriad other ways in which the fates and fortunes of the world’s two largest economies and their peoples are inextricably linked.

Yet, as China flexes its muscles in the South China Sea and East China Sea, the risks of an inadvertent clash on the water or in the air are growing by the day.

A new RAND Corp study says that a Sino-U. S. war as a result of such a crisis “cannot be considered implausible.”

Violence could ignite quickly, the report warns. That is because each side has deployed precision-guided munitions, as well as cyber and space technologies, able to inflict devastating damage on the other’s military assets, including Chinese land-based missile batteries and American aircraft carriers. Thus they have a strong incentive to launch massive strikes first as part of a “use it or lose it” calculation. [Continue reading…]

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China launches quantum satellite for ‘hack-proof’ communications

The Guardian reports: China says it has launched the world’s first quantum satellite, a project Beijing hopes will enable it to build a coveted “hack-proof” communications system with potentially significant military and commercial applications.

Xinhua, Beijing’s official news service, said Micius, a 600kg satellite that is nicknamed after an ancient Chinese philosopher, “roared into the dark sky” over the Gobi desert at 1.40am local time on Tuesday, carried by a Long March-2D rocket.

“The satellite’s two-year mission will be to develop ‘hack-proof’ quantum communications, allowing users to send messages securely and at speeds faster than light,” Xinhua reported.

The Quantum Experiments at Space Scale, or Quess, satellite programme is part of an ambitious space programme that has accelerated since Xi Jinping became Communist party chief in late 2012.

“There’s been a race to produce a quantum satellite, and it is very likely that China is going to win that race,” Nicolas Gisin, a professor and quantum physicist at the University of Geneva, told the Wall Street Journal. “It shows again China’s ability to commit to large and ambitious projects and to realise them.”

The satellite will be tasked with sending secure messages between Beijing and Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, a sprawling region of deserts and snow-capped mountains in China’s extreme west.

Highly complex attempts to build such a “hack-proof” communications network are based on the scientific principle of entanglement. [Continue reading…]

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The rising power of China will create new political fissures in the West

Gideon Rachman writes: Whether he wins or loses the US presidency next November, Donald Trump has already come up with one of the defining slogans of 2016 – “Make America great again”.

Trump’s vision of an America in precipitous decline is all-encompassing. At home, he points to falling living standards for many Americans and the disappearance of well-paid manufacturing jobs. Overseas, he claims the world is laughing at the US and laments that “we don’t win any more”.

Many in Europe are tempted to see Trump as an “only in America” aberration. Yet the fear of economic and geopolitical decline that Trump is capitalising upon is widely visible across the west. The coalition of frustrated working-class voters and nostalgic nationalists that the Republican has put together is uncomfortably reminiscent of the alliance that voted for Brexit in the UK. Trump’s “make America great again” mantra has an echo of the Brexit campaign’s winning slogan – “Take back control”. Nor is this is just an Anglo-American phenomenon. Across the EU, including in France, the Netherlands, Italy and Poland, protectionists and nationalists are gaining ground.

As Trump might put it: “Something’s going on.” That something is a historic shift in economic and geopolitical power that is bringing to an end a 500-year period in which western nations have dominated global affairs. This erosion of the west’s privileged position in world affairs is creating new economic, geopolitical and even psychological pressures in both the US and the EU.

The driving force of this change is the extraordinary economic development of Asia over the past 50 years. In 2014, the IMF reported that, measured in purchasing power, China is now the world’s largest economy. The US had held this title since 1871, when it displaced the UK; now China is number one. The rise of China is just part of a broader shift of economic power towards Asia. The IMF reports that three of the world’s four largest economies are now in Asia. China is first, the US is second, India third and Japan fourth. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. launches quiet diplomacy to ease South China Sea tensions

Reuters reports: The United States is using quiet diplomacy to persuade the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and other Asian nations not to move aggressively to capitalize on an international court ruling that denied China’s claims to the South China Sea, several U.S. administration officials said on Wednesday.

“What we want is to quiet things down so these issues can be addressed rationally instead of emotionally,” said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private diplomatic messages.

Some were sent through U.S. embassies abroad and foreign missions in Washington, while others were conveyed directly to top officials by Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior officials, the sources said.

“This is a blanket call for quiet, not some attempt to rally the region against China, which would play into a false narrative that the U.S. is leading a coalition to contain China,” the official added. [Continue reading…]

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For U.S. leaders, confronting China is a dangerous game

Tonio Andrade writes: China is increasingly asserting itself as a great power, and nowhere is its rise more likely to lead to war than in the South China Sea. This vital seaway not only is filled with shipping lanes, but also contains rich fishing grounds and oil and gas deposits, and China claims vast swaths of it. Neighboring countries have reacted angrily to its assertions, and China has responded by ratcheting up air and naval patrols and building artificial islands with airstrips and barracks.

These tensions are likely only to increase in the wake of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling Tuesday undermining China’s claims and bolstering those of the Philippines, one of the closest U.S. allies in the region. China has rejected the ruling; its state-controlled media outlets call the court a “law-abusing tribunal.” The United States, for its part, is determined to enforce the ruling and has stepped up naval patrols in the region in anticipation of China’s negative reaction.

This is a dangerous game. China is more prepared for a confrontation than Western experts may expect. We are, quite literally, in perilous waters. U.S. leaders would do well to understand China’s military past, a history far more warlike and bellicose than has long been assumed. [Continue reading…]

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