Progress in South China Sea feud, Koreas stir ASEAN

Currently led by Singapore, the 10-nation bloc will host on Saturday Asia’s largest security forum. (AFP)
Updated 01 August 2018

Progress in South China Sea feud, Koreas stir ASEAN

  • Currently led by Singapore, the 10-nation bloc will host on Saturday Asia’s largest security forum
  • The bloc has been an acceptable broker for talks for all sorts of conflicts

SINGAPORE: Southeast Asian nations are expected to welcome an initial negotiating draft of a nonaggression pact with China on the South China Sea, but critics warn that the protracted talks provide a diplomatic cover for Beijing’s tenacious aggression in the disputed waters.
Top diplomats of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will also praise the rapprochement between the Koreas, along with that of President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, when they gather for four days of annual summitry in Singapore starting Wednesday.
Currently led by Singapore, the 10-nation bloc will host on Saturday Asia’s largest security forum, including the key players involved in the Korean Peninsula’s disarmament efforts, which will provide a chance for them to talk on the summit’s sidelines.
Concern over rising extremism in the region and the plight of minority Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state will also be under the spotlight. Myanmar is to brief the ASEAN foreign ministers on the situation in Rakhine during a lunch “retreat,” an informal gathering where ministers raise contentious issues that normally are a taboo in their staid plenary meetings.
Founded in 1967 in the Cold War era as a bulwark against communism, ASEAN has a bedrock principle of non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs and decides by consensus, meaning even one member state can doom any proposal it deems offensive.
Those cardinal principles have drastically slowed decision-making and have been used by authoritarian leaders to dodge outside criticism, causing the diplomatic collective to be labeled by skeptics as a “club of dictators” and human rights violators. But its principles have allowed ASEAN to maintain diverse national identities, from rambunctious democracies to martial law regimes, for half a century.
The bloc has also been an acceptable broker for talks for all sorts of conflicts.
In the South China Sea disputes, which have pitted China, Taiwan and four ASEAN member states — Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam — the group is expected to announce an agreement with Beijing on an initial negotiating draft of a so-called “code of conduct,” a proposed set of regional norms and rules aimed at preventing the long-seething disputes from degenerating into a shooting war.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Tuesday before flying to Singapore that talks on the code could be concluded this year or next. Other Asian diplomats have not been as optimistic.
The ministers will welcome “the improving cooperation between ASEAN and China and were encouraged by the progress of the substantive negotiations toward the early conclusion of an effective code of conduct in the South China Sea on a mutually agreed timeline,” according to a draft of a joint post-summit communique by the ministers which was obtained by The Associated Press.
Some of the ministers would repeat their concerns over China’s transformation of seven disputed reefs into islands, including three with runways, which now resemble small cities armed with weapons, including surface-to-air missiles. China has come under intense criticisms for the aggressive action but it has said it has the right to build on its territory and defend them at all costs.
The ministers “took note of the concerns expressed by some countries on the land reclamations in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region,” the draft communique said without naming China and reflecting the internal divisions over the touchy issue.
ASEAN member states Cambodia and Laos, which are known China allies, have opposed the use of strong language against Beijing over the disputes.
Greg Poling, director of the US-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, which monitors developments in the South China Sea, said highlighting the draft code of conduct in the summit will be “more political theater than substance at this point” given the lack of agreement on areas it will cover and whether the pact should be legally binding after more than 15 years of talks.
Without any major concessions, especially from China, Poling said the talks would drag further while China presses actions to reinforce its vast territorial claims “without paying much price because the code of conduct process offers diplomatic cover to claim it is seeking a peaceful and fair settlement.”


In 2020, homegrown US disinformation surpasses Russian effort

Updated 10 min 47 sec ago

In 2020, homegrown US disinformation surpasses Russian effort

  • Special counsel Robert Mueller's probe detailed Moscow’s disinformation campaign showed bias for Trump and antipathy toward Hillary Clinton in 2016
  • In this election, the disinformation campaign claims that Trump is locked in a struggle with Democratic and Hollywood elites who practice child sex trafficking and cannibalism

WASHINGTON: Russia’s coordinated effort to nudge Americans toward voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election caught social media companies flat-footed and remains a stain on the reputation of Facebook in particular.
Four years later, the FBI and other American security officials — aware of interference but silent last time — are warning that Russia and Iran are meddling.
But Russia’s actions — special counsel Robert Mueller’s report detailed the Kremlin’s bias for Trump and antipathy toward Hillary Clinton in 2016 — and those of other countries are only part of the disinformation problem.
Americans are now playing the leading role, posting the bulk of false or misleading comments, memes, photographs and videos that are spread with the ease and speed of online distribution. And there are signs that it is out of control.
“What the Russians did in 2016 was show a toolkit, where you could use deceptive actors online working in coordination with each other as a political tool,” Joshua Tucker, a professor of politics and expert on data science and social media at New York University, told AFP.
“There’s been a fixation on foreign interference, but the people who really have an incentive to influence the outcome of an election are people who live in that country — Americans.”
Facebook’s latest report about inauthentic behavior confirms the trend.

Sowing political discord
In the first week of October alone it took down 200 Facebook accounts, 55 Pages and 77 Instagram accounts that originated in the US.
Copying the Russian tactics of 2016, the operators used stock profile photos and posed as right-leaning individuals across the United States. Some of the removed accounts were older, and had pretended to be left-leaning individuals around the 2018 US congressional elections.
The overall effect was to sow political discord and undermine faith in the democratic process, just as Mueller’s report last year said was Russia’s overarching and continuing aim.
The most egregious example disclosed by Facebook involved a US marketing firm that used teenagers in Arizona to post comments that were either pro-Trump or sympathetic to conservative causes, while also criticizing 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
Research undertaken by Tucker and his colleagues shows that political partisanship — heightened by social media algorithms that drive users to one side of a story — means neither liberals or conservatives are good at sorting fact from fiction when challenged.
As part of a third-party fact-checking relationship with Facebook, AFP has flagged thousands of false or misleading posts in the US. Some had been shared hundreds of thousands of times. User feedback shows that even verified facts are not accepted when they go against partisan political belief.
Twitter is also removing impostor content. One such account featuring the image of a Black police officer, Trump and the slogan “VOTE REPUBLICAN” gained 24,000 followers earlier this month despite tweeting only eight times.
Its most popular tweet was liked 75,000 times before the account was removed for breaking the platform’s rules against manipulation.
But social media researchers say the detection of such accounts are the exception rather than the norm.

QAnon conspiracy theory
Professor Russell Muirhead, co-author of “A Lot Of People Are Saying,” a title that plays on words often used by Trump to promote unproven theories, said US disinformation has evolved rapidly since 2016.
Referring to Pizzagate, the false claim that top Democrats ran a child sex trafficking ring from a Washington, DC pizza restaurant, Muirhead said political debate has been poisoned.
“This story, with no basis whatsoever, purports to show Hillary Clinton as a concentration of pure evil,” said Muirhead, who teaches politics and political science at Dartmouth College.
“How do you make politics with such a person? You can’t, so you have to make war. That story told Trump supporters that in a political context you are engaged in a war with someone who should be locked up.”
In this election cycle, Pizzagate has metastasized and been succeeded by the QAnon conspiracy theory, which claims that Trump is locked in a struggle with Democratic and Hollywood elites who practice child sex trafficking and cannibalism.
Its adherents are taking aim at Biden.
“QAnon is now painting Joe Biden not as a legitimate opponent but as part of this team of globalists who are intent on destroying America, not to be argued with but to be eliminated,” said Muirhead.
The most immediate disinformation risk to the 2020 vote, however, according to Tucker, is Trump’s repeated claims that the use of mail-in ballots will lead to fraud and a “rigged” election.
He made the same claims in 2016. Subsequent investigations showed no evidence of widespread fraud.
“This is disinformation,” said the NYU’s Tucker.
“There are problems with people not filling out their ballots correctly, there’s problems with people getting their ballots late, but there is no evidence to suggest that there has been wide-scale fraud.
“Who needs the Russians running around casting doubt on the integrity of the democratic process when the president of the United States is doing it?“