Mahathir: China should define claims in South China Sea

Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte (R) listens as Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks during their joint statements in Manila on March 7, 2019. (AFP / Ted ALJIBE)
Updated 08 March 2019

Mahathir: China should define claims in South China Sea

  • Malaysia, the Philippines, China and three other governments have been locked in long-simmering territorial disputes in the South China Sea
  • China has claimed virtually the entire sea but has refused to define the extent of its claims

MANILA, Philippines: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Thursday that China should define its “so-called ownership” in the disputed South China Sea so other claimant countries can start to gain benefits from the resource-rich waters.
Mahathir stressed the importance of freedom of navigation in the busy waterway, saying in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel in Manila that if there were no restrictions and sanctions, “the claims made by China will not affect us very much.”
Malaysia, the Philippines, China and three other governments have been locked in long-simmering territorial disputes in the South China Sea. China has claimed virtually the entire sea but has refused to define the extent of its claims except for a vague line with nine dashes on its maps, complicating the disputes.
Efforts by the Philippines, for example, to explore for undersea deposits of oil and natural gas in Reed Bank west of its Palawan island province have been stymied for years by Chinese protests and claims to the offshore region. The Philippines has declared a moratorium on exploration in the area in the past because of Chinese threats.
“We have to talk to China on the definition of their claims and what is meant by their ownership or so-called ownership they claim to have so that we can find ways of deriving some benefits from them,” Mahathir said.
“I think that whatever may be the claim of China, the most important thing is that the South China Sea in particular must be open to navigation,” Mahathir said. “There should be no restriction, no sanction, and if that happens, then I think the claims made by China will not affect us very much.”
During talks in Manila between the visiting Malaysian leader and President Rodrigo Duterte, the territorial conflicts were high in the agenda.
“We emphasized the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight over the South China Sea,” Duterte said after the meeting, adding that force or the threat of it should not be resorted to.
Duterte thanked Malaysia for brokering peace talks between the Philippine government and Muslim guerrillas in the south, homeland of minority Muslims in the largely Roman Catholic nation. The rebels have become leaders of a new Muslim autonomous region in the country’s south under a peace deal.
The Malaysian leader, who at 93 is the world’s oldest prime minister, visited the Philippines as his country’s leader in 1987 and 1994.
“I’m glad to see that, at last, peace has come to the southern Philippines. Development cannot take place in war. In war, we destroy but in peace we build,” Mahathir told a business forum in Manila before meeting Duterte.
With enormous economic opportunities opening up in the former battlefields, Mahathir said Malaysia is looking forward to investing in the region and pledged that his country will continue to back Philippine peace efforts. Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the two countries plan to resume the ancient practice of barter trading between Malaysia and the southern Philippine towns of Jolo, Siasi and Bongao to ease poverty that breeds criminality and terrorism.
A Malaysia-led team of 28 international peace monitors will remain in the south until all Muslim guerrillas have demobilized under the peace deal, Malaysian officials said. The European Union, Japan and Brunei also have contributed personnel to the peacekeeping contingent.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front chairman Murad Ebrahim, the former Muslim rebel leader who now heads the five-province autonomous region called Bangsamoro, attended a state banquet hosted by Duterte for Mahathir. Officials were trying to arrange a meeting between Mahathir and Murad.
The Philippines and Malaysia, along with Western governments and the guerrillas, see effective Muslim autonomy as an antidote to nearly half a century of Muslim secessionist violence which the Daesh group could exploit to gain a foothold in the region.
Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia agreed in 2017 to carry out sea and aerial patrols to confront a wave of abductions along their sea border by Abu Sayyaf militants and allied gunmen from the southern Philippines. The sea abductions have eased but ransom-seeking Abu Sayyaf militants are still holding a Malaysian and two Indonesians captive in their jungle hideouts.
“Malaysia is committed to take the necessary steps to address the serious issue of terrorism and violent extremism” through the accord, Mahathir said.


Tuesday sees Italy virus cases rise 45%; 11 dead

(Reuters)
Updated 7 min ago

Tuesday sees Italy virus cases rise 45%; 11 dead

  • Infections in other European countries traced to people who had recently travelled to Italy
  • The country has the most confirmed cases in Europe

ROME: Italy reported a 45% one-day increase in people infected with the coronavirus as other countries in Europe recorded their first cases Tuesday, producing evidence that travelers are carrying the virus from the European outbreak’s current epicenter.
Italian officials reported 11 deaths and 322 confirmed cases of the virus, 100 more than a day earlier. While the majority were concentrated in northern Italy, some of the new cases showed up in parts of Italy well outside the country’s two hard-hit regions, including three in Sicily, two in Tuscany and one in Liguria.
An Italian couple from the afflicted north tested positive in the Canary Islands off Africa, forcing the quarantine of their hotel in what one guest said felt like being “monkeys in a cage.” Austria, Croatia and Switzerland reported their first cases, all in people who recently traveled to Italy.
The four new deaths in Italy, like the seven reported earlier, were in patients who were elderly, suffering from other ailments, or both, officials said.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte defended the measures Italy has taken to contain the outbreak and predicted a stabilizing of numbers soon. But he acknowledged that the rise in cases — the most outside Asia — was “worrisome.”
“Obviously I can’t say I’m not worried because I don’t want anyone to think we’re underestimating this emergency,” he said before a meeting with a visiting World Health Organization mission. “But we trust that with the measures we’ve implemented there will be a containing effect in the coming days.”
Italy has closed schools, museums and theaters in the two regions where clusters have formed and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicenter of the Veneto cluster, Vo’Euganeo.
But Italy hasn’t yet identified the source of the outbreak. Angelo Borrelli, the head of the Italian civil protection department, said the increase in cases from 222 to 322, representing a 45% increase, came from people who tested positive for the virus in a 24-hour period from Monday evening to Tuesday evening.
The southern island of Sicily reported its first three positive cases from a woman vacationing from Bergamo, in Lombardy and two others traveling with her. Two cases were also reported in Tuscany, south out of the epicenter.
Spain counted three active cases: a woman in Barcelona who had been in Lombardy in recent days, and a doctor from northern Italy and his partner who were vacationing in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands.
The hotel where the couple was staying, the H10 Adeje Palace was locked down after they tested positive for the virus and 1,000 tourists prevented from leaving, according to Spanish news media and town officials in Adeje.
“We do remain patient but we haven’t had anything to eat and drink at the hotel today,” Harriet Strandvik, the mother in a family of four stuck at the hotel, told Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat. “We feel a little bit like monkeys in a cage here as there are media representatives present near the hotel and police officers guarding the area are wearing masks.”
The Canary Islands, an archipelago located around 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of the African coast, is a popular vacation destination that attracts Europeans year-round. Many Italians are vacationing this week as schools have a mid-winter break.
Conte shocked Lombardy officials by taking to task the hospital in Codogno, southeast of Milan, where Italy’s first positive patient went on Feb. 18 with flu-like symptoms. The man was sent home, only to return a short time later with worsening conditions, at which point he was tested for the virus.
Many of Lombardy’s 200-plus positive tests have a traceable connection to the Codogno hospital, including several doctors and nurses, patients and relatives who visited them.
Conte told reporters that the Lombardy cluster grew “because of the hospital management that wasn’t completely proper according to the protocols that are recommended for these cases.”
“This surely contributed to the spread,” he said.
Lombardy’s chief health official, Giulio Gallera, expressed shock at Conte’s remarks and defended the region’s handling of the crisis.
“It’s offensive. It’s unacceptable,” Gallera said, noting that the man presented none of the main risk factors for the virus — travel to China or contact with an infected person — when he first went to the emergency room.
The man was eventually tested after doctors ascertained from his wife that he had met with someone who had recently returned from China. But officials have excluded that contact as the source of the outbreak since that person tested negative.
As officials worked to get ahead of the spread nationally, the reality of a two-week quarantine was setting in for residents of Italy’s isolated “red zones” — the cluster of 10 towns in Lombardy and Veneto’s tiny Vo’Euganeo.
“The concern is palpable, people are worried, partly because of what they hear on television, information, on social media,” said Davide Passerini, the mayor of Fombio, one of the Lombardy towns under lockdown. “Life is like it is in other isolated villages: Everything is shut, people go out just to do their shopping.”
And they wait to see if they develop symptoms.
Italy initially tested anyone who came into contact with an infected person. But with the numbers growing and supply issues with test kits, masks and protective gear, Italy’s national health system revised its containment strategies.
People who live or have visited the quarantined areas, or who who have been in contact with positive cases, are advised to self-quarantine for two weeks. They are instructed to take their temperatures twice a day, and stay in touch with their doctors or the national health service via an overwhelmed toll-free number.
Only if they develop symptoms are they tested, most often by a team performing house calls to prevent hospitals and clinics being overly stressed, said Elia Delmiglio, mayor of Casalpusterlengo, another of the 10 towns in Lombardy’s “red zone.”
“Local health structures are doing their best, but in some cases they were not ready to face such an emergency,” Delmiglio said.
The town — with more than 15,000 inhabitants — doesn’t have a working emergency room, only a hospital mainly specializing in cancer patients, who are particularly at risk for contracting the virus.
In another hotbed of the virus outbreak — Veneto’s tiny town of Vo’Euganeo, which has most of Veneto’s 43 cases — local authorities were still planning to test all 3,300 residents and 600 acting hospital staff.
“I’m being optimistic and I feel well,” said resident Andrea Casalis, as he waited to be tested. “People continue to go out here and talk in the streets, but we try to keep some security distance.”