Manila demands Beijing withdraw ‘fishing vessels’

An undated handout photo taken by the Philippine Coast Guard shows Chinese vessels anchored at the Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea. (AFP)
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Updated 24 March 2021

Manila demands Beijing withdraw ‘fishing vessels’

  • The Philippines also reiterated its demand for China to withdraw its maritime assets and cease its “environmentally destructive activities” in the area

MANILA: The Philippines on Wednesday denounced the “lingering presence” of Chinese militia vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef, which experts said could be a “prelude” to another occupation and construction of a military base in disputed waters in the South China Sea.

The government first protested against China’s move on March 21.

However, in a strongly worded statement on Tuesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) demanded that China “promptly withdraw its fishing vessels and maritime assets in the vicinity and adjacent waters in the Kalayaan Group of Islands in the West Philippine Sea.”

The government also reiterated its demand for China to withdraw its maritime assets and cease its “environmentally destructive activities” in the area.

The Philippines has been protesting against the illegal presence of Chinese fishing vessels and maritime assets in the areas.

“Julian Felipe Reef in the Kalayaan Island Group lies in the Philippines’ EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). We reiterate that the continued deployment, lingering presence and activities of Chinese vessels in Philippine maritime zones blatantly infringe on Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction,” the statement said.

It added that China’s “continuing infringements” are “contrary” to its commitments under international law and the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

Further, it called on China to “faithfully honor its obligations as a State Party to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and respect and abide by the final and binding 12 July 2016 Award in the South China Sea Arbitration.”

Experts, however, said there is more to China’s moves than meets the eye.

“This is a prelude to occupying the Julian Felipe Reef, just like what they did to Mischief Reef in 1995,” retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio said during a TV interview on Wednesday.

He was referring in part to Beijing’s occupation of another area off the Philippine coast, which has since been turned into a Chinese military base.

“They started with saying they just built fishermen’s shelter on Mischief Reef. Mischief Reef is their air and naval base; they call it their Pearl Harbor in the South China Sea. It’s a huge air and naval base,” Carpio added.

Carpio, who represented Manila at the Hague in its case against Beijing, said he was “particularly worried” as this was not the first time that Chinese fishing vessels, reportedly operated by the militia, had swarmed Julian Felipe Reef.

He pointed out that “at the same time last year, they also parked hundreds of their ships” in the area.

“They were saying that they took shelter because of a storm. But no storm was anywhere near Julian Felipe Reef,” he said, adding: “They cannot do that. While they can exercise the right of navigation, they can not just sit there, park there, because that is not their EEZ.”

The former Supreme Court judge said that President Rodrigo Duterte has “befriended” China and considered Beijing as his “best friend.”

“In fact, he said, ‘I love Xi Jinping.’ But that love has not been reciprocated,” Carpio said, noting that “China has in fact seized Sandy Cay,” a sandbar within the Philippines’ territorial sea in Pagasa Island.

China had also sent hundreds of ships to “swarm around the area.”

Citing the example of Sandy Cay — the first geologic feature that China seized under Duterte’s rule — Carpio said that the government was “still in denial” about the incident.

“This happened in 2017. The Duterte administration is still in denial. But we cannot go back to Sandy Cay anymore because it’s surrounded by maritime militia vessels of China,” he said, warning that Filipinos “should be very wary of what’s happening there.”

Filipino MPs also denounced China’s latest move, with opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros saying on Wednesday that China should “stop twisting the truth” after its embassy in Manila denied reports about the presence of 220 Chinese maritime militia vessels near the Julian Felipe Reef.

“China is gaslighting us. China is making it appear as if we are hallucinating. We are tired of their attempts to twist the truth for their own interests. China has stolen from us, and now she is lying to us,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

China’s Embassy issued a statement on Monday saying that “there is no Chinese maritime militia as alleged,” contradicting the government’s National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea’s report.

The embassy also referred to Julian Felipe Reef by its Chinese name Niu’e Jiao, insisting that the reef is part of China’s Nansha administrative district in the South China Sea.

“The existence of Nansha district alone is illegitimate. How dare the Chinese embassy say that we are the ones causing ‘unnecessary irritation’? China is the one that violated the law; why should the Philippines be the one to adjust,” Hontiveros said.

Sen. Richard Gordon, one of Duterte’s allies in the Senate, said that the Chinese government’s coercive and destabilizing actions in the West Philippine Sea and the South China sea “belie its pronouncements of friendship and goodwill and affinity with the Filipino people.”

He added that as a major power, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and signatory to many treaties and international agreements and conventions, China should “set the example of responsible governance with policies and actions that adhere to its international commitments.”

Meanwhile, several countries aired their concerns over the latest situation in the South China Sea, with Washington expressing its support to the Philippines on Tuesday.

“The US stands with our ally, the Philippines, regarding concerns about the gathering of PRC (People’s Republic of China) maritime vessels near Whitsun Reef,” Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said on Twitter.

“We call on Beijing to stop using its maritime militia to intimidate and provoke others, which undermines peace and security,” Price added.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby also said that — as specified by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during his recent trip to Asia — America is “deeply concerned by the aggressiveness particularly in terms of the maritime claims that the PRC is making.”

Meanwhile, Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Steven Robinson also tweeted that “Australia supports an #IndoPacific region which is secure and inclusive.”

“The South China Sea, a crucial international waterway, is governed by international rules and norms, particularly UNCLOS. We remain concerned about destabilizing actions that could provoke escalation,” he said.

Washington and Canberra were joined by Japan, which stressed that issues related to the disputed waters are “directly related” to the region’s peace and stability and a “concern for all” as it reiterated support for “free, open, and peaceful seas” and the enforcement of the rule of law.

Meanwhile, British Foreign Minister Nigel Adams also noted the UK’s “concerns” on the South China Sea, particularly “actions which raise tensions in the region.”

Putin makes Chechnya’s Kadyrov an army general

Updated 05 October 2022

Putin makes Chechnya’s Kadyrov an army general

  • Kadyrov said Putin had "personally" informed him of the decision
  • "The President of Russia awarded me the rank of colonel general," Kadyrov said on Telegram

MOSCOW: Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, said Wednesday he was granted a top rank in Russia’s army, just as Moscow’s forces suffer a series of defeats in Ukraine.
The 46-year-old Chechen leader — one of the most outspoken voices in Russia backing Putin’s Ukraine offensive — said it was a “huge honor” for him.
Kadyrov, a former warlord who rules Chechnya with widespread violations of human rights, said Putin had “personally” informed him of the decision.
“The President of Russia awarded me the rank of colonel general,” Kadyrov said on Telegram. “This is a promotion for me.”
The rank of colonel general is the third highest command rank in the Russian military hierarchy.
Kadyrov’s appointment to the rank came as the Ukrainian army pushed back Moscow’s forces in areas that the Kremlin proclaimed to be “Russian forever.”
The Chechen leader said he would do “everything to end the special military operation quickly” — using the Kremlin’s term for its Ukraine campaign.
Chechen units — including Kadyrov’s own militia with a sinister reputation, the “Kadyrovtsi” — are fighting alongside regular Russian forces in Ukraine.
Kadyrov has thrown his full backing behind Putin’s campaign, regularly calling for the most drastic tactics to be used in Ukraine.
This week he called on Moscow to use low-yield nuclear weapons in Ukraine after Russian troops were forced to retreat from the town of Lyman.
He then said he was sending three of his teenage sons — aged 14,15 and 16 — to the front.

Bus plunges into gorge in northern India, killing at least 25

Updated 05 October 2022

Bus plunges into gorge in northern India, killing at least 25

  • Over 45 to 50 people, all part of a wedding party, were on bus— police 
  • Police say over 110,000 are killed each year in road accidents across India 

NEW DELHI: A bus in northern India plunged into a gorge, leaving at least 25 dead and over a dozen others injured, officials said. Police told the Press Trust of India news agency there were 45 to 50 people on board the bus, all of whom were part of a wedding party, when it fell Tuesday evening into a gorge in Pauri district in Uttarakhand state. State police and the disaster response force worked alongside locals to rescue 21 people Tuesday night at the site of the crash, police chief Ashok Kumar tweeted. Vijay Kumar Jogdande, a senior government officer, said they would be carrying out an investigation into the incident and will conduct postmortem examinations after retrieving the bodies from the site. Officials were seen clearing the area of bushes and trees to help with the rescue operation as they pulled up an injured person. Rescuers also retrieved a dead body using ropes before they were taken away on a stretcher. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said all possible assistance will be given to those affected. “In this tragic hour my thoughts are with the bereaved families. I hope those who have been injured recover at the earliest,” he tweeted Wednesday. Deadly road accidents are common in India due to reckless driving, poorly maintained roads and aging vehicles. More than 110,000 people are killed every year in road accidents across India, according to police.

Ten dead after Indian Himalayas avalanche hits climbers

Updated 05 October 2022

Ten dead after Indian Himalayas avalanche hits climbers

  • Several dozen climbing trainees caught in Tuesday's snowslide near summit of Mount Draupadi ka Danda-II
  • Indian air force and local disaster agency were assisting with rescue efforts before heavy snow and rainfall

New Delhi: Ten people are confirmed dead after an avalanche struck climbers in the Indian Himalayas, police said Wednesday, with 18 other members of the expedition still missing.

Several dozen climbing trainees were caught in Tuesday morning's snowslide near the summit of Mount Draupadi ka Danda-II in the northern state of Uttarakhand.

The Indian air force and local disaster agency were assisting with rescue efforts before heavy snow and rainfall forced them to abandon the search overnight.

"Rescue teams have recovered 10 bodies," the Uttarakhand state police force said on Twitter after operations resumed in the morning.

Fourteen people have so far been rescued from the site of the avalanche, around 4,900 metres (16,000 feet) above sea level, and police said five were being treated at a district hospital in Uttarkashi.

Police footage showed several rescued climbers arriving in the town and walking unassisted while escorted by officers.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami confirmed on Twitter that accomplished climber Savita Kanswal, who had summited Everest earlier this year, was among the dead.

Kanswal was an instructor with the expedition and had been feted by the climbing community for summiting the world's highest peak and nearby Makalu in just 16 days -- a women's record.

Dhami said the government would provide immediate financial assistance to those injured in the avalanche along with the families of victims.

State disaster agency spokesperson Ridhim Aggarwal told AFP that the climbers had been stuck in a crevasse after the avalanche hit.

The Nehru Institute of Mountaineering said the expedition included 34 of its trainees, seven instructors and a nursing assistant.

Two air force helicopters had been sent to the region to assist with the search, senior disaster management official Devendra Singh Patwal told AFP.

Fatal climbing accidents are common on the treacherous terrain of the Himalayas, home to Everest and several of the world's highest peaks.

In August, the body of a mountaineer was recovered two months after he fell into a crevasse while crossing a glacier in the neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh.

And last week, renowned US ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson's body was found on the slopes of Nepal's Manaslu peak after she went missing skiing down the world's eighth-highest mountain.

On the day of Nelson's accident, an avalanche hit on the 8,163-metre (26,781-foot) mountain, killing Nepali climber Anup Rai and injuring a dozen others who were later rescued.

Although no substantial research has been done on the impacts of climate change on mountaineering risks in the Himalayas, climbers have reported crevasses widening, running water on previously snowy slopes, and the increasing formation of glacial lakes.

Taliban report mosque blast at government ministry in Kabul

Updated 05 October 2022

Taliban report mosque blast at government ministry in Kabul

  • Explosion takes place inside Interior Ministry’s mosque, no immediate casualties reported
  • Blast follows last week’s attack on education center in Kabul where 52 people were killed 

KABUL, Afghanistan: A blast struck a mosque at a government ministry building in Kabul Wednesday as workers and visitors were praying, a Taliban official said.
The afternoon explosion went off inside the mosque of the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for security and law enforcement in the country.
A Taliban-appointed spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Abdul Nafi Takor, said in a tweet: “Unfortunately there was an explosion inside a(n) ancillary mosque where some Interior Ministry workers and visitors were praying. Will share the details later.”
He did not say if the mosque was inside the ministry or near it. There was no immediate information about casualties and no immediate claim of responsibility.
The mosque blast follows last week’s suicide bombing at an education center in Kabul that killed as many as 52 people, according to a tally compiled by The Associated Press, more than twice the death toll acknowledged by Taliban officials.
The reason for the lower death toll provided by the Taliban was not immediately clear. In the past, they have at times been slow to confirm casualty figures in the aftermath of attacks.
Taliban security officials initially said 19 people had been killed at the Kaaj Higher Educational Center, then revised the death toll to 25 over the weekend.
However, The Associated Press spoke directly to relatives of 39 of those killed and obtained the names and other information about the remaining 13.

Philippines’ Marcos Jr. open to buying Russian fuel, proposes new Myanmar approach

Updated 05 October 2022

Philippines’ Marcos Jr. open to buying Russian fuel, proposes new Myanmar approach

  • The Philippines, a US defense ally, has not imposed any sanctions on Russia
  • Myanmar’s ruling junta has been barred from regional summits

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday said his nation may need to turn to Russia to fulfil its fuel needs amid rising global energy prices, bucking pressure from Western allies for countries to shun Moscow.
Speaking to the Manila Overseas Press Club, Marcos, who is also agriculture minister, said the Philippines may also deal with Russia for supply of fertilizer.
“We take we take a very balanced view because the truth of the matter is, we may have to deal with Russia for fuel, for fertilizer,” said Marcos.
The Philippines like many countries is grappling with soaring inflation, due to supply woes fanned by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Philippines, a US defense ally, has not imposed any sanctions on Russia.
Marcos, the son and namesake of the ousted late strongman who ruled the Philippines for two decades, also said he wanted his country to play a key role in promoting regional peace, amid challenges posed by North Korea and China-Taiwan tensions.
“We hope to be part of leading, the ones that are leading the effort for peace,” he said.
He said he would propose a new approach to the crisis in Myanmar at an upcoming meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in November, which could involved engaging the military government directly.
Myanmar’s ruling junta has been barred from regional summits over its failure to implement a five-point peace plan it agreed with ASEAN in April last year, after violent turmoil erupted in the country following a military coup.
The generals have been outraged by ASEAN’s unusually tough stand and have said they intend to comply with its plan, but will not agree to its call to hold dialogue with a pro-democracy resistance movement they call “terrorists.” “It’s time to put together, to put forward some concrete proposals on what we can do to at the very least to bring at least representatives of the military government to the table so we can begin to talk about these things,” Marcos said.
On Wednesday, Cambodia, the current ASEAN chair, confirmed that a request had been sent to the State Administrative Council, as the junta is known, that it nominate a non-political figure to represent Myanmar at the upcoming leaders’ summits. “Again, the SAC has refused to send anyone to the summits,” Cambodia Foreign spokesperson Chum Sounry said.