Philippines condemns Chinese ‘floating barrier’ in South China Sea

Beijing seized the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and forced fishermen from the Philippines to travel further for smaller catches. (Reuters)
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Updated 24 September 2023
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Philippines condemns Chinese ‘floating barrier’ in South China Sea

  • ‘Floating barrier’ preventing Filipinos from entering and fishing in the area
  • Philippine coast guard and fisheries bureau personnel discovered the floating barrier, estimated at 300 meters long

MANILA: The Philippines on Sunday accused China’s coast guard of installing a “floating barrier” in a disputed area of the South China Sea, saying it prevented Filipinos from entering and fishing in the area.
Manila’s coast guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources “strongly condemn” China’s installation of the barrier in part of the Scarborough Shoal, Commodore Jay Tarriela, a coast guard spokesperson, posted on the X social media platform, formerly Twitter.
The barrier “prevents Filipino fishing boats from entering the shoal and depriving them of their fishing and livelihood activities,” he said.
The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, overlapping with the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines. Beijing seized the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and forced fishermen from the Philippines to travel further for smaller catches.
Beijing allowed Filipino fishermen to return to the uninhabited shoal when bilateral relations were improving markedly under then-President Rodrigo Duterte. But tension has mounted again since his successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, took office last year.
Philippine coast guard and fisheries bureau personnel discovered the floating barrier, estimated at 300 m (1,000 feet) long, on a routine patrol on Friday near the shoal, locally known as Bajo de Masinloc, Tarriela said.
Three Chinese coast guard rigid-hull inflatable boats and a Chinese maritime militia service boat installed the barrier when the Philippine vessel arrived, he said.
Filipino fishermen say China typically installs such barriers when they monitor a large number of fishermen in the area, Tarriela said.


Protesters blockade Israel-linked UK defense factories

Updated 56 min 26 sec ago
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Protesters blockade Israel-linked UK defense factories

  • Sites in Bournemouth, Glasgow, Brighton, Lancashire targeted for selling parts used in F-35 manufacturing
  • Workers for a Free Palestine group demands UK govt back Gaza ceasefire, Israel withdraw from Occupied Territories

LONDON: Protests have taken place at factories across the UK tied to the arms industry over the sale of equipment to Israel.

Hundreds of members of the Workers for a Free Palestine group arrived at sites in Bournemouth, Glasgow, Brighton and Lancashire to call on manufacturers including BAE Systems to sever relations with Israel. Protests also took place in France and Denmark at other defense-related facilities.

At the factory in Glasgow, a banner reading “Stop Arming Israel” was unfurled at an entrance alongside Palestinian flags.

The sites are thought to manufacture and supply parts for the F-35 jet, a multi-role combat aircraft built by US defense firm Lockheed Martin, which Israel has used in missions over Gaza.

The group is also calling on the UK government to demand a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, and for Israeli forces to leave the Occupied Territories.

A Workers for a Free Palestine spokeswoman told Sky News that the F-35 is a key component of “Israel’s murderous war machine.”

She added: “The fighter jets these factories help to produce are being used to imprison the people of Gaza in a death trap.

“They are ordered to evacuate when they have nowhere safe to go, while our government still refuses to back a ceasefire.

“Workers all over Britain are rising up for Palestine, saying we will not allow arms used in a genocide to be supplied in our name and funded by our taxes.”

A protester said BAE System’s management, not its workers, is responsible for selling lethal items to Israel. “It is them we hold accountable for being part of the chain of killing,” he told Sky News.

A BAE Systems spokesperson said the company is “horrified” by the “devastating impact” that the conflict is having on civilians in Gaza, adding: “We operate under the tightest regulations and comply fully with all applicable defense export controls, which are subject to ongoing assessment.”


UK PM Sunak faces party revolt after unveiling new Rwanda asylum plan

Updated 07 December 2023
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UK PM Sunak faces party revolt after unveiling new Rwanda asylum plan

  • The Rwanda scheme is at the center of the government’s strategy to stop illegal migration

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was battling to keep his party together on Thursday a day after unveiling a plan to disregard some human rights law to send migrants to Rwanda, bringing back to the fore deep divisions in his party.
Facing the biggest challenge to his year-long tenure, Sunak is trying to stop lawmakers on the Conservative Party’s right wing from rebelling over their demand that Britain should quit international treaties to set its own migration policy.
His immigration minister quit on Wednesday and he is facing questions as to whether he can get his key policy through a vote in parliament. Some Conservative lawmakers said on Thursday that Sunak could face a leadership challenge.
The prime minister was due to hold a press conference at 1100 GMT.
One Conservative politician, who reluctantly supports the Rwanda plan, said the last year had shown that his colleagues can be ruthless in removing a struggling prime minister.
“I have a feeling of deja vu,” he said.
The draft legislation comes three weeks after Britain’s Supreme Court ruled that Rwanda was not a safe place to send those arriving in small boats on the southern coast of England, and that the plan would breach British and international law.
The Rwanda scheme is at the center of the government’s strategy to stop illegal migration. The court’s decision was a setback for Sunak who is struggling to revive a weak economy and is heavily trailing the main opposition party ahead of an election expected next year.
Sunak could make the vote in parliament on the new legislation next week a confidence vote — meaning that if he loses, it could trigger a national election — in an attempt to shore up party support.
So far only one Conservative lawmaker has publicly called for a no confidence vote, but she said six of her colleagues have done so privately.
To trigger a leadership challenge, 53 of the 350 Conservative lawmakers in parliament must write letters of no confidence to the chairman of the 1922 Committee.
Sunak suffered his first parliamentary defeat this week as members of parliament voted to establish a compensatory body for victims of the infected blood scandal.
The prime minister has pleaded with his party to get behind the legislation as the best chance to get flights to Rwanda leaving before the next election.
‘IT WON’T WORK’
A poll last month showed immigration was one of the three biggest issues facing the country. Only the economy and National Health Service were seen as more important.
Last year net legal migration hit a record of 745,000 people and around 45,000 arrived illegally.
Rwanda currently only has the capacity to accept a few hundred migrants from Britain, but ministers say the plan will act as a vital deterrent to discourage people from making the crossings.
The new bill will instruct judges to ignore some sections of the Human Rights Act (HRA) and provisions of domestic or international law that might deem that Rwanda was not a safe destination, though appeals by people based on specific circumstances would still be permitted.
The former interior minister Suella Braverman, former immigration minister Robert Jenrick and their allies say that does not go far enough, with some wanting Britain to leave the European Convention on Human Rights altogether.
“I’m very concerned that the bill on the table will allow a merry-go-round of legal claims and litigation,” Braverman told BBC radio, but said no one was talking about changing the party’s leader.
“The reality is, and the solid truth is, that it won’t work and it will not stop the boats.”


World not prepared for another pandemic: Moderna chairman

Updated 07 December 2023
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World not prepared for another pandemic: Moderna chairman

  • Dr. Noubar Afeyan speaks at Advanced Tomorrow 2023 Singapore Summit
  • Development of Moderna’s vaccine against COVID-19 was matter of ‘luck’

SINGAPORE: The world is not prepared to face another pandemic, the co-founder and chairman of Moderna said, as insufficient attention was being paid globally to health system resilience.

Dr. Noubar Afeyan, a biochemical engineer who co-founded the US-based drugmaker in 2010, was speaking at the Advanced Tomorrow 2023 Summit held in Singapore on Dec. 3 to 6.

Organized and co-hosted by the Advanced Tomorrow, or ATOM, initiative and Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine of the National University of Singapore, the meeting of global political, business, and academic leaders focused on the future of healthcare amid geopolitical changes and technological advancements.

During a discussion on the ability of health systems to prepare for shocks and global disruptions such as the global outbreak of coronavirus in 2020, Afeyan, whose company’s COVID-19 vaccine became the second one to get cleared for use in the US, said the quick release of jabs may have given “the wrong impression” of resilience.

“We got lucky, because it so happened that this virus was amenable to an intervention that the company that I co-founded, Moderna, had developed a technology for,” he said.

A similar technology was developed by Pfizer, whose vaccine against COVID-19 was the first to receive a green light from the US Food and Drug Administration. But the fact that what both companies worked on at the time ended up being useful in addressing the coronavirus outbreak was accidental and will not help if the next health crisis is caused by a completely different pathogen.

“There will be other threats, for example, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, that this technology is not going to work for,” Afeyan added. “We have no good solutions for that right now. So, if there’s a major bacterial outbreak through the food system, through any other means, we’d be really gambling that we can come up with something quickly.”

The problem with preparedness was in both attention and funding worldwide being directed not toward long-term health security but to short-term solutions.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of attention paid to resilience because resilience always gathers momentum after there’s been a failure,” Afeyan said. “As soon as the failure is forgotten, resilience goes out of the window.”

Dr. Armen Sarkissian, former president of Armenia and theoretical physicist who chairs ATOM, said on the sidelines of the Singapore conference that current approaches were like betting on an uncertain outcome, with success depending only on luck.

“We are at a crossroads of a huge number of problems. One problem, for example, is the resistance to antibiotics ... We were lucky that 100 years ago, by accident again, (Scottish physician and microbiologist) Mr. (Alexander) Fleming found penicillin, but we have overused penicillin and related drugs,” Sarkissian told Arab News.

He noted that it was necessary to pay more attention to health security and realize that in the 21st century the ongoing climate crisis and the related problems of food security and water scarcity were not the only ones, with a possible health crisis likely to be even bigger than the former.

“We on this planet need definitely, first of all, a holistic approach to our health. Secondly, raising awareness, money, and support to health-related research — biological, biophysical sciences, and so on — and to accelerate the process to find solutions to many possible problems that we are going to face,” he said.

“It’s time that we look inside ourselves, care about ourselves alongside the planet. So, I will put together, with climate care, healthcare, climate security with health security. And the international community has to come together, under the United Nations, in the form of a COP (the Conference of the Parties, which is the annual Climate Change Conference), and we’ll see what we can do together.”


Russian lawmakers set presidential vote for March 17, 2024

Updated 07 December 2023
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Russian lawmakers set presidential vote for March 17, 2024

  • Vladimir Putin widely expected to announce his intention to run again in coming days
  • The March election clears the way for him to remain in power at least until 2030

MOSCOW: Russian lawmakers on Thursday set the date of the 2024 presidential election for March 17, moving Vladimir Putin closer to a fifth term in office.
Putin, 71, hasn’t yet announced his intention to run again, but he is widely expected to do so in the coming days now that the date has been set.
Under constitutional reforms he orchestrated, he is eligible to seek two more six-year terms after his current one expires next year.
Having established tight control over Russia’s political system, Putin’s victory is all but assured. Prominent critics who could challenge him on the ballot are either in jail or living abroad, and most independent media have been banned.
Neither the costly, drawn-out military campaign in Ukraine, nor a failed rebellion last summer by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin appear to have affected his high approval ratings reported by independent pollsters.
The March election clears the way for him to remain in power at least until 2030.


EU’s von der Leyen tells Xi differences must be addressed

Updated 07 December 2023
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EU’s von der Leyen tells Xi differences must be addressed

  • China and the EU ramp up diplomatic engagement this year in attempt to steer post-pandemic recovery and repair damaged ties
  • The bloc says it hopes the meetings will provide a chance to discuss areas of common interest

BEIJING: EU President Ursula von der Leyen told Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Thursday that the bloc and its biggest trading partner must address their differences, as they began the first in-person EU-China summit in over four years.
China and the EU have ramped up diplomatic engagement this year in an attempt to steer post-pandemic recovery and repair damaged ties, with a number of its commissioners visiting Beijing to restart high-level dialogue.
And in opening remarks, von der Leyen, flanked by European Council President Charles Michel and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, thanked Xi for the “warm welcome” on what is her second trip to China this year.
“But there are clear imbalances and differences that we must address,” she said.
“At times our interests coincide,” she said, pointing to EU-China cooperation on artificial intelligence and climate change.
“And when they do not, we need to address and responsibly manage the concerns that we have,” she said.
Michel, in turn, said the bloc was seeking a “stable and mutually beneficial” relationship with China.
But, he said, the EU would also “promote our European values including human rights and democracy” at the summit.
The bloc says it hopes the meetings will provide a chance to discuss areas of common interest.
In his opening remarks, President Xi told his European visitors they must “jointly respond to global challenges.”
Thursday’s talks are set to address more touchy topics too, from human rights and Beijing’s continued ties with Russia despite its war in Ukraine to the yawning EU-China trade gap.
Von der Leyen warned this week that the bloc would “not tolerate” that imbalance indefinitely.
“We have tools to protect our market,” she told AFP.
Beijing hit back on Wednesday, saying the bloc’s efforts to curb exports of sensitive tech to China while balancing trade didn’t “make sense.”
European officials have said repeatedly this year they aim to “derisk” their economic ties to China after the war in Ukraine exposed the continent’s energy dependence on Russia.


Beijing’s goal this week will be to “hinder or delay derisking at a minimum cost,” Grzegorz Stec, an analyst at China-focused think tank MERICS, told a media briefing Wednesday.
Beijing will attempt to “project the image of a responsible global actor and to reassure European actors about the direction of the Chinese economy,” Stec said.
But on the eve of the summit, news broke that Italy had withdrawn from China’s vast Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has long been opposed to Italy’s participation in an initiative viewed by many as an attempt by Beijing to buy political influence — and whose economic benefits to Rome were limited.
Also on the agenda at the summit will be the fighting between Israel and Hamas — as well as Russia’s war in Ukraine.
China, which has not condemned Moscow’s February 2022 invasion of its neighbor, welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin to Beijing in October, with Xi hailing their “deep friendship.”
Such camaraderie is unlikely in Thursday’s talks with EU leaders, who one analyst said had “zero trust” in Beijing.
“Both sides are unlikely to get what they want from the other side,” Nicholas Bequelin, a senior fellow at Yale’s Paul Tsai China Center, told AFP.


Beijing has said the meeting will “play an important role in building on the past and ushering in the future.”
“China and Europe are partners, not rivals, and their common interests far outweigh their differences,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said this week.
Von der Leyen and Michel’s schedule in the Chinese capital on Thursday will be tight.
The EU chiefs’ meeting with Xi will be followed by a working lunch.
They will then hold talks with Premier Li Qiang before attending an official dinner and a news conference in the evening.
The Europeans have said they will urge Beijing to use its ties with Moscow to push it to end its war against Ukraine.
While China has stopped short of providing military aid to Moscow, it has deepened economic ties as Western powers seek to isolate Russia.
War in the Middle East and tensions over self-ruled Taiwan will also feature prominently in the talks, the bloc has said.