Philippines to remove any barrier China installs in the disputed South China Sea

A coast guard diver cuts a rope attached to a floating barrier blocking the entrance to Scarborough shoal in the disputed South China sea. (AFP)
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Updated 27 September 2023
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Philippines to remove any barrier China installs in the disputed South China Sea

  • The barrier has prevented a swarm of Filipino boats from entering the rich fishing area

MANILA: Filipino forces would dismantle any floating barrier that China’s coast guard may install in the disputed South China Sea, a Philippine admiral said Wednesday after Manila infuriated China by removing one such obstruction in a contested shoal.

Philippine officials strongly condemned the installation last week of a 300-meter-long (980-foot) barrier by Chinese coast guard vessels at the entrance to the lagoon of Scarborough Shoal as a violation of international law and the country’s sovereignty.

The barrier has prevented a swarm of Filipino boats from entering the rich fishing area, they said. The shoal lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone just west of the main Luzon Island, but has been occupied by China since 2012 as part of a push by Beijing to lay claim to virtually the entire South China Sea.

On Monday, the Philippine coast guard said it has complied with an order by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to launch a covert operation to remove the rope and net barrier held up by small buoys in the mouth of the shoal. China reacted on Tuesday by asking the Philippines “not to make provocations or seek trouble.”

“Huayang Island is China’s inherent territory,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in a news briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, referring to the Chinese name for Scarborough.

“What the Philippines (has) done is nothing but a farce that entertains itself. China will continue to safeguard territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests of Huangyan Island.”

Philippine Vice Adm. Alberto Carlos, who heads the military’s Western Command in charge of overseeing the South China Sea, told journalists he was concerned that the Chinese coast guard may also install a similar floating barrier at the entrance to Second Thomas Shoal, which is occupied by a small Philippine navy contingent on a long-grounded warship but has been surrounded by Chinese coast guard ships.

“My concern is, if they also put a barrier in Ayungin … we also have to remove the barrier,” Carlos told journalists, using the Philippine name for Second Thomas Shoal. “Whatever they install, we will remove.”

Under Marcos, who took office last year, the Philippines has intensified efforts to fight China’s increasingly aggressive actions in one of the world’s most hotly contested waters. The Philippine coast guard now often invites journalists to join its territorial patrols in an effort, it says, to expose China’s bullying in the busy waterway.

Aside from China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan are also involved in the long-simmering territorial conflicts in the South China Sea. The areas have long been regarded as a potential Asian flashpoint and a delicate fault line in the US-China rivalry in the region.

Washington lays no claim to the sea passageway, a major global trade route, but US Navy ships and fighter jets have carried out patrols for decades to challenge China’s expansive claims and promote freedom of navigation and overflight. China has told the US to stop meddling in what it says is a purely Asian dispute.

Carlos said the Philippine military would comply with Marcos’s order to ensure that the marooned and crumbling navy ship, which Filipino forces use as a territorial outpost at Second Thomas Shoal “should remain there, strong enough to be able to fly the Philippine flag.”

China has asked the Philippines to tow away the ship from the shoal. But Marcos and the Philippine military have insisted the offshore region lies in their country’s exclusive economic zone.

Chinese coast guard ships have repeatedly tried to block Philippine resupply vessels, resulting in near-collisions.

Washington has said it’s obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, if Filipino forces, ships and aircraft come under attack, including in the South China Sea.


Ukraine’s Zelensky seeks Balkan arms, support at summit in Albania

Updated 12 sec ago
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Ukraine’s Zelensky seeks Balkan arms, support at summit in Albania

TIRANA: President Volodymyr Zelensky tried to drum up Balkan support for his vision of peace in Ukraine and promoted the idea of joint arms production at a two-day summit of southeastern European countries on Wednesday.
The summit in the Albanian capital Tirana comes as Kyiv is trying to improve its defensive capabilities to beat back Russian forces at a time of faltering US support more than two years into Russia’s full-scale invasion.
“We are interested in co-production with you and all our partners,” Zelensky told top delegations from Albania, Serbia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Montenegro, Croatia and Moldova in his opening remarks at the summit.
“There are about 500 defense companies operating in Ukraine, each of them adds strength but it is not enough to win (against Russian President Vladimir) Putin. We see the problems with the supply of ammunition, which affects the situation on the battlefield.”
Zelensky proposed organizing a Ukrainian-Balkans defense forum in Kyiv or a Balkan capital to nurture arms cooperation, repeating similar initiatives conducted last year with British and US weapons companies.
Albania, North Macedonia and Montenegro are NATO members, have joined Western sanctions against Russia and sent arms and equipment to Ukraine. There are significant arms industries in parts of the Balkans, especially Serbia and Croatia, a legacy of former federal Yugoslavia.
Longtime Moscow ally Serbia has not imposed sanctions, and neither Belgrade nor Kyiv recognize the independence of Kosovo, Serbia’s former predominantly Albanian southern province which backs Ukraine and is seeking European Union and NATO membership.
Zelensky said he had invited all Balkan region leaders to take part in a summit of partners and allies in Switzerland this spring that would discuss his vision of peace, which entails a Russian military withdrawal from all of Ukrainian territory.
That diplomatic initiative — based on what is known as Zelensky’s “peace formula” — does not involve Russia and has been dismissed by Moscow as a non-starter.
Zelensky said he met Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama for talks and that the two leaders had signed an Agreement on Friendship and Cooperation between Ukraine and Albania.
“This document will contribute to the development of cooperation and strengthening of Ukraine’s position in the Balkan region,” Zelensky wrote on Telegram messenger.
His chief of staff Andriy Yermak said: “They also spoke about Ukraine’s defense needs and the possibility of joint weapons production.”
Zelensky told a news conference later that every time weapons supplies to Ukraine were delayed it was a “gift” to Russia’s Putin, an apparent allusion to the months-long impasse in US Congress over providing more assistance for Kyiv.
Zelensky, who was in Saudi Arabia for talks on Tuesday, is due to meet the leaders of Serbia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Montenegro at the summit.
“A pivotal moment for fostering bilateral ties, and standing in solidarity with Ukraine in its heroic fight against Russia’s aggression,” Albanian Foreign Minister Igli Hasani wrote on X shortly after Zelensky’s arrival.

Russia FM to attend Turkiye diplomacy forum: ministries

Updated 9 min 10 sec ago
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Russia FM to attend Turkiye diplomacy forum: ministries

  • Lavrov will meet Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan at the gathering
  • Turkiye, which like Ukraine and Russia borders the Black Sea, has succeeded in maintaining links to both sides in the conflict

ISTANBUL: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will attend a diplomacy forum in Turkiye from Friday, the countries’ governments said, following criticism of Ankara over its support for Moscow during the Ukraine war.
The Antalya Diplomacy Forum (ADF) in southern Turkiye began in 2021 as a place for policymakers, businessmen, researchers and academics to exchange ideas and views on diplomacy, policy and business.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday that Lavrov will meet Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan at the gathering and Turkish ministry spokesman Oncu Keceli confirmed as much to AFP.
Lavrov, an Antalya participant in 2022, just weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, last visited Turkiye in April last year, when he met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara.
Turkiye, which like Ukraine and Russia borders the Black Sea, has succeeded in maintaining links to both sides in the conflict.
It has played a key role in the export of Ukrainian grain by sea, via a secure corridor under the aegis of the UN, but has also been singled out for helping Russia get around some Western sanctions.
Sixteen Turkish entities were targeted in the latest round of sanctions unveiled last week by the White House. Washington accused individuals and companies of helping to supply Russia’s industry and furthering Moscow’s ability to wage war against Ukraine.


Food aid from Indonesia enters Gaza amid Israeli blockades

Updated 28 February 2024
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Food aid from Indonesia enters Gaza amid Israeli blockades

  • Aid convoys have been targeted by Israeli military, Indonesian volunteer says
  • Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza are on the brink of famine

JAKARTA: Some trucks carrying humanitarian assistance from Indonesia have managed to enter Gaza, Indonesian volunteers confirmed, despite Israeli attacks on convoys and the blocking of critical aid.

Thousands of aid trucks have been waiting to enter Gaza on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing, with the UN saying on Tuesday that convoys carrying humanitarian assistance have been targeted by Israeli attacks and prevented from reaching people in need.

Several trucks carrying wheat flour and food packages from the Indonesian NGO Medical Emergency Rescue Committee, or MER-C, are among the few that managed to enter Gaza recently, volunteers from the organization said.

The volunteers, Fikri Rofiul Haq and Reza Aldilla Kurniawan, chose to stay in Gaza when Israeli attacks on the besieged territory escalated in October. They were volunteering at the MER-C-funded Indonesia Hospital in northern Gaza. When the hospital was destroyed by the Israeli military, they sought safety in the southern part of the enclave.

“The aid delivery went through many obstacles, including a long authorization process and also lengthy inspection by Israeli officials, which have resulted in many of the food packages going bad,” Haq told Arab News on Wednesday.

Thousands of food packages were distributed last weekend in central and southern Gaza. MER-C volunteers steered clear from the enclave’s north as they feared being targeted by the Israeli military.

“All this aid from the Indonesian people through MER-C faces potential attacks by Israel,” Haq said. “Until this very second, Israeli forces continue to attack and they are attacking randomly — we never know when they might launch their assault.”

About 30,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel’s air and ground campaign in Gaza. The UN has warned that hundreds of thousands of people are now on the brink of famine as the enclave’s population relies on inadequate food aid to survive.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said on Monday that the number of food aid trucks entering Gaza had decreased by about one-third since the International Court of Justice ruled last month that Israel must do everything to prevent genocidal acts in the besieged territory, and take “immediate and effective measures” for aid provision.

“Israel continues to obstruct the provision of basic services and the entry and distribution within Gaza of fuel and lifesaving aid, acts of collective punishment that amount to war crimes and include the use of starvation of civilians as a weapon of war,” HRW said in a statement.


Prince Harry loses case against UK government over security

Updated 28 February 2024
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Prince Harry loses case against UK government over security

  • Lawyers for the government rejected claims that Harry was ‘singled out’ and treated ‘less favorably’

LONDON: Prince Harry lost a court challenge against the UK government on Wednesday over a decision to change the level of his personal security when he visits the country.
The youngest son of King Charles III launched legal action against the government after being told in February 2020 that he would no longer be given the “same degree” of publicly-funded protection when in Britain.
“The ‘bespoke’ process devised for the claimant in the decision of 28 February 2020 was, and is, legally sound,” High Court judge Peter Lane said in his 52-page judgment.
Harry sensationally left Britain in 2020 with his wife Meghan, eventually settling in California in the United States.
The prince told a hearing at London’s High Court in December that security concerns were preventing visits back to the United Kingdom.
“The UK is my home. The UK is central to the heritage of my children,” he told court in a written statement read out by his lawyers.
“That cannot happen if it’s not possible to keep them safe.
“I cannot put my wife in danger like that and, given my experiences in life, I am reluctant to unnecessarily put myself in harm’s way too,” he added.
Harry’s mother Princess Diana was killed in a high-speed car crash in Paris in 1997 as she tried to escape paparazzi photographers.
Lawyers for the government rejected claims that Harry was “singled out” and treated “less favorably” or that a proper risk analysis was not carried out.
James Eadie, for the interior ministry, told the court that it was decided Harry would not be provided the same level of protection as before because he had left life as a working royal and mostly lived abroad.
In May 2023, Harry lost a bid for a legal review of another government decision refusing him permission to pay for specialist UK police protection himself.
The interior ministry argued then that it was “not appropriate” for wealthy people to “buy” protective security when it had decided that it was not in the public interest for such taxpayer-funded protection.
London’s Metropolitan Police also opposed Harry’s offer on the grounds that it would be wrong to “place officers in harm’s way upon payment of a fee by a private individual.”
It is one of many legal cases launched by Harry.
Earlier this month, he settled a long-running lawsuit against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), whose journalists he accused of being linked to deceptive and unlawful methods, but vowed to continue his legal battles with several other UK media outlets.
Harry is one of seven high-profile people, including Elton John, bringing legal action against the publisher of the Daily Mail over allegations of unlawful information gathering.
He and actor Hugh Grant are also suing News Group Newspapers (NGN), part of Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire and publisher of The Sun and the now-defunct News Of The World tabloids, over similar claims.
However, Harry last month dropped his libel case against UK newspaper the Mail on Sunday over an article on his legal battles with the UK government.


UAE engages with south Indian exporters to boost Gulf trade

Updated 28 February 2024
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UAE engages with south Indian exporters to boost Gulf trade

  • UAE-India CEPA Council promotes business ties under the preferential trade pact
  • Roundtable in Chennai involved businesses in the logistics, automotive, agriculture sectors

NEW DELHI: Representatives of the top UAE and Indian business bodies met with exporters in Chennai on Wednesday to boost trade between the Gulf region and India’s south.

Commercial relations between the two countries have reached historic highs since the implementation of the UAE-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in May 2022.

The economic partnership under CEPA is expected by both sides to increase the total value of bilateral trade in non-petroleum products to more than $100 billion and trade in services to $15 billion by 2030.

The meeting with exporters based in the capital of the southern state of Tamil Nadu was held by the UAE-India CEPA Council in collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industry and the UAE Embassy.

“Featuring over 20 participants from diverse sectors such as logistics, automotives, agriculture and healthcare, the roundtable provided a valuable platform for business owners to discuss opportunities to benefit from the UAE-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, and the bilateral strategic partnership more broadly,” the UAE Embassy said in a statement.

Tamil Nadu, India’s second-largest exporter of software, after Karnataka, is also famous for its automobile and engineering industries. Manufacturing contributes 33 percent and agriculture 13 percent to its state gross domestic product.

“Among the various economic, trade and investment matters discussed at the roundtable, Col. Shubhransh Srivastav, vice president, corporate affairs, DP World, provided participants with an overview of the recently launched Bharat Mart, which is set to boost Indian SME exports to the UAE and the greater MENA region,” the UAE Embassy said.

Bharat Mart, a warehousing facility enabling Indian micro, small and medium enterprises to trade in Dubai, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his state visit to the UAE earlier this month, and is expected to become operational by next year.

Ahmed Aljneibi, director of the UAE-India CEPA Council, told the Chennai audience that the CEPA was offering expansion due to preferential market access.

The access provided under the deal by the UAE on more than 97 percent of its tariff lines accounts for 99 percent of Indian exports to the UAE in value terms, mainly from labor-intensive sectors.

“The significant benefits afforded by the CEPA, including preferential market access and the facilitation of MSME expansion, underscore its role in catalyzing cooperation and strengthening cultural, political and economic ties between our nations,” Aljneibi said.

“We look forward to building upon this momentum and continuing to drive impactful initiatives that will further deepen the UAE-India economic partnership.”