Philippines summons Chinese ambassador over maritime confrontations in South China Sea

A Chinese Coast Guard ship, right, uses a water cannon on a Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessel as it approaches Scarborough Shoal in the disputed South China Sea on Dec. 9, 2023. (Philippine Coast Guard via AP)
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Updated 11 December 2023
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Philippines summons Chinese ambassador over maritime confrontations in South China Sea

  • 5th time this year Philippines has summoned Beijing’s envoy
  • Filipino military chief claims he was onboard ship harassed by Chinese vessels

MANILA: The Philippines summoned the Chinese ambassador on Monday and flagged the possibility of declaring him persona non grata following two back-to-back incidents between Philippine and Chinese vessels near disputed shoals in the South China Sea.

Manila said the Chinese coast guard and maritime militia fired water cannons at its resupply boats, causing “serious engine damage” to one, while another was “deliberately” rammed, as China’s coast guard accused Philippines’ vessels of “deliberately colliding” with its ship.

The Philippines has lodged a diplomatic protest over the weekend collisions and summoned on Monday China’s ambassador to the Philippines, Huang Xilian, for the fifth time this year.

“The Chinese Ambassador has also been summoned,” Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Teresita Daza told reporters.

“We note that this is the fourth time this year, with the two incidents happening just over the weekend, that water cannons have been used against Philippines vessels.

“More alarmingly, this is the third incident where dangerous maneuvers by Chinese vessels have resulted in a collision since the Oct. 22 RORE (rotation and resupply) mission.”

The maritime confrontations had occurred in the Second Thomas Shoal and Scarborough Shoal, which are claimed by both the Philippines and China.

Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entirety of the strategic South China Sea based on its so-called nine-dash line stretching over 1,500 km off its mainland and cutting into the exclusive economic zones of several countries, including the Philippines.

In 2016, an international tribunal at The Hague dismissed the expansive Chinese claim, a ruling that Beijing does not recognize as it increased activities in the area in recent years, including developing its military presence by building artificial island bases.

“With this case, I think it’s something that will have to be seriously considered whether the incidents or the series of incidents merit having him (Chinese ambassador) be a persona non grata,” Daza said during the press conference.

The chief of staff of the Armed Forces, Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., said he was onboard the Filipino supply boat that was sprayed with a water cannon and rammed on Sunday.

“I was outside at the bow of the ship taking videos when they started firing water cannon at us, so we took shelter … we went inside the ship, and that was the time they bumped us,” Brawner told reporters. “After they bumped and fired water cannon at us, the Chinese Coast Guard cut in front of us several times ... when they got ahead of us, they even reversed course to try to hit us again.”

“I’m angry, because why are we being treated like this in our own exclusive economic zone?” Brawner told Arab News. “Our mission was only to bring supplies (to our troops), why do we need to be harassed?”


Five migrants die as boat capsizes during rescue off Malta

Updated 58 min 39 sec ago
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Five migrants die as boat capsizes during rescue off Malta

  • Some 21 migrants were rescued and taken to a migrant center
  • They are believed to be from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt

VALLETTA, Malta: Five migrants, including a woman, died when their boat capsized as they were being rescued off Malta on Friday, the island’s armed forces said.
Another eight were injured and taken to hospital, including two who swallowed a considerable amount of seawater and fuel.
Armed Forces of Malta deputy commander Col. Edric Zahra told reporters that the incident happened at about midday when the eight-meter (26-ft) boat was four miles (6.5 km) south of Malta.
Some 21 migrants were rescued and taken to a migrant center. They are believed to be from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt.
Mediterranean sea crossings from North Africa to Italy or Malta are among the most dangerous migration routes in the world. Last year almost 2,500 migrants died or went missing on those routes, the International Organization for Migration says.
The vast majority of migrants head for Italy. Malta’s armed forces rescued 380 migrants at sea last year, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said in parliament in January.


Russia says its forces push further west after taking Ukraine’s Avdiivka

Updated 23 February 2024
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Russia says its forces push further west after taking Ukraine’s Avdiivka

  • Russian forces had also destroyed a number of Western-provided Ukrainian weapons
  • The frontlines in the war had not shifted substantially since late 2022 before the taking of Avdiivka

MOSCOW: Russian forces have advanced further to the west after taking control of the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, the defense ministry said on Friday.
It said Russian forces had also destroyed a number of Western-provided Ukrainian weapons in the past week including seven British-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles, a US Patriot anti-aircraft guided missile and launch vehicle, and 42 HIMARS rockets fired by multiple launch systems.
Reuters could not independently verify battlefield reports.
The frontlines in the war, which started two years ago on Saturday, had not shifted substantially since late 2022 before the taking of Avdiivka, and Russia still controls just under a fifth of Ukrainian territory.
The capture of Avdiivka, following months of fighting with heavy casualties on both sides, was Russia’s first significant gain since taking the city of Bakhmut last May.
After taking Avdiivka, units of the “Center” group of Russian forces “continued advancing in a westerly direction,” the defense ministry statement said.
“In cooperation with aviation and artillery, they defeated accumulations of manpower and equipment of the Ukrainian Armed Forces” in six nearby settlements, it said.


UK, EU border agency sign migration pact

Updated 23 February 2024
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UK, EU border agency sign migration pact

  • Friday’s agreement provides for the exchange of intelligence between Frontex and the UK Border Force
  • It also agrees to collaborate on the development of new technologies, such as the use of drones to protect borders, the Home Office added

LONDON: The United Kingdom on Friday signed an agreement with the EU border agency Frontex to jointly crack down on irregular immigration, the government in London said.
Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made stopping migrants from crossing the Channel on boats from France a priority before a general election due this year.
Friday’s agreement provides for the exchange of intelligence between Frontex and the UK Border Force to help disrupt people-smuggling gangs, Britain’s interior ministry said in a statement.
It also agrees to collaborate on the development of new technologies, such as the use of drones to protect borders, the Home Office added.
UK Border Force director general Phil Douglas and Frontex executive director Hans Leijtens signed the arrangement in London, witnessed by UK interior minister James Cleverly and the European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.
“Organized immigration crime and people smuggling are global challenges that require shared solutions and ambitions,” Cleverly said.
“Our landmark working arrangement between the UK and Frontex is another crucial step in tackling illegal migration, securing our borders and stopping the boats.”
The UK government says the number of migrants arriving on England’s south coast in rudimentary vessels fell by a third last year from a record high of 45,000 migrants in 2022.
The UK government called the deal “the latest step” in its “plan to tackle illegal migration and criminal gangs,” with the issue set to feature prominently in the general election campaign.


New Delhi calls on Moscow to release Indians on Russian front line

Updated 23 February 2024
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New Delhi calls on Moscow to release Indians on Russian front line

  • Testimonies of Indians in Russian army sent shockwaves across the media this week
  • Government urges Indian nationals to ‘stay away’ from Russia’s conflict

New Delhi: India's Ministry of External Affairs said on Friday it was in contact with Moscow regarding the release of Indian nationals, who according to media reports have been deployed in Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Testimonies of Indian men hired as “army security helpers” for Russian troops, their families and an agent involved in their employment sent shockwaves across the Indian media after The Hindu daily broke the news earlier this week.
A few Indians are known to have volunteered to join the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine created to counter Russia’s invasion since February 2022, but until The Hindu’s report, there was no indication of Indian nationals fighting on the Russian side.
Those who spoke to the newspaper said they had been given basic army training and expected to continue as kitchen helpers, but later were sent to the front instead.
Most of the men came from Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, and Jammu and Kashmir, and said they had been told they would not be sent to the battlefield.
The Indian government was “aware that a few Indian nationals have signed up for support jobs with the Russian army,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said in a statement.
“The Indian Embassy has regularly taken up this matter with the relevant Russian authorities for their early discharge. We urge all Indian nationals to exercise due caution and stay away from this conflict.”
The issue has been flagged on social media by lawmaker Asaduddin Owaisi, who had been approached by some of the men’s relatives.
On Wednesday, Owaisi made a plea to Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar in an X post, which has since gone viral.
“Kindly use your good offices to bring these men back home,” he said. “Their lives are at risk & their families are justifiably worried.”


Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh in talks to engage workers in Kingdom’s green initiatives

Updated 23 February 2024
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Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh in talks to engage workers in Kingdom’s green initiatives

  • Saudi Arabia ‘open’ to cooperation, Riyadh’s envoy tells Bangladesh’s new FM
  • They also discuss preparations for the upcoming Hajj pilgrimage season

DHAKA: Saudi Arabia is open to engaging Bangladeshi workers in its green initiatives, Riyadh’s envoy has said following talks with Dhaka’s new top diplomat.

Nearly 3 million Bangladeshis live and work in Saudi Arabia. They are the largest expat group in the Kingdom and also the biggest Bangladeshi community outside Bangladesh.

Under the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, even more of them are likely to find employment in Saudi Arabia, especially if they are skilled professionals or their jobs are related to the vision’s projects.

Riyadh’s Ambassador to Dhaka Essa Al-Duhailan discussed the possibilities during his first meeting with Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud, who recently assumed office following last month’s general election.

The foreign minister is a renowned ecologist and academic specializing in environmental sciences.

“We talked about the Saudi Green Initiative and Middle East Green Initiative to have some farmers and experts from Bangladesh participate … in planting more than 50 billion trees in the region,” Al-Duhailan told Arab News after the meeting on Thursday.

He said the Saudi side was “open to any suggestion and cooperation.”

The green initiatives launched by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in 2021 are focused on combating climate change and safeguarding the environment for future generations in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East through emissions reduction, afforestation, and land and sea protection.

The planting of 50 billion trees across the Middle East is the equivalent of restoring 200 million hectares of degraded land. A fifth of the trees will be planted within the Kingdom’s borders, with the remaining 40 billion set to be planted across the broader region in the coming decades.

The Saudi ambassador said he also discussed with the foreign minister the Kingdom’s plans to streamline the employment of Bangladeshis in order to “ease the procedures for the workers,” as well as preparations for the upcoming Hajj season.

“We will, inshallah, implement the Makkah Route initiative this year, for the fourth (time),” he added.

The Makkah Route initiative is a flagship program launched by Saudi Arabia in 2019, allowing pilgrims to fulfill all visa, customs and health requirements at the airport of origin, saving long hours of waiting. Upon arrival, pilgrims can enter Saudi Arabia without waiting, having already gone through visa and customs processes back home.