US renews warning it’s obligated to defend the Philippines after its new clash with China at sea

Above, the dilapidated but still active Philippine Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre at the Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin Shoal, at the disputed South China Sea on Aug. 22, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 18 June 2024
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US renews warning it’s obligated to defend the Philippines after its new clash with China at sea

  • China and the Philippines blame each other for instigating Monday’s hostilities in the Second Thomas Shoal
  • Several incidents have happened in recent months near the shoal which lies less than 370km from the nearest Philippines coast

MANILA: The United States renewed a warning Tuesday that it’s obligated to defend its close treaty ally a day after Filipino navy personnel were injured and their supply boats damaged in one of the most serious confrontations between the Philippines and China in a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, officials said.
China and the Philippines blamed each other for instigating Monday’s hostilities in the Second Thomas Shoal, which has been occupied by a small Filipino navy contingent aboard a grounded warship that’s been closely watched by Chinese coast guard, navy and suspected militia ships in a yearslong territorial standoff. There is fear the disputes, long regarded as an Asian flashpoint, could escalate and pit the United States and China in a larger conflict.
US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell discussed China’s actions with Philippine counterpart, Maria Theresa Lazaro, in a telephone call. Both agreed that China’s “dangerous actions threatened regional peace and stability,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.
Campbell reaffirmed that the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which obligates Washington and Manila to help defend the other in major conflicts, “extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft – including those of its coast guard – anywhere in the South China Sea,” according to Miller.
A Philippine government task force overseeing the territorial disputes condemned what it said were “dangerous maneuvers, including ramming and towing,” which disrupted a routine effort to transport food, water and other supplies to the Filipinos manning the territorial outpost aboard the BRP Sierra Madre at the shoal.
“Despite the illegal, aggressive, and reckless actions by the Chinese maritime forces, our personnel showed restraint and professionalism, refrained from escalating the tension, and carried on with their mission,” the Philippine task force said without elaborating. “Their actions put at risk the lives of our personnel and damaged our boats in blatant violation of international law.”
The Chinese coast guard said the Philippines “is entirely responsible for this.” It said a Philippine vessel “ignored China’s repeated solemn warnings … and dangerously approached a Chinese vessel in normal navigation in an unprofessional manner, resulting in a collision.”
Two speedboats — attempting to deliver construction materials and other supplies to a military vessel stationed at the shoal — accompanied the supply ship, according to China’s Foreign Ministry, which described its coast guard’s maneuver as “professional, restrained, reasonable and lawful.”
Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said Monday night that his country’s armed forces would resist “China’s dangerous and reckless behavior,” which “contravenes their statements of good faith and decency.”
“We will exert our utmost in order to fulfill our sworn mandate to protect our territorial integrity, sovereignty, and sovereign rights,” Teodoro said. “It should now be clear to the international community that China’s actions are the true obstacles to peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
Several incidents have happened in recent months near the shoal which lies less than 370 kilometers from the nearest Philippines coast and where it maintains the Sierra Madre, which had become encrusted with rust since it was deliberately grounded in 1999 but remains an actively commissioned military vessel, meaning an attack on it could be considered by the Philippines as an act of war.
China has increasingly become assertive in pressing its claim to virtually the entire South China Sea, which has led to a rising number of direct conflicts with other countries in the region, most notably the Philippines and Vietnam.
A new law by China, which took effect Saturday, authorizes its coast guard to seize foreign ships “that illegally enter China’s territorial waters” and to detain foreign crews for up to 60 days. The law renewed a reference to 2021 legislation that says China’s coast guard can fire upon foreign ships if necessary.
At least three coastal governments with claims to the waters — the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan — have said they would not recognize the law. Malaysia and Brunei are also involved in the long-seething territorial disputes, which are regarded as a delicate fault line in the longstanding US-China rivalry in the region.


Bangladesh extends curfew ahead of court hearing on controversial job quotas

Updated 21 July 2024
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Bangladesh extends curfew ahead of court hearing on controversial job quotas

  • Violent student protests in Bangladesh have killed at least 114 people as per news reports
  • Nationwide protests are biggest challenge to Sheikh Hasina’s Bangladesh government 

DHAKA: Bangladesh extended a curfew on Sunday to control violent student-led protests that have killed at least 114 people, as authorities braced for a Supreme Court hearing later in the day on government job quotas that sparked the anger.

Soldiers have been on patrol on the streets of capital Dhaka, the center of the demonstrations that spiralled into clashes between protesters and security forces.

Internet and text message services in Bangladesh have been suspended since Thursday, cutting the nation off as police cracked down on protesters who defied a ban on public gatherings.

A curfew ordered late on Friday has been extended to 3 p.m. (0900 GMT) on Sunday, until after the Supreme Court hearing, and will continue for an “uncertain time” following a two-hour break for people to gather supplies, local media reported.

Universities and colleges have also been closed since Wednesday.

Nationwide unrest broke out following student anger against quotas for government jobs that included reserving 30 percent for the families of those who fought for independence from Pakistan.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government had scrapped the quota system in 2018, but a court reinstated it last month.

The Supreme Court suspended the decision after a government appeal and will hear the case on Sunday after agreeing to bring forward a hearing scheduled for Aug. 7.

The demonstrations — the biggest since Hasina was re-elected for a fourth successive term this year — have also been fueled by high unemployment among young people, who make up nearly a fifth of the population.

The US State Department on Saturday raised its travel advisory for Bangladesh to level four, urging American citizens to not travel to the South Asian country.


EU backs ICJ ruling on ‘illegal’ Israeli occupation

Updated 21 July 2024
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EU backs ICJ ruling on ‘illegal’ Israeli occupation

  • The ICJ’s ruling is not binding, but it comes amid mounting concern over the death toll and destruction in Israel’s war against Hamas

BRUSSELS, Belgium: The top UN court’s ruling that Israel’s 57-year occupation of Palestinian land was “illegal” is “largely consistent with EU positions,” the bloc’s foreign policy chief said Saturday.
The sweeping opinion on Friday by The Hague-based International Court of Justice — which called for the occupation to end as soon as possible — was immediately slammed as a “decision of lies” by Israel.
But the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs said that the bloc had taken “good note” of the court’s ruling and urged further backing for the court’s opinion.
“In a world of constant and increasing violations of international law, it is our moral duty to reaffirm our unwavering commitment to all ICJ decisions in a consistent manner, irrespective of the subject in question,” Josep Borrell said.
He added in a statement that the opinion “will need to be analyzed more thoroughly, including in view of its implications for EU policy.”
The ICJ’s ruling is not binding, but it comes amid mounting concern over the death toll and destruction in Israel’s war against Hamas sparked by the group’s brutal October 7 attacks, as well as increased tensions in the West Bank.
Its intervention is likely to increase diplomatic pressure on Israel over the war in Gaza, as will the EU’s backing.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the ruling.
“The Jewish people are not occupiers in their own land — not in our eternal capital Jerusalem, nor in our ancestral heritage of Judea and Samaria” (the occupied West Bank), he said in a statement.
In June 1967, Israel seized the then-Jordan-annexed West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt in a crushing six-day war against its Arab neighbors.
It then began to settle the 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) of seized Arab territory.
The UN later declared the occupation of Palestinian territory illegal, and Cairo regained the Sinai under its 1979 peace deal with Israel.
 


Kyiv hospital strike highlights Russia’s sanctions evasion

Updated 21 July 2024
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Kyiv hospital strike highlights Russia’s sanctions evasion

  • The July 8 Kh-101s missile attack, which killed two people and damaged large portions of the surrounding buildings of the clinic treating about 600 patients, provoked international outrage
  • Russia is now producing eight times as many Kh-101s missiles as before its invasion of Ukraine in 2022, says report

WARSAW: The Kh-101 cruise missile that struck a children’s hospital in Kyiv in early July perfectly illustrates the ability of the Russian defense industry to overcome Western efforts to cut its supply of key components.
The July 8 attack, which killed two people and damaged large portions of the surrounding buildings of the clinic treating about 600 patients, provoked international outrage.
Yet “just since the beginning of this week, Russia has used more than 700 guided aerial bombs, more than 170 attack drones of various types and almost 80 missiles against Ukraine,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Long gone are the days when Western military officials would report that Russian military production capacity was insufficient to sustain the war in Ukraine, or when a Ukrainian official said Russian strikes would soon stop because of a lack of ammunition.
The Financial Times reported, without naming its sources, that Russia is now producing eight times as many Kh-101s as before its invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
Experts consulted by AFP would not confirm the figures, but all underscored Russia’s increased capacity to build more of these crucial cruise missiles.
“I would say the real number might be even higher,” said Vladislav Inozemtsev, a Russian economist who lives in exile. He estimates that Russia will make 700 to 750 this year and that production could reach 1,000 units in 2025.
“In April 2024, Ukrainian sources reported monthly production of 40 Kh-101 missiles,” much higher than the 56 produced over the whole of 2021, said a Western source in the arms sector.
However, the operating systems of these missiles require many components that are made in countries that support Kyiv and have imposed sanctions on Russia.
US-made AMD memory cards, Texas Instruments microcircuits and Dutch-made Nexperia buffer chips have all been found in the debris of Kh-101 strikes, according to the official site war-sanctions.gur.gov.ua.
“Not all the electronic components inside of Russian missiles are military grade. Many of them if not most are consumer-grade or industrial-grade and still available for Russia on the global market,” said Pavel Luzin, a specialist in Russian defense policies.
“Moreover, there was a storage of electronic components in Russia made before 2022.”

With the help of friendly countries, Russia has set up trading companies and “shows no signs of vulnerability in its supply chains,” said an industrial source.
“First, there are the Chinese who supply the Russians with many kinds of dual-use products which are successfully used by the military industry,” Inozemtsev said.
The industrial source added: “The main foreign components found on the Kh-101 wrecks today are American or Taiwanese commercially available processors, purchased by Russian trade missions in embassies abroad or through shell companies.”
Some countries have become important hubs.
In a report published in late 2023, British research institute Rusi said that “faced with losing access to essential supply lines, Russia adapted, rerouting trade flows through friendly jurisdictions and bordering countries, often using complex front-company networks to evade scrutiny.”
“For example, in 2022, Armenia’s microelectronics imports from the US and EU increased by over 500 and 200 percent, respectively, with most of these later re-exported to Russia.”
Rusi also noted that the value of Kazakhstan’s microelectronics exports to Russia increased from around $250,000 in 2021 to over $18 million in 2022.
But sometimes these sales pass directly through Western countries, Rusi said, such as purchases by Russian company Compel JSC from Germany.
A Stuttgart court sentenced a 59-year-old Russian-German man on Wednesday to almost seven years in prison for having supplied 120,000 components and other pieces of equipment to Russia between January 2020 and May 2023.
“There is little that can be done to stop these flows,” Inozemtsev said.
“The only efficient thing would be to consider sanctions against Western semiconductor producers to force them to better vet their clients. But such measures would be too painful for Western companies.”
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Trump mocks Democrats in campaign rally, compares Pelosi to a dog

Updated 21 July 2024
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Trump mocks Democrats in campaign rally, compares Pelosi to a dog

  • Says the Democratic Party is being undemocratic for annointing Biden as its presidential nominee, only to try and yank it away from him
  • With Biden's poll numbers falling after his debate debacle, Trump and his supporters want Biden to stay on in the race

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan: Donald Trump held his first campaign rally on Saturday since he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt one week ago, mocking Democrats and at one point comparing former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to a “dog.”
Trump, who called for national unity in a speech on Thursday as he accepted his party’s presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention, made no mention of that in his remarks before a raucous crowd of supporters in Grand Rapids.
He frequently mocked Democratic President Joe Biden as feeble. He derided senior Democrats, including Pelosi, for trying to persuade Biden to end his re-election bid.
Referring to Pelosi, Trump said: “She’s turned on him like a dog. She’s as crazy as a bed bug.”
The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Trump comparing Pelosi to a dog.
Fresh from his nominating convention where his takeover of the Republican Party was cemented, Trump appeared in Grand Rapids with his new vice presidential pick, Senator J.D. Vance from Ohio. They took the stage in their first campaign event together with the Republican Party unified behind them.
In contrast, it is no longer certain that President Joe Biden will be the Democratic Party’s nominee facing Trump in the Nov. 5 election.
Biden has faced calls from some senior Democrats to end his re-election bid after his poor debate performance last month raised concerns over whether he could beat Trump or complete another four-year term.
Trump attacked Democrats, saying they wanted to kick Biden off the ticket after he won their presidential nominating contest.
“They have a couple of problems. No. 1, they have no idea who their candidate is,” Trump said to laughter and jeers. “This guy goes and he gets the votes and now they want to take it away.”
“As you’re seeing, the Democrat Party is not the party of democracy. They’re really the enemies of democracy.”
He added: “And they keep saying, ‘He’s a threat to democracy.’ I’m saying, ‘What the hell did I do for democracy?’
Last week, I took a bullet for democracy.”
Trump referred to the assassination attempt several times on Saturday. “I hope I don’t have to go through that again. It was so horrible,” Trump said.
Opinion polls show a tight race between the Trump and Biden at a national level but Biden trailing Trump in the battleground states that will likely determine the winner.
Many Democrats fear he may not have a realistic path to victory and that the party needs a new candidate to take on Trump.
There was a heavy police presence at Trump’s rally in Grand Rapids on Saturday, with police on every street corner for several blocks.
US Secret Service officers were positioned on the top balconies in the Van Andel Arena, giving them a bird’s eye view of the crowd inside.
Bag searches for those entering the indoor arena earlier in the day were long and thorough, and the Secret Service sweep of the building took about an hour longer than usual.
The rally in Butler, Pennsylvania, last weekend was outdoors. At that event, the gunman was able to scale the roof of a building outside the Secret Service perimeter before opening fire on Trump, clipping his ear, killing a rally-goer and wounding several others.
The Secret Service, which is responsible for protecting Trump, declined to comment on security for the Grand Rapids event. An investigation is under way into the security failures at the Butler rally.
Trump gave a detailed account of his narrow brush with death in his convention speech on Thursday, telling the audience that he was only talking to them “by the grace of Almighty God.”
Trump’s former physician, Ronny Jackson, said on Saturday that the former president is recovering as expected from the gunshot wound to his right ear, but noted intermittent bleeding and said Trump may require a hearing exam.
The bullet fired by the would-be assassin
at the July 13 rally in Pennsylvania came “less than a quarter of an inch from entering his head,” said Jackson, a Republican congressman from Texas who had served as physician to Presidents Trump and Barack Obama.
 


Residents protest over power cuts in southern Russian city

Updated 21 July 2024
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Residents protest over power cuts in southern Russian city

  • One video posted on the Baza Telegram channel appeared to show police making at least two arrests during Saturday’s protest

MOSCOW: Residents angry over recent power cuts in southern Russia staged a rare public protest on Saturday in the city of Krasnodar, posts on social media said, as the local governor blamed a heatwave for causing the blackouts.
The south of Russia has been affected by unusually hot weather that has caused mass power outages in several regions and led to the shutdown earlier this week of one of four power units at the Rostov nuclear power plant, the region’s largest.
The unit has been put back into operation since then.
“There has been abnormal heat in the Krasnodar region for a week now. The load on the energy system is colossal. I know and understand all the indignation of residents due to power outages,” Veniamin Kondratyev, the governor of Krasnodar region, said on the Telegram messaging app.
He said power capacities were not currently sufficient to meet peak demand during the hot summer months.
One video posted on the Baza Telegram channel appeared to show police making at least two arrests during Saturday’s protest.
Russian authorities have clamped down on any protest activity, especially politically laced dissent, since the start of the conflict with Ukraine in February 2022, and public protests are very rare given the risk of arrest.