Saturday, December 15, 2012

Spooked by Chinese intrusion, Japan vows to beef up airspace security

Japan plans to strengthen its air surveillance capabilities, the top government spokesman said Friday, a day after the first-ever intrusion into the country's airspace by a Chinese government aircraft.

"We will take all possible steps for the defense of our airspace," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a news conference, noting the Defense Ministry is considering "more effective operations" of the Air Self-Defense Force's Airborne Warning and Control Systems, as well as E-2C airborne early warning planes.

On Thursday, a Chinese marine surveillance plane entered Japanese airspace over the Senkaku Islands, which are claimed by Beijing, for the first time since the ministry started keeping such records in 1958.

Japanese fighter jets were scrambled after the plane was spotted by the country's coast guard at 11:06 a.m. about 15 kilometers south of one of the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

But Self-Defense Force radar did not pick up the aircraft.

Fujimura said he believes the airspace intrusion by China was aimed at claiming control over the Japanese-administrated islands, adding that the government will "firmly deal with any action that infringes on our country's sovereignty."

Gen. Haruhiko Kataoka, chief of staff of the Air Self-Defense Force, also told a separate news conference that he will "thoroughly consider what kinds of arrangements are needed."

Meanwhile, China's Foreign Ministry on Friday said it is necessary to send marine surveillance planes into the airspace over the disputed islands, which are known in China as Diaoyu, in order to safeguard Chinese sovereignty over them.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei made the remarks while commenting on Japan's protest over the incident, according to China's official Xinhua News Agency.

"The Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islets, including the sovereignty of the waters and airspace over the region, belong to China," Hong was quoted as saying.

He accused Japan of "illegally" deploying ships and planes to the disputed waters and airspace since September, saying China had demanded a halt to the activities but Japan had failed to respond.-Interaksyon (December 15, 2012 12:20PM)

WORLD: Children among 27 dead in Connecticut school shooting

Twenty children and six adults have been killed in a shooting attack at a primary school in the US state of Connecticut, police say.

Lt Paul Vance said the gunman was also dead, but did not identify him.

However, officials told US media the killer at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, was a 20-year-old son of a teacher at the school.

Newtown is now one of the worst school shootings in US history, after 32 died at Virginia Tech in 2007.

Early reports named 24-year-old Ryan Lanza as the gunman, but anonymous officials later said his brother Adam, 20, was the suspect.

Ryan Lanza was being questioned by police, the Associated Press and New York Times reported.

Lt Vance said 18 children were pronounced dead at the school, and two died after they were taken to hospital. Six adults were also killed. The gunman died at the scene.

One person was also injured, and police were investigating a "secondary" crime scene in Newtown, where another victim was found dead, Lt Vance said.

Dressed in black and wearing a bullet-proof vest, the gunman is thought to have had several weapons at the school, although it is not clear whether he used more than one.

The attack took place in two rooms within a single section of the school, police have said.

Night has fallen in Newtown, and school officials announced that a memorial service would take place at 19:00 EST (00:00 GMT).

'Innocence torn away'

Friday's shooting is the third major gun attack in the US in 2012.

In July an attacker killed 12 people at a premiere of a Batman film in Aurora, Colorado. In August six people died at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

Just this week two people died in a shooting at a shopping mall in the state of Oregon.

At the White House, an emotional President Barack Obama cited those incidents as he called for "meaningful action... regardless of politics".

"Our hearts are broken today, for the parents, grandparents, sisters and brothers of these children, and for the families of the adults who were lost."

Mr Obama offered condolences to the families of survivors too, saying "their children's innocence has been torn away from them too early, and there are no words that will ease their pain".

He wiped tears from his eyes as he spoke of the "overwhelming grief" at the loss of life.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy called the attack a "tragedy of unspeakable terms", saying "you can never be prepared" for an event like this.

He spoke after spending the day visiting the victims' families.

The American flags on Capitol Hill in Washington DC have been lowered to half-mast in the wake of the attack.

Schools locked down

Police arrived at the school soon after 09:40 local time (14:40 GMT), answering reports that a gunman was in the school's main office and one person had "numerous gunshot wounds".

One witness speaking to CNN said that shots were heard coming from the hall. There "must have been 100 rounds" fired, she told the channel.

Local media have reported that firefighters instructed children to close their eyes and run past the school's office as they exited the building.

Scores of officers at the scene carried out a full search of the site. Classes were cancelled as the situation developed.

Sandy Hook School - described by correspondents as a highly rated school has more than 600 students in classes from Kindergarten to 4th Grade - spanning the ages five to 10.

Schools across the district were immediately on lock-down as a preventive measure, officials said.-British Broadcasting Corporation (December 14, 2012 22:24GMT)

PH, Vietnam discuss rival claims in S. China Sea

The Philippines and Vietnam will continue to coordinate efforts to reach a negotiated settlement with China on overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, a senior diplomat told Kyodo News on Friday.

Officials of the two countries, who were in Manila to prepare for a meeting of the Philippine and Vietnamese foreign ministers in Manila early next year, decided to continue to work together on the South China Sea issue even though Malaysia and Brunei, two other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations with similar difficulties, begged off a planned four-way discussion set for Dec. 12.

Both Brunei and Malaysia said scheduling problems prevented their senior officials from coming to Manila this week, although some believe those two countries are more concerned about upsetting China than forging a common stance on the sea claims with Vietnam and the Philippines.

The diplomat said the Friday meeting has shown the Philippines and Vietnam are ready to discuss maritime security and cooperation and to resolve the South China Sea disputes by negotiation.

"We have a common understanding that it is really important to maintain peace and stability in the region because the seas surrounding our region interconnect the countries of Asia-Pacific and beyond," the diplomat said.

The Philippines and Vietnam are the most vocal among ASEAN countries in demanding that China forge a binding code of conduct with ASEAN to prevent clashes in disputed areas.

China and Vietnam dispute ownership of parts of the Paracel Islands, which China has occupied.

The four ASEAN claimants and Taiwan also dispute with China ownership of parts of the Spratly Islands and the Philippines disagrees with China on ownership of Scarborough Shoal, north of the Spratlys.

A statement issued by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said the Friday meeting "discussed the implementation of the Philippines-Viet Nam Action Plan 2011-2016, which covers cooperation on political, defense, security, economic, fisheries, agriculture, forestry, environment, science and technology, energy, education, cultural and tourism, social welfare and development, and maritime and ocean concerns and issues."

In addition to the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, ASEAN includes Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.-ABS-CBN News (December 14, 2012 8:40PM)

Despite Risks, China Stays at North Korea’s Side to Keep the U.S. at Bay

Even though North Korea ignored China’s appeal not to test its new longer-range missile, the new leadership here appears intent on remaining a steadfast supporter of its wayward neighbor because it considers the North a necessary buffer against the United States and its allies.

Analysts said that China’s overriding fear was of a collapse of the hard-line Communist government in Pyongyang, which could lead to the reunification of the Korean Peninsula under a government in Seoul allied with the United States. China, they said, would consider an American presence on its doorstep untenable.

But China’s unyielding support of Kim Jong-un has a serious downside, they added, because it may lead to a result nearly as unpalatable: efforts by the United States and its regional allies Japan and South Korea to contain China.

“It stirs up regional security,” said Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Peking University who favors reducing support for North Korea. Without naming the United States, he added that the missile launching “facilitates China-bashers to work on hard-line policies to contain China, or just balance China.”

Obama administration officials were clearly exasperated this week with China’s inability to rein in Mr. Kim, saying that they were considering a stronger military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Beneath the official tolerance of North Korea, a debate about the wisdom of remaining loyal to such a world outlier and its defiant young leader simmers among analysts who strive to influence China’s foreign policy.

China runs the risk, Dr. Zhu said, of being bunched together with North Korea as one of “the two bad guys.”

“I feel very frustrated,” Dr. Zhu added. “At least we should distance ourselves from North Korea. The reality is, as long as North Korea can’t change their behavior, then peace and stability on the peninsula will be increasingly vulnerable.”

China has twice asked Mr. Kim, who inherited the leadership of North Korea after the death of his father at the end of last year, not to proceed with missile tests, and twice he has rebuffed the entreaties. Shortly after he came to power, a Chinese vice minister of foreign affairs, Fu Ying, visited Pyongyang to warn him not to conduct a test. In April, Mr. Kim went ahead anyway with a rocket launching, which fizzled. Last month, Li Jianguo, a member of the Politburo, visited North Korea to again urge restraint.

Despite their displeasure, China’s leaders see little choice but to put up with such indignities.

The slight pique expressed by the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday was not a signal that China would alter its course, the analysts said, or back tougher sanctions at the United Nations.

The official reaction was “very hesitant,” said Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.

After the missile test, Washington immediately started pushing for deeper sanctions at the United Nations and for a tightening of existing sanctions that China agreed to after earlier rocket launchings.

“China will not support a resolution; it will favor a president’s statement,” said Cai Jian, the deputy director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. A president’s statement at the United Nations is considered a much weaker form of condemnation than sanctions.

A major reason for not backing new sanctions is the fear that they would provoke North Korea to test another nuclear weapon, a far worse prospect than the launching of an unarmed rocket like the one on Wednesday, said Jonathan D. Pollack, a North Korea expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“The North Koreans demurred from a third nuclear test in April, very likely under major Chinese pressure,” Dr. Pollack said.

In 2006 and 2009, North Korea tested a nuclear weapon soon after launching missiles. Dr. Pollack said a repeat of that action would pose a major test to the Obama administration, as well as to the new Chinese leader, Xi Jinping.

“Pyongyang may have decided now is the time to put down a major marker as Obama’s second term approaches and as South Korea elects a new president,” he said.

Beyond the hard strategic questions for the new Chinese leadership, the concerns among ordinary Chinese about why China bankrolls such a ruthless government should be considered, several Chinese analysts said.

“Internally in China, many voices are questioning all this spending on rocket launches instead of on improving people’s livelihoods,” said Jia Qingguo, an expert at Peking University.

The South Korean government recently estimated that North Korea had spent $2.8 billion to $3.2 billion since 1998 on its missile program, said Stephan M. Haggard, a professor of Korea-Pacific studies at the University of California, San Diego. That amount of money would have bought enough corn to feed the country for about three years, Dr. Haggard said.

The debate within China about its relationship with North Korea stems from the unusual nature of the alliance. Fundamentally, the two governments do not like each other and harbor deep mutual suspicions, said Stephanie T. Kleine-Ahlbrandt, the China and Northeast Asia project director of the International Crisis Group in Beijing. When North Korean officials visited Singapore this year to get new ideas for Mr. Kim’s government, leaders in Beijing — who have sent teams of their own to Singapore to study its softer form of one-party leadership — became very nervous, she said.

The larger fear is that any fundamental change in North Korea could send waves of refugees into China, who would be considerably more difficult to absorb than people of other nationalities on China’s borders.

“For the Chinese,” Ms. Kleine-Ahlbrandt said, “there are fewer problems keeping North Korea the way it is than having a collapse.”-The New York Times (December 2012)

More countries eyed in war games

The United States wants to expand the Balikatan joint exercises to include other countries in the region, believing this would enable them to address common security concerns.

Brig. Gen. Michael Compton, assistant for strategic planning and policy mobilization of the US Pacific Command, said they have proposed that another country participate in next year’s exercise.

“We propose maybe adding one country next year because Australia recently signed a SOVFA (Status of Visiting Forces Agreement) with the Philippines. This is a great opportunity to use that agreement. We all have a common strategic and economic interest,” Compton told The STAR yesterday.

He said another country that may participate in the exercise is Japan, which he said has a close relationship with the Philippines and “share a lot of common interests.”

Like the Philippines, Japan is also in the middle of a diplomatic row with China over territorial issues.

Compton said the inclusion of other countries in the Balikatan exercise will be gradual because this would require more coordination and resources.

“It’s a goal of the US Pacific Command to increase regional stability and peace and to do that the best way is to build partnerships not just with one (country) or (through) bilateral (agreements) but also multilateral partnerships using organizations like ASEAN,” Compton said, referring to the 10-member regional grouping Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“But we are also starting with bilateral (agreements) like Balikatan and adding one or two countries at a time,” he added.

Compton noted that the US and the countries in the region are concerned with issues like piracy, terrorism, transnational crimes, violent extremist groups, transnational flow of drugs, human trafficking and natural disasters.

“HADR (humanitarian and disaster response) is something that happens to everyone. Disaster does not look at a border and stop. Only by working together can we be prepared. This requires tremendous cooperation and tremendous resources,” he said.

He said countries can learn from the Philippines’ experiences in responding to disasters. He said the US personnel who are preparing for Balikatan 2013 have participated in relief and rescue efforts in areas hit by typhoon “Pablo.”

Compton was one of the US security officials who attended the Bilateral Strategic Dialogue, which ended last Thursday. The dialogue served as a venue for Philippine and US officials to discuss security matters.

Earlier, the Department of National Defense (DND) said Australia is exploring the possibility of joining the Balikatan exercises.

The DND said the issue was tackled during the 11th Joint Defense Cooperation Committee meet held last October in Manila.

Balikatan literally means shoulder to shoulder and is an annual exercise designed to enhance the interoperability between US and Philippine troops. It is in line with the Mutual Defense Treaty signed by the two countries in 1951.

The 11th Joint Defense Cooperation Committee was held three months after the Senate ratified the SOVFA between Philippines and Australia.-The Philippine Star (December 14, 2012 12:00AM)

ASEAN mobilizes relief to aid typhoon-hit areas in Phl

Relief aids to victims of Pablotyphoon in the Philippines is being closely coordinated by disaster management authority of the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN), official said here today.

"We work closely with the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) and other ASEAN countries to assist the relief work," AHA Center Executive Director Said Faisal said here, referring to the Philippines' disaster mitigation agency, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

AHA Centre team has deployed three generators to Boston, New Bataan, and Cagayan de Oro. The delivery of mobile storages and other relief items are also on the way.

Malaysia sent its first batch of aid including food, milk, and tents on Dec.7, while Indonesia handed over $1 million to the government of Philippines. Singapore deployed an emergency response team to support the emergency planning and preparation, Faisal said.   "We will do our best to facilitate the Government and the community in disaster-affected areas to receive what is needed through our ASEAN family," Said Faisal said.

ASEAN Deputy Secretary General Alicia dela Rosa Bala said that all of those measured showed that humanitarian assistance in ASEAN is now institutionalized. "ASEAN now responds as a group," Alicia said.  

According to the data issued by the AHA Center, over five million people have been affected by Typhoon Pablothat hit Mindanao regions in the Philippines since Dec. 3.

As of today, the regional disaster mitigation agency recorded 906 people killed, 2,660 injured and 932 others were still missing from the typhoon. A total of 5,516,181 persons were the affected regions with 60,823 houses totally damaged and 88,925 partially damaged.

The NDRRMC estimated the cost of damage from the typhoon to reach $367 million.

The agency now served a total of 59,764 persons in 55 evacuation centers.-The Philippine Star (December 14, 2012 11: 45PM)

Friday, December 14, 2012

WORLD: Israeli FM resigns after indictment

Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, has said he was resigning after being charged with fraud and breach of trust, Reuters news agency has reported.

Lieberman made the announcement on Friday a day after being charged with fraud and breach of trust for promoting an ambassador.

"Though I know I committed no crime ... I have decided to resign my post as foreign minister and deputy prime minister," Lieberman said in an emailed statement, adding that he hoped to clear his name "without delay".

However Lieberman, who leads the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, was cleared of more serious offences, including bribery and money-laundering.

Opinion polls had predicted that the right-wing party of Lieberman and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud, running on a joint-party ticket would win the January 22 election, and it was not clear if his removal from the race would hurt their chances.-Al Jazeera (December 14, 2012 14:52)

Having the nine-dash map on Google won't validate China's claim - DFA spokesman

Having it on Google doesn’t mean it’s legitimate. 

Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez said that even if China’s nine-dash map is on Google, its claim over disputed territories in South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) “will not gain any validity."

"Putting the nine-dash line on Google map does not change the fact that the nine-dash line claim is contrary to the international law particularly Unclos [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea]," Hernandez said on Friday in a text message to reporters when asked to react on China's latest move in asserting its sovereignty in the disputed sea.

“Such act will not gain any validity for China,” added Hernandez.

The Philippines and other claimant countries, including Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan have overlapping claims to the West Philippine Sea, which China is claiming entirely.

Due to the map issued by Google, the Vietnam-based Nguyen Thai Hoc Foundation has circulated a petition requesting Google Inc. executive chairman Eric Schmidt, CEO Larry Page, and co-founder Sergey Brin to remove the label "China" from Paracel and Spratly Islands and the nine-dotted line from the Google maps.

Google has already removed the said label but the nine-dotted line remains on its Chinese maps.-Interaksyon (December 14, 2012 9:22PM)

NKorea still years away from credible missiles

After 14 years of painstaking labor, North Korea finally has a rocket that can put a satellite in orbit. But that doesn't mean the reclusive country is close to having an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Experts say Pyongyang is years from even having a shot at developing reliable missiles that could bombard the American mainland and other distant targets, though it did gain attention and the outrage of world leaders Wednesday with its first successful launch of a three-stage, long-range rocket.

A missile program is built on decades of systematic, intricate testing, something extremely difficult for economically struggling Pyongyang, which faces guaranteed sanctions and world disapproval each time it stages an expensive launch. North Korea will need larger and more dependable missiles, and more advanced nuclear weapons, to threaten U.S. shores, though it already poses a threat to its neighbors.

"One success indicates progress, but not victory, and there is a huge gap between being able to make a system work once and having a system that is reliable enough to be militarily useful," said Brian Weeden, a former U.S. Air Force Space Command officer and a technical adviser to the Secure World Foundation, a think tank on space policy.

North Korea's satellite launch Wednesday came only after repeated failures and hundreds of millions of dollars.

South Korea's Defense Ministry said Thursday the satellite was orbiting normally at a speed of 7.6 kilometers (4.7 miles) per second, though it's not known what mission it is performing. North Korean space officials say the satellite would be used to study crops and weather patterns.

Though Pyongyang insists the project is peaceful, it also has conducted two nuclear tests and has defied international demands that it give up its nuclear weapons program.

The U.N. Security Council said in a brief statement after closed consultations Wednesday that the launch violates council resolutions against the North's use of ballistic missile technology, and said it would urgently consider "an appropriate response."

"This launch is about a weapons program, not peaceful use of space," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. Even the North's most important ally, China, expressed regret.

North Korea has long possessed the components needed to construct long-range rockets. Scientists in Pyongyang, however, had been trying and failing since 1998 to conduct a successful launch. Only this week — their fifth try — did they do so, prompting dancing in the streets of the capital.

North Korea's far more advanced rival, South Korea, has failed twice since 2009 to launch a satellite on a rocket from its own territory, and postponed two attempts in recent weeks because of technical problems.

Each advancement Pyongyang makes causes worry in Washington and among North Korea's neighbors. In 2010, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned that within five years the North could develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States.

Wednesday's launch suggests the North is on track for that, said former U.S. defense official James Schoff, now an expert on East Asia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

But he and other experts say the North must still surmount tough technical barriers to build the ultimate military threat: a sophisticated nuclear warhead small enough to mount on a long-range missile, something experts say will be the focus of future nuclear tests.

And despite Wednesday's launch, Pyongyang is also lacking the other key part of that equation: a reliable long-range missile.

"If in the future they develop a nuclear warhead small enough to put on a rocket, they are not going to want to put that on a missile that has a high probability of exploding on the launch pad," David Wright, a physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists who has written extensively about North Korea's missile program, said in an email.

To create a credible missile program, experts say, North Korean technicians need to conduct many more tests that will allow them to iron out the wrinkles until they have a missile that works more often than it fails. Pyongyang's past tests have been somewhat scattershot, possibly because of the heavy international sanctions the rocket and nuclear tests have generated.

North Korea must build a larger missile than the one launched Wednesday if it wants to be able to send nuclear weapons to distant targets, analysts said.

The satellite North Korea mounted on the rocket weighs only 100 kilograms (220 pounds), according to the office of South Korean lawmaker Jung Chung-rae, who was briefed by a senior South Korean intelligence official. A nuclear warhead would be about five times heavier.

Other missing parts of the puzzle include an accurate long-range missile guidance system and a re-entry vehicle able to survive coming back into the atmosphere at the high speeds — 10,000 mph — traveled by intercontinental ballistic missiles, said Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts.

Both are seen as being years off.

History also shows that first-generation, long-range missiles need dozens of test flights before they are accurate enough to be deployed.

The world's "ICBM club" has just four countries: the United States, Russia, China and France, according to Markus Schiller, an analyst with Schmucker Technologie in Germany and a leading expert on North Korean missiles.

If North Korea "really intended to become a player in the ICBM game, they would have to develop a different kind of missile, with higher performance," Schiller said. "And if they do that seriously, we would have to see flight tests every other month, over several years."

Wright said the Unha-3 rocket launched Wednesday has a potential range of 8,000 to 10,000 kilometers (4,970 to 6,210 miles), which could put Hawaii and the northwest coast of the mainland United States within range.

But even if North Korea builds a ballistic missile based on a liquid-fueled rocket like the 32-meter (105-foot)-tall Unha-3, it would take days to assemble and hours to fuel. That would make it vulnerable to attack in a pre-emptive airstrike. Solid-fueled missiles developed by the U.S. and Soviet Union are more mobile, more easily concealed and ready to launch within minutes.

Money is another problem for Pyongyang. A weak economy, chronic food shortages and the sanctions make it difficult to sustain a program that can build and operate reliable missiles.

"I don't think the young leader (Kim Jong Un) has any confidence that the home economy could afford a credible deterrent capability," said Zhu Feng, deputy director of the Center for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University.

Zhu said Pyongyang's recent launch was a negotiating chip, not an immediate threat. He said it was intended to stoke tensions abroad in order to improve Pyongyang's position in future international negotiations.

Weeden said North Korea may want to create the perception that it poses a threat to the United States, but is not likely to go further than that.

"I expect North Korea to milk this situation for everything they can get," he said. "But I don't think that perception will be matched by the actual hard work and testing needed to develop and field a reliable, effective weapon system like the ICBMs deployed by the US, Russia and China."

But Victor Cha, a former White House director for Asia policy, warned there has been an unspoken tendency in the United States to regard North Korea as a technologically backward and bizarre country, underestimating the strategic threat it poses.

"This is no longer acceptable," he wrote in a commentary.

North Korea already poses a major security threat to its East Asian neighbors. It has one of the world's largest standing armies and a formidable if aging arsenal of artillery that could target Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Nearly 30,000 U.S. forces are based in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended with an armistice, not a formal peace treaty.

The North's short-range rockets could also potentially target another core U.S. ally, Japan.

Darryl Kimball, executive director of the nongovernmental Arms Control Association, said those capabilities, rather than the North's future ability to strike the U.S., still warrant the most attention.-The Philippine Star (December 14, 2012 1:00AM)

PHL, US affirm military partnership, sign 5 TORs on cooperation

The Philippines and the United States affirmed their military partnership Thursday, with the US reiterating its desire to see a peaceful resolution to the West Philippine Sea dispute with China.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff General Jessie Dellosa and US Pacific Command commander Admiral Samuel James Locklear signed the five terms of reference in the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Board/Security Engagement Board (MDB/SEB) meetings which sought to further strengthen the ongoing partnership between the countries'

Locklear said a key  US concern in the Asia Pacific region was to ensure that freedom of navigation was always upheld in the area and to prevent the rise of extremist groups and criminals. He said the USPACOM was fully aware of the Philippines' dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea and that the US was also concerned over the dispute.

"US is concerned about anything that creates potential disruption to the security. We don’t take sides. It must be dealt with peacefully through the international forum to address...that's the only way," Locklear told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.

Locklear described the Philippines as a "cornerstone" of the alliances the US has with other countries.

"The Philippines is in the middle of the area (Pacific). It's a dynamic part of the world. The US only has seven treaty allies and
the Philippines is one of the cornerstones of these alliances so as we move forward we talk about how do we strengthen it and tom preserve the national interest of both parties," he added.

For his part, Dellosa said the meeting with Locklear was more about planning  future Balikatan exercises rather than discussing the West Philippine Sea dispute. However, Dellosa assured that there will only be a "minor change" in the Balikatan exercises next year and that there will be no increase in the number of US forces joining the military exercises here.

The five terms of reference signed by the US and Philippines militaries are: agreement to transfer the Philippine National Police (PNP) from the MDB to the SEB; designate the SEB to deal with non-traditional threats like piracy, cyber security, and disasters; create a technology and experimentation subcommittee on civil-military operations; create a humanitarian and disaster response working group; and activate a counter-terrorism working group.

Thursday's PH-US MDB/SEB meeting is the final meeting of the boards for the 2012 cycle after the Standing Committee Meetings and the Executive Committee Meeting. It covers a strategic dialogue between Dellosa and Locklear as co-chairs of the board on defense and security matters, and on the strengthening of their military ties.

The meetings are part of the regular consultations between the Philippines and the US under their treaty obligations pursuant to the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).-Interaksyon (December 13, 2012 5:03PM)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Japan scrambles jets as Chinese plane flies over disputed isles

Japan scrambled fighter jets on Thursday after a Chinese government plane entered what Japan considers its airspace over disputed islets in the East China Sea, escalating tension between Asia's two biggest economies.

Japan protested to China over the incident but China brushed the complaint off saying the flight by the Chinese aircraft was "completely normal".

Sino-Japanese relations took a tumble in September after Japan bought the tiny islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, from a private Japanese owner.

Patrol ships from the two countries have been shadowing each other since then in a standoff that has raised concern that a collision could escalate into a clash. Thursday's incident was the first time both sides used aircraft in the dispute.

"Despite our repeated warnings, Chinese government ships have entered our territorial waters for three days in an row," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osama Fujimura told reporters.

"It is extremely regrettable that, on top of that, an intrusion into our airspace has been committed in this way," he said, adding that Japan had formally protested through diplomatic channels.

Japan's military scrambled eight F-15 fighter jets, the Defence Ministry said. Japanese officials later said the Chinese aircraft had left the area.

It was the first time a Chinese aircraft had intruded into Japan's airspace near the disputed islands, Japan's Defence Ministry said.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda later instructed the government to be "all the more on guard", the Kyodo news agency reported.

China's state maritime agency said a marine surveillance plane had joined four Chinese vessels patrolling around the islands and the fleet had ordered Japanese boats to leave the area immediately.

"The Diaoyu islands and affiliated islands are part of China's inherent territory. China's flight over the islands is completely normal," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a briefing in Beijing.

Japanese analysts said it was a significant escalation.

"This is serious ... intrusion into Japan's airspace is a very important step to erode Japan's effective control over the area," said Kazuya Sakamoto, a professor at Osaka University. "If China sends a military plane as a next step, that would really make Japan's control precarious."

Toshiyuki Shikata, a Teikyo University professor and a retired general, said the use of aircraft by both sides was significant.

"Something accidental is more likely to happen with planes than with ships," he said.


The incident comes just days before a Japanese election that is expected to return to power the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) with hawkish former prime minister Shinzo Abe at the helm.

Abe has vowed to take a tough stance in the dispute over the islands, which are near potentially huge maritime gas reserves, and has said that the ruling Democratic Party's mishandling of its diplomacy had emboldened China.

Abe has also promised to boost spending on defence including on the coastguard.

Smaller Asian countries such as the Philippines have also become increasingly worried about Beijing's growing military assertiveness and its claims to disputed islands in the South China Sea.

U.S. President Barack Obama urged Asian leaders during a visit to the region in November to rein in tension over territorial disputes.

Washington does not take a position on the sovereignty of the islands but says they are clearly covered by a 1960 security treaty obliging the United States to come to Japan's aid if attacked.

US Assistant Secretary of State For East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell reiterated that on Thursday.

"We are encouraging all sides to take appropriate steps so that there will be no misunderstanding or miscalculation that could trigger an environment that would be antithetical to peace and stability," Campbell told reporters in Malaysia.

China says the islands are its "sacred territory" and says its claim predates Japan's.

Nationalization of the islands in September was intended to keep them out of the hands of a fiery nationalist politician, to head off a more damaging confrontation with China.

But the move triggered a wave of protests in China that shuttered Japanese factories and stores, disrupted trade and prompted China to strengthen its own claim to the disputed territory. Japanese carmakers saw their sales in China slump in the weeks after the islands were sold.-Reuters (December 13, 2012 6:32AM)

Ex-Thai PM charged with murder

Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was charged with murder on Thursday, his party said, over a civilian's death during a crackdown on anti-government rallies two years ago.

Abhisit and his then-deputy Suthep Thaugsuban were formally charged at Bangkok's Department of Special Investigation (DSI), making them the first officials to face a court over Thailand's worst political violence in decades.

"The DSI has charged Abhisit and Suthep on section 288, which is murder. They both denied the charge," senior Democrat Party lawmaker Thavorn Senniem told AFP.

Hundreds of riot police flanked the building, as about 20 supporters carrying roses and dozens of protesters holding pictures of those killed in the unrest watched the former leader arrive.

About 90 people died and nearly 1,900 were wounded in a series of street clashes between "Red Shirt" demonstrators and security forces, which culminated in a deadly army operation in May 2010 to break up the protest.

The charge against Abhisit, who was prime minister at the time, relates to the fatal shooting of taxi driver Phan Kamkong.

DSI chief Tarit Pengdith announced the move last Thursday and said it was prompted by a court's ruling in September that Phan was shot by troops -- the first completed inquest into the bloodshed.

Abhisit dismissed the case against him as "political" last week, saying he had no choice but to take tough action.

He said he would accept trial rather than "bargain" over a proposal by his political rivals in government for a wide-ranging amnesty plan that many believe could allow the return of the Reds' hero, ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

But experts believe British-born Abhisit is unlikely to face jail because of his close ties to the Thai establishment.

A separate terrorism case against 24 Red Shirt leaders, including five current lawmakers, for their part in the rallies was again postponed Thursday after two witnesses failed to attend.

The Red Shirts were demanding immediate elections in their 2010 protest.


They accused Abhisit's government of being undemocratic because it took office in 2008 through a parliamentary vote after a court stripped Thaksin's allies of power.

Polls in 2011 brought Thaksin's Red Shirt-backed Puea Thai party to power with his sister Yingluck as premier, sweeping Abhisit into opposition.

Support from the Thai elite means Abhisit is "unlikely" to go to prison, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Chulalongkorn University, adding that the former premier "has a sense of political invincibility."

He told AFP that Abhisit's arraignment was part of a "political tit-for-tat," with prosecutions against both sides, but said it still could deter the use of force against demonstrators in the future.

"It is a very important charge, because it means that the sense of impunity is being challenged," he told AFP.

The DSI said earlier Thursday that after hearing the charges Abhisit and Suthep would be released without bail because they were prominent figures.

Tarit told reporters at DSI headquarters that it was "very awkward" for him to file the charges against the pair because of their position in society and since he himself had served on the official body that oversaw the crackdown in 2010.-Rappler (December 13, 2012 5:46PM)

Filipino Albert del Rosario a lone Asean voice taking on China

Placing consensus above all, it is fair to say that Asean leaders are generally not known for their displays of emotion or passion.

Yet, in a crucial closed-door meeting in July, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario tried to tap those dormant qualities as he tried to rally his peers to stand up to China over the South China Sea.

Trying, in the words of one observer, "to bloody well wake them up", del Rosario quoted the famous lines from German theologian Martin Niemöller of the perils of doing nothing in the face of mounting tyranny. Describing how the Nazis, unopposed, first came for the communists and then the trade unionists, Niemöller said: "Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no-one left to speak out for me."

Rarely has the Association of Southeast Asian Nations heard such language within its staterooms. "It was classic del Rosario," said one Asean envoy. "He's not afraid to appeal to our better selves … and he's not afraid to stand up and be counted when it comes to the South China Sea."

That meeting ended in unprecedented rancour as the 10 Southeast Asian foreign ministers failed to produce an annual communique for the first time in the grouping's 45-year history. Meeting host Cambodia stood accused of doing Beijing's bidding in shutting down debate over how to capture in the document regional concern over the South China Sea.

When Asean leaders met in Phnom Penh last month, Philippine President Benigno Aquino continued his foreign secretary's theme. While he contradicted Cambodia's public claims of an Asean deal - hailed by Beijing - not to "internationalise" the South China Sea dispute, he told his peers to stand united, according to one meeting transcript.

"If you don't stand up when your neighbour's rights are violated, then you set the stage for the violation of your own rights," Aquino said.

This time Manila was more successful. With discreet backing from some the grouping's bigger players, including Indonesia and Vietnam, the claimed Cambodian deal never made it to the official closing statement.

But the broader issue of Asean's push to start formal negotiations with China on a binding code of conduct to govern intensifying tensions across the South China Sea until territorial disputes can be solved remains, at best, a work in progress.

Chinese officials have made increasingly clear in recent weeks that they are wary of the influence of "outside powers", particularly the US and Japan, and resent the portrayal of the code as somehow being a means to contain and/or control China. Hopes that negotiations could start early in 2013 now appear to be in vain.

Sitting in his office - part of a complex on Manila's Roxas Boulevard that overlooks the South China Sea - the courtly 73-year-old del Rosario sounds frustrated yet sanguine as he reviews a bruising year of diplomacy at the forefront of the strategic shifts now upsetting the region.

Ultimately, he stresses, he wants to return Sino-Philippine relations to a previously agreed status quo where territorial disputes were kept to the side of a relationship that flourished across trade, social and political fronts - something he believes would ultimately serve China's broader desires for a stable region.

"If there is a message I want to get across, that's it," he says.

Returning to that point will be no easy task, he acknowledges. The dispute over Scarborough Shoal - known in Chinese as Huangyan Island or as Panatag Shoal to the Philippines - is now the focus of the relationship.

With Beijing still deriding "provocations" after a Philippine naval ship challenged Chinese fishermen early this year, Fu Ying , the vice-minister for foreign affairs, recently told him that Beijing intended to keep coastguard-type vessels at the shoal permanently.

China has also used ropes to block access to the interior of the shoal, which falls within its controversial nine-dash line claim to virtually all of the South China Sea.

In some 36 rounds of consultations - "I've been counting them," Del Rosario says - Beijing has also detailed in no uncertain terms what it expects from Manila. No "internationalisation" means bilateral talks only, and nothing conducted via the Asean, the United Nations or "outside partners" - particularly the Philippines' long-term security ally, the United States.

The Aquino administration is clearly rejecting Beijing's prescription. It is also renewing its strategic relationships, seeking to buttress its tiny and overstretched armed forces. US ships, submarines and military aircraft are suddenly visiting Philippines' ports and airfields once again while discreet talks are also under way with Japan to acquire a fleet of state-of-the-art coastguard cutters. It is also working more closely with Indonesia and fellow South China Sea claimant Vietnam.

As eloquent as he can be at times, del Rosario does not mince words when he talks about Beijing's demands.

"No sovereign country wants to be dictated to," he said.

"China is endeavouring to dictate to us how we should be behaving and what we should be doing. We feel that we ought to be able to use all the tools in the peaceful pursuit of resolution to [disputes] that is in accordance with our national interests."

Those "tools" include a three-track approach by Manila - talks with Asean and international partners, bilateral diplomacy with Beijing and research into taking unilateral legal action to formally dispute China's claim under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The latter, some analysts believe, would risk Beijing's wrath, and extensive economic and diplomatic retaliation would be expected.

Del Rosario insists, however, that the long-term goal must be a "durable" legal and political solution, rather than brittle case-by-case efforts that do not tackle the broader issues. "Ultimately, I'm trying to be constructive."

He says an effective Asean serves Chinese and US interests long-term and insists the organisation remains strong. He dismisses the Phnom Penh tensions as "like a family disagreement ... eventually you come together and emerge stronger".

The challenges, of course, mean he occupies one of the hottest seats in regional diplomacy. While the New York-educated businessman and former ambassador to Washington is highly respected in the US, he cuts a more controversial figure at home and in Beijing.

Some Filipino businessmen have questioned his tactics towards dealing with China while Senator Antonio Trillanes, who is running a back channel to Beijing, has said del Rosario has mis-handled formal negotiations over Scarborough.

Del Rosario has, however, denied reports he will resign and he apparently has Aquino's backing.

Reports in China's state media this week show just how tough a road lies ahead. In news stories outlining last week's appointment to Beijing of new Philippine ambassador Erlinda Basilio, mainland analysts and scholars made it clear that Beijing was in no mood to see Manila "stirring up trouble".

Through it all, del Rosario says he remains "basically an optimist". While he ponders whether Beijing's new leaders will be able to resist the demands of an assertive and nationalistic public, he says: "I'm hoping that China will recognise that being a responsible member of the international community would be a preferable choice to muscle."-South China Morning Post (December 2012)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Burma protest leader bailed before 'monasteries trial'

One of Burma's best-known former monks who has been released on bail facing trespass charges says the authorities fear he will lead new protests.

Shin Gambira, now known as Nyi Nyi Lwin after disrobing, was freed in an amnesty in January but says he has been rearrested several times since then.

He now stands accused of breaking into monasteries.

Human rights groups have expressed concerned about some activists being sent back to jail.

Since the end of military rule in 2011, hundreds of dissidents have been freed. But it is estimated that at least 300 are still in jail.

Previously sentenced to 68 years in jail for his role in the 2007 protests led by monks, he was one of hundreds released under a government amnesty in January.

Nyi Nyi Lwin told BBC Burmese that his latest detention was really about stopping him taking part in protests over a violent police crackdown on protests against the expansion of a copper mine in northern Burma.

The Monywa copper mine is a joint venture between a Chinese company and the Burmese military.

"The government fears [I will] lead the monk protest. Actually, there are many monks who can lead the protest," he told BBC Burmese.

"They released me yesterday [Monday] on bail of $4,700. We have not got a clear picture of my case yet," he also told Agence France-Presse News agency on Tuesday.

"I think they released me because of the calls of local and international democratic forces who stand for truth and justice," he added.-British Broadcasting Corporation (December 11, 2012 15:55GMT)

Asean pitches in to help typhoon-ravaged areas

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has sent food, blankets, mattresses, mosquito nets and generators to the storm-devastated areas in Eastern Mindanao following an appeal from the United Nations for a P65-million global humanitarian aid for the storm victims.

Typhoon Pablo, packing 200-kilometers-per-hour winds, slammed into Mindanao on Tuesday last week, devastating Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental and killing 714 people while dislocating hundreds of thousands. A total of 890 others are still missing.

Said Faisal, executive director of the Asean Humanitarian Assistance Center based in Jakarta, said the relief sent by the Asean included ready-to-eat food for the typhoon victims, many of whom were hungry and homeless.

“We express our deepest condolences to the people of the government of the Philippines,” Faisal said.

“We will do our best to mobilize resources to the people of the Philippines, doing our activities here in close coordination with the United Nations.”

Faisal, who visited the ravaged towns of Boston and Cateel, said he saw the need to rebuild the lives of the people there.

“During our visit, we recognized that very soon there would be a need for livelihood assistance,” he said.

Vice President Jejomar Binay on Tuesday said the government’s key shelter agencies had donated P3.6 million to buy relief for Pablo’s  victims. Those included Home Guaranty Corp. (P1.3 million), Home Development Mutual Fund (P1.2 million), the National Housing Authority (P500,000), Social Housing Finance Corp. (P500,000), and National Home Mortgage Finance Corp. (P100,000).

Philex Mining Corp. on Tuesday said it had sent a 12-member rescue team composed of miners to Compostela Valley to help look for the missing.

The city government of Baguio and the provincial government of Benguet donated P700,000 to the typhoon victims.

The leadership of the National Police canceled the police force’s Christmas party to sympathize with the typhoon victims.

“Instead of celebrating, we offer prayers to the victims of typhoon Pablo,” National Police chief Nicanor Bartolome said.

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman on Tuesday said the government had been spending P3 million on food every day to send to the 80,000 families or 400,000 people in the typhoon-ravaged areas.

She said impassable roads and broken bridges had been hampering the delivery of food and water to the isolated areas in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental.

“There are many bridges that can’t accommodate the heavy trucks, so we transfer the relief to the small trucks,” Soliman said.

“There are still three towns that can’t be reached by vehicles, so what we do is send supplies by boat.”

The Agriculture Department on Tuesday said the damage to the farm sector in Mindanao had reached P10.3 billion, with the damage to the banana sector reaching P6.43 billion and the damage to the corn sector reaching P955.33 million.

An ally of President Benigno III on Tuesday said the government must put in place a comprehensive national disaster prevention and response blueprint to ease the effects of climate change.

“We can start by institutionalizing environment protection through education,” Rep. Teodoro Haresco said.

“Our people must understand that environment degradation is the shortest way to tragedy.”

The United Nations on Monday made a flash global appeal for $65 million in humanitarian aid for the people devastated by Typhoon Pablo—international name Bopha—in the Visayas and Mindanao after confirming the grim situation in the disaster areas.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator Luiza Carvalho said the Bopha Action Plan for Recovery outlined how the humanitarian community would deliver assistance to the survivors.-Manila Standard Today (December 12, 2012 12:01AM)

Indonesia-Australia continue cooperating on transportation

Indonesia-Australia continue cooperating on transportation
The Governments of Indonesia and Australia continue cooperating on transportation. Both countries officially extend Memorandum of Understanding on information exchange, consultation, joint study and facility of transportation.

"The agreement is valid until the next five years," Indonesia Minister of Transportation, EE Mangindaan, said on Tuesday. The first MoU signed in January 31, 2008 is effective until January 31, 2013.

Mangindaan said the MoU focused on land transportation, railway, marine transportation, river transport, air transportation and data management. The MoU also allows both countries to hold joint study on the growth of potential transportation.

Besides the MoU, Indonesia and Australia sign Infrastructure and Transport of Australia on the Indonesia Transport Safety Assistance Package (ITSAP), aiming to rule and promote transport safety based on international standard.

Australian Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, said the MoU had several important points, such as cooperation between National Search and Rescue (Basarnas) and Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). He also said that the MoU included information of ship transportation in Indonesia and development of maritime satellite communication.-Republika Online (December 11, 2012 23:43PM)

US senior diplomat to visit Phl, Malaysia, New Zealand

A senior US diplomat in charge of Asian affairs will visit the Philippines, Malaysia and New Zealand, the State Department announced in a statement on Monday.

The statement said that the visit by US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell extends from this Monday to next Monday.

On Wednesday, Campbell will join US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Mark Lippert in Manila, Philippines for the third annual US-Philippines bilateral strategic dialogue, according to the statement.

He will also meet with Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and other senior Philippine officials.

On Thursday, Campbell will travel to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for meetings with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and other senior government officials and representatives from civil society, said the statement.

Campbell will be in New Zealand, the last stop of his tour, from Friday to Sunday, to participate in the US-New Zealand strategic dialogue and meet with senior officials, the statement added.-The Philippine Star (December 11, 2012 11:25PM)

PH puts gas, oil exploration plans in S.China Sea on hold

The Philippines is temporarily holding off the awarding of contracts to companies interested in conducting gas and oil exploration in the South China Sea due to a lingering territorial dispute with neighboring countries, a senior official said Tuesday.

Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla told Kyodo News that the process is "on hold right now" pending concurrence by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

On July 31, the Philippine government opened three areas in the South China Sea close to the country's island province of Palawan for bidding, believing they contain large gas and oil deposits. The three blocks are located near the already developed Malampaya field.

Six companies expressed interest and formally submitted bids for the three areas.

"It is not only the commercial issue that we're talking about here. We have to consider everything as a whole," Petilla said.

Petilla explained that while his department determines the technical and financial capability of the interested firms, the Department of Foreign Affairs has a say on final approval, which will be made by the president because of the sovereignty aspect.

A manager of one of the six companies expressed frustration over the development, saying it goes against the government's pronouncements that the three areas are well within Philippine territory.

Speaking to Kyodo News on condition of anonymity, the manager said the development leaves them hanging in the air.

"We feel that there really is no reason to put it on hold, especially in our area where we are bidding because that's the least controversial among the three. We are bidding for the area that's closest to Philippine soil. All the while, the government has been saying all these three areas are well-defined to be within Philippine territory," the manager said.

But he said he understands if the government's intention is to avoid a repeat of last year's harassment by Chinese vessels of a Philippine energy survey team at Reed Bank, which is close to one of the three blocks offered for exploration.

"I don't think they're complaining violently. But they just want it resolved. They understood. And I think they also do not want to proceed if the issues at hand are not settled," Petilla said when asked of the companies' reaction to the delay.

The six companies that submitted bids are Helios Petroleum and Gas Corp., Philippine National Oil Co., Philex Petroleum Corp., Petro Energy Resources Corp., Philodrill Corp. of the Philippines, and Pitkin Petroleum Plc.

The exploration is part of the government's long-term measures as far as energy is concerned to be able to avoid reliance on imported resources, mitigate the impact of fluctuating oil prices, and prepare for the projected expiration of the Malampaya gas field by 2024.

China and Vietnam claim all territories in the Paracel and Spratly island groups in the South China Sea, while Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines claim parts of it.-ABS-CBN News (December 11, 2012 8:21PM)