In China’s latest test of the US response to its escalating claims of islands in the South China Sea, Reuters reports that Beijing has “nearly finished building almost two dozen structures on artificial islands in the South China Sea that appear designed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles.” Predictably, such a development will likely raise questions about whether and how the United States will respond, given its vows to take a tough line on China in the South China Sea. The structures appear to be 20 meters (66 feet) long and 10 meters (33 feet) high.
Official cited by Reuters said the new structures were likely to house surface-to-air missiles that would expand China’s air defense umbrella over the islands. They did not give a time line on when they believed China would deploy missiles on the islands. “It certainly raises the tension,” Poling said. “The Chinese have gotten good at these steady increases in their capabilities.”
China’s Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea
The Trump-Putin honeymoon continues to chill… that is if Trump’s top foreign policy advisors speak for the president, which remains very much unclear.
As discussed yesterday, in the clearest sign yet that when it comes to diplomacy with Russia, there are two clear axes developing within the Trump administration: a Pence/Mattis/Haley foreign policy and a Trump/Bannon/Miller foreign policy, Vice President Mike Pence told the crowd at the Munich Security Conference that he would “hold Russia accountable” even as he vowed “unwavering support” for NATO. This prompted the following interesting scene moments later, as recounted by Bloomberg.
Shortly after Vice President Mike Pence pledged to “hold Russia to account” while looking for common ground in a speech to European allies, a hawkish Russian legislator reached out to shake his hand as he passed through a crowded hotel corridor.
“Mr. Vice President, I am from Moscow and we hope we will reach those arrangements you were talking about,” said Alexei Pushkov, a member of the defense committee in the upper chamber of the Russian parliament. He enthusiastically told reporters afterward that he saw the Vice President’s smile as a good sign.
Following last week’s sharp escalation in diplomacy between the US and Russia, when John Kerry warned of not only breaking off diplomatic relations over Syria with Russia, and threatening to use “military force” including potentially US-based ground forces in Syria for the first time, but also slamming Russian strikes over Aleppo as “barbaric”, Russia responded Monday when Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended an agreement with the United States for disposal of weapons-grade plutonium because of “unfriendly” acts by Washington, the Kremlin said.
A Kremlin spokesman cited by Reuters said Putin had signed a decree suspending the 2010 agreement under which each side committed to destroy tonnes of weapons-grade material because Washington had not been implementing it and because of current tensions in relations. The deal, signed in 2000 but which did not come into force until 2010, was being suspended due to “the emergence of a threat to strategic stability and as a result of unfriendly actions by the United States of America towards the Russian Federation”, the preamble to the decree said.
It also said that Washington had failed “to ensure the implementation of its obligations to utilize surplus weapons-grade plutonium”. The 2010 agreement, signed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, called on each side to dispose of 34 tonnes of plutonium by burning in nuclear reactors.
Clinton said at the time that that was enough material to make almost 17,000 nuclear weapons. Both sides then viewed the deal as a sign of increased cooperation between the two former adversaries toward a joint goal of nuclear non-proliferation.
Moscow made public the full text of the Russia-US deal on Syria, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Tuesday.
The text of the agreement was published on the site of the Russian Foreign Ministry. According to the Russia-US deal on Syria, force can be used for self-defense during the ceasefire, while airstrikesm use of mortars and rockets, as well as the capture of territory is prohibited. Commenting on the release of the document, the foreign ministry said that it had proposed to make the document public, however, Washington refused to do so. The move caused “some questions about whether the US is sincere or not.” “The unwillingness [of the US] to publicly confirm their commitment to separate opposition from al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and jointly conduct strikes against terrorists and their partners in crime who did not cease hostilities called for special attention.”
Moscow urged Washington to make public the mandate of the joint center on the coordination of airstrikes against terrorists in Syria and the agreement on the monitoring of a road to Aleppo.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffled his Cabinet on Wednesday, appointing a new defense minister with a history of hawkish views, in the third reshuffle since he returned as premier in December 2012.
Abe has kept eight of the previous Cabinet’s 19 members in their current roles, including his right-hand man Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Finance Minister Taro Aso and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.
Tomomi Inada, policy chief in Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, has replaced Gen Nakatani as defense minister. Inada is known for her rapport with Abe on security and foreign policy and has been outspoken on controversial historical issues involving Asian neighbors.
Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Nobuteru Ishihara, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi and Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki have kept their jobs, as has Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Keiichi Ishii, the sole Komeito lawmaker in the Cabinet.
Inada’s installment comes as the administration is closer than ever before to amending Japan’s pacifist Constitution for the first time since its enactment following World War II, a long-standing ambition the new defense minister shares with Abe.
Even though India is not a party to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, it has vital commercial and strategic stakes that keep its interest alive in the troubled waters.
Soon after an international tribunal in The Hague ruled that China’s claims to historical rights in the South China Sea have no legal basis, India said the countries involved in the row should resolve their disputes through peaceful means “without threat or use of force” and show “utmost respect” to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which establishes the global legal order of the seas and oceans.
“India supports freedom of navigation and overflight, and unimpeded commerce, based on the principles of international law, as reflected notably in UNCLOS,” its foreign ministry said in a statement.
India and the South China Sea
In reality, this issue is not someone else’s problem for India. ONGC Videsh — the overseas arm of India’s state-run Oil & Natural Gas Corp.,known as OVL — has been searching for hydrocarbons in the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam, which it entered in the late 1980s after securing the exploration license for block 06.1. About a decade ago, Vietnam permitted India to explore two more blocks — 127 and 128 — which lie in waters also claimed by China.
The G-7 foreign ministers pause for a photo during their discussions in Hiroshima. (Pool photo)
HIROSHIMA — Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrial nations kicked off a two-day conference on Sunday, with terrorism at the top of their agenda. They agreed that G-7 members will take initiatives toward strengthening the international alliance against terrorism and violent extremism.
At the beginning of the event, Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida, the chairman of the meeting, proposed that the participants discuss terrorism and violent extremism, as well as the ongoing refugee problem, as the priority issues that international society should work together to tackle.
The ministers apparently discussed these challenges with the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris in mind, since all of the G-7 nations except Japan are Western countries.
Although the recent major incidents have been mainly in Europe and the Middle East, terrorism is a growing concern for Asia as well. In January this year, Indonesia’s capital Jakarta was the scene of suicide attacks that killed eight people. In August 2015, Bangkok suffered a deadly bombing attack, and India and Pakistan have seen a series of deadly incidents in recent years. Terrorists have struck in other Asian countries, and their attacks have paralyzed business activities, endangering emerging economies’ development.
The Washington-based magazine Foreign Policy has compiled its annual list of leading global thinkers. The influential outlet has placed President Putin at the top of its “Decision-makers” category for “poising Russia as critical to any peace deal” and ‘scoring points against America”.
Each year Foreign Policy magazine identifies its 100 Leading Global Thinkers List. While there are 100 slots, the outlet explains, there are far more individuals who actually populate it. This year there are 125 names, because the magazine identifies not just individuals, but sometime teams, when efforts are collaborative and often groups people who, independently of each other, work toward a common goal.
The Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office has included two foreign organizations operated by George Soros in its list of the undesirable NGOs, RIA Novosti quoted the office’s spokeswoman Marina Gridneva as saying on Monday.
The organizations include the Open Society Foundations and the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation, both part of a network of international organizations created by noted US billionaire investor George Soros.
“[The prosecutors] have found that the activity of these organizations poses a threat to the foundations of Russia’s constitutional system and state security,” Gridneva said.
The decision came after Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, asked the country’s Prosecutor —General’s Office, the Foreign Minister and the Justice Minister to inspect organizations included in the so-called patriotic “stop list.” The document was approved by the Federation Council in July 2015.
Earlier this year, Russia adopted a law facilitating the blacklisting of foreign and international non-governmental organizations which were considered “undesirable in Russia”. Organizations are included in the list if they are thought to pose a threat to the country’s constitutional system, defense capability or national security.
Under the law, the Prosecutor General or his deputy decides whether or not to blacklist an organization, in coordination with the Russian Foreign Ministry. The revocation of such a decision is carried out in a similar manner.
Syria has agreed to Russia’s proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control, according to the Moscow-based Interfax news agency. The news, if proved correct, could mean a military strike on Syria may have been averted.
The Russian news agency reported “a very fruitful round of talks” with the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday.
Walid Moallem, the Syrian foreign ministerm, reportedly said:
We agreed to the Russian initiative.
President Obama is preparing in Washington for a national television address on Syria, to be broadcast at 9pm local time.