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After Threat of Rift, Philippines Looks to Reset Ties With China

Just months after pledging on the campaign trail to sail a jet ski into the South China Sea to defend Manila’s territorial sea claims, the Philippines leader has threatened to cut relations with the United States.

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Picture of China and Philippines officials in a meeting. Wikimedia Commons

A visit by the Philippine’s recently elected, and feisty, President Rodrigo Duterte to China this week is being watched closely for signs of a shift in ties between the two countries, which have been battered for years over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Until recently, China was the Philippines biggest security threat. Relations hit rock bottom, following an international tribunal ruling in July in Manila’s favor, rejecting Beijing’s claim to almost all of the disputed waters.

But now, just months after pledging on the campaign trail to sail a jet ski into the South China Sea to defend Manila’s territorial sea claims, (something Duterte now tells Al Jazeera was just election hyperbole) the Philippines leader has threatened to cut relations with the United States.

He has also suggested that he might start courting China and Russia instead.

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No small task

But getting Beijing and Manila on track after years of tensions is no small task, analysts say.

Duterte is traveling to China with a group of more than 200 businessmen and boosting economic ties between the two countries is a key priority of the visit, says Aileen Baviera, a professor at the University of the Philippines’ Asian Center.

FILE - Protesters rally outside of the Chinese Consulate in Manila, Philippines, June 10, 2016. Relations between China and the Philippines have been strained following an international court's ruling in July in Manila’s favor, rejecting Beijing’s claims to large parts of the South China Sea.
Protesters rally outside of the Chinese Consulate in Manila, Philippines, June 10, 2016. Relations between China and the Philippines have been strained following an international court’s ruling in July in Manila’s favor, rejecting Beijing’s claims to large parts of the South China Sea.

“As far as the new Philippine government is concerned there is strong interest in placing emphasis on economic relations to get more trade, investment and participate in China’s infrastructure development programs,” Baviera says, adding that is something the two have not done in a long while.

Japan is the Philippines biggest trade partner, but Hong Kong is not far behind Tokyo in the lineup. Manila is looking for China’s help to build up its railway system and guarantees for its workers overseas.

Fishermen in the Philippines who have been kept from trolling parts of the South China Sea because of territorial disputes hope the visit will help them regain access to fish, while the two sides talk.

Baviera says that while it is unlikely they’ll be able to reset that issue during the visit, talking could help pave the way to new approaches and new initiatives.

President Duterte says he will not give any ground when it comes to the Philippines’ sovereignty in the South China Sea, but also notes he will not be inflexible.

“We will stick to our claim, we do not bargain anything there. We continue to insist that that’s ours and that the tribunal, the international decision will be taken up,” he says. “But there will be no hard impositions. We will talk and maybe paraphrase everything in the judgment and set the limits of our territories.”

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A Filippino fisherman removes tow ropes of his boat before heading out into the South China Sea, in Masinloc, Philippines, Nov. 8, 2015. Fishermen in the Philippines hope Duterte's visit to China will help them regain access to disputed waters.
A Filippino fisherman removes tow ropes of his boat before heading out into the South China Sea, in Masinloc, Philippines, Nov. 8, 2015. Fishermen in the Philippines hope Duterte’s visit to China will help them regain access to disputed waters.

China as savior

While the two countries still remain divided over that issue, they are finding other areas of common ground.

Duterte has lashed out at the United States and the European Union over their criticism of his controversial war on drugs. Beijing has offered to help in the effort and has invested in the construction of a drug rehab center.

China’s Foreign Ministry says that during Duterte’s visit this week, he will participate in anti-narcotics activities and both countries’ anti-narcotics departments have begun to explore cooperation.

From the economy to the war on drugs Beijing is portraying itself as the Philippines’ savior. Duterte has not been shy about how much he apparently needs China as well.

The headline for an interview between Duterte and China’s state-run Xinhua News agency quotes him as saying, “Only China can help us.” In the interview, he says that in addition to loans and Beijing’s help in building up its railways and economic cooperation is more important that talking about disputes.

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“War is not an option,” he was quoted as saying.

Beijing too is expecting some deliverables.

An opinion piece published Monday in the party-backed Global Times was cautiously optimistic about the visit, noting that differences were too great to be resolved in just one visit.

“The significance of Duterte’s visit will depend on whether any specific deals will be inked in the days to come,” the article says. “As long as there are agreements between the two sides, big or small, they might bring about a turning point in Sino-Philippine relations.” (VOA)

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End of Doklam Standoff with China Satisfies India, but It Will Not Weaken its Shield

For India, the lesson is that even though the standoff has been resolved, future flare-ups cannot be ruled out

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Doklam Standoff
In this Oct. 16, 2016 file photo, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the signing ceremony by foreign ministers during the BRICS summit in Goa, India. China and India may have ended a tense border standoff for now, but their longstanding rivalry raises questions about the possibility of meaningful cooperation at the annual summit of the BRICS grouping encompassing Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. VOA
  • China has abandoned plans to construct road on the high mountain junction lying between India, Bhutan, and China calling for the end of Doklam standoff
  • Indian officials maintain that China has withdrawn its bulldozers and road construction equipment
  • India will be even more vigilant in the months and years to come, not just in Doklam but in the several other sectors as well

Aug 31, 2017: As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to China for a summit of emerging nations starting Sunday, there is a sense of quiet satisfaction in New Delhi at the resolution of their most serious border confrontation in decades in a disputed Himalayan plateau.

Strategic road

For now it appears China has abandoned plans to build a contentious road on the high mountain junction lying between India, Bhutan and China that sparked the standoff between the two countries.

Indian officials maintain that China has withdrawn its bulldozers and road construction equipment.

Map shows border disputes between China and India.

Map shows border disputes between China and India

Beijing has sidestepped the issue, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying saying it will take into consideration factors such as weather “to make relevant construction plans in accordance with the situation on the ground.”

Also Read: Japan comes Out in Full Support for India in its 2-month Long Military Standoff with China at Doklam 

It was in mid-June that Indian troops moved into the Doklam Plateau to obstruct China from building a road in the Himalayan junction disputed between Bhutan and Beijing. That led an infuriated China to accuse Indian troops of trespassing into territory to which it had no claim and demand their withdrawal.

India in turn said the status quo should be restored. It says that has happened as soldiers from both sides have pulled back.

China has announced that its troops will patrol the region, but New Delhi says that happened in the past also.

Stronger India

Strategic experts say India scored by standing its ground for 2½ months despite the strident rhetoric from its powerful neighbor about the prospect of a full-blown conflict if Indian troops did not withdraw from Doklam.

“For the first time, I think the Indian government held its nerve in a crisis. Delhi in particular is known to lose its nerve, and that has not happened,” said strategic analyst Bharat Karnad at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.

Although Doklam is disputed between Bhutan and India, Indian troops moved in swiftly to stop the construction because the area serves as a buffer that keeps China away from a strategic strip of territory that connects India to its northeast.

FILE - Exile Tibetans shout slogans during a protest to show support with India on Doklam standoff in New Delhi, India, Aug. 11, 2017.
FILE – Exile Tibetans shout slogans during a protest to show support with India on Doklam standoff in New Delhi, India, Aug. 11, 2017. VOA

Lingering bad feelings

But although the crisis has been defused, it has further frayed ties and has deepened mistrust between the Asian giants, analysts say.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said Wednesday that New Delhi should learn lessons from Doklam and prevent similar incidents from happening again.

For India, the lesson is that even though the standoff has been resolved, future flare-ups cannot be ruled out.

“The problem is essentially the aggressive stance that China has adopted on all territorial matters with all countries and here the manner in which it has tried to alter the status quo on the ground by building this road, which we have stopped,” said Jayadeva Ranade, a former China specialist at the Indian government’s National Security Advisory Board. He warned that they might repeat Doklam next year or try something else.

Lessons learned

Indeed, India will be even more vigilant in the months and years to come, not just in Doklam but in the several other sectors along their 3,500 kilometer Himalayan boundary that remains disputed despite decades-long negotiations. That was underlined by India’s army chief, Bipin Rawat, just a day before the formal announcement of the agreement.

“My message to my people is that remain prepared, it can happen again, and therefore do not let your guard down,” he said.

However for the time being there is a sense of relief that the crisis is over, especially because the spat had pulled in Bhutan, India’s tiny neighbor, which feared being caught in the middle of the two huge Asian countries and whose ties with India might have been jeopardized had the conflict flared.

Commentators say the resolution of the dispute also sent a message to other countries that China is not unchallengeable.

Countries embroiled in disputes with China in the South China Sea and elsewhere can look at this crisis as a case study on how to avoid escalation with the Asian giant while sticking to their position, according to Michael Kugelman, South Asia’s deputy director at the Wilson Center in Washington.

“The fact that India stood its ground before eventually fashioning a resolution is something that many other countries will take notice of and try to learn lessons from,” he said.

The forthcoming BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit in China might have played a role, according to several reports. New Delhi had refused to confirm Modi’s attendance at the meeting until the crisis was resolved. As he leaves this weekend, India feels it has sent a message that it reached an equitable agreement with China, but their recent tensions may well loom over the meeting. (VOA)

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

ALSO READ: Flashback to Terror: 1993 Mumbai Blasts Judgement to Hail on June 27 After 24 Years

Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)

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India’s Textile and Fashion Heritage now part of Google project

Google's project 'We Wear Culture' is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India and its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago

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we wear culture
Google's new art project 'We wear Culture' digitizes fashion, Wikimedia
  • Google’s project ‘We Wear Culture’ is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India
  • It intends to trace the story and importance of Indian textiles from ancient sculptures
  • Its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago

June 15, 2017: To a certain extent, a culture is defined by what is worn by its people. In a country as diverse as India, vast and varied spectrum of cultures and clothes is one of the specialties. Google’s latest virtual exhibition project now provides us the opportunity to explore and know more about it.

Google’s project ‘We Wear Culture’ is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India and its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago, from the ancient Silk Road to the unmatched elegance of the Indian Saree,  from the courtly fashion of Versailles, to the Victorian ballgowns with intricate thread work.

According to Amit Sood, director of Google Arts and Culture,”We invite everyone to browse the exhibition on their phones or laptops and learn about the stories behind what you wear. You might be surprised to find out that your Saree, jeans or the black dress in your wardrobe have a centuries-old story. What you wear is true culture and more often than not a piece of art.”

Culture is defined by what is worn by its people. Click To Tweet

The company also mentioned that noteworthy collections from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) and varied weaves from across India, from Gharchola to Patola to Temple to Ikat sarees will be included in the online project, as it intends to trace the story and importance of Indian textiles from ancient sculptures.

ALSO READ: New Google Project Digitizes World’s Top Fashion Archives.

According to PTI reports, the world fashion exhibit also includes designs from north-eastern India including the weaves of tribes such as the Nagas, Meitis. it will showcase the traditional attire from Meghalaya called ‘Dhara’ or ‘Nara’ worn by the Khasi women as well.

As a part of the exhibit, Sewa Hansiba Museum has brought the unique colorful and rich embroidery arts, applique and mirror work from different communities such as the Ahir, Rabari, Chaudhury Patel and many others from the western part of India online.

The exhibition conducted by Salar Jung Museum brings to light the Sherwani and its journey of becoming the royal fashion statement of the Nizams from 19th century Hyderabad. Fashion and textiles enthusiasts can revisit Colonial Indian attires with Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum. Over 400 online exhibitions and stories sharing a total of 50,000 photos, videos and other documents on world fashion are open to exploration as well.

The ‘We wear Culture’ initiative highlights significant events in the growth of the world fashion industry; the icons, the movements, the game changers and the trendsetters like Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Gianni Versace, Audrey Hepburn and many more.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang