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US battleship in South China Sea corners China

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By Arka Mondal

With the US, recently, sending a warship to the troubled waters, China came under tremendous pressure over its control in the South China Sea. Another blow to the China’s claim in the maritime region came when an international tribunal ruled that it had jurisdiction in a case brought by the Philippines on maritime dispute case.

China’s artificial island building move is expected to get another jolt with the pro-American countries eyeing the initiative as a security threat to the neighbouring countries as China keeps flexing its naval prowess.

Furthermore, China’s Foreign Ministry declaring that the international tribunal’s ruling was “null and void” drew flak from various global quarters. However, neither the ruling by the tribunal nor the US deploying warship would affect China from asserting control in the sea known to be rich in resources.

It is evident that Beijing is putting a higher priority on its strategic interests than its international reputation.

The Chinese strategy has also threatened its reputation in the global arena at a time when it is vying with the US in the field of economy and military.

The verdict by the international tribunal will bolster the strategies of United States which has undoubtedly failed to curb China from asserting control over 80 per cent of the South China Sea. Welcoming the verdict, the US hoped that Beijing would too accept the final ruling slated to be pronounced next year.

Notably, both China and Philippines consented to the setting up of the tribunal which came into place based on the provision of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. However, after the Philippine case was filed before the tribunal in The Hague in January 2013, China boycotted the proceedings.

The Philippine case contends that China’s massive territorial claims are invalid under the convention. The tribunal on Thursday decided it had jurisdiction in the case.

In a freedom of navigation exercise this week, the US spotted an artificial island which the Philippines claimed that China had illegally set up. The tribunal is also expected to examine the Sino occupation on a number of reefs and shoals.

“The fact that the tribunal did not reject jurisdiction on anything in the case brought by the Philippines, and could end up ruling against it on all these counts, introduces uncertainty and anxiety for China,” Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, was quoted as saying.

Malcolm Cook, senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said that outside of China, many maritime law experts feel the Philippines has a strong case and are skeptical of the legal basis for China’s expansive claims, which it says are rooted in history. China roughly demarcates this vast area on maps with a nine-dash line.

Despite China’s latest legal setback, both Glaser and Cook apprehended that there would be no change in China’s plans.

“The Chinese navy has a very strong interest in gaining greater sea control over the South China Sea and this interest and its pursuit will likely not be affected by tribunal rulings,” Cook said.

In all, six Asian governments have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, straddling some of the world’s busiest sea lanes and in areas with rich fishing grounds and potential undersea oil and gas fields.

China needs to control this area to deter any intervention by the United States. That is why the sea is vital to China’s sovereignty, since most of the countries are US allies.

The sailing of the US guided missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles (22-kilometer) of the reef was one of the boldest steps by the Obama administration which is facing a long-time demand from the Congress to thwart the island-building process by China.

However, the dual development, the verdict from the court and the sending of warship, can compel Beijing to abide by the UN convention. But, probably on the long run, China’s stand on the South China Sea would not change.

(With inputs from TNN)

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Philippines Loses Confidence In Vaccination After Dengue Crisis: Report

The report authors say it is vital that governments and global institutions do more to build public trust in vaccines.

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Philippines, dengue
Protesters rally at the Sanofi Pasteur office in suburban Taguig city to protest the drug company's deal with the government for the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, March 5, 2018, east of Manila, Philippines. The vaccine was administered to more than 830,000 school children and adults before being pulled from the shelves after new study showed it posed risks of severe cases in people without previous infection.. VOA
  • The ability to fight future pandemics could be at risk following a plunge in public confidence in vaccines in the Philippines, according to a report from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The plummeting trust can be traced to 2015, when the government of the Philippines began a large-scale dengue fever vaccination program after an increase in cases of the mosquito-borne disease.

An election in 2016 saw a change in government, as President Rodrigo Duterte came to power.

Then, in November 2017, the French company Sanofi, which makes the vaccine, called Dengvaxia, said it posed a risk to people who had not previously been exposed to dengue fever. If they later became infected, they could have a more severe case of dengue, according to the company.

Philippines concern to outrage

Most countries adapted to Sanofi’s announcement by updating guidelines and labeling. In the Philippines, public concern turned to outrage, which was fueled by a highly politicized response from the government, according to lead researcher Professor Heidi Larson.

“This was an opportunity to jump on the previous government for all their wrongdoings ‘Why did you get this vaccine?’ And it became an uproar and created not only quite a crisis around this vaccine, but it bled into other areas of public confidence in vaccines more broadly,” Larson told VOA in a recent interview.

The researchers measured the loss in public trust through their ongoing Global Vaccine Confidence Index. In 2015, 93 percent of Philippine respondents strongly agreed that vaccines were important. This year, that figure has fallen to just 32 percent, while only 1 in 5 people now believes vaccines are safe.

Philippines, dengue
Boxes of anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia are placed inside a freezer for storage at the Manila Health Department in Sta Cruz, metro Manila, Philippines.VOA

Risk of pandemic

“This dramatic drop in confidence is a real concern about risks to other diseases such as measles, on the one hand. On the other hand, too, Asia is ripe for a pandemic in influenza viruses to take hold, and in the case of a pandemic or an emergency outbreak, that’s not a time when you can build trust,” said Larson, who also cautioned that misinformation played a big part in undermining confidence in vaccines.

“The role of social media in amplifying those concerns, in amplifying the perception of risk and fears and their public health consequences, is dramatic,” Larson said.

Also Read: Researchers Busy Myths Surrounding Vaccination

Large-scale immunization programs are in the trial stage to tackle some of the world’s deadliest diseases, like malaria. Meanwhile, containing the outbreak of any future pandemic, like influenza, would likely rely on emergency vaccinations.

The report authors say it is vital that governments and global institutions do more to build public trust in vaccines. (VOA)