U.S. President Barack Obama speaks in Laos and delivers an adress to the people of Laos. He is the first US President to visit the country.
…He also accused Americans of being isolated and ignorant because the United States is such a big country.
“The United States is and can be a great force for good in the world. But because we’re such a big country, we haven’t always had to know about other parts of the world,” he said. “If you’re in the United States, sometimes you can feel lazy and think we’re so big we don’t have to really know anything about other people.”
The president emerged from a smaller staircase in the belly of the aircraft, and many saw it as a deliberate sign of disrespect by the Chinese.
Mr. Obama, who arrived in Laos late Monday night to become the first U.S. president ever to visit the Southeast Asian country, is encountering more than his usual share of friction and confrontation on his 10th trip to the region.
It started with his arrival at the airport in China, where Chinese officials failed to provide a portable staircase for Mr. Obama to disembark from the upper door of Air Force One with the typical grandiose visibility befitting a visiting head of state. Instead, the president emerged from a smaller staircase in the belly of the aircraft, and many saw it as a deliberate sign of disrespect by the Chinese.
Republican nominee Donald Trump said he would have refused to meet with Chinese officials if they treated him like they treated Mr. Obama. Read the rest of this entry »
VIENTIANE, Laos (AP) — President Barack Obama on Monday became the first sitting U.S. president to step foot in the isolated Southeast Asian nation of Laos, opening a three-day visit meant to rebuild trust and close a dark chapter in the shared history between the two countries.
Obama is one of several world leaders coming to the country of nearly 7 million people, where the one-party communist state tightly controls public expression but is using its moment in the spotlight as host of the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to open up to outsiders.
Under a steady, tropical rain, Obama arrived late Monday and began a full day of ceremony and diplomacy Tuesday morning with a meeting with Laotian President Bounnhang Vorachit. The president was greeted by a military band and a display of the troops at the presidential palace.
The visit comes during what is probably Obama’s final trip as president to Southeast Asia, a region that has enjoyed intense attention from the U.S. during his tenure. Obama’s frequent visits to oft-ignored corners of the Asia Pacific have been central to his strategy for countering China’s growing dominance in the region. By bolstering diplomatic ties in Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, the Obama administration has declared it wants to compete for influence and market access in China’s backyard.
In Laos, Obama will wrestle with the ghosts of past U.S. policies.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the U.S. rained bombs on Laotian villages and the countryside as America’s war with Vietnam spilled across the border. The Laotian government estimates that more than 2 million tons of ordnance were released during more than 500,000 missions — one bomb every eight minutes for nine years. Read the rest of this entry »
Noting a marked shift in China’s behaviour around the islands since last December, a Japanese foreign ministry official said: “The situation in the East China Sea is getting worse.”
Tension over the group of five uninhabited islands and three barren rocks mounted in September 2012, when the Japanese government — which has administered the islands since 1895 — bought them from a private owner.
Japanese officials fear Beijing is using the shift in international attention towards the South China Sea — where China has been constructing artificial islands — to mount a new push in the waters further north.
Tokyo has formally protested the Chinese actions, which it calls a “forceful, coercive attempt to change the status quo”, but has so far avoided any escalation with countermeasures of its own.
In late December, China sailed an armed vessel into territorial waters around the disputed islands for the first time.
Sailing with three other Chinese vessels, a former naval frigate converted for coastguard use but carrying four quick-firing 37mm cannon, entered the 24 nautical mile “contiguous zone” around the islands for the first time on December 22, and the 12 nautical mile territorial waters on December 26. Read the rest of this entry »
China Petrochemical Corp., commonly known as Sinopec, said Monday it had begun building a fueling station and storage depot at the Chinese settlement of Sansha City in the disputed Paracel Island chain.
A statement by the company on its official microblog account confirmed earlier reports from local authorities that the project intended to ease fuel shortages at Sansha, a settlement with a population of around 1,000 people, making it the largest outpost among the many contested islands of the South China Sea.
“Tu hao, go fishing in Sansha, and remember to bring your refueling card,” Sinopec’s statement said, using a popular term for China’s newly minted moneyed class.
Sansha City, located on Woody Island, is used to administer China’s claims over nearly the entire South China Sea, and holds the same administrative rank in China as large metropolises with millions of people.
China took de facto control of Woody Island and the Paracels following a naval conflict with South Vietnamese forces in 1974. Vietnam continues to claim the area today. Its Foreign Ministry said it didn’t have any comment on the fuel facilities Monday.
Sinopec, whose main listed unit trades in New York and Hong Kong, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on whether building the facilities would hurt its ability to pursue future business with Vietnam. Read the rest of this entry »
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Greg Torode reports: U.S. plans to send warships or military aircraft within 12 nautical miles of China’s artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, possibly within days, could open a tense new front in Sino-U.S. rivalry.
A range of security experts said Washington’s so-called freedom of navigation patrols would have to be regular to be effective, given Chinese ambitions to project power deep into maritime Southeast Asia and beyond.
But China would likely resist attempts to make such U.S. actions routine, some said, raising the political and military stakes. China’s navy could for example try to block or attempt to surround U.S. vessels, they said, risking an escalation.
Given months of debate already in Washington over the first such patrol close to the Chinese outposts since 2012, several regional security experts and former naval officers said the U.S. government might be reluctant to do them often.
U.S. allies such as Japan and Australia are unlikely to follow with their own direct challenges to China, despite their concerns over freedom of navigation along vital trade routes, they added.
“This cannot be a one-off,” said Ian Storey, a South China Sea expert at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
“The U.S. navy will have to conduct these kinds of patrols on a regular basis to reinforce their message.”
The Obama administration has said it would test China’s territorial claims to the area after months of pressure from Congress and the U.S. military. It has not given a timeframe.
“I think we have been very clear – that we intend to do this,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters last Monday.
Chinese Foreign Ministry officials said this month that Beijing would “never allow any country to violate China’s territorial waters and airspace in the Spratly islands in the name of protecting navigation and overflight”.
Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, 12-nautical mile limits cannot be set around man-made islands built on previously submerged reefs.
Four of the seven reefs China has reclaimed over the last two years were completely submerged at high tide before construction began, legal scholars say.
China claims most of the South China Sea. Other claimants are Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Read the rest of this entry »
Police Raid Cartoonist’s Office
“They’re trying to keep me quiet. If I was here at the time, I’m sure they would have arrested me, too.”
— Cartoonist Zulkiflee ‘Zunar‘ Anwar Ulhaque
KUALA LUMPUR — James Hookway reports: Malaysian cartoonist Zunar’s doodlings aren’t much of a joke for the country’s rulers.
For years, he has poked fun at figures of authority, including Prime Minister Najib Razak and former premier Mahathir Mohamad, becoming part of the cultural landscape in the process. His cartoons have been collected in a series of books and are featured on the country’s most popular Internet news sites. The latest collection focuses on the long-running sodomy trials involving opposition champion Anwar Ibrahim, for which the final verdict is due Feb. 10.
“I started out with too many words. There was too much going on. Now, I try and just use a drawing, and the simpler the better. If people get the message, then they like it, like they are in on a secret.”
Last week, though, with tension in the country mounting ahead of the decision, police raided the cartoonist’s office in a nondescript business park in Kuala Lumpur’s suburbs and seized 149 of his books to assess whether Mr. Zunar should be added to the list of Malaysians to be prosecuted for sedition. Broadly defined, sedition criminalizes speech that could incite contempt toward the government or inflame hostility between the various ethnic groups in the country.
“They’re trying to keep me quiet,” said the grizzled, 51-year-old Mr. Zunar, whose full name is Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque. “If I was here at the time, I’m sure they would have arrested me, too.” He was in England when the raid occurred, but is now back at home.
Police officials declined to comment on the investigation.
“The Malaysian government condemned the attack on Charlie Hebdo. But what are they doing here? They are trying to shut me down.”
Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, better known as Zunar, is Malaysia’s leading political cartoonist. He takes The Wall Street Journal through the evolution of his craft.
That Malaysian authorities are investigating Mr. Zunar at all speaks volumes about how tensions are running high in the run-up to the Anwar verdict.
His newest book, “The Conspiracy to Imprison Anwar,” spans the entire sodomy saga. It starts in 1998, when the goateed, bespectacled Mr. Anwar, now 67, was fired as deputy prime minister after challenging Dr. Mahathir’s leadership. Mr. Zunar sketches his way through the opposition leader’s first sodomy trial and the six years he spent in prison until his conviction was overturned in 2004, before turning his pen to the current case, which began in 2008.
Now, as before, Mr. Anwar denies allegations, which were made by a male former aide. The government denies Mr. Anwar’s claim that the charges were orchestrated against him. Read the rest of this entry »
Excessive nationalism threatens the country’s potential
Steve Chapman writes: To achieve any ambitious goal, you have to want it badly enough to work and sacrifice. But there is such a thing as trying too hard. Overzealous pursuit of your heart’s desire can end up chasing it away.
The Chinese government may be learning that right now. China, a great civilization brought low by foreign powers in the 19th and 20th centuries, has long burned to acquire a global stature corresponding to its self-image.
Its transformation from an economic catastrophe to an export machine has made it a much bigger player in world affairs. But sometimes efforts to assert itself generate not respect and cooperation but fear and resistance.
The decision to establish an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea didn’t have to set alarm bells clanging from Seoul to Tokyo to Washington. Other countries have their own along their coastlines, and Beijing can make a reasonable case that it’s entitled to one as well.
But the Chinese didn’t make the case; they just proclaimed it. The change came in such an abrupt and surprising way as to make it impossible for anyone to cheerfully accept. China failed to consult with its neighbors in advance, took in islands long under Japanese jurisdiction and established rules beyond what other countries impose.