Thursday, 2 July 2015

China Issues Report on ‘Terrible’ U.S. Human Rights Record

By Chun Han Wong | U.S. and Chinese officials may have struck conciliatory tones at high-level talks this week amid festering mutual mistrust, but their annual bickering over human rights has resumed unabated.

A day after the U.S. State Department issued global human-rights scorecards that included criticism of China, Beijing offered a scathing rejoinder that accused Washington of “showing not a bit of regret for or intention to improve its own terrible human rights record.”

“Plenty of facts show that, in 2014, the U.S., a self-proclaimed human rights defender, saw no improvements in its existent human rights issues, but reported numerous new problems,” said the Chinese report, published Friday by the information office of China’s State Council, the country’s Cabinet. “While its own human rights situation was increasingly grave, the U.S. violated human rights in other countries in a more brazen manner.”

America’s record remained blotted by rampant gun crime, racial discrimination, the pernicious influence of money in politics, widening income and social inequality, and state infringements of individual privacy, according to the State Council’s latest yearly assessment.

By Beijing’s reckoning, the U.S. also violated human rights abroad through the use of torture, mass electronic surveillance of foreign governments and citizens, and frequent military drone attacks that have inflicted civilian casualties.

More Than 11,000 Sydney Dental Patients Potentially Exposed to HIV and Hepatitis

from More than 11,000 Sydney dental patients may have been exposed to HIV and hepatitis because of unhygienic practices at four clinics across the city.

New South Wales (NSW) health authorities said on Thursday the disease risk was caused by poor cleaning and sterilization techniques at the four dental practices.

The issues at the four practices go back a number of years, NSW Health said in a statement.

The department is recommending people who had invasive procedures at the Gentle Dentist in Campsie and Sussex St. or the Surry Hills and Bondi Junction surgeries of Dr. Robert Starkenburg be tested for blood-borne diseases.

Gentle Dentist operator Dr. Samson Chan, four of his staff and Dr. Starkenburg have all been suspended following investigations prompted by customer complaints.

"There is an array of problems, including the cleaning of instruments, functioning of sterilizers, the knowledge of the practitioners and recording of the results of the sterilizing equipment," Dr. Jeremy McAnulty, director, health protection at NSW Health told reporters on Thursday.

Another six dentists from the Gentle Dentist clinics have had conditions placed on their licenses.

Japan Looks to Southeast Asia to Counter China’s Assertiveness

By Arthur Moore | Geopolitical Monitor: Belligerent and provocative behavior by China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and the construction of bases on reefs threaten the open sea lanes that the Japanese economy depends on. In response, Tokyo has been looking to expand the scope of its Maritime Self-Defense Force activities in order to secure its interests beyond its immediate shoreline by creating new defense agreements with Southeast Asian nations, whilst simultaneously augmenting its Maritime and Air Self-Defense Force capabilities.

For now and for the foreseeable future, Japan and China are locked in a regional great power competition that is fuelled by historical legacies and escalating quickly.

Since the onset of the Cold War, Japan has adopted a self-subordinated role to US security interests. Over the past few decades since the end of the Cold War Japan has been orientating itself to be more self-reliant and less dependent on United States for its defense. Now, Japan’s Maritime and Air Self-Defense Force boasts a very impressive force that is orientated towards blunting and denying Chinese naval and air activities in the South China Sea. JMSDF and ASDF platforms are intended to raise the risk for Chinese naval incursions into the South China Sea, at least those which are deemed encroaching on territorial waters of other nations in the region.

Recent JMSDF maritime procurements, such as the Izumo class vessels and upgrades to the MSDF’s Aegis destroyers are incremental and signify a continuation of Japanese anti-submarine warfare efforts and anti-ballistic missile defense, respectively. These procurements are in line with Japan playing the ‘shield’ to America’s ‘spear’ that provides power-projection and offensive capabilities, such as aircraft carriers as well as (supposedly) a nuclear umbrella. Nevertheless, at the behest of Washington, Japan has taken on more security responsibilities in its region, highlighting a more autonomous role, and it is in a position to defend itself and others unilaterally against potential Chinese conventional incursions in nearby waters.

China Passes Law Aiming at 'Secure and Controllable Internet'

from Russia Today: China has passed a new law aimed at promotion of state security and sovereignty on Wednesday. One of the key provisions of the law is expanding state control over the internet.

The National People’s Congress (NPC) adopted the document almost unanimously: 154 of 155 NPC standing committee voted “for” and one abstained. That is a comprehensive national law which covers various sectors, including the internet space.
The internet has been declared one of the key priorities of Chinese national policy. China wants to make it “secure and controllable,” which raises fears among foreign IT companies, The Guardian reports. 

"Internet space within the territories of the People's Republic of China is subject to the country's sovereignty," said Zheng Shuna, a senior official at the NPC, pointing out that the internet is a key part of national infrastructure. 

She also emphasized that the new law proposes a legal basis for the management of activities on Chinese territory and resisting actions that pose a threat to Chinese cyber-security. No specific definitions for online crimes and punishments are provided, though. 

Shanghai Vows Greater Access For Offshore Investors With Renminbi

from China will further open its financial markets in Shanghai to global investors as part of the country's push for the renminbi to be used globally for investment, a Shanghai financial official said on Saturday.

Most of China's financial markets — those for trading stocks, bonds, currency, commodities and derivatives — are housed in Shanghai. Zheng Yang, director of Shanghai's financial service office, told a forum in the city on Saturday that the city will invite more global investors to trade in its financial markets as part of an effort to expand investment options for offshore investors holding the Chinese currency, also known as the yuan.

Zheng added that offshore entities could also issue yuan-denominated products in Shanghai's financial markets to broaden the renminbi's appeal as an investment currency.

"Opening the domestic financial market to global investors is an integral part of renminbi globalization," Zheng said. "Only when there are effective channels for offshore investors to invest their renminbi holdings can the currency be more used globally."

China has sought to raise the yuan's global profile to a level commensurate with the country's economic status. It hopes the yuan will be more used for cross-border trade payment, investment and also as an alternative reserve currency to the US dollar.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

South Korea Navy Fires Warning Shots At North Korean Boat

from Al Jazeera: A South Korean naval ship has fired warning shots to chase off a North Korean patrol boat which crossed their disputed western sea border, military officials said.

The reported incursion on Tuesday morning came as military tensions run high across the Yellow Sea maritime boundary, a scene of sporadic battles between South and North Korean vessels, the South's defence ministry said.

"The North Korean boat sailed into the southern side of the sea boundary but retreated after our naval ship fired warning shots," a ministry spokesman told the AFP news agency.

It was not clear whether the incursion was intentional. North Korean patrol ships sometimes sail into southern waters to track Chinese vessels fishing illegally near the sea border.

The two Koreas remain technically at war since the Korean conflict was concluded with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, and small border incidents in the past have been known to escalate swiftly.

In November 2010, North Korea shelled a front-line island, killing four South Koreans and briefly triggering concerns of a full-scale conflict.

In March this year, the North threatened to fire on sight without warning at any South Korean naval vessels violating the sea border.

Cross-border tensions have remained high this year due to a series of North Korean ballistic missile tests, nuclear threats and annual US-South Korean military exercises.

Pyongyang sees the joint drills as a rehearsal for invasion. South Korea and the US say they are purely defensive.

China Ratifies The Creation Of BRICS Bank

from The Chinese Parliament has ratified the creation of the BRICS Development Bank. The New Development Bank was conceived as an alternative to Western financial institutions such as the World Bank.

The new bank will provide money for infrastructure and development projects in BRICS countries, that is Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Each nation will have an equal say in the bank’s management, regardless of GDP size. 

Each BRICS member is expected to contribute an equal share in establishing a startup capital of $50 billion, with a goal of reaching $100 billion in capitalization. The BRICS bank will be headquartered in Shanghai, with India presiding as president during the first year, and Russia serving as the chairman of the representatives. 

China has pledged to contribute a total of $41 billion to the NDB bank, which will give it the largest voting rights, at 39.5 percent, Reuters reports. 

The agreement has already been ratified in India and Russia. 

In China, the creation of the NDB bank, also known as the BRICS Bank, has been approved by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress at its meeting that runs until July 1. 

It has been agreed that an African regional center of the NDB bank will be established in South Africa. 

Death Toll Rises To 141 After Indonesian Military Plane Crashes

from Asia Times Online: The death toll from an air crash in the Indonesian city of Medan went up to 141 on Wednesday, with reports saying at least 19 people on the ground were killed when the plane went down.

Authorities said 141 bodies have been recovered after an Indonesian air force transport plane Hercules C-130 crashed into a row of houses and a hotel in Medan city, Sumatra, on Tuesday, AP reported.

The crash occurred two minutes after the plane took off from Soewondo air force base in Medan.
The country’s air force chief Marshall Agus Supriatna said there were no survivors.  Among the victims were military personnel and their families.

Supriatna has said the pilot told the control tower that he needed to turn back because of engine trouble and the plane crashed while turning right to return to the airport.

The air force repeatedly raised its figures for the number of the people on the plane, indicating lax controls and raising questions about whether it was accepting paying passengers despite previous promises to crack down on the promise. Hitching rides on military planes to reach remote destinations is common in Indonesia,

Buildings were left in ruins and cars reduced to flaming wrecks after the plane came down in Medan, a city of two million.

Obama Signs “Fast Track” Bill, TPP Inches Closer to Completion

from Truth In Media: On Monday President Obama signed into law the so-called “fast-track” bill, setting the stage for approval of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The fast-track bill, officially known as the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), was one of two bills signed by Obama. The president also signed the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) act which is supposed to extend aid to workers who might lose their jobs as a consequence of the TPP or other so-called free trade deals.

Following the signing, Darlene Superville, White House reporter for The Associated Press, tweeted:
@POTUS at trade bill signing: ‘I thought I’d start off the week with something we should do more often, a truly bipartisan bill signing’

Despite the bipartisan nature of the bill, President Obama acknowledged the hurdles that remain for the TPP. “We still have some tough negotiations that are going to be taking place. The debate will not end with this bill signing,” Obama said.

CNET reports that an Australian parliamentary committee has released a “Blind Agreement” report warning of an impending “attack [on] internet freedoms,” and criticizing the negotiations as lacking “oversight and scrutiny.”

The joint-Parliamentary report stated that, “Parliament is faced with an all-or-nothing choice” and is being “kept in the dark.”

“Parliament should play a constructive role during negotiations and not merely rubber-stamp agreements that have been negotiated behind closed doors,” the report reads.

With the passing of the TPA and TAA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is possibly only weeks away from approval. The trade agreement has been notoriously secret, with the public only viewing chapters of the text which have been leaked by WikiLeaks.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Secret Australia-Saudi Deal On Intelligence

Leaked cables reveal the intelligence links between the Saudi Arabian and Australian governments, and the Saudi influence on Muslim communities here.

from Arranging an interview with a Saudi prince can be tricky, particularly when the prince is the chief of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s feared secret police.

Secret Saudi foreign ministry documents released by WikiLeaks this week show that Australia’s former ambassador in Saudi Arabia, Neil Hawkins, had to wait more than five months to receive a response to a request for a meeting with His Royal Highness Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, then head of intelligence and secretary-general of the kingdom’s National Security Council. 

Hawkins first requested a meeting in early August 2012. 

Six weeks earlier, then Labor foreign minister Bob Carr had breezed through the Saudi capital. Carr’s published diary records that he donned “my Sydney tailor’s best suit” and purchased a new Bulgari tie to meet the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal. 

Carr found his counterpart, whose reign as the world’s longest-serving foreign minister ended this year, “somewhat frail, and slow in speech, walking with a stick”, but noted “his brown eyes flashed and his pronouncements cut through”. Over lunch the conversation covered Iran; Sunni Saudi Arabia’s fears of spreading Shia Islamic influence; the likelihood of a coup in Egypt following a victory in the presidential elections of the Muslim Brotherhood, something the prince implied would be “catastrophic”; and the need for a settlement between Israel and Palestine. 

There was another highly sensitive item on the agenda, however, that Ambassador Hawkins later struggled to advance without the door-opening presence of a visiting foreign minister – namely strengthening intelligence co-operation between Australia and Saudi Arabia. A secret “document of intent” on counterterrorism co-operation had been signed by the two countries in 2011, but progress on practical co-operation had been slow despite burgeoning bilateral trade and growing people-to-people ties. More than 10,000 Saudi students were studying at Australian universities and other educational institutions and thousands of Australian Muslims undertake the hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca each year. 

The leaked Saudi foreign ministry documents show there was no rush to respond to the Australian embassy’s first letter seeking a meeting between Hawkins and Prince Bandar, sent on August 1, 2012. Nor was there any response to a second letter, sent by the embassy two months later. Eventually the embassy dispatched a third letter, on January 16, 2013, reiterating Hawkins’ request for a discussion about “co-operation between the two countries at the intelligence level”.