Aletho News


China Banning People From Transit for Bad “Social Credit” Scores

corbettreport | March 18, 2018

The slow-motion train wreck of “social credit” systems and the “gamification” of society has moved to the next stage. Now the Chinese government is going to start barring people from flying or riding trains if their social credit score is not up to snuff. China may be the test case for these ideas, but they’re already being rolled out in other countries. So what are we going to do about it?


March 19, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular, Video | , , | 1 Comment

US Senate Warns Russia of Sanctions if S-400 Sold to Any Foreign Nations

Sputnik – 17.03.2018

WASHINGTON – A group of US lawmakers led by Senator Bob Menendez told the State Department in a letter that any sale of Russian S-400 air defense system should lead to new punitive measures as stipulated in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

“We are writing today to specifically inquire about reported negotiations between Russia and certain countries over sales of the Russian government’s S-400 air defense system and whether these reported deals could trigger mandatory CAATSA sanctions,” the letter said on Friday. “Under any circumstance, a S-400 sale would be considered a ‘significant transaction’ and we expect that any sale would result in designations.”

The lawmakers also requested that the State Department provide detailed analysis on the current status of Russian S-400 talks with China, Turkey, India, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and any other country.

The senators based their letter on a report produced by the Congressional Research Service, which showed that Russia has been working on potential defense deals with different countries.

Menendez and co-signers demanded information on how the State Department is trying to prevent the sales of S-400 being finalized and reiterated Washington’s accusations of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and meddling in democratic process in foreign states.

The request comes just a day after the Treasury Department used the CAATSA legislation, along with an Executive Order that was amended by CAATSA, to impose sanctions on five entities and 19 individuals.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), Main Intelligence Directorate and six Russian individuals were sanctioned under the CAATSA legislation.

The US Congress passed CAATSA last summer in response to allegations that Russia sought to influence the 2016 US presidential election. Trump signed it into law on August 2.

Russia has repeatedly denied all allegations of interference in the US election, calling the accusations “absurd.”

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

US in Afghanistan to Influence Russia, Iran, China – Russian Foreign Ministry

Sputnik – March 14, 2108

The United States retains its presence in Afghanistan to exert influence on neighboring countries and regional rivals – namely, Russia, Iran and China, Russian Foreign Ministry’s Second Asian Department Director Zamir Kabulov told Sputnik in an interview.

“In our opinion, the United States is in Afghanistan primarily with the aim of controlling and influencing the political processes in its neighboring countries, and also demonstrating its power to its regional competitors, primarily China, Russia and Iran. The United States is clearly trying to achieve destabilization of Central Asia and later transfer it to Russia in order to subsequently present itself as the only defender against potential and emerging threats in the region,” Kabulov said.

According to the diplomat, Russia and other countries neighboring with Afghanistan have questions about the true goals and time frame of the US military presence in the Central Asian country.

“If the United States and its NATO allies intend to continue their destructive policy in Afghanistan, this will mean that the West is heading toward the revival of the Cold War era in this part of the world. We closely monitor the developments and are ready to respond in cooperation with our partners and other like-minded people,” Kabulov noted.

The diplomat pointed out that Washington still failed to understand that the Afghan conflict could not be resolved solely by military means, stressing that it was impossible to defeat the Taliban by force.

Moscow is puzzled by the attempts of the United States and NATO to persuade Afghanistan to replace Russian weapons and military equipment, such move leads to reduction of Afghan’s military potential, Zamir Kabulov told Sputnik in an interview.

“The course taken by the United States and NATO to persuade Kabul to replace Russia-made small arms and aircraft is surprising, as it will inevitably lead to a decrease in the combat capabilities of the Afghan armed forces and further deterioration of the situation,” Kabulov said.

The diplomat reminded that a bilateral intergovernmental agreement on Russia’s defense industry assistance to Afghanistan had entered into force in November 2016, adding that the document created the legal framework for Russian assistance in arming and equipping the Afghan security forces.

“At the moment, negotiations are underway on repairs and supplies of spare parts for the Afghan Air Force’s helicopters for various purposes, produced in Russia (the Soviet Union),” Kabulov added.

Afghanistan Parliamentary Election

The parliamentary election in Afghanistan is unlikely to take place in July in the current circumstances, Kabulov said.

“I do not think that the parliamentary elections in Afghanistan will be held in July this year as scheduled. The Taliban continue to control about half of the country’s territory, engage in hostilities, organize and carry out terrorist attacks in large cities, and, apparently, are not going to make compromises and reconciliation with the Afghan government,” Kabulov said.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) is also unlikely to accomplish all the necessary procedures before the date set for the vote, given that the commission has announced earlier that the registration of voters will complete only by early August, the diplomat noted.

Furthermore, disagreements between the presidential administration and its political opposition regarding the parameters of the upcoming elections still remain unresolved, the official noted.

“In my opinion, if elections are conducted in the current circumstances, their results will not improve the political situation in the country and confidence in the current government, will not force the armed opposition to cooperate with the government,” Kabulov added.

The diplomat also noted that the Daesh terror group posed a serious threat to holding the election.

“The Daesh jihadists pose a serious threat to the security of the conduct of elections, especially in the north and a number of eastern provinces of Afghanistan. Some polling stations in the provinces of Helmand, Uruzgan, Kunduz, Badakhshan, Faryab and Ghazni are the most problematic in terms of security, according to the IEC data. I think that, in fact, the list of problematic areas in terms of organization of voting is much longer,” Kabulov said.

Afghanistan Reconciliation Talks

Russia considers the so-called Moscow format of talks an optimal platform for the promotion of national reconciliation in Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov noted.

“Unfortunately, the existence of a large number of international formats on the Afghan issue has not significantly contributed to the involvement of the Taliban in peace negotiations. In this regard, we consider the Moscow format of consultations launched by us in early 2017 as the optimal platform for substantive negotiations to promote national reconciliation and establish a constructive dialogue between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban movement,” Kabulov said.

Kabulov also noted that Moscow considered the format of talks in the Afghan capital as one approach toward achieving a collective solution to the problems surrounding Afghan settlement.

“A signal of international support for the resolution of the intra-Afghan conflict through political dialogue with the government of Afghanistan has been sent to the Taliban. The Taliban ignored the recent meeting of the ‘Kabul process’ in the Afghan capital, insisting on direct talks with the United States,” the diplomat added.

In February 2017, Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and Afghanistan came together in Moscow for talks to promote the national reconciliation process in Afghanistan through regional cooperation with Kabul in the leading role. Apart from the aforementioned states, the latest round in April gathered five Central Asian countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The United States refused to take part in the meeting.

Afghanistan has long suffered political, social and security-related instability because of the simmering insurgency, including that of the Taliban, but also because of the actions of the Daesh terror group.

The United States has been in Afghanistan for almost 17 years following the 9/11 attacks. Before his election, Trump slammed sending US troops and resources to the Central Asian country.

March 14, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Australia sees opportunity in China’s rise

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | February 27, 2018

From an Indian perspective, the visit to the United States by the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his meeting with President Donald Trump on February 23 turns out to be a reality check on the power dynamic in the Asia-Pacific. Australia is torn between two vital partners – the US in the security sphere and China in the economic sphere. The dilemma is acute insofar as Turnbull has voiced opinions on threat perceptions regarding China, which are contrary to the Trump administration’s assessment and, yet, the US and Australia are key allies.

A month ago, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop pointedly distanced her country from the US’ assessment of China (and Russia) being a strategic threat. The US National Security Strategy issued in January said, “China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea… It is increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions.”

Bishop refused to share that assessment, saying, “We have a different perspective on Russia and China clearly — we do not see Russia or China posing a military threat to Australia, we continue to work closely with China in fact we undertake military exercises with China as well as with other countries in the region and we will continue to do so.”

Turnbull openly endorsed Bishop’s remarks. In his words, “Apart from North Korea, there is no country in the region that shows any hostile intent towards Australia,” Mr Turnbull said, “We don’t see threats from our neighbours in the region, but, nonetheless, every country must always plan ahead and you need to build the capabilities to defend yourself, not just today, but in 10 years or 20 years, hence.”Turnbull reverted to the topic as he was embarking on the visit to the US last week. In remarks to Sky News, Turnbull said:

  • A threat, technically, is a combination of capability and intent. China has enormous capability of course, it’s growing as the country becomes more prosperous and economically stronger. But we do not see any hostile intent from China.
  • We don’t see the region through what is frankly an out-of-date Cold War prism. Neither, by the way, does Donald Trump. President Trump has a long experience in this part of the world as a businessman. He understands the significance, the economic significance of China’s rise and its opportunity.

Indeed, the joint statement issued after Turnbull’s meeting with Trump in the White House contains no reference to China or the disputes in the South China Sea. (Nor on ‘Quad’!) It doesn’t mention ‘freedom of navigation’, either. At the joint press conference with Turnbull, Trump said he’d “love” to have Australia back the US effort to assert the right to maritime freedom in South China Sea – “We’d love to have Australia involved and I think Australia wants us to stay involved.”

But Turnbull was unmoved. He made no commitments about Australia joining the US naval display. On the other hand, he emphasized the economic opportunities from China’s rise. Turnbull had hopes of persuading Trump to take a fresh look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, but Trump repeated his distaste of the trade pact. Trump said, “The TPP was a very bad deal for the United States, it would have cost us a tremendous amount of jobs, it would have been bad.”

Equally, in the run-up to Turnbull’s visit, there was speculation that a possible economic front comprising the US, Japan, India and Australia could be in the making to “answer Chinese and Russian infrastructure-building efforts” in the Asia-Pacific. But it turned out to be mere drum-beating. (Reuters / Bloomberg) The Trump administration is focused single-mindedly on America First and has no interest in doing the diplomatic heavy lifting to push back at China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Clearly, one substantive outcome of Turnbull’s visit has been in the launch of an Australia-US Strategic Partnership on Energy in the Indo-Pacific. This must be seen against the backdrop of the US gearing up to export LNG to the Asian market, especially China. While on the one hand runaway gas demand in China is transforming the outlook for LNG in Asia and could see a return to the seller’s market in 2018, on the other hand, Australia’s rapidly growing LNG exports are already finding a ready market. A joint press release in Washington spelt out the “core principles” and outlined a “work plan” for the proposed US-Australia energy partnership. (here)

China would be quietly pleased with the outcome of the Trump-Turnbull meeting in Washington. An editorial in the government newspaper China Daily noted, “if Turnbull is now choosing to look at China through a more objective prism that would obviously help build more trust between the two countries, which will only usher in a more cordial atmosphere for relations to deepen and grow. Yet the Australian government still needs to match words with deeds… In its most recent foreign policy white paper, Australia proposes that it can act as an honest broker between China and the US.”

The Global Times in an editorial, also commended that Turnbull’s remarks “show positive signs for the Sino-Australian relationship.”

February 27, 2018 Posted by | Economics, Militarism | , , , | 5 Comments

China gives dressing-down to Maldives’ Nasheed

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | February 18, 2018

The mystery of the Supreme Court judges in Male promoting democracy in their beloved country is deepening. One of the three judges who gave the ruling to destabilize the political situation had unaccounted money to the tune of $220000 in his possession and a second judge in the troika had a big amount of $2.4 million transferred to him by “a private firm.” Evidently, democracy doesn’t come cheap.

We do not know who is spending all that money to promote democracy in the Maldives – at least, not yet. But Maldives is such a small country that nothing remains secret for long. All we know for the present is that “the investigation is not limited to Maldives.” Put differently, there has been the ubiquitous “foreign hand” pushing the regime change agenda in Maldives.

Male has approached unspecified foreign governments for assistance in conducting the enquiry. Hopefully, India is not one of them. It seems India – along with Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Netherlands and the UK – is one of the countries the two debonair judges involved in the scam had visited in the past one-year period. (Gulf Today )

There is obviously more – much more – to the events in Maldives than meets the eye. The Xinhua news agency carried an extraordinary commentary last Thursday attacking by name the former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed (who is spearheading the democracy campaign from his locations in Sri Lanka and India) for spreading canards about the Chinese “presence” in Sri Lanka. Nasheed recently told the Hindu newspaper, “Without firing a single shot, China has grabbed more land than what the East India company had, at the height of the colonial era. They have weaponised foreign direct investments.”

Evidently, the Chinese found it an outrageous remark even by Nasheed’s yardstick. Xinhua tore into him. The commentary disclosed, inter alia, that Nasheed himself was once an enthusiastic promoter of Maldives’ relations with China when he was president, and, in fact, the commentary drops a bombshell saying, “However, as a former Maldivian president, who has also experienced the benefits from the fruitful cooperation between the Maldives and China, Nasheed this time chose to turn a blind eye to the fact.”

The Counselor in the Chinese embassy in Male Yang Yin told Xinhua, “Why did Nasheed support this normal economic and trade cooperation during his tenure and now turns to oppose it? Let alone fabricating statistics to tarnish the normal bilateral cooperation between the two countries? These doubts remain in the mind of the Chinese side.”

Hmmm. This Nasheed fellow is turning out to be quite a guy. He always seemed a bit of a maverick. (He once made the immaculate decision on the opening of the Chinese embassy in Male to coincide with the arrival of the then PM Manmohan Singh in the Maldives on official visit in November 2011.) Indeed, it now appears that he has dark secrets that only he and the Chinese could be privy to. But, Yang has asked a good question: Why did Nasheed become a turncoat? Conceivably, some people made an offer to him in recent years that he couldn’t refuse.

To my mind, however, the fascinating thing about the Xinhua commentary is the snippet of information it shared in regard of the scale of the “Chinese presence” in the Maldives. Of course, there have been dark rumors circulating in the Indian press for months on this topic, making it out that the Chinese are building a military base in the Maldives. Well, it seems the plain truth is that the “Chinese presence” in the Maldives actually adds up to seven resort hotels that Chinese companies are constructing on seven islands (out of the country’s total 100 islands) for foreign tourists. To be sure, enterprising Chinese business people see that with the big influx of Chinese tourists into the Maldives, there is good money to be made.

According to Forbes magazine, Maldives figures 7th among the first ten eco-tourist hot spots that Chinese jet setters are choosing. The number of Chinese tourists visiting the Maldives tripled from 1 lakh in 2010 to 3.6 lakhs in 2014, accounting for nearly one-third of the entire tourist traffic to the island, representing the single biggest source market for Maldives. Tourism is the main source of income for Maldives and Male is smart enough to know that China already accounts for more than a fifth of the money spent by outbound tourists worldwide, twice as much as the next-biggest spender, the US (according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.)

Read the Xinhua commentary here – Spotlight: Former Maldivian president’s statement on China “grabbing land” false, irresponsible.

February 18, 2018 Posted by | Corruption, Economics | , , | Leave a comment

Is There a ‘Secret US Hand’ Supporting Daesh in Afghanistan?

Sputnik – February 16, 2018

Commenting on the claim made by the Iranian military that the US has provided direct assistance to Daesh in Afghanistan, political analyst Ahmad Wahid Mozhda told Sputnik that many Afghan politicians and ordinary Afghans are saying the same thing. According to the observer, the US’s likely goal is to cause problems for the country’s neighbors.

Speaking to Sputnik Dari, Ahmad Wahid Mozhda, a political scientist and former Mujahedeen commander, explained that many Afghans believe in the presence of a ‘mysterious foreign hand’ in their country helping to consolidate Daesh’s position.

“Many members of Afghanistan’s parliament, as well as ordinary citizens, are saying that Daesh terrorists are being brought here by unidentified helicopters. There is a great deal of evidence to support this,” Mozhda said. “Afghans believe in a kind of ‘mysterious hand’ working to strengthen Daesh’s positions,” he added.

Mozhda challenged the US’s long-standing assertion that fighting terror was its main mission in Afghanistan, and pointed out that in its 17 years of fighting, the US has not only suffered significant material and personnel losses, but has not been unable to win this war. On the contrary, he noted, the number of terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan has grown exponentially.

“It’s worth keeping in mind that when the US sent its forces to Afghanistan in 2001, their main goal was the destruction of al-Qaeda, which at that moment was the only terrorist group in the country. 17 years have passed, and now Afghanistan has over twenty terrorist groups…. Why, with the US having spent a trillion dollars on this war, and the international coalition losing about 4,000 troops, has the war not ended?… Why did [even a] 150,000-strong international coalition troop presence fail to ensure Afghanistan’s security?”

Mozhda also pointed to the steep rise in drug production in Afghanistan since 2001. “The Americans are saying that drugs fuel terrorism, and that [terrorists] receive income from drug production. Over the past 17 years, there has not been any serious struggle against drug production and drug trafficking in Afghanistan, even though this serious problem clearly exists.”

All this, the observer says, “gives rise to a number of questions regarding the fight against terrorism, which has not been successful in Afghanistan.

“Ultimately, Mozhda indicated that concerns from Iran and other countries with the possibility of US intrigue in Afghanistan were fully justified, since unlike the Taliban, which limits its activities to one country, Daesh is bent on destabilizing the entire region.

“Unlike the Taliban, who did not have an international program, Daesh’s goals are to create problems in neighboring countries, including China or the Central Asian countries.”

In this light, “the goal of supporting terrorism in Afghanistan is to create a threat to the countries of the region – to Iran, Russia and China, countries which have difficult relations with the USA,” the analyst concluded.

Last week, Iranian Armed Forces’ Chief of Staff Mohammad Baqeri accused the US of transferring Daesh militants from their crumbling caliphate into Afghanistan. “When the Americans realized that Daesh and [other] terrorist groups lost the territories they had previously occupied in Iraq and Syria, they transported them, by various means, to Afghanistan, and we are now witnessing the explosions, terror and new crimes being committed in Afghanistan,” the officer said.

The Iranian military’s claims follow on similar charges made earlier Russian officials, as well as remarks late last year by former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who called Daesh a “tool” used by Washington to pursue its broader goals in the region.

Speaking to Sputnik Dari, Afghan Defense Ministry press secretary Dawlat Waziri denied Baqeri’s claims. On the contrary, he noted, “the Americans help us destroy the Daesh terrorists, as well as other terrorist groups in Afghanistan.” Waziri stressed that the US military contingent in Afghanistan was crucial to the country’s security, and noted that the US provides valuable training, consultations and planning assistance to the Afghan military, as well as direct air and ground support against the terrorists.

February 16, 2018 Posted by | Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Leave a comment

US feels uneasy about inter-Korean amity

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | February 11, 2018

The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has upset all doomsday predictions that once the Winter Olympics Games are over, the tensions on the Korean peninsula would reappear. Kim’s invitation to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang can be regarded as a ‘game changer’. Moon has been non-committal, saying conditions need to be created first. The important thing is that Moon neither accepted Kim’s invitation nor declined. As a senior South Korean official put it, Moon has “practically accepted” the invitation. Thereby hangs a tale.

Left to himself Moon may want to visit Pyongyang. But a number of factors come into play. First and foremost, North Korea should refrain from missile tests, especially nuclear tests. Kim’s invitation to Moon implies that Pyongyang intends to hold back on missile and nuclear tests even after the Winter Games are over. On the contrary, if the joint US-South Korean military drills resume, all bets are off.

Therefore, Moon faces the daunting challenge of persuading the Trump administration to defer military drills. Now, that is not going to be easy. The US insists that North Korea should unilaterally suspend its missile and nuclear tests and does not accept any linkage with the US-South Korean military drills. Indeed, the sensible thing to do is to follow the suggestion by China and Russia on ‘double suspension’ – ie., US and South Korea suspending military drills and North Korea reciprocally suspending missile and nuclear tests.

China can be expected to play a major role here in bridge-building. Xinhua news agency reported that during the visit by Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi to Washington on February 8-9, he “exchanged ideas on the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula.” Yang was received by President Trump and he also had meetings with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Advisor HR McMaster and the president’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Xinhua cited Yang as calling for “global support for the inter-Korean rapport in a bid to maintain the tension-easing momentum on the peninsula.” Yang said Beijing hopes to keep “communication and coordination” with Washington with a view to seek a solution to the North Korean issue.

Significantly, Chinese president Xi Jinping also deputed a special envoy to meet Moon in the weekend. Accordingly, on Saturday Han Zheng, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, met Moon. (Moon received Han before hosting a lunch for the high-ranking North Korean delegation led by Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly on Saturday.) Xinhua reported Han as voicing support for the “conciliation and cooperation” between North and South Korea and expressing hope that “relevant parties would meet each other half way and make joint efforts to further ease tensions”

While things look hazy as of now and it is difficult to foresee how things may work out, the odds are that Moon will visit Pyongyang eventually. Put differently, South Korea may not be in a tearing hurry to resume the military drills with the US anytime soon. According to reports, Moon already had a testy exchange with the Japanese Prime Minister on the matter. They sparred, with Moon bluntly rejecting Abe’s call to resume the US-South Korean military drills without delay.

Meanwhile, the popular opinion in South Korea is visibly changing. It turned out to be a brilliant maneuver on the part of the North Korean leader to depute his younger sister Kim Yo Jong as part of the high-level delegation to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. She is the first member of the ruling family in Pyongyang to visit the South since the Korean War broke out in 1950, and South Koreans were enthralled. Clearly, North Korea’s participation in the Olympics has already broken the momentum of the US’ pressure campaign. Some sanctions against North Korea are already suspended temporarily until the Winter Olympics ends. The big question is whether the US’ pressure campaign can be resumed in the changed climate between the two Koreas.

Moon is walking on eggshells. Surely, he won’t want to miss the window of opportunity for a peace engagement with Kim. But then, it is far too risky to go to Pyongyang unconditionally. By going out on a limb, not only would Moon be angering the Trump administration, but the reality is that Kim has not given any signals so far that he is willing to discuss denuclearization. Equally, it could be that Kim is simply buying time for his country’s nuclear weapon program. Above all, US backing is vital for Moon to negotiate with Kim.

However, Washington is not exactly pleased about the recent improvement in inter-Korean ties. There are already signs of discord in the US-South Korean alliance. Read a dispatch by Associated PressPence’s bid to isolate North Korea at Olympics falls flat.

February 11, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | 4 Comments

The Middle East Quartet still includes the US, so can it still play a role in the peace process?

By Professor Kamel Hawwash | MEMO | February 9, 2018

Since US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the subsequent decision to cut American funding to UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah has announced formally and repeatedly that Washington cannot continue in its traditional role as the sole sponsor of the peace process. Speaking shortly after Trump’s announcement in December, Mahmoud Abbas said that the Palestinians have been engaged with the President’s advisors to achieve the “deal of the century” but “instead we got the slap of our times”. He concluded that, “The United States has chosen to lose its qualification as a mediator… We will no longer accept that it has a role in the political process.”

At that point, the PA President suggested that the UN should take over as mediator. However, since then, the PA has been searching for an alternative to the US sponsorship which has been based on bringing together a wider group of influential countries to oversee negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Israel has been silent on the matter, enjoying the complete US bias in its favour, whether from Trump’s advisors Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, the US Ambassador to Israel David Freidman or the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Hayley.

During his recent visit to Israel, US Vice President Mike Pence received a hero’s welcome as he committed to moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of 2019. The Palestinians refused to meet him. Trump saw this as an act of disrespect to Pence and the US, and threatened the PA with further cuts in American aid unless they returned to the negotiating table.

The next port of call for the Palestinians for a sponsor of the peace talks was the European Union. Abbas visited the EU headquarters in Brussels recently and held talks with Federica Mogherini, the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. If Abbas thought that the EU was ready to take a sole or significant role in the peace process, he was disappointed. Mogherini reiterated longstanding EU positions: “I want to, first of all, reassure President Abbas and his delegation of the firm commitment of the European Union to the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two states… based on the Oslo Accords and the international consensus embodied in the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”

Mogherini also reaffirmed the EU’s opposition to the “settlement activity that we consider illegal under international law.” She reminded Abbas that the EU has “already invested a great deal in the Palestinian state-building project” and vowed that EU financial support would continue, “Including to UNRWA.” She did not respond to Abbas’s call for the EU as a bloc to recognise the State of Palestine.

In a press conference a few days later, before an extraordinary meeting of the International Donor Group for Palestine at the EU headquarters, Mogherini told reporters that any framework for negotiations must involve “all partners”, sending a strong message that the US could not be excluded: “Nothing without the United States, nothing with the United States alone.”

This must have come as a blow to the Palestinian leadership, which had hoped that the Americans could be sidelined from the peace process.

There are few alternatives for the Palestinians to pursue. France’s attempts to secure a greater role in the peace process resulted in the Paris Conference which took place in much more favourable conditions at the end of the Obama Administration, but it tuned into a damp squib. The conference went ahead but little came out of it, and it has had no follow-up to speak of.

The Chinese, put forward their 4-point peace proposal last August:

  • Advancing the two-state solution based on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital of a new Palestinian state.
  • Upholding “the concept of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security,” immediately ending Israeli settlement building, taking immediate measures to prevent violence against civilians, and calling for an early resumption of peace talks.
  • Coordinating international efforts to put forward “peace-promoting measures that entail joint participation at an early date.”
  • Promoting peace through development and cooperation between the Palestinians and Israel.

While little has been heard of the proposal’s potential since last year, the Chinese stepped up their efforts to play a greater role in the peace process following Trump’s Jerusalem announcement. However, responding to a question about China’s possible future role at a regular press briefing on 21 December, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said: “China’s position on the Palestine issue is consistent. We support and actively promote the Middle East peace process. We support the just cause of the Palestinian people to regain their legitimate national rights… We are willing to continue offering constructive assistance to promote the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”

The Chinese hosted a symposium last December bringing together Palestinians and Israelis in a bid to break the impasse. The session culminated with the production of a non-binding position paper known as the “Beijing Initiative”, which Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Zionist Union MK Hilk Bar said in a closing statement was intended to prove that “it is possible and necessary to break the political deadlock and encourage the two leaderships to return to the negotiating table.” A leading member of the Palestinian delegation added: “We have to search for another approach to the peace process… It must include the superpowers and China, may be one of these parties who can play a major role.”

Attempts by Russia, another UN Security Council member to take a leading role in the peace process, go back many years but have not succeeded.

Palestinians have recently favoured an arrangement that mirrors the P5+1 which developed the Iran Nuclear Deal Agreement, which was concluded in 2015. The P5+1 refers to the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. A similar arrangement could still see the US involved but not monopolising the framework for negotiations.

A possible starting point here could be the Quartet, known formally as the Middle East Quartet, which consists of the US, Russia, the EU and the UN. It describes its mandate as “to help mediate Middle East peace negotiations and to support Palestinian economic development and institution-building in preparation for eventual statehood.”

On the face of it, the Quartet, with an upgrade of its senior team, could be the readymade answer to the Palestinian demand for a downgrading of the US role rather than Washington being excluded altogether. That may go some way towards meeting Israel’s insistence that the US has to be an important player in any future set of negotiations.

The Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at Brookings evaluated the Quartet’s performance in 2012 in its paper “The Middle East Quartet: A post-Mortem.” It concluded that, but for some early successes up to 2003, the Quartet has not provided any tangible benefits, except “ensuring American engagement in the peace process.”

The Palestinians could request that certain countries are added to the group to provide their role with some prominence. These could include Japan, Egypt and China, and perhaps Britain as it leaves the EU. In other words a Q4+ format could be developed, possibly under UN leadership.

The advantage of the above arrangement, which will be challenging to bring together, is that the basic structure already exists. It is likely that the Palestinians would agree to such a grouping, leaving the US and Israel almost certainly rejecting it. However, this would show Palestinian flexibility and confirm US and Israel rejectionism.

There is a need for an alternative framework for negotiations to resolve the conflict other than the 25 years of futile talks led by the Americans whose bias towards Israel is guaranteed and blatant. The longer the void left by the Palestinian rejection of a role for the US exists, the longer that the status quo will continue, allowing Israel to march ahead with its colonial project. A revamped Quartet plus-plus is well worth serious consideration.

February 9, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

China: Who’s a nuclear menace? Us or US?

Press TV – February 4, 2018

China has expressed firm opposition to a recent US government report describing Beijing as a potential nuclear rival, also calling on Washington to reduce its much larger nuclear arsenal and join in efforts to promote regional stability.

Casting China as “a major challenge to US interests in Asia,” the 74-page US Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) report said the US strategy for China was designed to prevent Beijing from mistakenly concluding that any use of nuclear weapons, however limited, was acceptable.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang condemned the US report on Sunday and said his country exercised utmost restraint in developing nuclear capabilities and kept its nuclear arsenal at the “minimum level” required for national security.

The official Xinhua news agency cited Ren as saying that Beijing would resolutely stick to the peaceful development of nuclear weapons and pursue a national defense policy that was defensive in nature. It also added that under no circumstances would China use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones.

The Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman called on the US — which possesses the world’s largest nuclear weapons arsenal — to conform to the irreversible world trend of peace and development rather than run in the opposite direction.

“We hope the US will abandon a Cold War mentality and earnestly shoulder its special and primary responsibility for its own nuclear disarmament, understand correctly China’s strategic intentions, and take a fair view on China’s national defense and military development,” Ren added.

China has the world’s fifth-largest nuclear arsenal, with 300 warheads, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The US and Russia each possess about 7,000 warheads, or about 20 times as many as Beijing.

Before he became US president, Donald Trump did a lot of China-bashing particularly in matters of trade; but since assuming office, Trump has taken a softer line on China and tried to cultivate a relationship with the Chinese leadership.

February 4, 2018 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , | 1 Comment

Russia to deploy warplanes on Kuriles

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | February 3, 2018

A one-line decree signed by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on 30th January merely assigned a dual civilian-military role to the newly operational airport on the island of Iturop in the disputed Kurile chain. But its strategic content is unmistakable – Moscow is taking a big step forward in the militarization of the Kuriles by deploying warplanes, drones and command systems at the facility. The airport has a 2.3 milometer runway and can handle giant aircraft.

The Iturop island is one of four seized by Soviet forces in the final days of World War Two and is located off the north-east coast of Hokkaido, Japan’s biggest prefecture. The dispute over the islands (known as the Kuriles in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan) has prevented the signing of a formal peace treaty between Russia and Japan to mark the end of the war.

Tokyo has lost no time to express concern over the Russian military deployment to Iturop. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, “We’ve conveyed through diplomatic channels that it goes against our country’s position. We’re gathering information on the Russian military’s behavior in the Northern Territories.”

Moscow’s decision can be seen in the context of the U.S.-built Aegis land-based missile defense system getting deployed in Japan. In December, Japanese government approved a record $46 billion defense budget and funds to survey potential sites for two Aegis ground interceptor batteries. A ship-based version of the Aegis system (made by Lockheed Martin) is already installed on Japanese warships. Japan is expected to deploy the Aegis Ashore system by 2023.

Moscow refused to accept the contention by Japan that the Aegis Ashore system is meant to defend against enemy missile attacks such as North Korean ballistic missiles. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on December 28,

  • The recent decision by the Japanese government to deploy US Aegis Ashore missile defence systems on its territory causes deep regret and serious concern. Whatever arguments and motives behind it, it is clear that the deployment of these systems is yet another step towards building a full-fledged Asian-Pacific regional segment of the global US missile defence system. It should be kept in mind that these systems are equipped with universal missile launchers capable of using strike weapons. In practice, it means another violation of the INF Treaty by the United States with Japan’s assistance.
  • We consider Japan’s step as going against the efforts to establish peace and stability in the region. In addition, these actions by Tokyo directly contradict the priority task of fostering trust between Russia and Japan in the military-political area and will affect the general atmosphere of bilateral relations, including talks on a peace treaty.

Last November, Russian President Vladimir Putin had publicly voiced the expectation that Japan should review its alliance with the US as a condition for a peace treaty. Medvedev’s decree on January 30 is a snub to Japan, coming ahead of a scheduled meeting between the deputy foreign ministers of the two countries to discuss cooperation on the disputed territory of Kuriles. Russia seems to have given up hope since then that Japan can be encouraged to pursue independent foreign policies.

Meanwhile, the growing tensions over North Korea, the US military build-up in the Far East and the New Cold War between the US and Russia become added compulsions for Moscow to strengthen its defence lines in the Sakhalin Oblast. By the way, Moscow is also working on plans to create a new naval base in the region for submarines.

Clearly, under these circumstances, a Russo-Japanese peace treaty becomes an even more remote prospect. The ‘charm diplomacy’ by Japanese PM Shinzo Abe is not getting anywhere; Russia is not a pushover, as he’d have thought. This has serious implications for the power dynamic in East Asia in the near term, putting Japan at a disadvantage in the Russia-China-Japan triangular diplomacy.

February 3, 2018 Posted by | Militarism | , , , | 1 Comment

China Builds Military Base in Afghanistan

By Peter KORZUN | Strategic Culture Foundation | 30.01.2018

The Afghan province of Badakhshan borders China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. It used to be part of an artery between the East and West known as the ancient Silk Road. Today, that road is being revived as an element of China’s “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative, which has prompted major infrastructure construction in Afghanistan and Central Asia, designed to fuel Beijing’s interest in the province.

Afghanistan is home to significant deposits of raw materials that China could import. Beijing is investing $55 billion in neighboring Pakistan and plans to construct an economic corridor stretching to the Arabian Sea. OBOR will energize the global economy and benefit Afghanistan as well. China is Afghanistan’s largest trading partner and investor. Stability in Afghanistan is in China’s interest, but there is little hope the United States can provide it. After all, Washington has not achieved any substantial gains since 2001. There have been surges and drawdowns, changes of tactics and strategy, and many treatises on how to turn the tide of the war, but the Taliban is strong and the Afghan economy is in shambles – drug trafficking is the only type of business to thrive there. So far the Trump administration has not presented its long-awaited strategy outlining its Afghanistan policy, despite the fact that there are at least 8,400 American troops in the country. And their number will soon be growing. Relationships between the US and other relevant actors, such as Pakistan, are a mess. Washington recently suspended military aid to that country.

The instability in Afghanistan threatens the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – an important element of OBOR. China is acting as a mediator, trying to reconcile the differences between the regional actors. Afghan-Pakistani relations deteriorated in 2017 when they each accused the other of rendering support to the jihadists operating in the border areas. Beijing is working hard to improve those bilateral ties. It set up three-way meeting between all the foreign ministers in 2017. One result of the talks was the creation of working panels to promote cooperation in various spheres of activity. Another meeting is expected to take place this year in Kabul.

The East Turkistan Islamic Movement, an Uighur nationalist and Islamic movement from China’s Xinjiang region, is active in Afghanistan. The militants gain combat experience fighting side-by-side with the Taliban and other militant groups. Beijing does not want those seasoned warriors to come back and engage in terrorist activities on its home soil.

Russia and China have stepped up their military aid to the Central Asian states. They believe that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) can substantially contribute to achieving a peaceful settlement. Both are trying to build a network of regional states. Moscow and Beijing are motivated by their national interests. Mindful of their responsibilities as major powers, they are working together to promote security in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

All told, China might feel that its interests in the area are strong enough to justify a military engagement outside its borders. Afghan government officials have reported that China is planning to build a military base in Badakhshan. Discussions over the technicalities are to start soon. The weapons and equipment will be Chinese, but the facility will be manned by Afghan personnel. Vehicles and hardware will be brought in through Tajikistan. No doubt Chinese military instructors and other personnel will also come to conduct training and assist missions. The vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, Xu Qiliangclaims that the construction is expected to be complete in 2018.

After some powerful offensives in 2017, the Taliban temporarily captured the Ishkashim and Zebak districts of Badakhshan. The Afghan government failed to provide a military presence that was substantial enough to ensure security. An agreement with the local field commanders had been in place, giving them a share of the lapis lazuli production there, in exchange for a cessation of hostilities. But internal bickering undermined the fragile peace between the local groups, and the Taliban seized the opportunity to intervene. The Islamic State’s presence in the province is a matter of particular concern. It makes border security an issue of paramount importance for Beijing.

The question is: how far is China prepared to go? Until now, it has limited its military activities to special-operations teams patrolling the Wakhan Corridor. A military base in Badakhshan would be an important move demonstrating that Beijing is ready to expand its presence in the country and provide an alternative to the United States. China has a trump card the US lacks – its good relations with Russia and Pakistan. Beijing represents the SCO, a large international organization that includes actors such as Turkey, Iran, India, Pakistan, and the countries of Central Asia. Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin took the initiative to restart the work of the SCO Afghanistan Contact Group. Those activities had been suspended in 2009. Russia advocates opening up direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban as soon as possible. Beijing also supports the idea. The two nations are in the same boat. Moscow has said it is ready to host a conference on Afghanistan.

The SCO can make the peace process a real, multilateral effort. It will weaken US clout in the region, but strengthen the chances for finding a settlement to the conflict. Cooperation and diplomacy might open a new chapter in the history of Afghanistan.

January 30, 2018 Posted by | Economics, Illegal Occupation | , | 1 Comment

China to Build Second Foreign Naval Base, This Time in Pakistan

Sputnik – 05.01.2018

China is planning to build its second foreign naval base in Pakistan following the ribbon cutting ceremony for its first overseas base in Djibouti last July.

Sources close to the People’s Liberation Army have confirmed to the South China Morning Post that a Chinese naval port is being built at a strategic location on Pakistan’s southern coast.

“China needs to set up another base in Gwadar for its warships because Gwadar is now a civilian port,” Zhou Chenming, a Chinese military analyst, told the South China Morning Post on Friday. “Gwadar port can’t provide specific services for warships,” Zhou said; hence the need for a new base.

Gwadar is less than 50 miles east of the Pakistan-Iran border and sits in Balochistan Province, where fiercely independent Baloch nationalists have waged guerrilla wars against both the Pakistani and Iranian governments. “Public order there is a mess,” Zhou said.

“China and Pakistan have found common ground in terms of maritime interest in the region,” Pakistani analyst Sheikh Fahad says. “Gwadar port can be used for joint naval patrols in the Indian Ocean, further increasing the naval outreach of China and Pakistan in the region. Gwadar port will increase the countries’ naval movements and further expand defense cooperation, especially in the naval field,” Fahad noted.

In mid-December, Lawrence Sellin, a retired US Army Reserve colonel, reported for the Daily Caller that high-ranking Chinese and Pakistani officials had met in Beijing to discuss future projects.

Last June, a Pakistani diplomat said China’s help was needed as an “equalizer,” pointing to the naval base as all-but-inevitable. “Previously it was the US and Saudi Arabia… Now it’s China,” the diplomat told NBC. A Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman later dismissed the report as “pure guesswork,” but now it seems the port will, in fact, be built.

Experts have noted that India is keeping a close eye on the development of China-Pakistan relations. “China finds it very useful to use Pakistan against India and ignore India’s concerns, particularly on terrorism issues. That has created a lot of stress in the relationship between Beijing and Delhi,” Rajeev Ranan Chaturvedy, a researcher at the National University of Singapore, told SCMP.

But “Indian naval capabilities and experience in the Indian Ocean region are fairly good — much better than Pakistan and China,” Chaturvedy said.

January 5, 2018 Posted by | Militarism | , | 8 Comments