The civil war in Washington between President Donald Trump and his detractors shows no signs of abating. Every day becomes a fresh start in the fighting. The latest salvo has been Monday’s hearing at the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee where the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation James Comey acknowledged the existence of an on-going investigation by his agency over suspected Russian interference in the US presidential election with hacking to help the then Republican candidate Trump win the White House.
True, no smoking gun was produced by Comey, but his testimony implied that investigations are continuing. We may expect that many more such hearings are in the pipeline. A “big grey cloud” has appeared out of nowhere, as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes put it. The cloud will lift only if the various inquiries going on conclusively absolve Trump or, alternatively, if Trump leaves office, whichever comes first.
Such inquiries have a way of mutating, while moving ponderously, slowly in the cesspit tank. Comey admitted that it is difficult for him “to give you a timetable as to when it will be done.” Then, there is also a sub-plot – Comey himself is under investigation by the US Justice Department.
The next big day will be March 28 when two colorful personalities in the US intelligence system during the Obama administration – the ex-director of national intelligence James Clapper and the ex-CIA director John Brennan – will appear before the House panel. Both were instrumental in the January assessment that the Russians had interfered in the US presidential election in an attempt to benefit Trump. Clapper has a proven record of lying under oath, while Brennan is Barack Obama’s poodle. Trust both to resort to innuendos against Trump and mates, hitting them in the loins where it hurts. (Watch it “live”.)
To my mind, this is about the appropriate time to begin pondering about a world sans America. That is to say, an international system where America has taken “time out”. Is it a good thing to happen? Well, it is already having some salutary effect on the international climate. The global tensions have noticeably eased. If it was commonplace during the Obama era to discuss a potential war between Russia and the US, including a nuclear war, no one wastes breath over such things anymore.
A good case can be made that if the American civil war continues to be fought as savagely by the country’s elites as it has been so far, and if the fratricidal strife continues for another 4 or 8 years — ideally, through the entire Trump presidency — it will be a great boon for the world community. Never again will Americans be able to be preachy that the world cannot do without them. And the ruling elites in countries such as India will also get accustomed to a life without America.
Clearly, America’s “exceptionalism” is getting exposed as total sham. Second, the longer the civil war continues, the less possibility there is for US military interventions abroad. Quite obviously, we saw last week that China could prevail upon the US to be “cool-headed” and not to go to war with North Korea. It seems to me that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared relieved to agree with the Chinese that there is no option but to continue on the diplomatic track vis-à-vis the North Korea problem.
Again, some degree of predictability is appearing in the US-China relationship, since the last thing Trump wants now is a conflict with China. For us Asians also, it is singularly gratifying that there isn’t going to be a war in the region. This is what the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said earlier today at a media briefing in Beijing:
- During Secretary of State Tillerson’s stay in China, the two sides arrived at a clear consensus on ensuring a sound development of China-US relations at a new starting point in the spirit of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation. It should not be interpreted as a victory for any party. It is just the right way for China and the United States, two major countries, to get along with each other. Non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation summarizes the reason for the steady growth of China-US ties in recent years and is worth carrying forward and being further developed. We would like to enhance communication, mutual understanding and mutual trust with the US so as to properly handle differences, expand bilateral, regional, and international cooperation, and elevate China-US relations to a greater height at a new starting point.
The comfort level in Beijing is palpably rising. Finally, there are some other good signs, too, which are not visible to the naked eye but are no less important. In the civil war conditions in America, with so much dust and noise in the air in Washington, and such poor visibility all around, Trump is quietly able to do a few things on the side, which he had promised to do.
A good friend of mine who watches Syria and Iraq through binoculars 24 x 7, wrote to me a couple of days ago that Trump is doing some incredible things out there in the neighborhood where she lives. Let me succinctly paraphrase her assessment:
- Trump has in fact prioritized the fight against terrorism. He is doing this quietly… The CIA has completely turned off the arms spigot to rebels in Syria and the US is bombing Al Qaeda and its allied groups now – something that Obama avoided (and tried to stop Russia/Syria/Iran from doing.) Equally, Trump is bombing the Al-Qaeda in Yemen too. And in Iraq, Trump is standing by while the Iran-trained Hashd ash-Shabi is annihilating ISIS in western Mosul and cutting off their route to Syria. Obama, on the contrary, had refused to let the Hashd fight in many of these battles. Trump now has not only given the go-ahead, but we have now seen the Iraqi Air Force participate in anti-ISIS bombing raids into Syria. Simply put, if the Obama administration’s policies only had led to the rise of the ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria, Trump is actually fighting them and, importantly, he is allowing US’ regional foes – Iran and Iran-supported militia groups, in particular – to fight them unimpeded.
Meanwhile, Tillerson is likely to visit Moscow on April 12. As the saying goes, dogs bark but the caravan moves on. The world community cannot possibly ask for more.
Indeed, there will always be disgruntled elements – Brits and Germans, for example. But that is perfectly understandable. They realise that Trump regards them as a lower form of life – worse than leeches or bed bugs. They dearly want Trump to lose in the civil war, and lose very quickly. Without America to lead, they are afraid they might lose their gravitas in world politics. For us, Asians, that is not a bad prospect, either. Hopefully, the curtain is coming down on the “West”, as we knew it in modern history.
© Sputnik/ Ramil Sitdikov
The Kremlin could one day regret any US detachment from the South China Sea, American geopolitical analyst Tim Daiss insists. Are Washington’s efforts truly aimed at maintaining the freedom of navigation in the region or is it part of Obama’s plan to write the rules and call the shots in the Asia Pacific region?
Russia’s opposition to internationalizing the South China Sea dispute and the US deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea has promted deep concerns among American geopolitical analysts.
Moscow’s support for Beijing has put the US plan to pressure China into making concessions on the maritime dispute in the South China Sea at risk. On the other hand, India’s decision to side with China on the issue has caught Western observers by surprise.
“China and Russia have agreed on the need to limit US influence in the Asia Pacific Region. On Friday, following bilateral talks in Beijing Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi expressed opposition to the US deployment of an anti-missile system in South Korea and also said that non-claimants should not take sides in the dispute over maritime territorial claims in the South China Sea,” American geopolitical analyst Tim Daiss wrote in his Op-Ed for Forbes.
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has repeatedly stated that the South China Sea dispute should be resolved by the parties directly concerned, while outside powers should refrain from interfering.
A joint communiqué of the 14th Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Russian Federation, the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of China singed on April 18, 2016, reads:
“Russia, India and China are committed to maintaining a legal order for the seas and oceans based on the principles of international law, as reflected notably in the UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS). All related disputes should be addressed through negotiations and agreements between the parties concerned. In this regard the Ministers called for full respect of all provisions of UNCLOS, as well as the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the Guidelines for the implementation of the DOC.”
South China Sea claims map (© Photo: Wikipedia/Voice of America)
The statement coincided with reports that Beijing is seeking Moscow’s support over the South China Sea court battle with the Philippines in the Hague.
Nearly three years ago, the Philippines, backed by America, filed a lawsuit against China in the Hague International Tribunal Court. In October 2015 the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague confirmed that it would hold a hearing on the matter. The hearing is expected to take place in May or June 2016.
“China is lobbying Russia for support in opposing international court proceedings launched by the Philippines over the disputed South China Sea,” South China Morning Post reported April 20.
Beijing has reason to believe that Moscow can provide it with juridical assistance to solve the problem, Alexander Shpunt of Russia’s Regnum media outlet suggested.
Shpunt called attention to the fact that on April 20 Moscow won the Yukos case in the District Court in the Hague; a Dutch court overturned an award of $50 billion to former shareholders of the now defunct Yukos oil company that Russia had been ordered to pay by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2014.
The journalist continued that Lavrov’s notion about “outside parties” in the South China Sea dispute is a direct reference to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague that will soon hold hearing on the Philippines’ complaint against China.
This is the issue of utmost importance for Beijing that Moscow has outplayed the Permanent Court of Arbitration, Shpunt emphasized.
However, according to Daiss, Beijing is the major troublemaker in the region that plans to outwit its “much smaller Asian neighbors.”
“Who knows what the future holds geopoliticaly?” he wrote, adding that “the Kremlin could one day regret any US detachment from the South China Sea.”
Like many other Western observers Daiss remained silent about the fact that China’s Asian neighbors are also involved in controversial building activities in the South China Sea region, while, for example, Taiwan’s constructions in the Spratlys are located outside any claimed Taiwanese exclusive economic zone.”Of the six countries claiming an interest in the Spratlys, only Brunei has failed to construct structures, mostly on stilts, on more than 40 of these islets and reefs. Yet the western media again focuses exclusively on [China’s] ‘aggressive’ reclamation and building activities,” Australian lawyer James O’Neill wrote in his article for New Eastern Outlook.
What lies at the root of this double-standard approach? And is Washington really “trying to keep the sea lanes open in the name of freedom of navigation for any and all countries” as Daiss claims?
Apparently, US President Barack Obama’s latest Op-Ed in the Washington Post could shed some light on the matter.
“Today, some of our greatest economic opportunities abroad are in the Asia-Pacific region, which is on its way to becoming the most populous and lucrative market on the planet,” Obama wrote.
“Of course, China’s greatest economic opportunities also lie in its own neighborhood, which is why China is not wasting any time,” he noted referring to Beijing’s New Silk Road initiative.
“Instead, America should write the rules. America should call the shots. Other countries should play by the rules that America and our partners set, and not the other way around,” Obama stressed.
Given this, it becomes clear that what Washington is truly interested in is not the freedom of navigation “for any and all countries,” but its dominance in the region.
There has been a concerted campaign to depict the South China Sea as an indispensable artery for commercial shipping and, therefore, a justifiable object of US attention and meddling.
This flagship of this effort is invoking the “$5 trillion dollars” worth of goods that pass through the SCS each year. Reuters, in particular, is addicted to this formula.
Here’s seven Reuters news stories within the last month containing the $5 trillion figure:
What interests me is that these seven articles reflect the work of six reporters and seven editors (seven to six! Glad to see Reuters has a handle on the key ratios!) in five bureaus and they all include the same stock phrase. How’s that work? Does headquarters issue a ukaz that all articles about the South China Sea must include the magic $5 trillion phrase? Does the copyediting program flag every reference to the South China Sea omitting the figure? Or did the reportorial hive mind linking Beijing, Manila, Hanoi, Hong Kong, and Sydney spontaneously and unanimously decided that “$5 trillion” is an indispensable accessory for South China Sea reporting?
I guess it’s understandable. A more accurate characterization of the South China Sea as “a useful but not indispensable waterway for world shipping whose commercial importance, when properly exaggerated, provides a pretext for the United States to meddle in Southeast Asian affairs at the PRC’s expense” is excessively verbose and fails to convey a sense of urgency.
The kicker, of course, is that the lion’s share of the $5 trillion is China trade, and most of the balance passes through the South China Sea by choice and not by necessity. … Full article
BEIJING – China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) has signed two production sharing contracts with Chevron China Energy Company for two blocks in the South China Sea, a statement said.
CNOOC Limited, a subsidiary of CNOOC — the country’s largest offshore oil and gas producer, said in the online statement late Wednesday that the two blocks, Block 15/10 and Block 15/28, are located in the Pearl River Mouth Basin in the east part of the South China Sea.
According to the terms of the contracts, Chevron will conduct 3D seismic data surveys in the two blocks during the exploration period, in which all expenditures incurred will be borne by Chevron.
CNOOC is allowed to take up to 51 percent of interest in any commercial discoveries in the blocks, the statement said.
“We are very pleased to become a partner with Chevron again and hope this project achieves commercial discoveries soon to create economic returns for both companies,” said Zhu Weilin, executive vice president of CNOOC Limited.
- CNOOC signs Sunshine Oil Sands deal (business.financialpost.com)