Source: Malaysia Releases Crew of Chinese Boats it Detained for Trespassing

Malaysian authorities have released all crew members of six Chinese-flagged fishing boats whom it had detained for allegedly trespassing in its territorial waters off southern Johor state earlier this month, a senior Malaysian security source told BenarNews on Thursday. The six boats and 60 crew were intercepted in territorial waters off Tanjung Setapa, on Johor’s southeastern coast on Oct. 9, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) said at the time. Three days after the vessels and crew were detained, China asked Malaysia to carry out a fair investigation in accordance with the law. “All the Chinese fishermen have been released last week. Because this issue is related to diplomatic relations, it cannot be revealed to the public. We will not be issuing any statement,” the security source told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, on Thursday. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because they had not been authorized to speak to media on the matter. However, it was not immediately clear whether Malaysian authorities had also released any of the Chinese fishing boats. The source did not respond to further questions. The MMEA had said in a statement after detaining the boats that the crew would be investigated under Malaysia’s Fisheries Act 1985 and the Merchant Shipping Ordinance (OPS) 1952. The former governs foreign fishing vessels entering Malaysian waters without notice and the latter penalizes for anchoring without approval. If found guilty, the crew members would have each faced two years of jail time. Additionally, each vessel’s captain would have had to pay a maximum fine of 6 million ringgit (U.S. $1.45 million), and each crew member would have had to pony up 600,000 ringgit. The source declined to comment on whether the crew was investigated and fined. Officials at the MMEA, the Chinese embassy in Kuala Lumpur and the Malaysian foreign ministry also declined to comment when BenarNews contacted them on Thursday. Malaysian maritime authorities are very serious in ensuring that country’s waters are always protected, and will not compromise with any party that violates the law, MMEA regional director Mohd. Zulfadli Nayan said in a statement after the six boats were detained. Just days after Malaysia detained the six Chinese vessels, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi arrived in Kuala Lumpur on a tour of five Southeast Asian nations last week. In a joint press statement, Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and Wang “underscored the importance of maintaining peace, security and stability, as well as freedom of navigation and overflight above the South China Sea.” But the two foreign ministers did not tell reporters whether they had discussed the fate of the detained Chinese fishing boats. Competing claims This latest incursion of Chinese boats into Malaysian waters came a little more than two months after Malaysia said it had rejected China’s “nine dash line” that roughly demarcates its claims to most of the South China Sea. Its statement was a response to China protesting Malaysia’s initial claim last December, in a submission to the United Nations, to an extended continental shelf in the South China Sea. In July, Malaysia’s Auditor-General said Chinese coastguard and navy ships intruded into Malaysian waters in the disputed waterway 89 times between 2016 and 2019. These Chinese ships often stayed in the area despite the Malaysian navy telling them to leave, the Malaysian government said. Six other Asian governments have territorial claims or maritime boundaries in the South China Sea that overlap with the sweeping claims of China. They are Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. While Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of that sea overlapping Indonesia's exclusive economic zone. Malaysia has rebuffed both Chinese and U.S. activity in the South China Sea this year. It rejected China’s “Nine-Dash Line” in July, but also expressed displeasure when the U.S. Navy sent warships near where Chinese vessels were harassing a Malaysian oil exploration effort in April. At that time, Foreign Minister Hishammuddin signaled in a statement that such deployments could increase tensions and lead to destabilizing “miscalculations.” In August, as both China and the U.S. were lobbying Southeast Asian nations, including Malaysia, for support, Hishammuddin said on his social media accounts that matters relating to the South China Sea must be settled by following international law, including the United Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. China rejects the application of UNCLOS to the South China Sea and has never accepted a 2016 international tribunal’s verdict denying most of its claims in the South China Sea. Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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Virtual Fundraiser Collects $600M in Pledges to Aid Rohingya in Bangladesh, Myanmar

An international conference on Thursday to raise funds urgently needed for supporting Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and those displaced inside Myanmar received about U.S. $600 million in pledges led by donations from the United States and the United Kingdom, according to organizers. The one-day virtual meeting helped the United Nations exceed its goal for 2020 of raising at least $1 billion among members of the international community to sustain humanitarian services for Rohingya refugees and other members of the stateless community, officials said. American officials promised $200 million and British officials another $61.2 million during the “Sustaining Support for the Rohingya Refugee Response” conference, which was hosted by the two nations along with the European Union and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The EU pledged 96 million euros ($113 million). “The international community has demonstrated its strong commitment to the humanitarian response with the announcement of funding today totaling some $600 million,” the co-hosts said in a joint statement posted on the UNHCR website. The pledges made on Thursday “significantly expands the nearly $636 million in humanitarian assistance already committed so far in 2020 under the Bangladesh Joint Response Plan and the Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan,” they said. Other donations included $100,000 from the Philippines, $2.4 million from Finland and $591,000 from France. Organizers said the conference was needed because pledges had fallen well short of the $1 billion requested by the U.N. for this year. Announcing the U.S. donation, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo acknowledged Bangladesh’s efforts to host about 1 million Rohingya in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district, including 740,000 who escaped from Myanmar’s Rakhine state following a military crackdown in August 2017. Pompeo said his government would continue to “advocate for a sustainable solution that creates the conditions for the voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees.” In November 2017, leaders from Bangladesh and Myanmar had agreed to repatriate the Rohingya to their homes in Rakhine state on a voluntary basis but all efforts since then have failed. “More broadly, we continue to partner with the people of Burma, including members of other ethnic and religious minority groups, in their efforts to work toward peace and prosperity,” Pompeo said, referring to Myanmar by its old name. Thanks, concerns In Bangladesh, government officials expressed mixed views about the new financial pledges for humanitarian assistance, with some saying that having to keep hosting such a large refugee population from Myanmar was a heavy load to sustain. Addressing the virtual conference, Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s state minister for foreign affairs, praised Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for saving the lives of Rohingya by opening the border and allowing them to settle in the Cox’s Bazar camps. “On the part of a small country like Bangladesh with a large population and limited resources, it was indeed a huge humanitarian gesture and a daunting task that no second country was willing to shoulder,” he said. In delivering a series of bullet points, Alam said the burden of hosting the Rohingya was becoming untenable, the Rohingya wanted to return home and the lack of repatriation progress had led to widespread frustration among the refugees. “While we appreciate the humanitarian assistance of the international community, we also call upon them to engage with Myanmar in a meaningful way to ensure the creation of a conducive environment in the Rakhine,” he said. Dil Mohammad, a Rohingya leader living in the no-man’s land area in Bandarban district, which borders Myanmar, praised Bangladesh efforts to support the refugees. “We are extremely grateful to them for their support, but this is a reality that Bangladesh cannot feed and support a huge population without the support from the international community,” he told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, noting that international support had enabled the refugees to have three meals a day. “Without the support from donors, we will starve. Hopefully, the international community and Bangladesh will continue supporting us,” he said. Md Delwar Hossain, director-general of the Myanmar office at Bangladesh’s foreign ministry, noted that the funds raised would be spent for Rohingya. “The international support for the host community in Ukhia and Teknaf is very little. The support they get is too little against the losses they faced for hosting the Rohingya,” he told BenarNews, referring to two sub-districts of Cox’s Bazar. “In addition to the loss of livelihood, the host community suffered huge losses because of the Rohingya – their land was occupied, roads were damaged, and trees were cut. Many of the losses are irreparable,” Hossain said. “The Rohingya arrival has resulted in massive environmental damages which are almost impossible to recoup.” Hossain, like other officials, said his goal was to help the Rohingya return home. “We want the international community to play their role to make Myanmar agree to take their people back,” he said. Meanwhile, Hamidul Haque Chowdhury, the Ukhia sub-district chairman, said the host community needed assistance as well. “The local people have been suffering more than the Rohingya, so the international community should extend a hand to the host community and listen to their grievances,” Chowdhury told BenarNews. Myanmar voices In Myanmar, Aye Lwin, a Muslim community leader and former Kofi Annan Commission member, told RFA's Myanmar Service that the Rohingya issue did not affect just one country. “The side effects of this issue will spills into surrounding countries. Because they are refugees who are in urgent need, the countries in the region should also contribute to their assistance,” he said. According to Min Lwin Oo, a human rights attorney, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated problems for delivering aid to Rohingya because many countries now face economic hardships. “I think it would be very challenging to fulfill $1 billion needed for the refugees. Only if these funds will be used for health care, education and vocational trainings will the conditions of these refugees improve,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. Myanmar government and military officials did not immediately respond to RFA requests for comment. Before Thursday’s meeting, New York-based Human Rights Watch sent a letter to conference hosts calling on them to insist that Bangladesh and Myanmar officials ensure that Rohingya children are able to go to school. “This entire generation of Rohingya children is being deprived of education and there is no end in sight to the status quo of gross discrimination in both Myanmar and Bangladesh,” said Bill Van Esveld, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Donor governments should demand a paradigm shift to fulfill this basic human right of quality education, with the full involvement of the Rohingya community.” An injured Rohingya boy sits outside the Malaysian Field Hospital in Cox's Bazar after being treated there, Jan. 27, 2018. Credit: BenarNews Medical concerns Also on Thursday, the U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights issued a report after interviewing 26 health workers that documents allegations of widespread sexual violence against Rohingya by Myanmar security forces during the 2017 crackdown. Those interviewed reported that their Rohingya patients had recounted gang rape, sexual humiliation and sexual and gender-based violence accompanied by other violent acts, such as beatings, shooting and killing of family members, the group said. It called for those responsible to be prosecuted to the full extent of international law. “Health workers’ testimonies of the behavioral and mental health status of Rohingya survivors tell us that these egregious acts of violence had a deep and long-lasting impact on survivors, significantly traumatizing them even years after the initial event,” said Ranit Mishori, the group’s senior medical advisor in a news release accompanying the report. One day earlier, the Malaysian government announced that it had decided to permanently close its field hospital in Cox’s Bazar after having temporarily shut it in March, when Bangladesh was hit by the coronavirus outbreak. The hospital opened to fanfare in November 2017 and was to remain open until December 2021. Officials at the time said it was the only field hospital capable of providing Level 3 services including general surgery, orthopedics, obstetrics and gynecology and x-ray services. Malaysian officials noted that six other field hospitals had opened in the Rohingya camps. Before closing, the Malaysian hospital had treated more than 108,000 patients and doctors performed more than 3,500 surgeries, according to government officials. They noted that the number of patients dropped from a one-month high of 8,763 in November 2018 to 1,690 the month before it closed. “Throughout the (Malaysian Field Hospital)’s period of operation, the medical personnel were often exposed to health and safety risks, such as the spread of COVID-19 and the threat of other infectious diseases such as hepatitis, malaria, and tuberculosis as well as the increase in criminal cases among Rohingya refugees and locals,” the Malaysian Defense Ministry said in a news release on Wednesday. Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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Goldman Sachs reaches $2.9bn deal to settle US-led 1MDB inquiry

Goldman Sachs has agreed to pay $2.9bn (£2.2bn) to settle a US-led investigation into its role in the 1MDB corruption scandal. The settlement is expected to draw a line under a years-long saga that has cast a shadow over one of the most recognisable names on Wall Street. Goldman Sachs’ Malaysia division also agreed to plead guilty to violating foreign bribery laws linked to the alleged looting of the country’s sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB. The settlement, which covers criminal fines, penalties and disgorgement, was part of a coordinated agreement between the bank and the US Department of Justice (DoJ) along with regulators in the US, UK, Singapore and Hong Kong. Goldman Sachs allegedly failed to act while an estimated $4.5bn was siphoned from the state-owned fund. The bank has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the DoJ and is not subject to a criminal conviction. Goldman Sachs underwrote and arranged bond sales for the fund totalling $6.5bn and earned $600m in fees for helping raise the cash, according to the DoJ. The fraud was said to have involved Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak, the Malaysian financier Jho Low and his associates. The funds were allegedly used to buy items ranging from yachts to artwork and to fund the production of Hollywood films including The Wolf of Wall Street. In July Goldman agreed to pay $3.9bn to Malaysia over its alleged role in the scandal. “As the bank admitted today, senior Goldman bankers played a central role in this scheme, conspiring with others to siphon over $2.7bn from 1MDB,” the DoJ said. “They used those funds to line their own pockets and to pay $1.6bn in bribes. In addition to the involvement of several Goldman executives, other personnel at the bank allowed this scheme to proceed by overlooking or ignoring clear red flags.” Goldman Sachs’ chairman and chief executive, David Solomon, said on Thursday that the bank was “pleased to be putting these matters behind us”. He said: “We have to acknowledge where our firm fell short. While many good people worked on these transactions and tried to do the right thing, we recognise that we did not adequately address red flags and scrutinise the representations of certain members of the deal team, most notably Tim Leissner, and the outside parties as effectively as we should have.” Leissner, a former partner at Goldman Sachs in Asia, pleaded guilty in the US in August 2018 to conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and agreed to forfeit $43.7m.

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Goldman Sachs Subsidiary Pleads to US Charges in 1MDB Probe

WASHINGTON—A subsidiary of Goldman Sachs pleaded guilty on Thursday and agreed to pay more than $2.9 billion in a foreign corruption probe tied to the Malaysian 1MDB sovereign wealth fund, which was looted of billions of dollars in a corruption scandal. In addition, several current and former top executives at Goldman will have to return millions of dollars in pay and bonuses to the company, a financial penalty for those in charge when the scandal unfolded. Goldman Sachs Malaysia entered the plea in federal court in Brooklyn. As part of its plea, the company admitted that it “knowingly and willfully” conspired to violate U.S. anti-bribery laws. The $2.9 billion includes payments to U.S. and overseas regulators. The penalties also include roughly $600 million in profits Goldman made off the 1MDB scandal that it will have to disgorge. Goldman had previously reached a $3.9 billion settlement with the government of Malaysia. Goldman Sachs’ board of directors decided to claw back pay and bonuses from top executives, including current CEO David Solomon and former CEO Lloyd Blankfein. The firm is in talks with additional executives to return part of their pay to the company over their role in the scheme. In total, more than $174 million in pay and bonuses are being returned to the company, the board said. “The Board views the 1MDB matter as an institutional failure, inconsistent with the high expectations it has for the firm,” Goldman’s board said in a separate statement. Malaysian and U.S. prosecutors had alleged that bond sales organized by Goldman Sachs provided one of the means for associates of former Prime Minister Najib Razak to steal billions over several years from a fund that was ostensibly set up to accelerate Malaysia’s economic development. “Goldman Sachs participated in a sweeping international corruption scheme, conspiring to avail itself of more than $1.6 billion in bribes to multiple high-level government officials across several countries so that the company could reap hundreds of millions of dollars in fees, all to the detriment of the people of Malaysia and the reputation of American financial institutions operating abroad,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme of the Eastern District of New York, in prepared remarks. In court on Thursday, Goldman Sachs’ general counsel, Karen Seymour, said that agents and employees of Goldman Sachs Malaysia had violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by “corruptly promising and paying bribes to foreign officials in order to obtain and retain business for Goldman Sachs.” The fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, was set up in 2009 by Najib to promote economic development. It relied primarily on debt to fund investment and economic development projects and was overseen by senior Malaysian government officials, according to court records. Najib set up 1MDB when he took office in 2009, but it accumulated billions in debts, and U.S. investigators allege at least $4.5 billion was stolen from the fund and laundered by his associates. Public anger over the corruption allegations contributed to the shocking election defeat of Najib’s long-ruling coalition in May 2018. Two Goldman Sachs executives have also been personally charged for fraud. Tim Leissner, who was the chairman of Goldman’s Southeast Asia division, pleaded guilty to money laundering and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Another Goldman executive, Ng Chong Hwa also known as “Roger Ng,” will stand trial for money laundering and violating the FCPA in March 2021. “While it is abundantly clear that certain former employees broke the law, lied to our colleagues and circumvented firm controls, this fact does not relieve me or anyone else at the firm of our responsibility to recognize two critical realities,” Solomon said in a statement. The Department of Justice brought similar charges against Low Taek Jho, a Malaysian national with close relations to the then Malaysian ruling party who was the central player in the 1MDB fund. Low lived a lavish lifestyle in New York, buying luxury goods, and even a yacht. Jho’s whereabouts are unknown, although he’s believed to be somewhere in China and out of the reach of international authorities. By Michael Balsamo and Ken Sweet 

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Malaysian Islamic Party Politician Claims OnlyFans Follow Was for 'Fitness'

A Malaysian politician from the country’s hardline Islamic Party defended his decision to follow OnlyFans on Twitter this week, claiming he did so to follow a male fitness trainer who he admires. Followers of Hezry Yasin, a leader within the Islamist party’s youth wing, noticed that he had begun following OnlyFans’s official Twitter account. The platform is widely known for its

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Japan and Vietnam Agree on Defense Export Pact, Discuss South China Sea

Japan has agreed in principle to supply Vietnam with military equipment, in a significant deepening of security cooperation between a key U.S. ally and a South China Sea claimant as their leaders met Monday. Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc welcomed his Japanese counterpart Yoshihide Suga, who was making his first overseas trip since taking office last month -- a sign that Suga’s administration is prioritizing Southeast Asia. "The fact both sides basically agreed on the transfer of defense equipment and technologies is a major development step in cooperation,” Suga was quoted as saying by state-run VN Express after the two leaders held talks in Hanoi. “I believe defense and security cooperation between the two countries will continue to grow." While the defense export agreement has yet to be signed, it points the way for Japan to sell military equipment and technology to Vietnam. Until now, Japanese security assistance has been to civilian agencies like the Vietnamese coastguard, not its military. Japan, which has a pacifist constitution, has only just completed its first-ever foreign military sale of defense equipment. That was to another South China Sea claimant, the Philippines, in late-August, selling that country a mix of long-range and mobile air surveillance radars. Zack Cooper, a research fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, called Vietnam a “natural partner” for Japan. “It shares Japan's concern about China's maritime ambitions in East Asia,” he said. “Given that both Japan and Vietnam worry about the same potential opponent in the same domain, it makes sense for them to cooperate on maritime security. Japan does not have much experience with provision of security assistance, but it has a huge amount of experience with overseas development assistance that can be critical in this regard.” According to Reuters, Phuc told the news conference that, "Vietnam welcomes Japan, a global power, to continue to actively contribute to regional and global peace, stability and prosperity.” During Monday’s talks, the two sides discussed the South China Sea, and Suga also referred to it during in a speech to the Vietnam-Japan University, where he vowed to work “hand-in-hand” with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to establish the “rule of law in seas and oceans.” “Japan is strongly opposed to any actions that escalate tensions in the South China Sea. Japan has been consistently supporting the preservation of the rule of law in seas,” Suga said, also calling for peaceful resolution of disputes without resorting to force or coercion. China claims nearly the entirety of the South China Sea on the basis of “historic rights,” a position unsupported under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Six other Asian governments have territorial claims or maritime boundaries in the South China Sea that overlap with the sweeping claims of China. They are Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. While Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of that sea overlapping Indonesia's exclusive economic zone. Suga travels to Indonesia on Wednesday. Although Japan is a close U.S. ally, which shares Washington’s concern over China’s assertive behavior, Cooper contrasted Tokyo’s approach to engaging Southeast Asia to that of America. “I think Japan is stepping up by playing a more proactive regional role since the United States is seen as somewhat distracted at the moment,” he said. “Washington has been playing bad cop with Beijing, but Tokyo can play good cop in Southeast Asia by highlighting both its development assistance and its investment across the region.” China has not responded officially to the announcement of heightened Japan-Vietnam defense ties. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi finished a tour of five Southeast Asian countries – Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand - on Friday. Alexander Vuving, a professor with the Hawaii-based Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, believes China views Vietnam as something of a lost cause for its diplomatic initiatives in the region. “The goal of Wang Yi's trip is to influence the Southeast Asian hosts, particularly in the conclusion of the negotiations for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea,” he said. The code is a proposed blueprint, currently being hashed out between ASEAN and China, that would govern behavior between competing claimants in the South China Sea. China hopes for negotiations to be concluded in 2021. “The countries Wang is visiting this month include most of the swing states in ASEAN regarding the [Code of Conduct], while Vietnam is not,” Vuving said. “Vietnam is seen by China as the bulwark against Chinese domination of the South China Sea. I think China hopes to persuade these countries to swing closer to China's version of the [Code of Conduct], as well as to veer closer to the Chinese side in the larger strategic competition with the United States.”

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Philippine Leader Tells UN 2016 Arbitration Award on South China Sea ‘Beyond Compromise’

The Philippine president made a strident statement Tuesday on the South China Sea to the United Nations General Assembly, describing a 2016 arbitral tribunal award that struck down virtually all of China’s claims in the disputed waters as “beyond compromise.” Like other world leaders addressing the pandemic-restricted event, President Rodrigo Duterte delivered the remarks in a pre-recorded video speech. His remarks aired shortly after Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered his address at the opening of the 75thsession of the General Assembly. “The award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish, or abandon,” Duterte said, in reference to the outcome of the case the previous Philippine administration brought to The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration. “We firmly reject attempts to undermine it,” he added in his first speech to the U.N. since his election in 2016. The 2016 award refuted the legal basis for nearly all of China’s expansive maritime and territorial claims in the South China Sea. It called Beijing’s insistence on holding “historic rights” to the waters there inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. China has never recognized the 2016 arbitration or its outcome. Other countries – the United States, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and most recently the United Kingdom, Germany, and France – have brought up the 2016 arbitration award in their own complaints about China’s behavior in the South China Sea, or have called China to come into compliance with the award as it now constitutes a precedent under international law. “We welcome the increasing number of states that have come in support of the award and what it stands for – the triumph of reason over rashness, of law over disorder, of amity over ambition,” Duterte went on to say. “This, as it should, is the majesty of the law.” Duterte’s comments suggested a hardening in tone from the Philippines, which put its territorial disputes with China on the backburner after he took office four years ago. Duterte has sought closer economic ties with China and has toyed with a reduction in ties with its long-standing treaty ally, the United States. On other topics, Duterte spoke about the climate crisis, the effects of the pandemic on migrants and stranded seafarers, and the need for a COVID-19 vaccine to be available as a global public good. Duterte, who has faced international criticism over allegations of widespread extrajudicial killings in a bloody war on drugs, also delivered a lengthy diatribe against human rights advocates. He accused them of having “weaponized” human rights and of “preying on the most vulnerable humans.” The opening day of the General Assembly was dominated by the tensions between the U.S. and China, with President Donald Trump blaming China for the spread of COVID-19. He demanded that China be held accountable. Xi pushed back, saying China had no intention of entering a “Cold War.” ”We will never seek hegemony, expansion, or sphere of influence,” Xi said. “We have no intention to fight either a Cold War or a hot war with any country. We will continue to narrow differences and resolve disputes with others through dialogue and negotiation. We do not seek to develop only ourselves or engage in a zero-sum game.” Xi made no mention of the South China Sea. China currently considers itself to have a maritime dispute with six other Asian governments concerning the South China Sea. They are the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, and Indonesia. The United States recently updated its official stance on the dispute, calling China’s maritime claims and claims to some submerged features in the South China Sea “unlawful” and “illegal,” slowly aligning the U.S. stance with the 2016 arbitration award. It has also recently changed its policies on Marine Scientific Research to reflect UNCLOS, despite the U.S. Senate never having ratified the Convention.

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Germany, France, U.K. Rebuke Beijing Over South China Sea

The United Kingdom, France and Germany have signed a joint note denouncing China’s claims in the South China Sea, in a sign of growing European interest in the maritime disputes there and China’s militarization of occupied islets. The three countries together sent a note Wednesday to the United Nations, following in the footsteps of Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and the United States. Over the past year, those governments have issued diplomatic rebukes, complaints, and rejections of China’s expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea, all through the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. “France, Germany and the United Kingdom underline the importance of unhampered exercise of the freedom of the high seas, in particular the freedom of navigation and overflight, and of the right of innocent passage enshrined in the [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea], including in the South China Sea,” the note says. The three countries also emphasized that “‘historic rights’ over the South China Sea waters do not comply with international law,” and “recall that the arbitral award in the Philippines v. China case dating to 12 July 2016 clearly confirms this point.” The arbitral award mentioned was a landmark case brought before The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration by the Philippines. That tribunal ultimately struck down virtually all of China’s claims in the South China Sea as unlawful and without basis under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. The note rejects other parts of China’s stance over the disputed waters. It states that artificial islands, such as those created by China in the South China Sea through land reclamation and sand dredging, cannot generate maritime entitlements such as exclusive economic zones under UNCLOS. And it also clarifies that France, Germany and the U.K. don’t recognize China’s grouping of rocks and islets in the Paracels into an archipelago that would generate “straight baselines.” Baselines are imaginary lines connecting the outermost points of the features of archipelago that are meant to circumscribe – and effectively maximize – the territory that belongs to it. The Paracels are a cluster of rocks and islets in the northern part of the South China Sea and are disputed between China, Vietnam, and Taiwan. The United Kingdom already did not recognize China’s attempt to draw “straight baselines” around its occupied features in the area and performed a freedom of navigation exercise there in 2018. However, this is the first time France and Germany have explicitly rebuked China’s baselines, as well as China’s “historic rights” position that it insists grants it sovereignty over the waters and rocks spread out over nearly all the South China Sea. Both of those European nations have recently pushed for further involvement in the Pacific. France held a high-level trilateral meeting with Australia and India on Sept. 9, and has signed logistics agreement with both countries that allow its forces to access facilities on their island territories, and vice versa. On Sept. 1, Germany published its first ‘Guideline on the Indo-Pacific,’ updating its policy to reflect growing economic ties to the region and concern over militarized tensions there. “The Malacca Strait may seem a long way away. But our prosperity and our geopolitical influence in the coming decades will depend not least on how we work together with the countries of the Indo-Pacific region. That, more than anywhere else, is where the shape of the international order of tomorrow will be decided,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a press release earlier this month. “We want to help shape that order – so that it is based on rules and international cooperation, not on the law of the strong.” The Malacca Strait refers to a critical waterway connecting the South China Sea to the Bay of Bengal, in the Indian Ocean. About a quarter of the world’s traded goods and oil passes through the Strait. China has come under growing international criticism, particularly from the U.S. government, over its conduct in the South China Sea, and but it has continued to send military and government-controlled civilian vessels into the territory of its Southeast Asian neighbors. Indonesia, one country astride the Malacca Strait, castigated China for sending a China Coast Guard (CCG) ship into its waters over the weekend. At the same time, ship tracking data shows China has sent survey vessels into areas claimed by the Philippines and even into the Philippine exclusive economic zone. The Hai Yang 4 survey vessel operated around Philippine-claimed Macclesfield Bank from Aug. 24 to Sept. 15, and the Dong Fang Hong 3 has been surveying the same area since Sept. 12. Both are operated directly by the Chinese government. The Jia Geng, another Chinese survey vessel owned by Xiamen University, has been sailing within 150 nautical miles of the Philippine coast since Sept. 13. Benar News, an RFA-affiliated online news service, reached out to the Philippine government on Tuesday for comment and was told the Department of National Defense would “validate this report.” It was not immediately clear if they had done so. The U.S. renewed its criticism of China on Thursday. Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell – Washington’s top diplomat for East Asia – accused Beijing of “destabilizing territorial revisionism” when he addressed a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy in Manila took aim at recent U.S. criticism in a statement, although it did not explicitly name the United States. “[A] certain country outside the region is bent on interfering in the disputes in the South China Sea and the COC [Code of Conduct] consultations to serve is own geopolitical agenda. How to resist the interference is crucial for pushing forward the future consultations of COC,” the statement said, referring to negotiations between China and the Southeast Asian bloc on a code that would regulate conduct at sea.

Continue Reading Germany, France, U.K. Rebuke Beijing Over South China Sea

Pompeo Again Slams Chinese ‘Aggression,’ Says US Is Committed to SE Asia

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to Southeast Asia and accused China of “aggression” in the South China Sea and manipulating the flow of the Mekong River in a time of drought. Touting U.S. investment in the region and support for the COVID-19 response of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Pompeo said Washington will speak out in the face of China’s “threats to sovereign nations’ ability to make free choices.” “We stand with our ASEAN partners as we insist on the rule of law and respect for sovereignty in the South China Sea, where Beijing has pursued aggressive campaigns of coercion and environmental devastation,” Pompeo said in a statement released during a summit of top ASEAN diplomats held online this week and hosted by Vietnam. The top U.S. diplomat accused China of exacerbating the drought in nations downstream on the Mekong River. “We stand for transparency and respect in the Mekong region, where the CCP [Chinese Communist party] has abetted arms and narcotics trafficking and unilaterally manipulated upstream dams, exacerbating an historic drought,” Pompeo said. His statement did not provide evidence to support the allegation of the CCP aiding weapons and drugs smuggling. Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam have been grappling with variable water flow on the Mekong that supports the livelihoods of tens of millions of people. While poor rains have caused the drought, environmentalists say dams that China has constructed on the upper reaches of the river have worsened the situation. Rising tensions Pompeo’s rhetoric underscores the rapid deterioration in U.S.-China relations on a raft of issues in recent months, including trade, the status of Hong Kong, the plight of Uyghur Muslims and China’s assertion of “historic rights” to most of the disputed South China Sea. On Thursday, Pompeo had urged Southeast Asian countries to reconsider business deals with the 24 Chinese companies that Washington sanctioned last month for their roles in constructing Beijing’s artificial islands in the South China Sea. In recent years, Beijing has undertaken major reclamation of disputed land features in the Paracel and Spratly island chains. ASEAN nations Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines also have territorial claims in the South China Sea and seek to use resources in areas that China claims for itself. Beijing further claims parts of that sea overlapping the exclusive economic zone of Indonesia, the largest ASEAN member. For its part, Beijing this week accused the U.S. of interference in the region’s affairs. On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi called the U.S. the “biggest driver of militarization of the South China Sea,” Chinese media reported. “The United States is becoming the most dangerous factor damaging peace in the South China Sea,” Wang said at the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. Southeast Asian nations are uneasy about being caught in the war of words between the U.S. and China. In the ASEAN joint communique made public on Thursday, the bloc, which operates by consensus, expressed concern over increased tensions in the South China Sea and called for resolution of disputes in accordance with the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. A day before that, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters that the group’s countries did not want to “get caught up in the rivalry between major powers.” Vietnam, too, said on Wednesday that the dispute threatens regional stability and that countries should settle the acrimonious row by adhering to international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS. While Friday’s toughly worded statement from the U.S. was issued by Pompeo, the State Department public schedule showed that his deputy, Stephen Biegun, was the leading U.S. delegate at the ASEAN virtual meetings that day. Pompeo was traveling to the Middle East to attend the opening of Afghan peace talks. The ASEAN summit ends Saturday after the ASEAN Regional Forum on peace and security.  The 27-member forum includes 10 ASEAN states, India, Japan, China, the U.S., Russia and the European Union. Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

Continue Reading Pompeo Again Slams Chinese ‘Aggression,’ Says US Is Committed to SE Asia

Sinabung volcano erupts again just hours after twin M6.8 and M6.9 quakes hit off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia – M6.6 earthquake the day before in Malaysia

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