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A well written piece by Pepe Escobar on a very sensitive and dangerous situation.

Professor Mekonen Haddis

Between a Rock and a Hard (South China) Place

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, backed by the UN, essentially ruled that there is no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to vast sections of the South China Sea included in the ‘nine-dash line’.

Here it is, in full legalese: “China’s claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, with respect to the maritime areas of the South China Sea encompassed by the relevant part of the ‘nine-dash line’ are contrary to the Convention and without lawful effect to the extent that they exceed the geographic and substantive limits of China’s maritime entitlements under the Convention.”

Well, nothing is black and white in such an immensely complex case. The Philippines were advised by a powerhouse Anglo-American legal team. China had “no agents or representatives appointed.”

Beijing argues that all the attention over the South China Sea revolves around conflicting sovereign claims over islands/rocks/reefs and related maritime delimitations – over which the court has no jurisdiction. Attributing territorial sovereignty over maritime features in the South China Sea goes beyond the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Beijing does abide by Article 298 of UNCLOS – which excludes compulsory arbitration on maritime boundaries. This, by the head of the Chinese mission to the EU, Yang Yanyi, is a fair summary of the Chinese position. And in fact the court did not allocate any islands/rocks/reefs/outcrops to disputing nations; what it did was to point towards which maritime “features” are capable – under international law – of generating territorial rights over surrounding seas.

What transpired in The Hague certainly won’t solve the riddle, asargued here. Beijing had already made it very clear, even before the ruling, it would fiercely reject all findings.

Yet now the narrative is being calibrated; Beijing is open for talks, as long as Manila sets the ruling aside. Jay Batongbacal, from the University of the Philippines, cuts to the heart of the issue: “Publicly stating that junking the arbitration is a condition for resuming negotiations gives no room for face-saving on either side.”

And face-saving – the Asian way – must now be the name of the game. New Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte – a.k.a. ‘The Punisher,’ due to his stint as a crime-busting mayor of Davao City – does have an agenda, which is to improve his country’s appalling infrastructure. And guess where crucial investment would have to come from.

So Duterte’s domestic reform agenda points to economic cooperation, not confrontation, with China. He already gave – contradictory – signs he would be willing to visit Beijing and strike a deal. Undoubtedly, however, he would have a hard time convincing Beijing to stop military-related construction in the South China Sea, as well as not imposing an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).

But he might have a shot at proposing the sharing of natural resources, as in the vast South China Sea wealth of unexplored oil and gas. Yes, because once again the South China Sea is all about energy – much more than the roughly $4.5 trillion of shipping trade that traverses it every year; “freedom of navigation” has always been more than assured for all. For Beijing, the South China Sea is an all-out energy must have, as it would constitute, in the long run, another key factor in the “escape from Malacca” master plan of diversifying energy sources away from a bottleneck that can be easily shut off by the US Navy.

Now, with the US Navy already intruding and over-flying the South China Sea, the stakes cannot but get higher.

It’s… a rock!

The absolute majority of the islands/rocks/rocky islets/reefs/shoals claimed by China, Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan in the South China Sea are uninhabited – with some of them underwater at low tide. They may cover a total of just a few square kilometers – but are spread out over an immense 2 million square kilometers of sea, and included in China’s ‘nine-dash line’, which claims sovereignty over the majority of island chains and nearby waters.

So in this key department regarding the question: ‘Who’s the rightful, sovereign owner of certain islands in the South China Sea,’ the ruling was a major blow to Beijing. Justification had always relied on historical texts, ranging from the 4th century BC to the Tang and Qin dynasties. During the – short – Republic of China period, 291 islands, reefs and banks were mapped and qualified as part of the ‘nine-dash line’ in 1947.

So ‘Red’ China, in 1949, actually inherited a claim made by the rival Republic of China. Fast forward to 1958, when China under Mao issued a declaration framing its territorial waters within the ‘nine-dash line’ – encompassing the Spratly Islands. Adding to historic irony, North Vietnam’s then prime minister, Pham Van Dong, agreed with then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai.

Now it’s a completely different story. Even though Beijing and Taipei continue to agree, China and Vietnam are on opposite sides. The Hague ruled, “There was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’.” An extra problem is that Beijing never really explained what the line meant, legally.

The Hague also downgraded what could be seen as islands to the status of a bunch of rocks. Thus they are not territory-generating. Most of the South China Sea in fact is declared as neutral international waters.

So if we’re talking about rocks, their surrounding territorial sea stops at a mere 12 nautical miles. And they obviously don’t qualify for exclusive economic zone (EEZ) status, with a radius of 200 nautical miles.

If no EEZs apply to the Spratlys, what may happen in the near future is that Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam could each draw their own EEZ-style lines from their major islands or coastline into that section of the South China Sea – and claim the respective rights.

The ruling does spell trouble for the Mischief and Subi reefs – the two biggest land “formations” in the South China Sea after massive Chinese reclamation. Now they have been downgraded to “low-tide elevations” – they only emerge above water at low tide. This means these two major Chinese bases in the Spratlys would have no territorial sea, no EEZ, nothing, apart from a 500-metre safety zone surrounding them.

Meet the Spratly Rocks

And then there’s the extraordinary case of Taiping – the largest “island” in the Spratlys, with an area of about half a square kilometer. Taiping is occupied by the Republic of China, which as everyone knows is not recognized as a sovereign nation by the UN, by the court in The Hague, or by any other Southeast Asian nation for that matter.

Beijing never questioned Taipei’s claim over Taiping. But as Taiwan is part of China, even without physically occupying Taiping, Beijing could still claim the right to draw an EEZ.

The Philippines, for its part, argued that Taiping has neither civilian habitation nor sustainable economic life, because it is a military garrison. The Hague agreed. So Taiping island was also downgraded to “rock” status. No 200 nautical miles EEZ then, which would reach very close to the Philippines’ Palawan province.

So in a nutshell there seem to be no “islands” left among the more than 100 “rocks” in the Spratlys. Time to call them the Spratly Rocks then?

According to the court, none of the Spratlys were “capable of generating extended maritime zones … [and] having found that none of the features claimed by China was capable of generating an exclusive economic zone, the tribunal found that it could — without delimiting a boundary — declare that certain sea areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China.”

Ouch. As if this was not enough, The Hague also condemned China’s land reclamation projects – all of them – and the construction of artificial islands at seven “rocks” in the Spratlys, stating these had caused “severe harm to the coral reef environment and violated its obligation to preserve and protect fragile ecosystems and the habitat of depleted, threatened, or endangered species.”

Since 2012, all of the Paracel Islands have been under Chinese control. As for the Spratlys, they are a mixed bag; Vietnam occupies 21 “features”, the Philippines 9, China 7, and Malaysia 5. The song, though, remains the same; sovereignty issues cannot be settled under international law, as they all fall outside of The Hague’s jurisdiction.

So what happens next – apart from endless haggling about the conclusions? Beijing and Manila must talk – in a manner that Beijing saves face; the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should step up its game and act as a mediator. That does not mean China will cease to create “facts on the sea” – as in most of the South China Sea. After all, they’ve got the (military) power. With or without a ‘nine-dash line’. And be it over islands, reefs, “low-tide elevations” or a bunch of rocks.

Pepe Escobar

 

rain_yonas_w

Ted Cruz ain’t cruising anymore, it seems, that Trump is the top dog of the Republican Party. If Trump is what America has to show, how rotten has politics become in the U.S.

Professor Mekonen Haddis

US Sinai pullback payback for islands handover
DEBKAfile Special Report April 27, 2016, 10:40 AM (IDT)

The US withdrew its forces from the Sinai Peninsula last weekend in retaliation for Egypt’s transfer of sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia, according to debkafile’s military and intelligence sources. They also report that the move came after Washington protested to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi over its exclusion from the consultations and military coordination between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel regarding the islands.
The US message was clear. Since Riyadh, Cairo and Jerusalem do not report their military steps in the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to Washington, the US sees no need to inform them of its military steps in the Sinai.
That message was conveyed by the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph F. Dunford, to the Egyptian president during their meeting on Saturday, April 23 in Cairo.
On Tuesday, debkafile’s military sources reported that several days earlier the US military secretly withdrew about 100 of its officers and enlisted men from the multinational peacekeeping force in the northern part of the Sinai. As far as Riyadh, Cairo and Jerusalem are concerned, there is no doubt that it was a retaliatory measure.
US sources refused to specify the current location of the troops. The American force was withdrawn from El Gorah base, located next to the town of Sheikh Zuweid. Gen. Dunford told al-Sisi that the Obama administration is no longer willing to maintain forces in the northern Sinai following the recent shelling of the base by the ISIS affiliate in the restive area. The incident marked the terrorist organization’s first attack on US troops in the Sinai, but its second on an American force in the Middle East.
On March 19, ISIS shelled Fire Base Bell, a US marine base in Makhmur, northern Iraq, about 77 kilometers southeast of the terrorist organization’s de facto capital of Mosul. One marine was killed.
It was not by chance that shortly before he visited Cairo, Gen. Dunford made a visit lasting no more than 90 minutes to the US forward base to award purple hearts to four marines for their bravery during the ISIS shelling.
But while Washington is determined to maintain Fire Base Bell, where it has deployed HIMARS rocket launchers that can fire GPS-guided rockets known as GMLRS capable of reaching Mosul, and awards medals to soldiers serving at the base, it is not ready to treat its soldiers in the Sinai in the same manner because they have the status of multinational observers. Rather than giving out medals, it withdrew those soldiers immediately after the first ISIS attack.
At the same time, US sources launched an unprecedented personal attack on Egypt’s president over his decision to hand over the two islands to Riyadh. Articles attacking El-Sisi’s policy started to appear in the American media, with one saying “The decision to transfer the islands to Saudi Arabia may be the final nail in Sissi’s coffin.” It also described Egypt as being on the verge of a revolution against al-Sisi.
Two other Middle Eastern figures who were involved in Cairo’s decision regarding the islands were Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who said recently that Cairo consulted Jerusalem regarding the transfer of the islands. However, his comment was not mentioned in US media reports, as if the development was not related to Saudi Arabia or Israel.
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report that one of the main reasons for Washington’s rage was the fact that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel decided to establish and coordinate by themselves a regional defense mechanism covering the Suez Canal, the gulfs of Suez and Aqaba, and the Red Sea.
The Obama administration prefers to ignore the fact that the US withdrawal of its naval and air forces from those areas over the last three years has enabled the Iranian fleet to start operating in those waters.

New power alliances and shifts in the Red Sea Region.

On April 14 and 15, Ethiopia will host the Munich Security Conference (MSC) first event on the African continent as part of its MSC Core Group Meeting series. The joint fight against violent extremism, crisis prevention and management in Northern and Eastern Africa, as well as the security risks posed by epidemics and climate change are among the central topics of the two-day event in Addis Ababa.
Happy to host!! PORAD @MFA

Professor Mekonen Haddis

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You believe in truly liberal principles, such as expanding social security, tuition-free education, and free healthcare for all. You view war as a last resort, and would…
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Joint Statement of the United States and the Russian Federation, as Co-Chairs of the ISSG, on Cessation of Hostilities in Syria

The United States of America and the Russian Federation, as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and seeking to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis with full respect for the fundamental role of the United Nations, are fully determined to provide their strongest support to end the Syrian conflict and establish conditions for a successful Syrian-led political transition process, facilitated by the UN, in order to fully implement the Munich Statement of the ISSG on February 11th, 2016, UN Security Council Resolution 2254, the 2015 Vienna Statements and the 2012 Geneva Communiqué.
In this regard, and in furtherance of the February 11th decisions of the ISSG, the United States and Russia, as co-chairs of the ISSG and ISSG Ceasefire Task Force, announce the adoption on February 22, 2016, of the Terms for a Cessation of Hostilities in Syria attached as an Annex to this statement, and propose that the cessation of hostilities commence at 00:00 (Damascus time) on February 27, 2016. The cessation of hostilities is to be applied to those parties to the Syrian conflict that have indicated their commitment to and acceptance of its terms. Consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the statements of the ISSG, the cessation of hostilities does not apply to “Daesh”, “Jabhat al-Nusra”, or other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council.
Any party engaged in military or para-military hostilities in Syria, other than “Daesh”, “Jabhat al-Nusra”, or other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council will indicate to the Russian Federation or the United States, as co-chairs of the ISSG, their commitment to and acceptance of the terms for the cessation of hostilities by no later than 12:00 (Damascus time) on February 26, 2016. In order to implement the cessation of hostilities in a manner that promotes stability and protects those parties participating in it, the Russian Federation and the United States are prepared to work together to exchange pertinent information (e.g., aggregated data that delineates territory where groups that have indicated their commitment to and acceptance of the cessation of hostilities are active, and a focal point for each side, in order to ensure effective communication) and develop procedures necessary for preventing parties participating in the cessation of hostilities from being attacked by Russian Armed Forces, the U.S.-led Counter ISIL Coalition, the Armed Forces of the Syrian government and other forces supporting them, and other parties to the cessation of hostilities. Military actions, including airstrikes, of the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, the Russian Armed Forces, and the U.S.-led Counter ISIL Coalition will continue against ISIL, “Jabhat al-Nusra,” and other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council. The Russian Federation and United States will also work together, and with other members of the Ceasefire Task Force, as appropriate and pursuant to the ISSG decision of February 11, 2016, to delineate the territory held by “Daesh,” “Jabhat al-Nusra” and other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council, which are excluded from the cessation of hostilities.
In order to promote the effective implementation of the cessation of hostilities, the ISSG Ceasefire Task Force, co-chaired by the United States and Russia, has been established under UN auspices, including political and military officials from the co-chairs and other Task Force members; the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Syria (OSE) serves as secretariat. The primary functions of the Task Force are, as provided in the ISSG Statement of February 11, to: a) delineate the territory held by “Daesh”, “Jabhat-al-Nusra” and other terrorist organizations designated by the United Nations Security Council; b) ensure communications among all parties to promote compliance and rapidly de-escalate tensions; c) resolve allegations of non-compliance; and d) refer persistent non-compliant behavior by any of the parties to the ISSG Ministers or those designated by the Ministers to determine appropriate action, including the exclusion of such parties from the arrangements of the cessation of hostilities, and the protection it affords them.
The United States and Russia are prepared, in their capacities as co-chairs of the Ceasefire Task Force and in coordination with other members of the ISSG Ceasefire Task Force as appropriate, to develop effective mechanisms to promote and monitor compliance with the ceasefire both by the governmental forces of the Syrian Arab Republic and other forces supporting them, and the armed opposition groups. To achieve this goal and to promote an effective and sustainable cessation of hostilities, the Russian Federation and the United States will establish a communication hotline and, if necessary and appropriate, a working group to exchange relevant information after the cessation of hostilities has gone into effect. In addressing incidents of non-compliance, every effort should be made to promote communications among all parties to restore compliance and rapidly de-escalate tensions, and non-forcible means should be exhausted whenever possible before resorting to use of force. The United States and Russia as co-chairs of ISSG Ceasefire Task Force will develop such further modalities and standard operating procedures as may be necessary to implement these functions.
The United States and the Russian Federation together call upon all Syrian parties, regional states and others in the international community to support the immediate cessation of violence and bloodshed in Syria and to contribute to the swift, effective and successful promotion of the UN-facilitated political transition process in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254, the February 11 Statement of the ISSG, the 2015 Vienna statements of the ISSG, and the 2012 Geneva Communiqué.
ANNEX
TERMS FOR CESSATION OF HOSTILITIES IN SYRIA
The nationwide cessation of hostilities is to apply to any party currently engaged in military or paramilitary hostilities against any other parties other than “Daesh”, “Jabhat al-Nusra”, or other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council.
The responsibilities of the Syrian armed opposition are set out in paragraph 1 below. The responsibilities of the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, and all forces supporting or associated with the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic are set out in paragraph 2 below.
1. To take part in the cessation of hostilities, armed opposition groups will confirm – to the United States of America or the Russian Federation, who will attest such confirmations to one another as co-chairs of the ISSG by no later than 12:00 (Damascus time) on February 26 2016 – their commitment to and acceptance of the following terms:
To full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, adopted unanimously on December 18, 2015, including the readiness to participate in the UN-facilitated political negotiation process;
To cease attacks with any weapons, including rockets, mortars, and anti-tank guided missiles, against Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, and any associated forces;
To refrain from acquiring or seeking to acquire territory from other parties to the ceasefire;
To allow humanitarian agencies, rapid, safe, unhindered and sustained access throughout areas under their operational control and allow immediate humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need;
To proportionate use of force (i.e., no greater than required to address an immediate threat) if and when responding in self-defense.
2. The above-mentioned commitments will be observed by such armed opposition groups, provided that the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, and all forces supporting or associated with the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic have confirmed to the Russian Federation as co-chair of the ISSG by no later than 12:00 (Damascus time) on February 26, 2016 their commitment to and acceptance of the following terms:
To full implementation of UN Security Resolution 2254, adopted unanimously on December 18, 2015, including the readiness to participate in the UN-facilitated political negotiation process;
To cease attacks with any weapons, including aerial bombardments by the Air Force of the Syrian Arab Republic and the Aerospace Forces of the Russian Federation, against the armed opposition groups (as confirmed to the United States or the Russian Federation by parties to the cessation of hostilities);
To refrain from acquiring or seeking to acquire territory from other parties to the ceasefire;
To allow humanitarian agencies, rapid, unhindered and sustained access throughout areas under their operational control and allow immediate humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need;
To proportionate use of force (i.e., no greater than required to address an immediate threat) if and when responding in self-defense.
The Russian Federation and the United States, as co-chairs of the ISSG and ISSG Ceasefire Task Force, are prepared to work together to ensure effective communications and develop procedures necessary for preventing parties participating in the cessation of hostilities from being attacked by Russian Armed Forces, the U.S.-led Counter ISIL Coalition, the Armed Forces of the Syrian government and other forces supporting them, and other parties to the cessation of hostilities.
All parties further commit to work for the early release of detainees, particularly women and children.
Any party can bring a violation or potential violation of the cessation of hostilities to the attention of the Task Force, either through the OSE or the co-chairs. The OSE and Co-Chairs will establish liaison arrangements with each other and the parties, and inform the public generally about how any party may bring a violation to the attention of the Task Force.
The United States and the Russian Federation as co-chairs confirm that the cessation of hostilities will be monitored in an impartial and transparent manner and with broad media coverage.

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