Chileans protest signing of rebooted TPP

Chilean activists protested in Santiago March 7 against the signing of the new Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, now rebranded as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), or TPP-11. Protesters outside La Moneda Palace, headquarters of the Chilean government, held banners reading "No to modern slavery, no to the TPP-11" and "The TPP and TPP-11 are the same!" Lucía Sepúlveda, leader of the organization Chile Mejor Sin TPP, said the agreement would "deliver full guarantees to foreign investors" at the expense of "rights and national interests."

Hague tribunal rules in flashpoint South China Sea

The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague ruled (PDF) in favor of the Philippines on July 12 in its dispute with China over most of the South China Sea. Manila brought the case in 2013 disputing Beijing's territorial claims, a move China decried as "unilateral." The PCA concluded that China does not have the right to resources within its "nine-dash line," an area covering nearly the entire 3.5 million square-kilometer Sea—believed to be rich in oil and minerals. The tribunal found that none of the disputed Spratly Islands are "capable of generating extended maritime zones." Therefore, the tribunal wrote that it could "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."  China entirely denies the PCA's jurisdiction in the matter, and rejected the ruling.

Vietnam tilts to US in Pacific 'Great Game'

Here's another one to file under "Life's little ironies." Vietnam's Communist Party boss Nguyen Phu Trong (the country's "paramount leader") meets with Obama at the White House—a first, coming exactly 20 years after US-Hanoi diplomatic relations were restored. Why now? The Washington Post flatly states that Obama "is seeking to reconfigure a historically difficult relationship with Vietnam into a strategic partnership against China." White House officials "said Hanoi has been signaling interest in forging deeper economic and military ties with the United States," and also emphasized that Vietnam "is among the 12 nations involved in an expansive Pacific Rim trade pact." That's the Trans-Pacific Partnership—which is nearly openly conceived as a counter-measure to China's economic rise.

Sharia (in)justice in Aceh (not just Brunei)

A sickening story in the NY Daily News May 8 relates how eight "vigilantes" in Indonesia's autonomous enclave of Aceh attacked a 25-year-old widow they believed was about to have "adulturous" sex (despite the fact that her husband is deceased!), gang-raped her, brutally abused both her and her putative boyfriend, covering them in sewage—then marched her over to the local sharia court, where she was sentencted to be "caned." That's publicly whipped with a cane, nine strokes for the woman and putative lover apiece, the gang-rape and sewage affair apparently being deemed insufficient punishment. Note that the woman and putative lover were "about to" have sex—that is, they never even consummated the act. At least we are told that "[p]rominent Islamic leader Teungku Faisal Ali said he supported the caning, but that he thinks the rapists should be treated more harshly than the couple."

Geopolitical chess game heats up South China Sea

China's move to set up a military garrison at Sansha on disputed Yongxing Island (also known as Woody Island) in the Xisha chain (claimed by the Philippines as the Paracels), along with creating a city administration for the island which has heretofore had few permanent inhabitants, is escalating tensions in the South China Sea (or, as Manila has it, the West Philippine Sea)—the key theater in Washington's new cold war with Beijing. On Aug. 4, Beijing summoned a senior US diplomat, the embassy's deputy chief of mission Robert Wang, over State Department criticism of the move. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a statement the day before that the US is "concerned by the increase in tensions in the West Philippine Sea and [we] are monitoring the situation closely."

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