At its 75th annual convention in Denver this week, leaders of the National Congress of American Indians spoke strongly against the Trump administration's decision to halt the restoration of ancestral lands to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts, invoking a return to the disastrous policies of the "termination era." At issue are 321 acres in thw towns of Mashpee and Taunton, where the Wampanoag sought to build a casino. The US Interior Department issued a decision in 2015 to take the lands into trust for the tribe, to be added to their reservation. Ground was broken on the casino the following year. But opponents of the casino challenged the land transfer in the courts. In April 2016, US District Court Judge William Young found the 2015 Interior decision had bypassed the Supreme Court's 2009 ruling in Carcieri v Salazar, concerning a land recovery effort by the Narragansett Indian Nation of Rhode Island. In the Carcieri case, the high court ruled that the federal government had no power to grant land in trust for tribes recognized after passage of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. In September of this year, the Interior decision was reversed by Tara Sweeney, the new assistant secretary for Indian Affairs in the Trump administration. Sweeney determined that the Mashpee Wampanoag-—whose ancestors welcomed some of the first settlers to the Americas more than 300 years ago—could not have their homelands restored because they were only federally recognized in 2007.
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."
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.
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.
Well, the interminable cartoon wars have now hit Malaysia. On Feb. 10, the Malaysian Federal Court upheld a "sodomy" conviction and five-year prison term of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, a decision clearly as politicized as it is reactionary. That same day, cartoonist Zulkiflee Awar Ulhaque, popularly known as Zunar, was arrested at his home—charged under the country's draconian "sedition" law for tweeting a cartoon critical of the ruling, and portraying the judge in the case as Prime Minister Najib Razak. (BBC News, The Malaysian Online, Jurist) Said Shawn Crispin of the Committee to Protect Journalists: "We call on authorities to release Zunar immediately, drop all charges against him, and get to work reforming the sedition law that Prime Minister Najib Razak once acknowledged has no place in Malaysian society." Not all voices have been so forthright, however...
President Obama in his statement on the downing of the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane in Ukraine emphasized that it was "shot down by a surface-to-air missile that was launched from an area that is controlled by Russian-backed separatists inside of Ukraine." He added that "we know that these separatists have received a steady flow of support from Russia." Vladimir Putin, of course, blamed Ukraine for the incident, saying: "Without doubt the government of the territory on which it happened bears responsibility for this frightening tragedy." Of course he was referring to Kiev's military offensive against the rebels, but Business Insider wryly notes that placing the blame on "the government of the territory" where the disaster occurred "technically points the finger at the rebels themselves, who have proclaimed the area 'The People's Republic of Donetsk.'"
The Uyghur American Association (UAA) has issued a statement protesting "speculation" over the fate of the missing Malaysian Boeing 777 airliner that disappeared March 8 over the South China Sea en route to Beijing. Among the 239 passengers was Memetjan Abla, an acclaimed Uighur artist whose work dealt with social and political themes. Abla was traveling as part of a Chinese state-sponsored group of 29 artists. UHRP writes: "Conjecture alleging Mr. Abla's presence on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 as evidence of possible Uyghur involvement in the plane's fate is a disservice to his life and work. At present, there is no publicly available evidence to support a Uyghur connection hypothesis and UAA urges commentators to await the results of a full investigation into the incident." As an example of irresponsible speculation, UAA links to a Tweet from Rupert Murdoch: "777crash confirms jihadists turning to make trouble for China. Chance for US to make common cause, befriend China while Russia bullies." (UAA, March 10)
The Sultanate of Sulu, an autonomous kingdom within the Philippines, claimed March 1 that 10 members of the royal army were killed and four more injured in an attack by Malaysian authorities on Lahad Datu, the village seized by the Sulu partisans in Sabah state on Borneo. Malaysian authorities deny any reports of violence. Sultanate spokesman Abraham Idjirani told reporters in Manila that he was informed of the attack by Raj Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, who is leading the royal army partisans at Lahad Datu. Kiram is the brother of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III. Idjirani said Malaysian officials are seeking "to cover up the truth." (Philippine Star, Reuters via Malaysia Chronicle, March 1)