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The US is already at odds with China over its air defence zone over the East China Sea [Getty]
|The United States has described as “provocative and potentially dangerous” new Chinese restrictions of foreign fishing vessels in disputed waters in the South China Sea.
From January 1, China has required foreign fishing vessels to obtain approval to enter waters it says are under its jurisdiction. It rejects territorial claims by the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.
Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the US State Department, said on Thursday that China gave no justification under international law for the new restictions.
“Our long-standing position has been that all concerned parties should avoid any unilateral action that raises tensions, and undermines the prospects for a diplomatic or other peaceful resolution of differences,” she said.
“The passing of these restrictions on other countries’ fishing activities in disputed portions of the South China Sea is a provocative and potentially dangerous act.”
The US is already at odds with China declaring in November an air defence zone over an area of the East China Sea claimed by Japan and South Korea.
The US flew B-52 strategic bombers into the new zone in defiance, raising tensions further in the Pacific.
The new Chinese rules do not outline penalties, but the requirements are similar to a 2004 national law that says boats entering Chinese territory without permission can have their catch and fishing equipment seized and face fines of up to $82,600.
Hua Chunying, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, said regulating the use of marine resources was a normal practice.
China’s ties with the Philippines have been especially frosty over the South China Sea.
Raul Hernandez, a spokesman for the Philippine foreign ministry, said Manila had asked its embassy in Beijing to get more information on the rules.
Two witnesses said they saw troops striking a Buddhist monk [Reuters]
|Cambodian troops armed with batons and rifles have broken up a protest by textile workers demanding a doubling of wages as part of a nationwide strike by unions allied with the main opposition party.Witnesses said around 100 soldiers wearing riot gear and carrying assault rifles on Thursday used force to clear hundreds of workers protesting outside their factory about 20km west of the capital, Phnom Penh.
“Soldiers beat up everyone,” said labour rights activist Chhorn Sokha of the Community Legal Education Center. “They had sticks, electric batons, slingshots and stones.”
At least 10 protesters were detained and it was not known yet how many were hurt, she added.
Photographers, including one from Reuters news agency, were hit by batons while covering the protest. Two witnesses said they also saw troops striking a Buddhist monk.
The clashes mark a violent turn after two weeks of relatively peaceful strikes, marches and demonstrations of unprecedented scale in Cambodia. Security forces, which have a reputation for zero-tolerance, have so far exercised restraint.
The garment workers, whose industry is a major employer worth $5bn a year to the economy, have joined protests led by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which says it was cheated out of more than two million votes in an election last July.
The CNRP has courted some 350,000 garment factory workers with the promise of a minimum monthly wage equivalent to $160, a proposal dismissed by the government as unsustainable.
Their support for the CNRP represents one of the biggest challenges to the 28-year rule of authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
He has been credited with steering Cambodia away from being a war-scarred failed state to a promising frontier market, but opponents say his power comes not from the people, but from the sway he has over independent institutions and allege he rigged the election, which he denies.
The strike has blocked roads briefly in Phnom Penh and threatened to cripple an industry that is the biggest foreign currency earner for Cambodia, one of Asia’s poorest states. The government offered on December 24 to raise the minimum wage from $80 to $95, but the unions have rejected that.
Gap Adidas, Nike and Puma are among big brands that outsource manufacturing of footwear and apparel to Cambodian factories, in part due to the cheaper labour costs than China.
Kim visited the Command of Large Combined Unit 526 on Tuesday to mark the day his father became supreme commander [EPA]
|North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has warned war could break out “without any prior notice” and urged his military to bolster its combat readiness, state media reported.The call on Wednesday comes one day after a US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University report said that satellite imagery suggested that the North might have begun producing fuel rods for its recently restarted nuclear reactor.
There has been heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula following the execution of Kim’s uncle and former mentor in an unusually public purge.
Seoul and Washington have warned of possible provocative acts by the nuclear-armed North following the execution of Jang Song-Thaek, a senior leader who was also the uncle and former political mentor of the younger leader.
Kim visited the Command of Large Combined Unit 526 on Christmas Eve, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.
“He instructed the unit to put utmost spurs on rounding off its combat readiness… always bearing in mind that a war breaks out without any prior notice,” it said.
The unit is based in the North’s western port city of Nampo, according to the South’s Yonhap news agency.
The Johns Hopkins University report said that satellite imagery had identified facilities at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Centre that might produce fuel for North Korea’s recently restarted plutonium production reactor and the Experimental Light Water Reactor still under construction.
“The identification of these facilities indicates a more wide-ranging, extensive effort by North Korea to modernise and restart the Yongbyon complex dating back to 2009 than previously understood,” the report said.
South Korean President Park Geun-Hye called for “watertight security readiness” during her trip on Tuesday to a frontline guard post, as she described the situation over the border as “ominous”.
“We should react sternly and mercilessly to any provocations by North Korea,” she said.
The reclusive state’s propaganda mill has gone into overdrive in recent days, describing Jang as a traitor while extolling Kim’s leadership.
Tens of thousands of troops pledged loyalty to him in a mass rally on the death anniversary of his father last Tuesday.
The Kim dynasty has ruled the impoverished but nuclear-armed state since 1948 with an iron fist and pervasive personality cult.
A cooling tower at Yongbyon was destroyed in June 2008, but the plant now seems to be reactivating [Reuters]
|Satellite imagery suggests North Korea is making “wide-ranging, extensive” efforts to fully reactivate its main nuclear complex, a US think-tank has said, in line with Pyongyang’s vows to strengthen its weapons programme.Recent images show work at the Yongbyon nuclear compound, apparently aimed at producing fuel rods to be used in a plutonium reactor, Johns Hopkins University’s US-Korea Institute said.
Analysis of the imagery identified one “probable fuel fabrication plant” for the 5-megawatt plutonium reactor that reopened earlier this year, researcher Nick Hansen wrote on the institute’s blog, 38 North.
The isolated communist state staged its third nuclear test in February, its most powerful to date, after two previous tests in 2006 and 2009.
Two months later, it said it would reopen the Yongbyon nuclear compound in the northwest that had been shut since 2007, in order to bolster its atomic arsenal.
“The soot on the new roof shows that a heating process had occurred, such as the use of metal casting furnaces necessary to complete the heat treatment during the fuel rod assembly,” Hansen wrote.
A nearby venue that appears to be a dumping site showed a large amount of “grey materials” suspected to be ash from the fuel rod production process, he added.
“The identification of these facilities indicates a more wide-ranging, extensive effort by North Korea to modernise and restart the Yongbyon complex… than previously understood,” he wrote.
Pyongyang’s current stockpile of nuclear materials, mostly plutonium, is variously estimated as being enough for six to 10 bombs.
Nam Jae-Joon, chief of the South’s intelligence agency, told politicians on Monday that the North was capable of staging another atomic test anytime but had so far showed no signs of doing so.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to raise Japan’s military profile to meet what he says is a threat from China. [AFP]
|China’s military has condemned Japan’s plans to boost defence spending, accusing Tokyo of raising regional tensions under the pretext of safeguarding national security.
In a statement issued on Saturday, Geng Yansheng, defence ministry spokesman, said China “resolutely opposes” Japan’s five-year defence plan, accusing its Asian neighbour of maintaining a “Cold War mentality”.
Geng accused Japan of manufacturing fears of Chinese aggression and denying responsibility for having invaded China and other countries in the last century.
Japan “continues to deny its history of World War II aggression, challenge the post-war order, and harm the feelings of the people of those victimised nations,” Geng said.
“We urge Japan to reflect deeply on its history, strictly adhere to its commitment to peaceful development, and take concrete measures to improve relations with its neighbours to play a constructive role in maintaining regional peace and development,” Geng said.
Geng was referring to Japan’s imperial occupation of China, starting with the invasion of Manchuria in 1931, to Japan’s surrender after the end of World War II in 1945. Japan has refused to apologise for the atrocities committed by its soldiers during that period.
The statement marks the latest salvo in the ongoing string of accusations over who is responsible for a sharp rise in tensions in the East China Sea.
Last Tuesday, Japan said it would lift military spending by 2.6 percent over five years, buying early-warning planes, beach-assault vehicles and troop-carrying aircraft.
It was seen as the clearest sign since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office a year ago that he wants to raise Japan’s military profile to meet what he says is a threat from China’s rapid military build-up.
China’s military has taken an increasingly hawkish stance amid a bitter dispute with Tokyo over uninhabited islands in the sea controlled by Japan but claimed by China.
Japan’s nationalisation of the islands in September 2012 sparked violent demonstrations in several Chinese cities.
In the months since, Chinese patrol vessels have routinely confronted Japanese ships in the area.
Under the new Japanese defence plan, the country will purchase its first surveillance drones, more jet fighters and naval destroyers, and set up an amphibious unit similar to the US Marines in the next five years.
Broader defence programme guidelines, also adopted on Tuesday, say Japan is “gravely concerned” about China’s growing maritime and military presence in the East China Sea, and its lack of transparency and “high-handed” approach.
Late last month, China said all aircraft entering a vast zone over the East China sea must identify themselves and follow China’s instructions.
The reported execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s powerful uncle has caused worries over the stability of the isolated country, with various governments expressing concern over the potential implications of the move.
The state-run KCNA news agency announced on Friday that a special military trial was held for the once-influential Jang Song-thaek before he was executed on Thursday.
Jang, who had been branded as “traitor” and dismissed from his positions and powers on Monday, was accused of a string of criminal acts including corruption, womanising and drug-taking.
“The North usually curbs internal instability by waging provocations externally,” the Ryoo Kihl-Jae, the South Korean unification minister said, warning the purge could be followed by military actions, including another nuclear test.
China, Pyongyang’s major ally and economic lifeline, said Jang’s execution was an “internal matter” but also stressed the need for stability.
“As a neighbour we hope to see national stability, economic development and people living in happiness in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing.
Tokyo said that it was “closely watching the situation”.
“We will calmly monitor the situation while communicating with other countries and collect relevant information,” the Kyodo news agency quoted Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga as saying.
Washington said that the execution was “another example of the extreme brutality of the North Korean regime”.
|The North usually curbs internal instability by waging provocations externallyRyoo Kihl-Jae, South Korea’s unification minister|
“We are following developments in North Korea closely and consulting with our allies and partners in the region,” Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, said.
London expressed “deep concern about the impact of this unpredictable regime on stability in the region”.
“Our embassy in Pyongyang is monitoring the situation closely and we will continue to maintain close contact with our allies on this,” a Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman said.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Bangkok, said the execution has laid bare a massive power struggle in the secretive country.
“It’s an incredibly public condemnation of this once very powerful man,” our correspondent said.
KCNA said earlier this week that Jang had been removed from all his posts and expelled from the Workers’ Party.
“From long ago, Jang had a dirty political ambition. He dared not raise his head when Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il were alive,” KCNA said, referring to leader Kim’s grandfather and father, who were previous rulers of the dynastic state.
“He began revealing his true colours, thinking that it was just the time for him to realise his wild ambition in the period of historic turn when the generation of the revolution was replaced.”
Jang was married to Kim’s aunt, the daughter of the North’s founding leader Kim Il-sung, and was widely considered to be working to ensure his nephew firmly established his grip on power in the past two years.
Jang had been a prominent fixture in many of the reports and photographs of Kim Jong-un’s public activities, but his appearances have tapered off sharply this year and he has not appeared in official media since early November.
South Korea’s new air defence zone includes an area already claimed by both China and Japan [Al Jazeera]
|South Korea is set to expand its air defence zone to partially overlap China’s recently enlarged airspace, South Korean officials have said.
Seoul’s defence ministry said on Sunday that the expansion, which covers an extra 66,480 square kilometres, would include two territorial islands to its south, and a submerged rock also claimed by China.
The move would not infringe on the sovereignty of neighbouring countries, said officials in the South Korean capital, and had been discussed in advance with Washington.
Aviation authorities in South Korea say the air zone expansion is in line with international standards, reported Al Jazeera’s Stella Kim from Seoul.
“The South Korean government is confident that this won’t lead to any military clashes or become an international diplomatic issue,” she said.
“The expansion includes a set of islands at the centre of a territorial argument between Beijing and Tokyo, so there wil be a seven-day grace period before the new zone is enacted.”
Air defence identification
The new South Korean air zone in the East China Sea overlaps a similar area, first declared by Japan in 1969, and recently claimed by China.
“This is a very direct response to China’s decision to expand,” said Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett in Seoul.
Aircraft intending to fly through the area will now be required to inform aviation authorities of all three nations.
South Korea’s air defence identification zone was first declared in 1951 during the Korean War to counter potential air intervention by the Chinese. At the time, the more remote islands and submerged rocks were not carefully considered, say analysts.
The new expansion covers the two islands Marado, which is south of Jeju island, and Hongdo, which is south of Geoje island and is also covered by Japan’s air defence zone.
Further south, Seoul’s expansion also includes the submerged rock named Ieodo, which is home to a strategically located research station operated by South Korea.
China has also claimed that Ieodo is within its exclusive economic zone.
|Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has rejected the demands of anti-government protesters, who are attempting to topple her government and replace it with a “people’s council’, saying the demonstrations are unconstitutional.
“Anything I can do to make people happy, I am willing to do… but as prime minister, what I can do must be under the constitution,” she said in a televised address on Monday on her first comments since violence broke out late on Saturday after weeks of peaceful protests.
“The armed forces will be neutral and I know they want to see the country in peace,” the prime minister said, adding her immediate aim was to restore “peace” to the capital restive streets. She also vowed that “police will not use force against the people”.
Her comments came amid fresh skirmishes between Thai security forces and opposition demonstrators.
Police used tear gas and water cannons at the heavily guarded government headquarters to drive thousands of protesters back, as demonstrators hurled sticks, stones, bottles and other projectiles at security forces, manning barriers at the besieged complex.
‘Live ammunition used’
Al Jazeera’s Robert Kennedy, reporting from Bangkok, said that a group of protesters about 200 metres away from the government office claimed live ammunition was fired earlier in the day, showing photos of a man with what looked like a gunshot wound to the thigh, and what looked like a bullet hole that had pierced a silver truck.
Thana Narkboonnam, 49, an anti-government protester, told Al Jazeera: “We want a revolution to be able to choose better representatives. This government is full of corruption, the political system needs to be entirely changed.”
Loud periodic booms rang out as tear gas canisters were launched, Kennedy said, adding that he saw medics rush a wounded man on a stretcher into an ambulance with a wound to the right side of his torso.
The protesters had set Sunday as “Victory Day” to topple the government, but failed to achieve their goal of seizing the prime minister’s office.
The United Nations closed its main office in Bangkok, dozens of schools stayed empty and many civil servants did not show up at work on Monday after the unrest that rippled around the key government buildings in the capital over the weekend.
In an e-mailed statement to its staff, the UN’s security department said that “there could be violence [on Monday] on a large scale… staff should avoid government offices” and other protest locations.
Protest leader meets PM
Oppsition leader Suthep Thaungsuban said on Sunday that he met Yingluck Shinawatra but insisted there were no negotiations to end the political crisis.
Thaungsuban said he told the prime minister that the opposition would accept nothing less than her resignation and an appointed council taking over the government.
The protests were triggered by an amnesty bill, which opponents feared would have allowed Thaksin Shinawatra to return to the country.
PM Yingluck Shinawatra told Al Jazeera on Sunday that the government was no longer trying to pass the controversial bill that would have pardoned many people involved in corruption.
The latest conflict in Thailand put Bangkok’s urban population against the rural supporters of Shinawatras.
Political instability has plagued Thailand since the removal of Thaksin Shinawatra from his seat in a 2006 coup.
Two years later, anti-Thaksin protesters occupied Bangkok’s two airports for a week after taking over the prime minister’s office for three months.
Occupation of government buildings continue as Thai court issues warrant for top protest leader.
Last updated: 26 Nov 2013 11:45
|Thai protesters have besieged several more government ministries in an escalating campaign to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government.
Demonstrators targeted the tourism, transport and agriculture ministries on Tuesday, one day after swarming the finance and foreign ministries in the biggest street protests since the country’s 2010 military crackdown. Officials left these government buildings.
Thailand’s PM appealed earlier on Tuesday for an end to “mob rule” as she prepared for a pivotal no-confidence vote in parliament. Protests have been fuelled by claims Yingluck Shinawatra’s government is controlled by her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a military coup in 2006 for alleged corruption.
“Everybody must obey the law and not use mob rule to upstage the rule of law,” Yingluck Shinawatra told reporters as she arrived at parliament early on Tuesday, reiterating a vow that authorities would “absolutely not use violence.”
Reporting from Bangkok, Al Jazeera‘s Florence Looi said that a Thai court approved an arrest warrant for Suthep Thaugsuban, one of the top protest leaders, on Tuesday in connection with the occupation of ministries.
Talking to Al Jazeera, Suthep Thaugsuban vowed to stay at the finance ministry, where he continued a sit-in protest with others, and said that he would address the protesters later in the day.
Looi also said that the police forces are planning to go to the occupied government buildings and try to persuade protesters to leave.
The police presence in Bangkok has grown in response to the expansion late Monday of the Internal Security Act (ISA), which gives authorities additional powers to block routes, impose a curfew, ban gatherings and carry out searches, although peaceful rallies are still allowed.
About 200 anti-government protesters camped out overnight at the finance ministry after Yingluck Shinawatra invoked the emergency law.
“We have told protesters that after the ISA was invoked across Bangkok, they are violating the law by trespassing in ministries,” said Paradorn Pattanatabut, chief of the National Security Council.
MPs are due to begin debating a no-confidence motion on Tuesday, which was put forward by the opposition last week as part of a barrage of legal and institutional challenges to Yingluck Shinawatra’s embattled government.
The recent protests were sparked by ruling party plans to introduce an amnesty that could have allowed the return from self-imposed exile of Thaksin Shinawatra, a deeply polarising figure who remains a populist hero among the poor.