The World Today for July 12, 2016

Need to Know

Troubled Waters

When Wang Zhenzhong looks to the ocean, he sees China.

“For thousands of years, fishermen have fished our ancestral sea, the South China Sea,” the 35-year-old resident of Tanmen, a port town in China’s southernmost province of Hainan Island told NPR.

Filipino leaders don’t agree, however.

So Manila brought a case to an international panel of judges in The Hague to contest what they argue are Beijing’s illegal claims over the South China Sea, including the construction of artificial islands atop reefs 1,200 miles from the Chinese mainland that now include air strips and other military installations.

On Tuesday, the tribunal ruled that China’s artificial islands are in fact reefs, not islands or rocks.

If they had been deemed islands, China might have had a legal claim to the waters around the tiny land masses. But now, after the ruling, China technically doesn’t own them because, under international law, nobody owns reefs beyond their territorial waters.

And by the way, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague also said China’s island-building activities – and the environmental damage they incurred – and its blocking of access to Filipino fisherman to Scarborough Shoal violated the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas – both China and the Philippines are signatories.

Meanwhile, the stakes continue to be high in this fight.

CNBC reported that half of the world’s commercial shipping, two-thirds of liquid natural gas and more than 10 percent of the world’s fish travel through the South China Sea.

The United States has also been cementing strategic relationships with Vietnam, the Philippines and others in the region and purposely sending naval ships and planes through the waters around the so-called islands to call into question China’s claims to sovereignty in the South China Sea. Perceiving these forays as incursions, China has often harassed those American warships and planes.

As a result, the region is now viewed as a hotspot that could erupt into war if leaders in the region don’t tread carefully.

But, since the artificial islands are also a major component of Beijing’s strategy of extending its power beyond its borders – both to strengthen its geopolitical position vis-à-vis the US, Japan, India and other regional powers and to safeguard trade routes for its 1.35 billion people – China’s leaders are likely to ignore the court’s ruling – and the court has no powers of enforcement.

The Chinese news agency, Xinhua, already called the ruling “invalid.”

“Do not expect that we will swallow the bitter fruit of damage to our sovereignty and security,” said President Xi Jinping at a Communist Party event last week, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

China is big enough and strong enough to do what it wants, of course. But a legal ruling against China has given Manila the moral authority to challenge that brute force.

Want to Know

May Becomes Will

Things are no longer looking so uncertain in the United Kingdom.

It’s now definite that Home Secretary Theresa May will become the country’s next prime minister, and it’s almost 100 percent certain that she will push through Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

“Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it,” May said Monday, emphasizing that there would be no attempt from her government to circumvent the June referendum and remain in the EU.

May’s ascent to the prime minister’s chair was confirmed when her main rival for the leadership of the Conservative Party, Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom, withdrew from the race Monday. Soon afterward, sitting Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he would step down on Wednesday. So May will move into 10 Downing Street that night.

The second woman to hold the post after Margaret Thatcher, May is a stubborn leader, reluctant to delegate authority, with a strong personal sense of moral purpose, according to the Guardian. That could stretch to her economic policy – on Monday, she outlined plans to curb executive pay and put consumers and workers on corporate boards.

A Mosul Moment

The Iraqi army just might be ready to take back Mosul from the Islamic State (IS).

On Monday, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter unveiled plans to send 560 more US soldiers to Iraq, bringing the total US force to 4,647 troops, after Iraqi Security Forces successfully recaptured the Qayyarah airfield, about 40 kilometers south of Mosul. The town and airbase are a strategic staging area for a potential future assault on Mosul, which has been occupied by IS since June 2014.

“With the retaking of Qayyarah West airfield, the Iraqi Security Forces have once again demonstrated a serious will to fight,” ABC news quoted Carter as saying.

US officials have said previously that an offensive against Mosul is not likely this year. However, the taking of Qayyarah gives coalition forces a second staging area for an attack, along with Makhmour, southeast of Mosul, raising the possibility that the timetable could be sped up.

Mosul is Islamic State’s biggest prize in Iraq. With its capture, the militant group would be seen as defeated in the country. Whether that is really true and Iraq can stabilize and move forward is another story.

Tough Talk

Will the United Nations Security Council back up its leader’s tough talk on South Sudan?

On Tuesday, the Council will meet to decide on what steps it will take to restore peace in the fledgling country, which is on the brink of returning to full-on civil war as it celebrates the five-year anniversary of its formation. The options on the table include an immediate arms embargo and targeted sanctions on leaders and commanders blocking implementation of the peace deal, as well as an increase in the number of UN peacekeepers on the ground.

“This is the time to massively reinforce UN action. When a government cannot or will not protect its people, and when warring parties seem more intent on enriching and empowering themselves at the expense of their people, the international community has a responsibility to act,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

Both President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar – the leaders of the two warring factions – called for an immediate ceasefire on Monday, after five days of intense fighting in which more than 300 people were killed. However, many fear the leaders may not be able to control their own forces.

Discoveries

Gimme a Sec

This year will be a second longer than 2015.

The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service recently announced that they would add a second to the year on Dec. 31 at 6:59:59 on the East Coast of the United States, or a second before midnight in Greenwich, England, National Geographic reported.

The change will reconcile the time registered on atomic clocks with the hour determined by the Earth’s rotation on its axis.

Atomic clocks measure time by the decay of cesium atoms.

Everyone else measures time by the rising and setting of the sun, which occurs as the Earth rotates in an approximately 24-hour period.

But the weight of the Earth’s oceans and other environmental factors sometimes cause the Earth to slow down or speed up. As a result, the atomic clocks and time as measured by the Earth can fall out of step with each other.

Why does it matter?

If we didn’t have so-called leap seconds, then the time kept by atomic clocks, a scientific measure that helps humanity keep track of the passage of time to an exact second, would fall a few minutes behind mankind’s experience of the measuring of time by the sun by 2100.

Eventually, the sun rising and setting wouldn’t correspond to times we now take for granted. That might suit layabouts angling for some extra sleep in the morning, but imagine how it would wreak havoc with schools, jobs and train schedules.

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