The World Today for June 01, 2017



Talking Over Troubled Waters

In addition to sealing business deals worth billions when they met at the White House on Wednesday, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and President Trump almost certainly discussed the South China Sea.

The dispute in the South China Sea has been on the backburner for some time now as the United States, the Philippines and others focus on domestic security and other matters.

But the region’s long-simmering tensions over the sovereignty of these pivotal waters might soon be poised to erupt, observers said.

Last week, President Trump issued his first challenge to China’s claims in the South China Sea when the USS Dewey, a guided-missile destroyer, sailed a few miles off the coast of Mischief Reef, one of China’s controversial, militarized, artificial islands in the sea.

Beijing – which claims sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea – responded with outrage. Foreign Minister Lu Kang said the maneuver “damaged China’s sovereignty and security interests,” according to the BBC.

The country lodged a formal complaint over the American patrol and vowed to expand its military capabilities in the sea, which is a major artery for international trade that many believe contains significant oil and gas reserves, wrote the Wall Street Journal.

Beijing has been smarting over its wounded territorial rights since last summer, when an international arbitration court in The Hague invalidated much of China’s claims of sovereignty over the sea.

But China has so far ignored the court’s ruling, claiming the tribunal had no jurisdiction in the matter, noted the newspaper.

Instead, Beijing has cautioned the Philippines – another claimant to the seas whose sovereignty was found violated by China’s actions in The Hague ruling – against trying to enforce the court’s decision, wrote the New York Times.

Filipino President Roderigo Duterte said last week that Chinese President Xi Jinping told him the country would “go to war” if Manila insisted on enforcement, although both sides pledged to avoid confrontation for now, they added.

Complicating matters further is the involvement of other regional actors.

Japan has participated in joint maneuvers alongside the US to underscore its cooperation with Washington and signal its willingness to stand up to China in the region, wrote the National Interest.

Other claimants to the sea include Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, whose leaders were arguably delighted by Washington’s recent actions.

Vietnam has emerged in recent years as the most forceful opponent of China’s maritime claims, noted Reuters. Among Hanoi’s most pressing concerns was U.S. disengagement in the region under the Trump administration, they said.

But after their White House meeting, Phuc said the two countries were now “comprehensive partners,” Reuters wrote.

It seems like Hanoi’s fears have been assuaged. At least for now.

[siteshare]Talking Over Troubled Waters[/siteshare]



No Shoo-In?

British Prime Minister Theresa May confidently called for early elections last month expecting a shoo-in election against left-wing candidate Jeremy Corbyn and a tight ship ahead of Brexit negotiations.

Now she is looking over her shoulder while analysts are at a loss to predict the results with the vote only one week away. Three weeks ago, May held an 18-point spread over Corbyn, but a recent Survation poll has May with 43 percent to Corbyn’s 37 percent, with the rest of the vote split among smaller parties.

“I can’t tell where this will all end up but it is definitely less predictable than it once appeared,” Tony Travers, a political expert at the London School of Economics, told USA Today.

YouGov estimated Wednesday that May could face a “hung Parliament,” or fall short of an overall majority in the 650-seat British Parliament. In that case she would need to gain the support of other parties to form a government. Or Corbyn could beat her to it.

Corbyn’s emphasis on social issues – a commitment to the National Health Service, funding for education and apprenticeships, among other issues – is getting voter attention while May dwells on wringing the most out of Brexit.

His appeal is especially strong among younger voters. Thursday’s Guardian/ICM poll shows that those aged 25-34 joined the 18-24 age bracket and students in strongly supporting Corbyn. However, the same poll handed May a stronger overall lead than others.

[siteshare]No Shoo-In?[/siteshare]


Turning the Tide

A Russian warship and submarine fired four cruise missiles at Islamic State positions near the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria, targeting heavy weapons and fighters, Vice News reported Wednesday, quoting the Russian defense ministry.

Government forces had recaptured Palmyra with the help of the Russian air force in March 2016, but were driven out by Islamic State (IS) eight months later.

Andrew Parasiliti, director of the RAND Center for Global Risk and Security, told the news outlet that Palmyra was a “must-win” for Russia after losing it to the militant group.

“The Russian strikes are also a signal to the United States that Russia is a reliable partner in the battle against (IS),” he added.

IS has not only lost ground in Syria – American-backed Syrian Kurdish and Arab forces have been successful in recapturing key bases – but is also trying to hold on to its last major stronghold in Iraq, the city of Mosul, which it captured in 2014.

The battle for Mosul is nearing a final showdown around the city’s medieval mosque, where IS fighters hunkered down after U.S.-backed Iraqi government forces retook the eastern part of the city in January. Those troops began a new push Saturday to capture the group’s remaining enclave in western Mosul.

The fall of the city would mark the end of the Iraqi half of the group’s self-styled caliphate.

[siteshare]Turning the Tide[/siteshare]


One Belt, One Road, One Train

Kenya opened a new chapter in its history with the opening of a Chinese-built railway linking the capital Nairobi with the port of Mombasa, the largest infrastructure project since independence more than 50 years ago.

“We celebrate laying one of the key cornerstones to Kenya’s transformation to an industrialized, prosperous, middle-income country,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said ahead of the inaugural trip from Mombasa on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

Funded by China to the tune of $3.2 billion, the railway is part of China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, a series of massive infrastructure projects improving trade routes between China and Europe, Asia and Africa.

The line is eventually expected to connect Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Ethiopia to Mombasa so the Indian Ocean port can act as a gateway to East Africa for trade with China and other nations.

China, which is competing with Western and Asian nations for influence in sub-Saharan Africa, had clearly scored points with passengers. “Anybody who cannot see what China has done for Kenya must be blind… China is the way to go,” said businessman Michael Kariuki.

The new railway was Kenyatta’s pet project and a key pledge in his 2013 election campaign. Its launch, well ahead of schedule, coincides with elections on Aug. 8, in which Kenyatta is seeking a second term.

[siteshare]One Belt, One Road, One Train[/siteshare]



Too Darn Hot

Scientists have long claimed that human influence on global climate change will eventually lead to more frequent and intense heat waves, increasingly severe storms and higher sea levels.

But the ramifications of climate change might be a bigger nightmare for some than others.

In a paper published recently in the journal Science Advances, researchers used troves of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to predict that as global temperatures rise, so too will sleepless nights.

According to the paper, for every 100 Americans, an extra six nights of tossing and turning can be expected by 2050. By 2099, that number would double, according to their estimates.

But don’t demand a sleep aid from your doctor just yet. Scientists believe the analysis has serious shortcomings, such as failing to consider how human society will look in the future, the New York Times reported.

“This would be way down on my list of things to worry about with climate change, even though I’m a sleep researcher,” said Jerome M. Siegel, head of a sleep laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, who wasn’t involved in the study.

[siteshare]Too Darn Hot[/siteshare]

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