- China surveillance ships enter waters near disputed islands
- Obama's foreign policy bright spot now looking dimmer
- China jails ex-police chief, closes in on disgraced Bo
Posted: 23 Sep 2012 07:45 PM PDT
TOKYO (Reuters) - Two Chinese marine surveillance ships entered what Japan considers its territorial waters near disputed islands in the East China Sea on Monday, prompting an official protest from Tokyo amid rising tension between Asia's two biggest economies.
China's Xinhua news agency confirmed that two civilian surveillance ships were undertaking a "rights defence" patrol near the islands, citing the State Oceanic Administration, which controls the ships.
Japan's Foreign Ministry said it had lodged an official protest with the Chinese envoy to Japan against the move.
Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated sharply after Japan bought the islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, sparking anti-Japan protests in cities across China.
"In recent days, Japan has constantly provoked incidents concerning the Diaoyu islands issue, gravely violating China's territorial sovereignty," China's Xinhua news agency said.
The ship patrols were intended to exercise China's "administrative jurisdiction" over the islands, it said.
"Following the relevant laws of the People's Republic of China, (the ships) again carried out a regular rights defence patrol in our territorial waters around the Diaoyu islands."
The Japanese Coast Guard ordered the Chinese ships to move out of the area, but received no response, an official said.
Besides the two marine surveillance ships, there were nine Chinese fishery patrol ships near the islands as of 7:00 a.m. (11:00 p.m. British time on Sunday), but they were outside what Japan calls its territorial waters, the Coast Guard said.
Sino-Japanese ties have long been plagued by China's memories of Japan's military aggression in the 1930s and 1940s and present rivalry over regional influence and resources.
The islets are located near rich fishing grounds and potentially huge gas reserves.
The latest flare-up in tensions comes when both countries focus on domestic political pressures. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's government faces an election in months, adding pressure on him not to look weak on China.
China's Communist Party is preoccupied with a leadership turnover, with President Hu Jintao due to step down as party leader at a congress that could open as soon as next month.
Despite the long-running territorial disputes, their economic ties have grown closer over the years. China is Japan's largest trading partner. In 2011, their bilateral trade grew 14.3 percent in value to a record $345 billion (213 billion pounds).
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Antoni Slodkowski in Tokyo and Chris Buckley in Beijing; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Nick Macfie)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 23 Sep 2012 07:45 PM PDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - If you thought Mitt Romney was the only presidential candidate whose problems were piling up in the final stretch of the 2012 election campaign, think again.
From Middle East upheaval to the troubled Afghan war effort to a more assertive Russia, President Barack Obama is facing pressures that threaten to chip away at a foreign policy record his aides hoped would be immune to Republican attack.
The White House is increasingly concerned but isn't hitting the panic button, yet. Administration officials are heartened by Republican challenger Mitt Romney's own recent foreign policy stumbles and doubt Obama's critics will gain traction in a campaign focused mainly on the U.S. economy.
As a result, when Obama speaks inside the cavernous U.N. General Assembly hall on Tuesday exactly six weeks before the U.S. election, he will seek to reassure American voters as well as world leaders he is on top of the latest global challenges. But he won't propose any new remedies or bold initiatives.
There will be close scrutiny of how far he goes in talking tough about Iran's nuclear program - but even on that point, aides say privately he will not break new policy ground.
Obama's final turn on the world stage before facing voters will be a reflection of where his priorities lie. Despite simmering global crises, he will skip traditional private meetings with foreign counterparts and squeeze his U.N. visit into just 24 hours so he can jump back on the campaign trail.
However, Obama will make time in New York on Monday to tape an appearance on the popular TV talk-show "The View" - a scheduling decision that had campaign aides scrambling to defend the president's choice of voter outreach over diplomacy.
U.N. delegates shouldn't take it personally.
"It's just that they don't vote," said Joseph Cirincione, a foreign policy expert at the Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation.
But Obama's relatively low-key U.N. itinerary will also be a stark reminder that the heady optimism that greeted him when he took office promising to be a transformational statesman has cooled, giving way to geopolitical realities.
RUN OF BAD NEWS
Aides insist foreign policy is still a bright spot for Obama. The White House never tires of touting the killing of Osama bin Laden and the ending of the Iraq war. But his record appears to have dimmed a bit with a recent run of bad news.
Obama has found himself sharply at odds with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over how to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, a dispute that sent relations between the two close allies to a new low on the president's watch.
An eruption of violent unrest against U.S. diplomatic missions across the Muslim world has confronted Obama with his worst setback yet in his efforts to keep the Arab Spring from fuelling a new wave of anti-Americanism - and has underscored that he has few good options to deal with it.
NATO's cutback of joint operations with Afghan forces in response to a spate of deadly "insider" attacks has also raised questions about what will be left behind when, under Obama's strategy, most U.S. forces depart Afghanistan in 2014.
And Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision last week to suspend a U.S. aid mission to Moscow threatens what's left of Obama's "reset" in relations with Russia, which his aides had touted as a signature foreign policy accomplishment.
At the same time, the Obama administration has shown itself unwilling to intervene to end the bloody crisis in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad has defied calls to step aside.
Romney and his campaign aides have pounced on these developments, seeking to support their argument that Obama has weakened America's global standing by failing to lead.
"It's symptomatic of failed policy," said Dan Senor, a Romney adviser who served as a spokesman in Baghdad under President George W. Bush. "Biography and force of personality are nice attributes but not substitutes for leadership."
Obama, whose lofty oratory and vision of multilateralism helped him win the Nobel Peace Prize after 11 months in office, is widely credited with improving the tone of U.S. foreign policy after what was perceived as Bush's go-it-alone approach.
"It's clear that the United States is in a stronger position than we were when he took office," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in previewing the themes of Obama's U.N. speech.
But while polls show Obama remains personally popular in many parts of the world, America's image is again in decline, especially in the Middle East, the focus of intense personal outreach at the start of the president's term.
SAGGING FOREIGN POLICY RATING
Though it remains unclear how much of a liability the latest crisis will be for Obama at home, his approval rating on foreign policy dropped to 49 percent from 54 percent in August, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll after attacks on U.S. missions in Egypt, Libya and other Muslim countries.
But Romney may have a hard time reaping dividends. A Pew poll found that while 45 percent of Americans approved of Obama's handling of the crisis, only 26 percent backed Romney's criticism of his response. Romney was widely accused of opportunism in a national tragedy.
Obama, at the U.N., will address the unrest in Muslim countries fuelled by an anti-Islamic film his administration has denounced, and will repeat his message that the United States "will never retreat from the world," Vietor said.
The U.S. president said on Sunday in an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes" program that despite the promise of the Arab Spring, there will be "bumps in the road" on the way to a more democratic and peaceful Middle East and North Africa.
He will also reassert that Iran must not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. But aides say privately that while he may sharpen his rhetoric, he will stop short of setting a specific "red line" for Tehran as Netanyahu has demanded.
Obama told "60 Minutes" he shares Netanyahu's concerns but will make policy decisions based on U.S. interests.
Calls for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks - something he promised to make a priority when he took office but which he has failed to advance - have been a staple of Obama's U.N. appearances, and it would be a glaring omission if he did not mention the issue. But he will have to be cautious to avoid alienating pro-Israel voters.
Before travelling to New York, Egypt's new Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, told the New York Times that Washington must change its approach to the Arab world and help build a Palestinian state to reduce pent-up anger in the region.
The implicit warning in Obama's U.N. speech will be that a Romney presidency would pursue a more hawkish foreign policy.
Also unspoken will be the fact that Obama and his aides were caught flat-footed by the latest turmoil in Muslim countries and are still struggling to recalibrate their Arab Spring strategy.
Though the protests seemed to have subsided in most places for now, some conservative commentators have conjured up images of the Iran hostage crisis - which helped sink Jimmy Carter's re-election - should the situation deteriorate.
"If there's more of it, it drives home a sense that he doesn't know what he's doing," said Elliot Abrams, former deputy national security adviser under Bush.
(With additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Warren Strobel, Cynthia Osterman and Christopher Wilson)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 23 Sep 2012 07:14 PM PDT
BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court jailed ex-police chief Wang Lijun for 15 years on Monday after finding him guilty on four charges, including seeking to conceal the murder of a British businessman, in a scandal that felled ambitious politician Bo Xilai.
The verdict ends the career of one of China's most controversial police officers and moves the ruling Communist Party closer to deciding the fate of Bo whose contentious downfall has shaken a looming leadership handover.
The Intermediate People's Court of Chengdu in southwest China said Wang, former police chief of southwestern Chongqing municipality, received the sentence for "bending the law for selfish ends, defection, abuse of power and bribe-taking", according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
"Wang Lijun stated to the court that he will not appeal," said the Xinhua report. Wang's lawyer, Wang Yuncai, was not available for comment immediately after the announcement.
The scandal that felled both men erupted after Gu Kailai, the wife of Bo, murdered British businessman Neil Heywood in November 2011 in Chongqing, where Bo was the flamboyant Communist Party chief.
As well as the conviction of sabotaging an investigation into the murder, Wang was found guilty of defecting to a U.S. consulate, taking bribes and conducting illegal surveillance.
Officials have said the murder arose from a business dispute in Chongqing, which Bo and Wang ran as their fiefdom.
After first helping Gu evade suspicion of poisoning Heywood, Wang then kept evidence of the murder, according to the official account of Wang's trial. In late January, Wang confronted Bo with the allegation that Gu was suspected of killing Heywood. But Wang was "angrily rebuked and had his ears boxed".
Days later, Bo stripped Wang of his post as Chongqing police chief. Wang, fearing for his safety, fled west to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu where he hid for more than 24 hours until Chinese officials coaxed him out.
In August, Gu was sentenced to a suspended death sentence, which effectively means life in prison.
Wang sealed his fate at a trial a week ago by admitting the charges, according to an official account of the hearing published by Xinhua news agency. Only official media outlets were allowed inside the courtroom.
"As for the crimes that the prosecution has alleged, I understand them, I admit to them and I am repentant for them," Wang told the court in Chengdu, a city about 300 km (190 miles) from Chongqing, according to that earlier account.
The Chinese government has not said what will happen to Bo, who in March was sacked as party boss and in April suspended from the ruling Communist Party's Politburo, a powerful decision-making council with two dozen active members.
So far, Bo has only been accused of breaching internal party discipline. But experts say the public citing of Bo's angry rebuke of Wang has raised the likelihood that he too will face criminal charges, probably after the party congress.
Before then, party leaders could first expel Bo from the party and hand him over for criminal investigation.
"The prosecutors said Wang exposed leaders to major crimes by others," said Li Zhuang, a Beijing lawyer who opposed Wang and Bo for mounting a sweeping crackdown on foes in the name of fighting organised crime. Bo was the likely target of Wang's allegations, said Li.
"That was a slap around the ears that changed history," Li said of Bo's alleged actions against Wang. "Otherwise, Bo might still be in power and hoping to rise higher."
(Additional reporting by Sally Huang and Terril Yue Jones; Editing by Mark Bendeich and Nick Macfie)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
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