- Disputed islands 'within scope' of US-Japan alliance: Obama
- Grim ferry disaster search enters second week
- Australia to buy 58 US F-35s for $11.6bn
Posted: 22 Apr 2014 10:57 PM PDT
Tokyo (AFP) - The islands at the centre of a corrosive row between Tokyo and Beijing are covered by the US-Japan defence alliance, Barack Obama told a newspaper ahead of his arrival in Tokyo Wednesday.
Obama, who begins a tour of Asia that will also take in South Korea, the Philippines and Malaysia, is the first sitting US president to explicitly affirm that hostile action against the island chain would spark an American reaction.
"The policy of the United States is clear -- the Senkaku Islands are administered by Japan and therefore fall within the scope of Article 5 of the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security," Obama said in a written interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun.
"And we oppose any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan's administration of these islands," he said.
Several senior US figures, including former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have made similar statements, which Tokyo covets as a way to warn China away from territories it claims as the Diaoyus.
Obama's week-long tour of Asia is being dubbed a "rebalancing" eastward of US foreign policy by the White House.
Although China is not on his itinerary, its presence will be felt on every leg at a time of complex regional disputes and questions about US strategy.
The row over ownership of the Senkakus is not new, but has burst to the fore in the last two years, with paramilitary vessels from both sides jostling in nearby waters to assert control.
In November, China declared an air defence identification zone over the East China Sea, including the skies above the islands.
"I've also told (Chinese) President Xi (Jinping) that all our nations have an interest in dealing constructively with maritime issues, including in the East China Sea," Obama told the Yomiuri.
"Disputes need to be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy, not intimidation and coercion," he said.
As well as a degree of hand-holding with Asian allies who feel a little neglected, Obama will be striving to show Beijing that the US poses no threat and does not intend to contain it.
"We welcome the continuing rise of a China that is stable, prosperous and peaceful and plays a responsible role in global affairs. And our engagement with China does not and will not come at the expense of Japan or any other ally," Obama said.
Obama also said Washington has "enthusiastically welcomed Japan's desire to play a greater role in upholding international security" in areas of disaster relief and UN peacekeeping operations.
"I commend Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe for his efforts... to deepen the coordination between our militaries, including by reviewing existing limits on the exercise of collective self-defence" which allow Tokyo to protect its ally Washington in Asian security, Obama said.
Obama and Abe are due to have an informal dinner late Wednesday, with local media speculating it will be at a tiny sushi bar that has three Michelin stars but only a handful of seats and featured in the documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi". - AFP
Posted: 22 Apr 2014 10:18 PM PDT
JINDO , South Korea, April 23, 2014 (AFP) - The search for scores of passengers still missing from South Korea's ferry disaster entered a second week Wednesday, to the deepening distress of their grieving, angry and frustrated families.
The confirmed death toll stood at 146, but 156 were still unaccounted for, their bodies believed trapped in the inverted, submerged ship that sank a week ago in circumstances that have yet to be fully explained.
As the relatives of the missing began their daily vigil at the harbour of Jindo island, where bodies recovered from the disaster site are brought, others converged on a temporary memorial to the victims in Ansan city, 200 miles (320 kilometres) to the north.
Ansan has become a focal point of national mourning. The city is home to the Danwon High School which had 352 students and a dozen teachers on the Sewol when it capsized.
Nearly 280 students are among the dead and missing.
The memorial, set up in an indoor sports stadium, was opened Wednesday and comprised a giant, staggered bank of flowers - white, yellow and green chrysanthemums - among which rested the framed pictures of 22 students whose funerals have already taken place.
Above the floral wall, a large banner carried the message: "We pray for the souls of the departed".
In Jindo harbour, the latest bodies recovered from the ferry were taken to a small tented village set up to manage the process of identifying the bodies.
"I'm here to help you recognise the dead," a forensic official told a group of relatives called to the site because ID documents or distinguishing features indicated their family member might be among those brought ashore.
"We have cleaned the bodies, but did not take their clothes and socks off so that you can recognise them more easily," the official said, before leading them into a separate, closed-off section.
Each positive identification was marked by a piercing cry of anguished recognition and an outpouring of grief from the family members - most of them middle-aged parents.
The disaster has stunned South Korea where there has been widespread public anger directed at the ferry company and crew, the rescue coordinators and the government in Seoul.
The Sewol's captain, Lee Joon-Seok, and six crew members are under arrest with two other crew taken into police custody on Tuesday.
On Wednesday morning, prosecutors raided a host of businesses affiliated with the ferry operator - the Chonghaejin Marine Company.
The raid was part of a probe into "overall corruption in management", Kim Hoe-Jong, a prosecutor on the case, told AFP.
More than 70 executives and other people connected with Chonghaejin and its affiliates have been issued 30-day travel bans while they are investigated on possible charges ranging from criminal negligence to embezzlement.
Captain Lee and his surviving crew members have been pilloried in the media for abandoning the ship while hundreds remained trapped inside.
President Park Geun-Hye has described their actions as being "tantamount to murder".
There has been particular criticism of Lee's decision to delay the evacuation order until the vessel was listing so sharply that escape had become almost impossible.
Posted: 22 Apr 2014 05:15 PM PDT
SYDNEY, April 22, 2014 (AFP) - Australia will purchase 58 more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters at a cost of Aus$12.4 billion ($11.6 billion, the government said.
The new aircraft will bring Australia's total JSF force to 72 aircraft, with the first due to arrive in Australia in 2018 and enter service in 2020.
"The F-35 will provide a major boost to the Australian Defence Force's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in a statement released late Tuesday.
The deal is in addition to 14 F-35s Australia already approved in 2009.
"The acquisition of F-35 aircraft will bring significant economic benefits to Australia, including regional areas and local defence industry," Abbott added.
The government, which was to make a formal announcement on the deal later Wednesday, will also consider an option to buy another squadron of F-35s to replace the air force's fleet of F/A-18 Super Hornets.
The JSF has been touted as a technological wonder but has suffered setback after setback with a budget blown out to US$390 billion and seven years behind schedule, making it the costliest weapons programme in US history.
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