Terrorism & Security
Ukrainian riot police withdrew from the main protester-occupied square in Kiev this morning, after a night of clashes failed to oust demonstrators from their encampment and the government buildings they were occupying.
The New York Times reports that by 11 a.m. local time, most Ukrainian security forces had left Independence Square and its surroundings. While it's unclear why they pulled back, it led to a "festive mood" in sharp contrast with overnight confrontations between police and protesters in the square. Anti-government demonstrators have been occupying the area since late last month, after President Viktor Yanukovych decided not to sign an association agreement with the European Union.
Reuters reports that hundreds of police moved into the area last night, "flood[ing] roads to square and mov[ing] slowly into the main camp, bulldozing tents and barricades... Dozens of demonstrators and police were hurt in scuffles but several officers said they had orders not to use force."
The action appeared to stall as day broke, with temperatures in the snowbound capital stuck at minus 8 degrees Celsius (17 Fahrenheit). Some riot police left to cheers from lines of protesters holding them back. ...
Protesters hailed the police withdrawal on Wednesday.
"I sense a victory. We will hope that our president will understand this and do the right thing and resign," said Andriy Shchyur, a 25-year-old from the Western city of Lviv.
"We are seeing that truth does exist, that it is worth fighting for. It is a small victory, but these small victories will lead to big victories," said protester Serhiy Chorny.
Radio Free Europe reports in its live blog that "30 people have required medical attention and 15 people have required hospitalization, nine police officers and six protesters," as a result of the clashes. Injuries ranged from frostbite to broken bones and head injuries.
Both the EU and the US had top level diplomats on the scene – EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland are in Kiev – and both roundly condemned the riot police's actions last night. The Financial Times reports that Ms. Ashton said she regretted the use of force “to remove peaceful people from the centre of Kiev,” while US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed Washington's "disgust" with the Ukrainian actions.
“The United States expresses its disgust with the decision of Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest in Kiev’s Maidan Square with riot police, bulldozers, and batons rather than with respect for democratic rights and human dignity,” he said in a statement.
“As church bells ring tonight amid the smoke in the streets of Kiev, the United States stands with the people of Ukraine. They deserve better.”
Radio Free Europe reports in its live blog of the situation in Kiev that Ms. Nuland, after a two-plus-hour "tough but realistic" meeting with President Yanukovych, said "We have made it absolutely clear to Yanukovych that actions such as those that occurred overnight are unacceptable in a democratic society."
Ukrainian Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko issued a statement calling for calm, notes Reuters. "I want everyone to calm down. There will be no storming of the square. No one will violate your rights to protest peacefully, but do not ignore the rights ... of other citizens."
But while the backlash has spurred the government to reiterate its openness to resume trade talks with the EU, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov warned that Ukraine will need investment to do so. Reuters reports that Mr. Azarov said Ukraine, which faces a potential economic crisis as the political deadlock compounds its financial difficulties, will need 20 billion euros in aid before it can sign a deal with the EU. But he promised that talks with Russian officials, scheduled for Dec. 17, would not include discussion of joining Russia's customs union, a deal which protesters are adamantly opposed to.
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Two French soldiers were killed in the Central African Republic (CAR) today. Their deaths come less than a week after French troops mobilized there under the UN Security Council, highlighting the difficulty the troops face in a volatile country that some say is on the brink of a genocide.
“The president expresses his profound respect for the sacrifice of these two soldiers and renews his full confidence in the French forces committed – alongside African forces – to restoring security in the Central African Republic, to protecting the people and guaranteeing access to humanitarian aid,” the statement said.
Mr. Hollande is scheduled to visit the CAR, where an estimated 1,600 French troops have been deployed, on his way back from Nelson Mandela’s memorial in South Africa today.
Nearly 400 people were reported killed in and around Bangui before the French forces were deployed, according to Agence France-Presse. French troops have orders to disarm rebels and militias, and described the situation in Bangui as relatively calm on Monday night, shortly before the exchange of fire that led to the soldiers’ deaths.
The landlocked former French colony has become increasingly unstable since March, when the rebel group Seleka, a majority-Muslim group, ousted President François Bozizé. Former Seleka leader Michel Djotodia took over as president and then called for the disbanding of the rebel group. Since then, violence has spiked, according to The Christian Science Monitor:
Armed militia groups trawl through villages and towns pillaging, killing, and burning homes to the ground.
Although President Djotodia disbanded Séléka and incorporated its warlords into the country’s Army, former rebels have continued to wreak havoc and launch brutal attacks.
Christian militias, known as anti-balaka, or anti-machete, groups have formed in response, carrying out violence against CAR’s Muslim population.
" 'The resulting tit-for-tat spiral of violence [between Muslims and Christians] is creating the foundation of a religious conflict that will be very difficult to stop,' Lawrence D. Wohlers, the recently departed US ambassador to CAR, told Foreign Policy.
"Although it is the Christian population that has suffered the most until now, the Muslim population is a distinct minority and may suffer far more as Seleka's power declines.”
The sectarian violence has worried many regional watchers who fear they may be witnessing the sowing of “seeds of genocide,” reminiscent of the brutal conflict in Rwanda in 1990s, reports The New York Times:
Clearly, United Nations officials have been haunted by the sectarian tenor of the conflict. In a briefing to the Council, the deputy secretary general, Jan Eliasson, called it “a vicious cycle that could very easily turn into mass atrocities.”
Let no one say later that the world was not warned, he went on to tell reporters. “It is not as much a problem of early warning — we have had this warning for a long time,” Mr. Eliasson said. “The question now is timely response.”
The African Union has pledged to send 3,500 troops, but their deployment has been delayed due to need for transport.
The Financial Times reports that the early French causalities underscore “the difficulty facing French forces.” To put this in perspective, only seven French soldiers have been killed to date in Mali, where French troops deployed last year to stop an Islamist insurrection from overtaking the country.
France is concerned that a power vacuum in the CAR could attract organised Islamist groups to set up in the country and destabilise neighbouring states, prompting Mr Hollande to launch his second military intervention in Africa within a year. The CAR operation is on a smaller scale than the intervention in Mali in January to oust Islamist groups threatening to take over the country, also a former French colony.
The deaths could potentially complicate things for France, which has said its troops are not on the front lines. “[T]hese deaths suggest French troops are going beyond a support mission and are involved in direct combats. This could complicate Paris's objective of repatriating its troops before the summer, and hand over the peace keeping mission to a full-fledged U.N. force,” reports The Wall Street Journal.
According to UNICEF, upwards of 48,000 people have been displaced from CAR since the coup in March. That number is made up largely of women and children.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has announced he is assembling a "nationwide panel discussion," consisting of himself and his three presidential predecessors, to establish "a platform for understanding" to resolve his country's rising instability.
But the meeting, set for Tuesday, may not come quickly enough for protesters, as riot police have begun to take up positions in Kiev, a day after hundreds of thousands took to the street to demand Mr. Yanukovych's resignation and that of his cabinet.
Yanukovych announced plans for the round table on the presidential website today. The site says that the proposal was put forward by Leonid Kravchuk, the country's first president.
Events on the ground may outpace the initiative, however, as Kiev appear to be increasingly combustible. The New York Times reports that the Ukrainian government shut down three subway stations around Independence Square in Kiev, as "battalions of police moved in and took up positions outside the perimeter of the main protest site."
Demonstrators were scrambling to reinforce barricades, and they moved public benches, wood planks and anything else available to add to the fortifications that have closed off the area for more than a week.
Some demonstrators appeared to be evacuating Kiev City Hall, which they had occupied, in the expectation that it would be an early target of any enforcement action. A crowd was gathering outside the building, including many television news crews, indicating that whatever happened would be highly publicized. ...
Senior government officials had promised Western diplomats that they would not seek to oust peaceful protesters by force. But the events of Sunday may have changed those calculations, as the authorities seemed to lose control of large swaths of the capital.
Sunday saw crowds in Kiev of at least 100,000 people – the figure reported by the Ukrainian interior ministry, though protesters said their numbers were several times that. They pressed their demand for Yanukovych's resignation, with their anger particularly driven by rumors that Yanukovych had signed a trade deal with Russia during a meeting with Vladimir Putin on Friday. While both governments deny that such an agreement was even discussed, Kit Gillet reports for The Christian Science Monitor that the possibility energized the crowd.
“We don’t know whether he signed anything or not, but irrespective we understand that he is inclined to sign something with Russia,” says Oleh Pluhararenko, a lawyer from Kiev, who held a banner reading: Hey Putin, leave us alone. “Signing something with Russia means we are selling our country to them,” he says.
And in a visual display of their hostility toward Russia, protesters tore down a large statue of Lenin that stood in Kiev's Bessarabska Square, reports CNN. Police are investigating the incident, and the Ukrainian state news agency reported that a lawmaker for a nationalist party claimed his group was responsible.
In an apparent attempt to cool the rising temperatures in Kiev, Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said today that an agreement for Ukraine to join Russia's nascent customs union is years off, reports Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
“There are no preliminary agreements,” he told reporters in Moscow. “It’s a long and complicated path because it assumes a massive amount of work and a clear desire to join on the part of a country that’s a possible candidate. We have seen no such clear desire.”
And Sergei Markov, an adviser to Mr. Putin's staff, told Bloomberg that "The situation in Ukraine is too explosive right now [for Ukraine to join the union] and the president understands that."
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The operation started hours after the United Nations Security Council approved a French-sponsored resolution allowing for the use of military force to subdue ethnic violence in the landlocked African nation, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Radio France Internationale, according to the Associated Press.
At least 50 people were killed Thursday in fighting in the capital city of Bangui between rebels now running the country –the majority of whom are Muslim - and opposition groups who are mainly Christian, according to The Wall Street Journal. This follows months of growing clashes and lawlessness after rebel groups toppled former president François Bozizé in April.
France, which already has about 600 troops on the ground, plans on doubling its forces to 1,200 troops by this weekend. The UN resolution also approved the use of forces from MISCA, an African multinational force.
“Today, France is called upon to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe,” French President François Hollande said in a television address Thursday.
France had been considering increasing the number of its troops in the Central African Republic since at least late November, when The Christian Science Monitor reported that France planned on tripling its forces in the nation.
Tension in the Central African Republic has been building for years, as the Monitor explained in November:
For years the government has been challenged by a hodgepodge of three rebel factions called Séléka that have independently been in revolt. The Séléka alliance was born from the frustration in the majority Muslim north of being marginalized by a Christian-dominated government that failed to deliver on promises of development.
Following a three-month advance from Séléka’s stronghold in the north to the capital of Bangui, rebel leader Michel Djotodia named himself president in April in what has been described as a coup.
The country, or CAR as it is often known, has since been in a state of lawlessness. Armed militia groups trawl through villages and towns pillaging, killing and burning homes to the ground.
While the conflict was not originally religious in nature, “Since the movement took over, ethnic and religious cleavages between the CAR’s Muslim minority and the Christian majority have amplified,” Monitor correspondent Gillian Parker reported. “... fear and mistrust have proliferated as communities seek to protect themselves. The impunity of attacks by former rebels has triggered the emergence of Christian vigilante militias collectively known as “anti-balaka” (anti-machete).”
France’s Central African Republic operation follows its January intervention in Mali, when it responded to the request of the Mali government to help drive out Al Qaeda linked militants who had taken over northern Mali.
The French public widely supported the intervention, and it was seen as President Hollande’s most successful decision in 18 months as president, but after two French journalists were killed last month, the French public is beginning to wonder how long France will stay involved, the Monitor’s Paris bureau chief reported last month. France still has about 2,800 troops in Mali.
France also has to grapple with how its colonial past affects its relationship with Africa today. The Associated Press notes:
France has long served as Africa’s policeman, sending troops in regularly — and often meddling behind the scenes — to keep the peace and secure its interests on a continent where it was once a major colonial power. In more recent years, as it comes to terms with that colonial past, France has tried to forge a different, more equal relationship, focusing on trade.
But it remains a dominant military force for Africa, training African troops and responding to calls from African leaders themselves to help quell conflicts.
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Unidentified militants launched a brazen attack in the heart of Yemen's capital Thursday morning, targeting the country's defense ministry in a car bombing and ground assault that left dozens dead.
According to various reports, the assailants attacked the gate of the ministry first with gunfire and a suicide car-bombing, before breaking into the ministry compound and occupying a hospital within. A brief statement from the ministry said at least 20 people were killed, though many reports suggest the death toll was higher.
The BBC's Shaimaa Khalil reported from the scene that the militants wore Yemeni army uniforms and engaged in a gunfight with government forces throughout the morning. The BBC adds that officials estimated casualties of at least 29 people, with more than 70 injured.
"The attack took place shortly after working hours started at the ministry when a suicide bomber drove a car into the gate," a ministry source said, quoted by Reuters.
The blast was heard hundreds of metres away.
"The explosion was very violent, the whole place shook because of it and plumes of smoke rose from the building," an eyewitness told the agency.
Reuters reports that a Western doctor and a Filipina nurse were among those killed in the attack.
The defense ministry, in a statement, said that "most" of the gunmen had been killed, writes the Associated Press. President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi arrived at the complex later in the day to inspect the scene of the attack and meet with military commanders.
The militants were armed with assault rifles, hand grenades, and rocket-propelled grenades. And while no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, AP writes that it "bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida, whose chapter in Yemen is considered among the world's most active."
Al-Qaida militants are concentrated in the southern and eastern parts of Yemen, but they occasionally strike in the capital. They took advantage of the tenuous security prevailing in 2011 and 2012 during an uprising against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh by seizing territory in the south. The government has since recaptured al-Qaida-held areas....
The United States has been helping Yemen combat the threat of al-Qaida, training Yemeni special forces, supplying them with arms and exchanging intelligence with the Sanaa government.
Reuters notes that Al Qaeda militants have been stepping up targeted attacks against senior Yemeni military personnel. On Sunday gunmen on foot killed an army colonel and his son while their car waited at a traffic light in the town of al-Qatan. Yemeni officials say that since last year, more than 80 soldiers have been killed in such attacks, often involving gunmen on motorcycles.
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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s powerful uncle, who is vice chairman of the military, has been dismissed from his post, lawmakers in South Korea say. While the move has yet to be confirmed, it has set off a debate about the young leader's grip on power in a country where the military has long held considerable clout.
The reports, originating with South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, could not be independently verified. But if they are, this could be the first open sign of change in North Korea’s leadership since Mr. Kim took the helm two years ago, reports The Washington Post.
“This could be a sign there’s a problem with Kim Jong-un’s grip on power,” Ahn Chan Il, who heads the World Institute for North Korea Studies in Seoul, told Bloomberg. “I suspect there is a stability issue in the regime.”
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Kim has already replaced his chief of general staff three times since rising to power in 2011, and Jang Song-thaek, the uncle who was ousted, was last seen in North Korean media on Nov. 6, reports The Associated Press.
In addition to Mr. Jang reportedly losing his influential military position, ranked only behind Kim, two of his Worker’s Party aides were executed for corruption, the South Korean lawmakers said, according to Reuters.
[Jang] … has been the central figure in a coterie of top officials and family members who worked to ensure the young and untested son of Kim Jong Il took over power when his father died in 2011.
Jang, who is widely seen as an advocate of economic reform, was previously purged in a power struggle in 2004 under Kim Jong Il's rule but was reinstated two years later.
Analysts who watch the North's power structure say Jang's removal would not have been possible without leader Kim Jong Un's approval.
“Kim is warning the public with the executions, and it can only mean he’s feeling insecure about his power,” Lee Ji Sue, a professor of North Korean studies at Myongji University in Seoul told Bloomberg.
Observers say Kim has needed to demonstrate his command with the military since he took over the 1.2 million-strong Army after his father, Kim Jong-il, died in December 2011.
Lee Jong-min, dean of the graduate school of international studies at Yonsei University, told The Christian Science Monitor last year that Kim feels a particular need to “burnish his military credentials” as he has little on-hands or practical experience with the institution that has taken the leading role in the nation for decades.
Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, had years of military experience as a revolutionary fighter, and under his rule the military played an increasingly important role in the ruling Worker’s Party. For that reason, his heir, Kim Jong-il, “sensed the need to establish himself as leader of the national defense commission as it gained ascendancy over the party,” the Monitor reports.
“The party is not supposed to control the military as in the Kim Il-sung era,” says Choi Jin-wook, senior fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification. “After Kim Il-sung died, Kim Jong-il bypassed the party to control the military.”
Kim Jong-un’s confidence, in colorful recognition of his primacy over the generals and relatives who are believed to be orchestrating his rule, was clearly bolstered by the acquisition of formal titles. He has surrounded himself with newly promoted senior officers as he protects his own position behind an appearance of growing military strength. At the core of his top advisers is his uncle-in-law, Jang Song-thaek, married to Kim Jong-il's younger sister. Kim Jong-il named Jang a general as well as vice chairman of the national defense commission long before he died.
It is no certainty that these reported moves would be a sign of weakness for Kim. Cheong Seong-chang, a researcher at the Sejong Institute told Bloomberg that, “The executions and Jang’s removal from posts show Kim Jong-un’s power is very solid at the moment.” Mr. Cheong said he expects “the race for loyalty will heat up in the ruling circle in the future.”
Furthermore, intelligence reports on North Korea have been wrong countless times in the past. “There are a lot of stories, and there have been a lot of stories that have not panned out,” John Delury, assistant professor of political science at Seoul Yonsei University, told Time. “At this point, there are still a lot of question marks.”
Information is scarce and the North Korean leadership tends not to announce this type of purge, says Brian Bridges, a Korea scholar at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. North Korea watchers usually find out about ousters after that fact, he says, noticing, say, that a certain figure failed to appear at an event, or has been quietly been replaced.
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Three hundred and fifty thousand Ukrainians packed Kiev's main square Sunday to protest the government's abandonment of a trade agreement with the European Union that, in many Ukrainians' eyes, was packed with promise of a different future.
The Nov. 21 decision, which pivots Ukraine's trade policy back toward Russia, came after months of pressure from Russia and prompted the biggest protests since the Orange Revolution of 2004-05. The EU agreement would have set Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, on a path toward greater European integration.
"They stole the dream," opposition politician Vitaly Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxer, called out in Independence Square Sunday, according to Reuters.
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The demonstrations have a central demand: the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych. But there is no clear leader among the opposition yet, The Wall Street Journal reports.
“Society has to take the initiative,” Oleh Rybachuk, a former government minister, told The Wall Street Journal. “People went onto the street because they wanted to live in Europe. They didn’t chant a single name of a politician, unlike in 2004. If politicians fail to lead, it will be done by well-organized students.”
Demonstrations have been ongoing since the government decision, and took a violent turn this weekend as police tried to rein them in with tear gas and stun grenades, Reuters reports:
TV footage showed Berkut (special forces) police striking people on the legs and body with batons or kicking them as they lay on the ground.
Kiev's medical authorities said 112 people were given first aid treatment for injuries on Saturday, 42 of whom were kept in hospital. Police said 100 officers had been injured in the violence during the day.
An online TV station, called Public TV, on Sunday listed 29 journalists, mainly cameramen and photographers, who had suffered at the hands of police while covering the weekend events in Kiev.
At least 12 of these had been beaten by riot police. Those hurt included a Reuters cameraman who was beaten on the arms and whose camera was destroyed.
Bloomberg Businessweek puts the number seeking medical care at 165, with 109 admitted to the hospital. The Wall Street Journal reports that protests had been petering out until the police crackdown, which infuriated demonstrators and swelled their support.
Opposition leaders called for a national strike today. The number of people who join in will be an indicator of how much support they have for their calls for the government's resignation.
Protesters have entered and blocked some government buildings and put up barricades on Independence Square, BBC reports. Overnight, they pitched tents there as well. This morning, the parliamentary speaker said that there would be talks between the government and opposition today.
The dispute has a more prosaic dimension as well. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Russia and the EU each buy about a quarter of Ukraine's exports, but that Russia supplies 60 percent of its gas. They have accused each other of pressuring the Ukrainian government.
Putin’s government may have offered Ukraine $15 billion in loans, debt restructuring and asset purchases to persuade it not to proceed with the EU deal, the Ukrainian magazine Zerkalo Nedeli said. Azarov also said yesterday on Inter television he wanted to agree a new price of gas in two weeks.
Russia will offer cheaper natural gas to Ukraine if the government in Kiev opts to join the Moscow-led economic bloc, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said in an interview.
“A gas agreement could help relieve Ukraine of a huge problem,” Shuvalov said in comments cleared for publication Nov. 30. “We can also give them a loan, but we will not help them without commitments on their part.”
The Wall Street Journal reports that neither party expected the disagreement to escalate like this, and that leaders "seemed taken aback by the scale of the protests, but had few obvious levers to influence the situation."
“The Russians are now spectators to what is going on,” said Steven Pifer, a former US ambassador to Kiev and now an analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “It’s something that’ll take place between the street and Yanukovych.”
Ukrainian government officials have insisted that the decision to break off negotiations with the EU has not closed the door entirely. First Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov said in an interview with the website "forUm" that "Ukraine continues to move towards the European Union," and an agreement would be signed.
"I still have optimistic mood, because there are agreements on road map. And I'm talking not about the conditions of the Association but about the problems that we planned to decide before signing and after signing of the Association Agreement. We knew the risks and had calculations. We told Europe about our problems. We found understanding. Unfortunately, it was not previously put on paper," he stressed.
According to the first deputy Prime Minister, due to this the agreement could not be signed in Vilnius. "We will correct this situation. We will create a working group. I think Europe will support us," he said.
Bloomberg Businessweek writes that corruption and political upheaval have left Ukraine "far behind its neighbors," as "the economy is stagnating, budget and trade deficits are ballooning, and the central bank is running low on reserves."
Ukraine could have faced a miserable winter if it hadn’t cozied up to Russia and turned its back on a trade deal with the European Union. Moscow had hinted it would tighten the screws on Ukraine’s gas supply if the EU deal went through. It has already slapped restrictions on trade with Ukraine, which now sends about one-quarter of its exports to Russia.
But in opting for short-term relief, Ukraine may have condemned itself to long-term status as Europe’s worst economic basket case.
Twenty years ago, per capita incomes in Ukraine were about the same as in nearby countries such as Bulgaria, Latvia, and Romania. No more. Ukraine is now by far the region’s poorest country (apart from tiny Moldova), with incomes averaging no more than half the level of its neighbors.
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Air force Spokesman Col. Shen Jinke told the state news agency Xinhua Friday that China dispatched the aircraft Thursday as part of a routine defense measure “in line with international common practices.”
"China's air force is on high alert and will take measures to deal with diverse air threats to firmly protect the security of the country's airspace," he added.
Beijing announcing that all planes traveling through the airzone must identify themselves or face “defensive emergency measures,” angering Japan and South Korea, which both reported Thursday that had defied China by sending aircraft into the zone unannounced this week.
South Korea's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se denounced the airzone, telling the BBC it had made "already tricky regional situations even more difficult to deal with.”
China's decision to send warplanes into the airzone might be an effort to regain face after failing to actually enforce the zone it had just created.
The events of the past week come amid growing tensions between China and Japan and their claims to disputed islands -- called the Diaoyu by China and the Senkaku by Japan -- since the Japanese government bought three islands in 2012 from a private Japanese owner.
The Christian Science Monitor says Beijing “saw the move as a violation of a longstanding informal agreement to leave the territorial dispute in abeyance pending a possible agreement to jointly exploit any resources, such as oil and gas, which may be discovered in the islands’ vicinity.”
China laid claim to the islands last year with territorial baselines and has dispatched ships into and near Japanese waters almost daily since then. The new airzone raises the stakes. While few see any kind of military clash as imminent, the low-simmering dispute has raised fears of unintentionally inciting an incident.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference Thursday in Tokyo, according to local Japanese media, that “Despite China's announcement they have set up an air defense zone, we have carried out routine surveillance and intercept missions over the East China Sea, including the newly declared zone,” Suga said. “The Self-Defense Forces will maintain the flexibility to conduct patrolling operations (in the area) using warring aircraft, destroyers and other vessels when the need arises.”
The US also displayed its disapproval by dispatching two B-52 bombers into the airzone Tuesday, flouting the “rules laid down by China just days before, sending a clear message about US opinion of China's unilateral declaration of sovereignty,” writes The Christian Science Monitor.
The European Union also condemned China's moves. "This development heightens the risk of escalation and contributes to raising tensions in the region," top diplomat Catherine Ashton said in a statement. "The EU calls on all sides to exercise caution and restraint."
China's minimal response to actions flouting the airzone may not continue much longer -- its lack of enforcement has been an "embarrassment," the Associated Press reports.
Some Chinese state media outlets suggested Thursday that Beijing may have mishandled the episodes. "Beijing needs to reform its information release mechanism to win the psychological battles waged by Washington and Tokyo," the Global Times, a nationalist tabloid published by the Communist Party's flagship People's Daily, said in an editorial.
An analyst told the AP that over time China might gain the upper hand by wearing down the Japanese, with an eye on an eventual change in the status quo. "With regard to activity within the zone, nothing will happen — for a while," June Teufel Dreyer, a China expert at the University of Miami, told the AP. "Then the zone will become gradually enforced more strictly. The Japanese will continue to protest, but not much more, to challenge it."
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The US flew two B-52 bombers through the East China Sea Tuesday, taking them through China's recently declared air defense zone. The move flouted rules laid down by China just days before, sending a clear message about US opinion of China's unilateral declaration of sovereignty.
China this weekend declared the airspace above disputed East China Sea islands as part of an "air defense identification zone" and said planes traveling through it must notify Chinese authorities. The US sent no notification of the B-52 flights, which were part of a scheduled military exercise, according to The Wall Street Journal. [Editor's note: The original version of this story misnamed the East China Sea.]
In its first public comment on the incident today, the Chinese defense ministry told The Wall Street Journal that it had identified and monitored the US aircraft, as it would do with every flight into the air zone, and warned that it had the capability to impose "effective control" on the area. A Chinese foreign ministry statement today further clarified that its new policy does not restrict the right of others to fly through the area.
The air zone lies over a group of islands claimed by both China and Japan, known in China as the Diaoyu and Japan as the Senkaku. Japan already claims the airspace.
The declaration of the air zone is perceived as an effort by Beijing to boost its claim to sovereignty of the islands – and is part of a larger bid to change the status quo in the East China Sea by making the issue a live dispute and eventually making it difficult or prohibitive for Japan to claim the territory.
US officials told The Wall Street Journal that "they had to challenge the air-defense zone to make clear they don't consider its establishment appropriate or in the interest of regional stability."
US officials stressed that both the exercise and flight path were long planned. A senior defense official said that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who was briefed on the exercise, had made clear over the weekend that the U.S. should continue to fly over the islands.
There was little debate in the Pentagon about canceling the exercise or adjusting its flight path. Changing the exercise, the official said, would make it appear that Mr. Hagel was backing down and that the U.S. was acquiescing to the new zone.
US defense officials said there would be further military exercises in the area, and acknowledged it is possible that China could attempt to contact or intercept the aircraft involved in future flights.
Officials said the military's Pacific Command routinely prepares for contingencies, but that planners didn't think it was likely that China would attempt to challenge the flight.
US military planes often ignore the air-defense zones of non-allied countries, and frequently respond to any radio hail by asserting the right to operate in an international air space.
China made no attempt to contact the aircraft. The foreign ministry said today that its lack of action was "in accordance" with the defense ministry's guidelines and that the response would depend on "how big the threat was," The New York Times reports. Japan also flouted China's newly asserted air zone guidelines today by flying civilian commercial aircraft through the zone without identifying them, in a reversal of a position taken a few days back.
Naval expert Zhang Junshe told state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua that "the establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone is not related to the situations around the Diaoyu Islands and should not be considered a countermeasure against Japan," adding that it was necessary to protect "sovereignty and security," and "common international practice," and was borne out of self-defense.
There is little risk of conflict over such moves, a Japanese analyst told The Christian Science Monitor.
[A] clash isn't likely, he adds. “China’s intention is not to show its military strength or to spark a conflict, but to underline its sovereignty” over the disputed islands, known as the Diaoyu in China and the Senkaku in Japan.
That is a view shared by a senior Japanese military analyst, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. “Both sides want to avoid an incident around the Senkakus,” he says. “Both militaries have been very, very careful about not going into each others’ air or sea space” since the dispute broke out in September last year, deploying civilian proxies such as Coast Guard vessels instead, he points out.
But with both sides claiming the right to monitor aircraft in an overlapping zone, and to scramble fighters to deal with unidentified craft, accidents are more likely. US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel warned Saturday that China’s declaration of an ADIZ “increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations.”
Japan has no intention of validating China's unilateral claim, the Monitor reports, because the Japanese increasingly see China's pressure in the East China Sea as a "test of their determination." Standing down on one issue could lead to a cascade of similar moves. To acquiesce to China's demands for identification when flying through the area would "sound as if we admit their claim" to the territory, the Japanese analyst said.
An impending trip to China, Japan, and South Korea by Vice President Joe Biden was meant to focus on economic issues, but will now likely be "consumed by fallout" from the air defense zone, The New York Times reports. A senior Chinese analyst, Shi Yinhong, said that it presented a "test of wills" between the US and China, which already has fraught relations with many of the countries in the region as well as the US.
But most of all, Mr. Biden will now be faced with the reality of Beijing’s determination to show what kind of major power relationship it wants with the United States, namely one in which China is regarded as an equal.
But Mr. Shi defended the new air zone as an expression of China’s determination to be regarded as a great power.
“This is the first time since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 that it has expanded its strategic space beyond offshore waters,” he said.
That expansion of China’s strategic area provoked the United States to fly the two B-52 bombers through the new air zone without warning Beijing, he said.
“That’s why Washington made such a harsh and firm reaction,” he said. “This represents America saying ‘no’ to China’s aspiration in the western Pacific.”
A daily roundup of global reports on security issues.
On the heels of the diplomatic success of nuclear talks between the West and Iran, the United Nations announced a new round of talks to take place in January between Syria's government and rebel factions. But with the key rebel military group abstaining and Bashar al-Assad's forces in control of the battlefield, analysts see limited scope for diplomatic efforts, at least for the moment.
The UN announced on Monday that the "Geneva 2" talks will take place on Jan. 22 and involve representatives from both the Syrian government and rebel factions. Previous talks were held in June 2012 in Geneva. Although UN chief Ban Ki-moon did not say who would attend from the antigovernment camp, the Associated Press cites British Foreign Minister William Hague as saying that the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main rebel political group, would be there.
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But the Free Syrian Army, the largest rebel force on the ground, will not attend, Reuters reports. Saying that "Conditions are not suitable," top FSA commander Gen. Salim Idriss warned that "we will not stop combat at all during the Geneva conference or after it, and what concerns us is getting needed weapons for our fighters."
Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Centre think tank, told Agence France-Presse that Geneva talks have only a "50-50" chance of convening, as they are "hostage to the situation on the ground" – where things have been going well for Mr. Assad's forces.
"January 22 is still a long way off," said Richard Gowan, director of New York University's Center for International Cooperation.
"The Syrian army has been scoring new victories over the rebels, and could intensify its efforts to strengthen its military position before the talks."
James Bays, diplomatic editor at Al Jazeera, says that the announcement of January talks is likely borne of frustration on the UN's part, rather than a clear plan for diplomatic progress. "The UN has tried to coax the opposition to the table previously. When that didn't work, they have had to set a date to try to force them to the table. Delegations will probably attend, but will they represent those on the ground? Probably not."
Although the possibility of a diplomatic solution in Syria has gained some momentum from the P5+1 talks over Iran's nuclear program, which reached an interim agreement over the weekend, analysts warn that that success in this forum does not indicate a way forward on Syria.
The Christian Science Monitor's Dan Murphy notes that the US and Iran struck an agreement on Iran's nuclear program because both parties had overlapping interests – but "when it comes to Syria, the interests of the US and Iran could not be more divergent."
Syria's civil war has become a proxy for Iranian and Saudi rivalry in the region. The Saudis are eager for the secular-leaning regime of Bashar al-Assad, who belongs to the Alawite offshoot of Shiite Islam that the Saudi religious establishment views as an assault on the purity of Islam, to fall. They want Syria's next government to be dominated by Sunni Arabs that will at the very least tolerate the flow of money from Saudi donors to jihadi groups in Syria. The US has been tacitly backing Saudi Arabia's play (the Saudis are angry that the US isn't arming Syria's rebels, but the US is on board in public with the "Assad must go" position).
The Iranians, meanwhile, are sending money, guns, and military trainers to help Mr. Assad survive, since his government remains a rare friend in the Arab world and they fear a long-term hit to their regional interests if he falls.
In short, Iran would still see the defeat of Assad as a disaster that could have destabilizing consequences for its only other close Arab friend, Iraq. Saudi Arabia, and the US, meanwhile, would view Assad's survival as a disaster. That doesn't present much ground for compromise.
Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr warned that Iran's nuclear deal might in fact embolden the Assad government, which "had the upper hand on the ground militarily, and felt strengthened by Iran, its main ally, returning to the international fold following the agreement to suspend its nuclear programme in return for easing of sanctions."