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Chinese Paper Says Uk Trying To Grab Attention With South China Sea Mission

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BEIJING – Britain’s Defence Ministry is trying to justify its existence and grab attention with a planned mission by a British warship to the disputed South China Sea next month, a Chinese newspaper said on Wednesday.

A British warship will sail through the South China Sea to assert freedom-of-navigation rights, British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said in remarks published on Tuesday during a visit to Australia.

British officials first flagged the voyage six months ago and the journey is likely to stoke tensions with China, who claim control of most of the area and have built military facilities on land features in the sea.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to the energy-rich sea through which billions of dollars in trade pass each year.

The widely read state-run tabloid the Global Times said Williamson needed to state clearly the purpose of the mission.

“If not provocation, the Royal Navy should behave modestly when passing through the South China Sea,” it said in editorials published in its English and Chinese-language editions.

“By acting tough against China, Britain’s Ministry of Defence is trying to validate its existence and grab attention,” it said.

The paper wondered whether the Royal Navy could actually complete the trip, considering budget cuts and problems with a new aircraft carrier that has a leak.

“As the Royal Navy has been hit by news such as a leaky aircraft carrier and the UK government has a tight budget, it appears a difficult mission for the Royal Navy to come all this way to provoke China,” it wrote.

China has repeatedly accused countries outside the region – generally a reference to the United States and Japan – of trying to provoke trouble in the South China Sea while China and its neighbors are trying to resolve the matter through diplomacy.

Speaking of Britain’s plan, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday it hoped “relevant sides don’t try to create trouble out of nothing”.

Britain, which will be leaving the European Union next year, has looked to China as one of the countries it wants to sign a free trade deal with once it leaves the bloc. British Prime Minister Theresa May ended a largely successful trip to China earlier this month.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard;

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Row Over Kenyan Oil Revenues Threatens To Delay Production

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LOKICHAR, Kenya – In the decades before oil was discovered in the northern Kenyan region of Turkana South, 100,000 poor villagers living in arid scrubland relied on a lone church-run health center in Lokichar town for medical help.

Since Tullow Oil found crude there six years ago, the London-listed company has funded a 40-bed referral hospital, school classrooms and dormitories, provided village water points graded roads, and paid for scholarships to generate goodwill.

Seeing the potential benefits of oil, residents of the poorest of Kenya’s 47 counties now want the central government to make up for decades of neglect by ploughing nearly a third of expected oil revenues back into Turkana.

The central government has other ideas.

Parliament passed a draft bill in 2016 allocating 20 percent of any state oil revenue to local government and 10 percent to communities living where the crude was discovered, leaving 70 percent for the central government in Nairobi.

But President Uhuru Kenyatta never signed the bill. A revised version due to be debated in parliament this month cuts the regional government share to 15 percent, with only 5 percent for local communities.

The legislation must be passed before large-scale oil production can begin. Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party, which controls 213 of parliament’s 349 seats, is likely to back the revised law, but some of its lawmakers may break ranks and side with the opposition pushing for more money for local communities.

“Now that they have suffered for so long, the revenue from oil must actually feed them, treat them and take their children to school,” said Jubilee Party member James Lomenen, member of parliament for Turkana South.

Lomenen plans to table an amendment to the Petroleum Exploration, Development and Production Bill to restore the 10 percent share to local communities.

IT‘S OUR LAND

Residents see the new terms as another slap in the face for Turkana, a vast scrubland the size of Sri Lanka where most residents live in villages without power or running water.

Joseph Nachar, a village elder in Loktorio, which is close to one of Tullow’s wells, said locals will oppose oil companies if they don’t get their 10 percent. He vowed to vote against any representative who doesn’t fight for their cut.

In 2013, demonstrators backed by local politicians marched on drilling sites demanding jobs and other benefits, forcing Tullow to halt work for two weeks. “We are the owners of the land where they are getting oil,” said Nachar.

Local leaders say the money will help make up for years of neglect in areas such as health and education. Turkana’s literacy rate is just 20 percent, while the national average is more than 70 percent.

The maternal mortality rate in Kenya was 382 for every 100,000 live births in 2014, but in Turkana it was above 1,000, the U.N. children’s fund (UNICEF) said.

“We are starting from scratch,” said Jane Ajele, Turkana county’s executive committee member for health.

Nairobi officials argue that Turkana’s economy, which largely depends on livestock, cannot absorb a wave of cash.

“We want them to prosper but if we see a pitfall somewhere, we have to advise people,” said Andrew Kamau, principal secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum.

Workers are seen at Tullow Oil’s Ngamia 8 drilling site in Lokichar, Turkana County, Kenya, February 8, 2018. Picture taken February 8, 2018. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

CORRUPTION SCANDALS

Most of Kenya’s oil blocks have not been explored. Those owned by Tullow and its partners, Africa Oil Corp and Total SA, hold an estimated 750 million barrels.

While that’s less than African frontier oil countries such as Uganda and Ghana, exports scheduled to start in 2021 would earn the government $1.2 billion a year at peak production at current prices, government officials say.

That’s about 10 percent of annual revenue, comparable to the country’s biggest export, tea.

The petroleum bill would also create a sovereign wealth fund, financed with oil revenues, which the government says it would manage to guard against currency fluctuations and theft.

But Turkana residents have little faith the government, tainted by a series of corruption scandals, will manage their money well.

Slideshow (10 Images)Kenya loses a third of its state budget – the equivalent of about $6 billion – to corruption every year, former anti-graft chief Philip Kinisu told Reuters in 2016.

The government denied the figure and Kinisu was fired five months after giving the interview. His successor did not respond to requests for comment.

Auditor General Edward Ouko has also accused the national government of corruption and mismanagement in a series of scathing reports.

He has been equally critical of county authorities, set up in 2013 to help counter complaints about central government theft. About 20 percent of Turkana’s 12 billion shilling ($119 million) budget in 2016 was unaccounted for, Ouko’s office said.

“With the corruption that we have in Kenya, you can only trust what goes to the community directly,” said MP Lomenen.

‘CLOCK IS TICKING’

Tullow has already spent 1.5 billion shillings ($15 million) on community projects. But the row over revenue sharing has eaten into the oil companies’ tight timelines.

“The clock is ticking,” said Tullow Oil Kenya country manager Martin Mbogo.

Technical studies of 40 wells in the Lokichar basin were due to start last year but have been delayed.

So has early oil production, due to start last June. About 2,000 barrels of crude were to be trucked out daily until an 800 km (500 mile) pipeline is built to Indian Ocean ports.

Petroleum ministry official Kamau said delegations including community representatives would visit established producers such as Nigeria, Canada and Oman to seek advice on revenue sharing.

In Nigeria, 13 percent of oil revenue goes to local communities, though that has not stopped attacks on oil installations by those wanting more. The rest is shared out among the three tiers of the Nigerian government; the federal branch gets 52 percent.

Expectations among the Turkana people are similarly high.

“They should think about us because we are not getting any help at all,” said Joshua Losepito, standing with his wife and daughter outside their hut made of sticks and branches near Lokichar town.

Additional reporting by Chijioke Ohuocha in Lagos;

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Cambodias Ruling Party Set To Sweep Senate Election

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PHNOM PENH – The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of Hun Sen is poised to sweep a Senate election at the weekend, helping to consolidate the prime minister’s rule of more than 30 years amid a crackdown on the opposition.

Sunday’s election for 58 members of the 62-strong Senate will see 123 members of parliament and 11,572 commune councilors vote at 33 polling stations across Cambodia. Two Senate members each are appointed by the king and the National Assembly.

But rights groups and opposition politicians say the Senate vote is a farce that shows Hun Sen, who faces a national election in July, is not committed to multi-party democracy.

Almost half of the commune councilors have been stripped of their right to vote in Sunday’s election after their opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved by a court last November at the request of Hun Sen’s government.

“It’s the first time the Senate election will be held without the main opposition, without competition,” said Koul Panha of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, an election watchdog.

About 5,007 CNRP commune councillors, or 44 percent of the 11,572 eligible to vote, had been stripped of their voting rights, he added.

“It’s neither democratic nor free and fair.”

Supporters of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), attend a senate election campaign at the Freedom Park in Phnom Penh, Cambodia February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang PringOnly three small political parties are contesting the vote, apart from the CPP.

“I expect that we will win by a lot,” said Sok Eysan, a CPP spokesman in the running for Sunday’s election. “It is 100 percent sure that I will be elected.”

Slideshow (2 Images)The ruling CPP was the only party to hold rallies during the 14-day campaign period leading up to Sunday’s vote, the National Election Committee said.

The Senate, whose members have six-year terms, is seen as a rubber stamp institution, but the president has constitutional power as the head of state to sign bills into law when the king is abroad.

Dissolution of the CNRP was followed by the arrest of its leader Kem Sokha last year for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government with U.S. help, an accusation both the United States and Kem Sokha have rejected.

The CNRP ban effectively removes any major obstacles to Hun Sen’s re-election in July.

Mu Sochua, the deputy president of the CNRP, called Sunday’s vote a “sham”, saying it would further widen Cambodia’s political divide.

“It is a sham election for the sole interest of the CPP to maintain and control absolute power,” Mu Sochua, who lives abroad in self-imposed exile, told Reuters.

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Australian Deputy Prime Minister Resigns After New Harassment Claim

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SYDNEY – Australia’s deputy prime minister said on Friday he will resign as leader of his party after weeks of pressure over an affair with a staffer that brought him into open conflict with his premier and a new allegation of sexual harassment emerged.

Barnaby Joyce said he will step down on Monday as leader of the National party, the junior partner in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s centre-right coalition, after resisting earlier calls to quit over the affair with his former media secretary, with whom he is expecting a child.

He will remain in parliament, safeguarding Turnbull’s shaky one-seat majority.

Joyce’s decision came after a falling-out with Turnbull, who is in the United States for meetings with President Donald Trump and who declined to leave him in charge while he is out of the country.

Turnbull called Joyce’s affair a “shocking error of judgment” last week, to which Joyce responded by calling Turnbull “inept”.

Joyce, a practising Catholic, has been married for 24 years and has campaigned on family values. He said he decided to quit after the new allegation of sexual harassment emerged on Friday.

He denied any wrongdoing but acknowledged the allegation had hastened his decision.

“I will say on Monday morning at the party room I will step down as the leader of the National Party and deputy leader of Australia,” Joyce said.

Joyce, whose support base rests in Australia’s traditionally conservative rural areas, wore his trademark Akubra bushman’s hat as he spoke to journalists in Armidale, the farming town he represents about 485 km (300 miles) northeast of Sydney.

Little-known outside Australia, Joyce made international headlines in 2015 when he deported two dogs brought into Australia by U.S. actor Johnny Depp without the proper paperwork, a row that became known as the “war on terrier”.

‘DISUNITY IS DEATH’

Barnaby Joyce, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, speaks during a media conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia February 16, 2018. AAP/Lukas Coch/via REUTERS Joyce had only been back in parliament less than a month after falling victim to a citizenship crisis that has dogged Turnbull’s government. Australia’s High Court deemed Joyce was a New Zealand citizen in October, forcing Turnbull to rule in minority until Joyce re-contested and won his seat again.

National Party federal director Ben Hindmarsh said on Friday the party had received the sexual harassment allegation against Joyce but declined to give any details.

A spokesman said Joyce believed the claim to be “spurious and defamatory” and had asked for it to be referred to police.

Slideshow (2 Images)The National Party will now elect a new leader, who will also become deputy prime minister under the terms of the coalition agreement with Turnbull’s Liberal party.

Veterans Affairs Minister Michael McCormack and David Gillespie, the assistant minister for children and families, both said they would contest the leadership ballot on Monday.

Joyce’s resignation will potentially heal the rift between the Liberal and National parties, a political alliance that has existed for nearly 100 years.

Nick Economou, senior lecturer in Australian politics at Monash University in Melbourne, said it would have been impossible for both Turnbull and Joyce to return to parliament next week after they fell out.

“In Australian politics, disunity is death,” Economou said.

Two-thirds of Australian voters wanted Joyce to resign, The Australian newspaper’s Newspoll showed earlier this week.

Joyce’s decision to resign should get the row off the front pages, offering Turnbull at least temporary respite, although Joyce will now sit on the backbench with former prime minister Tony Abbott, the man Turnbull ousted in a 2015 party-room coup.

Freed from Cabinet restraints, Abbott has criticized Turnbull’s policies from the backbench, although Joyce said he would not destabilize the government.

Turnbull must head back to the polls by May 2019.

Reporting by Colin Packham;

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