| US flyover in China-Japan island row: Will the real provocateur please stand up?

US flyover in China-Japan island row: Will the real provocateur please stand up? ~ Nile Bowie, RT.

Washington’s move to fly nuclear-capable bombers over China’s eastern air defense zone as a forceful endorsement of Japan’s claims over disputed islands is both needlessly confrontational and totally counterproductive.

The territorial dispute over an uninhabited chain of islands in the East China Sea – referred to as the Senkaku Islands by Japan and the Diaoyu Islands by China – has been a highly contentious issue in Sino-Japanese relations for decades, and the issue has resurfaced in recent times as both sides assert their sovereignty over the area.

Mass protests were seen in China targeting Japan’s embassy and Japanese products, shops and restaurants when Tokyo’s far-right former Governor Shintaro Ishihara called on Japan to use public money to buy the islands from private Japanese owners in 2012.

The issue stirs passions in Chinese society because Tokyo’s claims are seen as an extension of the brutal legacy of the Japanese occupation and a direct challenge to strong historical evidence that has legitimized Chinese sovereignty over the area since ancient times.

Moreover, the official stance of the government in Beijing is that Japan’s invalid claims over the islands were facilitated and legitimized by a backdoor-deal between Tokyo and Washington that directly challenges international law and post-World War II international treaties.

The right-wing government of Shinzo Abe in Japan has abandoned the passive approach to the issue taken by previous governments and has played on nationalist sentiments by asserting Tokyo’s firm position over the islands, which are internationally administered by Japan.

Chinese and Korean societies see Abe’s administration as whitewashing Japan’s history as a ruthless occupier and imperial power, and have lodged angry protests over his calls to revise Japan’s 1995 war apology and amend Article 9 of its pacifist constitution, which forbids Japan from having a standing army. China’s recent moves to introduce an air defense zone over the disputed islands have come as a response to months of aggressive Japanese military exercises in the area.

Beijing has denounced the presence of the Japanese navy in the region and Japan’s numerous threats to fire warning shots against Chinese planes that violate Japan’s air defense zone, which defiantly stretches only 130km from China’s mainland and includes the disputed islands. In addition to claims by Taiwan, both China and Japan have strengthened their rights over the islands due to significant oil and mineral resources that have yet to be exploited there.

Let history be the judge

Given legacies of both China and Japan as neighboring civilizations that morphed in modern nation-states, ancient history is sewn into conflicts like the Senkaku-Diaoyu dispute. The earliest historical records of the island being under China’s maritime jurisdiction date back to 1403 in texts prepared by imperial envoys of the Ming Dynasty; during the Qing Dynasty, the islands were placed under the jurisdiction of the local government of Taiwan province. Maps published throughout the 1800s in France, Britain, and the United States all recognize the Diaoyu Islands as a territory of China.

Japan eventually defeated the Qing Dynasty in the late 1800s during its expansionary campaigns in the region and strong-armed China into signing the humiliating Treaty of Shimonoseki that officially ceded Taiwan and surrounding islands, including the Diaoyu, which the Japanese renamed to ‘Senkaku Islands’ in 1900. Following the defeat and surrender of Japan in World War II, international treaties such as the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation legally returned all territories stolen by Japan to pre-revolutionary China.

Beijing accuses US forces in post-war Japan of unilaterally and arbitrarily expanding its jurisdiction to include the Diaoyu Islands shortly after the Chinese revolution in the early 1950s, which were‘returned’ to Japan in the 1970s in the Okinawa Reversion Agreement, a move condemned by China and the US-allied Taiwan authorities. 

Japan has argued since the 1970s that the Diaoyu was not part of the affiliated islands that were ceded to Japan by the Qing Dynasty (despite strong evidence to the contrary), and that the islands were placed under the administration of the United States following World War II and‘returned’ to Japan. The view from Beijing, and especially from within the Xi Jinping administration, is that this case constitutes an illegal occupation of Chinese territory that seriously violates the obligations Japan should undertake according to international law.

Tokyo’s position on the issue really doesn’t hold water considering that 19th-century Japanese government documents available for viewing in Japan’s National Archives suggest that Japan clearly knew and recognized the Diaoyu Islands as Chinese territory.

Washington’s B-52 diplomacy

Beijing’s announcement of an air defense zone over the Diaoyu Islands would naturally be seen as controversial due to the dispute with Japan, and because Washington implicitly backs Tokyo’s claims, the US administration has taken to framing the issue so as to portray China as the hostile actor and principal belligerent.

China has defended its air defense declaration as an extension of its entitlement to uphold its national sovereignty and territorial integrity; Beijing has also pointed out how the US and Japan have established their own zones decades ago, which extend to the frontline borders of other countries in some cases. Beijing’s air defense declaration essentially asserts the right to identify, monitor and possibly take military action against any aircraft that enters the area, and despite the US backing Japan’s right to uphold a similar zone, the White House declared China’s moves “unnecessarily inflammatory.”

Just days after the Chinese government issued its defense declaration, the US military deployed two unarmed (nuclear-capable) B-52 bombers from its airbase in Guam that embarked on a 1500-mile flight into the Chinese air defense umbrella before turning back. The symbolic but forceful display by Washington is essentially the equivalent of the Pentagon giving the middle finger to the Chinese government.

The maneuver was apparently part of a ‘long-planned’ exercise, but the timing and the message sent a clearly hostile and deeply arrogant message to Beijing. China claims that it monitored the US bombers in the zone and took no action, and as Beijing exercises restraint, Tokyo and Washington openly stoke tensions and practice hypocritical double standards.

The United States and Japan both operate vast unilateral air defense zones, and yet Washington has the cheek to childishly reject the legitimate defensive claims of others.

To quote Xinhua columnist Wu Liming’s characterization of US-Japan policy, “Their logic is simple: they can do it while China cannot, which could be described with a Chinese saying, ‘the magistrates are free to burn down houses while the common people are forbidden even to light lamps.’

The message derived from Washington’s actions perfectly illustrates the nature of the so-called ‘Pivot to Asia’, that even though America’s political representatives cannot be relied on to fulfill their long-planned appointments to visit the region, the Pentagon can always be relied on to deliver reminders that the US seeks hegemony in Asia.

The truth is that China and Japan have too much to lose as the second- and third-largest economies in the world to allow this issue to slide into a military confrontation, and cooler heads will likely prevent the latter scenario.

Given the contention around this dispute and the destabilizing effects it could have on the global economy if the situation were to deteriorate into a military conflict, it would be fundamental for the US to instead remain neutral and promote a peaceful compromise and settlement to this issue.

Beijing and Tokyo should both take their claims to the UN to settle this issue indefinitely if a mutual compromise to jointly develop the disputed region cannot be agreed upon.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

P-3C patrol plane of Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force flying over the disputed islets known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and Diaoyu islands in China, in the East China Sea. (AFP Photo / Japan Pool via JIJI Press Japan out)

P-3C patrol plane of Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force flying over the disputed islets known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and Diaoyu islands in China, in the East China Sea. (AFP Photo / Japan Pool via JIJI Press Japan out)



| Archaeology: Oldest big cat ever discovered!

This Fossil Skull Unearthed in Tibet Is the Oldest Big Cat Ever Found ~ Smithsonian.com.

In the summer of 2010, husband-and-wife paleobiologist team Z. Jack Tseng and Juan Liu traveled to the Zanda Basin in western Tibet with a group of colleagues. The remote area, a week’s drive from Beijing and near the border of Pakistan and China, is “basically badlands everywhere, with deeply cut valleys throughout,” Tseng says.

To explore the valleys, the team drove up dirt trail after dirt trail before coming upon a dense patch of fossils sticking out of the ground halfway up a hill. “In the little concentration of fossils, there were lots of limb bones from antelopes and horses obscuring everything else,” says Tseng, who was then a graduate student at USC and is now with the American Museum of Natural History. “It wasn’t until we started lifting things up, one by one, that we saw the top of a skull, and we thought, from the shape, that it looked something like a cat.”

After a few years of analysis, Tseng’s team has discovered that the skull doesn’t belong to any old cat. As they’ve documented in a study published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the skull and six associated fossilized jawbone fragments are the first evidence of a newly discovered species, which they’ve called Panthera blytheae. The discovery represents the oldest “big cat” (a group that includes large predatory cats like lions, jaguars, tigers and leopards) ever found by a wide margin.

CT scans (left) and photos (right) of the skull. Via Proceedings of the Royal Society B/Tseng et. al.

The sediments that make up the basin as a whole range from 6 million to 400,000 years in age, so the group dated the fossil by analyzing the age of the particular rock layers it was buried in. This involved using techniques of magnetostratigraphy, in which scientists analyze the magnetic orientation of the rocks and compare it to known reversals of the Earth’s magnetic field. This method can only provide rough estimates for an item’s age, but it revealed that the skull is between 4.10 and 5.95 million years old. Previously, the oldest known big cat fossils—a number of tooth fragments found in Tanzania—were 3.6 million years old.

The new find fills a gap in the evolutionary record of big cats. By analyzing the DNA of living species, scientists had previously estimated that big cats had split from the Felinae subfamily—which includes smaller wild cats, like cougars, lynxes, along with domestic cats—about 6.37 million years ago. The very existence of P. blytheae confirms that the split happened prior to when this big cat roamed.

But how much earlier? The find could suggest, Tsang says, that big cats branched off from smaller cats much farther back than thought. By comparing the skull’s characteristics with fossils from other extinct big cats, the anatomy of living cat species, and DNA samples taken from both living cats and a few recently extinct, Ice Age-era species (known as cave lions), the researchers assembled a new evolutionary family tree for all big cats. Using known rates of anatomical changes over time and the observed anatomy of P. blytheae, they projected backwards, and estimated that the earliest big cats likely branched off from the Felinae subfamily between 10 and 11 million years ago.

The new fossil also solves a geological mystery. Previously, using DNA analysis of all living big cats and mapping the the fossils excavated from various sites around the world, researchers had determined it was most likely that their common ancestor had lived in Asia. The oldest known specimens, however, were found in Africa. The new species provides the first direct evidence that central Asia was indeed the big cats’ ancestral home, at least as far back as the current fossil record currently goes.

From the fragmented fossils, it’s hard to know much about the extinct species’ behavior and lifestyle, but the researchers were able to make some basic extrapolations from the skull’s anatomy. “It’s not a huge cat, like a lion or a tiger, but closer to a leopard,” Tsang says. The creature’s habitat was likely similar to the current Tibetan plateau, so Tseng speculates that, like the snow leopards that currently live in the area, this species did not hunt on the open plains, but rather cliffs and valleys. Tooth wear patterns also suggest similarities with current snow leopards—the rear teeth, likely used for cutting soft tissue, remain sharp, whereas the front teeth are heavily worn, perhaps reflecting their use in prying open carcasses and picking meat off bones.

Tseng says that he and colleagues plan to return to the area to search for more fossils that could help enlighten us on the evolutionary history of big cats. “The gap still isn’t completely filled yet,” he says. “We need to find older big cats to put the picture together.”

A reconstruction of the newly discovered species Panthera blytheae, based on a skull discovered in Tibet that is estimated to be between four and five million years old. Illustration by Mauricio Antón, Via Proceedings of the Royal Society B/Tseng et. al.


| Sri Lanka, ‘Corrupted Journalism’ and Channel 4 News!

Sri Lanka, ‘Corrupted Journalism’ and Channel 4 News ~ C4 News.

Channel 4 News Editor Ben de Pear writes in response to a 222-page book entitled Corrupted Journalism given out to journalists attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka.

Channel 4 News Editor Ben de Pear writes in response to a 222-page book entitled Corrupted Journalism given out to journalists attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka.

Channel 4 News Editor, Ben de Pear (@bendepear) writes:

In the media pack given to all arriving journalists at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)being held in Sri Lanka next week is a 222 page book called “Corrupted Journalism“.

It is an out and out attack on Channel 4 and our journalism. As we only received our visas this week (our accreditation process took 8-10 weeks as opposed to the 2-3 weeks it took everyone else) I do not have this weighty tome in my hands, so I can’t react to everything it says.

I can guess however that it will include many of the claims dismissed over the years by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, forensic pathologists, journalists around the world (some of whom, if Sri Lankan, are dead, or disappeared, or exiled) and many many thousands of people in Sri Lanka who experienced, first hand the end of Sri Lanka’s Civil War.

Those thousands include both Tamils in the north and the soldiers who filmed the many scenes of extremely grave war crimes we broadcast on the news and which then became the basis for three films shown on Channel 4.

For CHOGM Channel 4 News has been granted access to Sri Lanka for the first time in four years. We were granted access because our prime minister and foreign secretary refused to attend without the full complement of British press, and because CHOGM and the Commonwealth’s primary stated principles include the values of democracy, the rule of law and good governance.

In his welcome page to CHOGM. President Rajapaksa states this explicitly; “Sri Lanka is committed to upholding Commonwealth values of democracy, rule of law and good governance”. His government’s appalling human rights record, the lack of accountability for past and present crimes and the trampling of the freedom of speech make these words from him a mockery.

Our reporting and that of many others over the past five years has proved that again and again. Our story of reporting in Sri Lanka is totally insignificant compared to that of the countless thousands who have been killed, tortured or disappeared but for the record, and to answer the allegations in the book here it is, and the links to the work we have done and the films commissioned by Channel 4directed by Callum Macrae.

On the 8 May 2009 after reporting allegations of the multiple rape of displaced Tamil women by Sri Lankan soldiers in “rehabilitation” camps, our Asia news team was deported from Sri Lanka. At the time they had been trying, repeatedly, to gain access to the area in the north east which the Sri Lankan army had named “The No Fire Zone”.

This ever decreasing area of land was the final redoubt of the LTTE, or Tamil Tigers, a guerrilla army which had fought the Sri Lankan government for years for its own Tamil homeland, and in the process also terrorised and killed many thousands of Sri Lankan civilians. They pioneered the use of suicide bombers, and had carved out a rump of land which they ran as a semi-fascistic state in the north-east of the island with its own government education and military services.

After months of a hugely successful military campaign, and three decades of fighting, the Sri Lankan government was determined to finally win this war. The problem was the Tamil Tigers were hidden amongst, and many say holding hostage at gun point, hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians, packed into an ever decreasing, ever more desperate, ever more barren strip of sandy land. As the area got smaller in the “No Fire zone” so the assault got heavier.

The government stopped all journalists from going into the No Fire Zone; but it didn’t matter. The soldiers filmed snippets of what went on there, and in time these emerged. Footage, filmed by Tamil journalists, which somehow made its way out of the zone was extremely graphic and most TV channels refused to run it. For balance we ran it alongside the footage the government was pumping out of the orderly processing of civilians rescued from the “No Fire Zone”. It is amongst the most distressing footage we have ever run.

The estimates of the dead from the final weeks of the war are staggering. The UN estimates that at least 40,000, mostly civilians, died. The World Bank says 100,000 are still missing. Church groups have said that as many as 160,000 are missing from population census rolls. Many thousands of Tamils burst out and ended up in a series of camps where over a period of months and years they were interrogated, processed, and slowly released. Many who went in never came out, according to their families, multiple NGO’s, the United Nations and many others. Those families are still looking for their loved ones and when they can, in the now Sri Lanka army garrisoned north of the country, they petition and even, bravely demonstrate.

Separate to the tens of thousands of dead, those missing number between 6,000 to 12,000. These thousands are from the camps but many others are those picked up the notorious “white vans” which abduct people from the street and according to the allegations of those who say they’ve been subjected to it, then interrogate, torture and disappear.

A few weeks after the end of the war, an email arrived at our news desk from an organisation called the JDS = Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, with a large attachment. This organisation was comprised of the many Sri Lankan journalists who had been exiled form their home country. The video showed naked and bound prisoners on a sandy spit of land close to water being lined up and shot one after the other.

We ran the video, because it was clearly genuine. The Sri Lankans said it was fake, took action through the British TV regulator and then started a campaign against us which has included the arrest and mistreatment of people who have Channel 4 videos, the hounding of members of JDS across continents, and hundreds and hundreds of emails, tweets, texts and messages the contents of which are too graphic to write here.

All three times Ofcom found in our favour, found our journalism to be balanced and objective and dismissed all the Sri Lankan complaints. All other complaints made by the government were ignored by Ofcom.

Our journalism and the authenticity of the videos was similarly scrutinised by the United Nations. Employing two of the world’s foremost video and audio experts, a thorough three month investigation and report by the UN found the videos to be authentic. Another report commissioned by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon further verified the findings, and demanded an investigation into the end of the war.

After the first video, shot by a soldier, there followed many many others. Some were similar executions, or rather extra judicial executions as the UN officially term them. Others showed men filming naked women who had clearly been raped, the language and content of their comments again too explicit to write here. Others showed bodies in the No Fire Zone (where the government maintained no civilians died) being slung onto trucks like animal carcasses. More still depicted the interrogation of some of the Tamil Tiger leadership, and then showed their dead bodies.

There were so many videos, so much evidence we couldn’t run it all, and because of our broadcast time at 7pm, we couldn’t show them because they were so graphic. So Channel 4 commissioned films out of them. These became strong testimony viewed by the UN and human rights organisations as evidence of some of the worst war crimes of the century.

Downing Street has released this statement from Prime Minister David Cameron on the film No Fire Zone.

“No Fire Zone is one of the most chilling documentaries I’ve watched. It brings home the brutal end to the civil war and the immense suffering of thousands of innocent civilians who kept hoping that they would reach safety, but tragically many did not. Many of the images are truly shocking.

“No right-thinking person can regret the end of the terrorist campaign waged by the Tamil Tigers nor ignore the terrible crimes they committed. But that wrong does not change the fact that this documentary raises very serious questions that the Sri Lankan government must answer about what it did to protect innocent civilians. Questions that strengthen the case for an independent investigation. Questions that need answers if Sri Lanka is to build the truly peaceful and inclusive future its people deserve.

“The Sri Lankan Government has taken some positive steps since 2009 with provincial elections in the North and a Commission to investigate disappearances during the war. But much more is needed. I will raise my concerns when I see President Rajapaksa next week in Colombo. And I will tell him that if Sri Lanka doesn’t deliver an independent investigation, the world will need to ensure an international investigation is carried out instead.”

Since the films, and four years since the end of the war, the images still keep emerging of what happened in that tiny strip of land amongst those thousands of people and then prisoners. The Sri Lankan government’s position that these videos are fake does not stand up to scrutiny. Our journalism has been subjected to incredible scrutiny and only the Sri Lankans have found it wanting.

In a post war Sri Lanka, journalists still disappear, or are threatened by government ministers to have their legs broken in public, people are picked up by the white vans and never seen again, andaccording to Human Rights Watch sexual violence by the army in the now occupied north is out of control.

And yet the war is over. The Sri Lankan government and army won, but at a terrible price. Until it deals with that past, it cannot hope to change the present. Democracy, the rule of law and good governance remain as words written elsewhere by others, copied and pasted but having no purpose or meaning in Sri Lanka in 2013.

Ben de Pear, Editor

Channel 4 News,