China News

Gone are the banquets extolling the “golden age” of Sino-Philippine relations that had marked the past decade. Instead, relations today have sunk to an all-time low with armed vessels from both states staking out Scarborough Shoal – a tiny atoll in the South China Sea that sinks at high tide except for one rocky outcrop – which both say is theirs.

What has caught the world by surprise is the refusal of the Philippines – whose most powerful warship is a second world war-vintage former US destroyer – to cave in to China’s demand to leave the atoll 220 kilometres west of Luzon, even if the face-off was described by former Philippine foreign minister Domingo Siazon as “between an elephant and an ant”.

Observers point to three main reasons for Manila’s tougher stance towards Beijing. Foremost was the sea change in Washington’s attitude to getting involved in the South China…

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I have a wee request.  Please may I ask that before you read these very special words that you click on the music link below and listen as you read.

I attended a funeral today.  The lady I share an office with now faces life without her man. Yes he had been ill, but it was tragic and all of us in the office shared the feeling that this was not his time. No one was ready for this.

Every death is tragic. My friend and her two young daughters did what we expected them to do. They pulled together and sent a beloved husband and father off with a service that was a very personal tribute to the man they loved.

Arriving at the church it became evident that there was no more room – the church was full. A measure of the man whose life we had gathered…

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Sorry, Mark Zuckerberg, but I’ve got a bad case of Facebook fatigue

Possibly I should be wary of criticising Facebook, in case my actions jeopardise whatever hopes there may be of its boss, Mark Zuckerberg, bailing out the eurozone. (He could probably do it, too. The man uses $100 bills as cat litter.)

But, all the same, I’m going to do it. Facebook is past it. In a few short years it’ll be as sad and lonely a ghost town as MySpace. I don’t speak as a long-standing critic. I speak as a former addict.

Yesterday, when it was floated on the stock market, Facebook was valued at $104 billion (£65.8 billion). That’s the greatest amount of money any US company has been worth on its market debut. Evidently, there are quite a lot of people, some of them very rich, who believe that Facebook is worth investing in. I hope that after buying their shares in Facebook they’ve got some money left over, because I’m hoping they’ll also buy shares in the brilliant new company I’m about to float. It’s a unicorn sanctuary run by Santa.

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Britain has a friend in Mitt Romney, so David Cameron should get to know him

Thirty years ago this coming Monday, British troops began to land at San Carlos Bay in the Falkland Islands. Just over three weeks later, the Argentine forces surrendered to them. This weekend in Portsmouth, the Navy Museum is organising a commemorative conference, and a dinner on HMS Victory.

The keynote speech will come from John Lehman, who was the US navy secretary at the time. Today Mr Lehman is the most senior foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger to Barack Obama in this year’s presidential election.

Mr Lehman will explain how, contrary to current historical orthodoxy, the Americans helped Britain instinctively, secretly and right from the start of the Falklands war. He should know, because he did it.

Mr Lehman’s key point is that this help came from the bottom up. So great were what were called “the customary patterns of cooperation” between Britain and the US that they could provide the cover for a huge operation. Weeks before the US announced its public policy “tilt” to Britain on April 30, 1982, there was, as Mr Lehman puts it, “already water flowing through the pipes”. President Reagan felt benign towards Britain, and particularly towards Mrs Thatcher, his friend since both were in opposition, but it was not necessary for him to approve anything for help to start.

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Dissident Chen Guangcheng leaves China for US

Mr Chen’s departure on Saturday afternoon will bring to an end an extraordinary saga that saw him at the centre of a diplomatic tug of war between Washington and Beijing, following his daring escape from house arrest on April 22nd.

Yet while Mr Chen, his wife and two children are headed for the safety of the US, where he is expected to take up a fellowship studying law at New York University, many of his relatives remain under arrest.

As late as Saturday morning, Mr Chen said he had no idea when he would be allowed to leave Beijing. But around 12.30pm local time, he left the Chaoyang Hospital where he has been held since May 2nd in a motorcade for Beijing airport and a fligth to New York.

So swift and unexpected was his departure that Mr Chen and his family arrived at the airport without passports and not knowing their ultimate destination.

“I still have no passport. I don’t know when I am leaving. I think I am going to New York,” he told reporters by phone.

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British officers could be deployed to Syria to increase pressure on Assad regime

As unrest continued to spread in Syria, the Prime Minister last night told fellow world leaders that more must to done to stop Bashar al-Assad oppressing his own people.

Britain is prepared to contribute officers to an enlarged international monitoring mission in Syria, Mr Cameron told a Group of Eight summit in the US.

There are more than 200 United Nations monitors inside Syria, where more than 9,000 people have died since last year as the regime tries to suppress opposition to Mr Assad’s rule.

The monitors are in the country as part of a deal negotiated with Mr Assad by Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary-general. The Annan deal is supposed to lead to a ceasefire and talks between the regime and its opponents.

However, Mr Assad’s allies “continue to show wanton disregard” for the Annan process, Mr Cameron told the Camp David summit last night, saying the regime must be put under much greater pressure.

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