Monthly Archives: October 2015

China link keeps former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa in frame


Beijing’s special envoy took the unusual step of meeting with Rajapaksa last week – official visits are usually limited to government figures.

Former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tweet recording his meeting with Liu Zhenmin, which was unusual because Chinese envoys usually only meet with government officials.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one was particularly eloquent. Adding a fresh twist to what would otherwise be a plain vanilla diplomatic visit by the Chinese special envoy to Sri Lanka last week, former China-friendly president Mahinda Rajapaksa tweeted a picture of himself posing with the Chinese special envoy.

An endorsement of sorts of an old friend in trouble, the picture signalled Beijing’s willingness to keep its options open in the strategically important Indian Ocean nation.

It was also a departure from Beijing’s usual outreach as Chinese envoys are known to restrict their interaction to government figures. The current leaders often complain that China had no channels of communication with them when they were in the opposition.

“This is the first time the Chinese have contacted Rajapaksa since he lost the election in January,” his spokesman Rohan Welivita told the South China Morning Post. “It was a courtesy call.”

Government officials refused to respond when asked if they were aware of the meeting.

Beijing dispatched Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Liu Zhenmin to Colombo as special envoy to mend relations between the two countries, strained since Rajapaksa’s shock defeat in January. The new government has put several Chinese-funded infrastructure projects on hold, most notably a giant reclamation project called Colombo Port City that was inaugurated by President Xi Jinping in September.

At a press conference on Friday before leaving Colombo, Liu said he had a “highly successful” trip, meeting the president, the prime minister and the foreign minister. There was no mention of Rajapaksa. Liu’s unannounced meeting with the former leader was in keeping with his low-key trip.

Though Liu told reporters that the Sri Lankan government had assured him they will break the stalemate over Colombo Port City and other projects, he also let known his impatience.

“I joked with the Sri Lankan leaders that they have taken eight months for government transition, now they must not take eight months to restart the projects,” he said.

Executives connected to the stalled Chinese projects have expressed similar impatience to the Post over Sri Lanka’s pro-tracted electoral process that has seen two elections in eight months, even though there are signs the government is sincerely trying to put some of the projects back on track.

For Rajapaksa, too, the meeting delivers a boost at a difficult time. His attempt to resurrect his career by trying to return as prime minister in August’s parliamentary elections did not go anywhere.

The government has also brought several corruption and criminal charges, including money laundering and the use of death squads, against him and his family.

But down as he is, Rajapaksa still enjoys the support of a section of his United Peoples Freedom Alliance, which is split between his and President Maithripala Sirisena’s camps. The Sirisena camp has joined Ranil Wickremesinghe’s single-largest United National Party to form the national government.

“Without Rajapaksa, there is no opposition,” said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, on the curious situation of the county’s two main parties being in the same government.

“If he gathers support and steam and the government lacks coherence, the opposition can get back on.”

And as China looks to get back on in Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa is a hedge it can hardly afford to ignore.


China launches global yuan payment system


China’s Central Bank has started a global payment system which provides cross-border transactions in yuan. The China International Payment System (CIPS) intends to internationalize the yuan and challenge the US dollar’s dominance.

“The establishment of CIPS is an important milestone in yuan internationalization, providing the infrastructure that will connect global yuan users through one single system,” Helen Wong, greater China chief executive at HSBC, was cited as saying by the Financial Times.

CIPS will accept payments in cross-border trade, direct investments, financing and personal remittances. The system is open for operations 11 hours a day. The first CIPS transaction was completed by Standard Chartered Bank for Sweden’s IKEA.

Nineteen banks have been authorized to use CIPS; eight of them are Chinese subsidiaries of foreign banks, including Citi, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and ANZ.

Prior to launching CIPS international, transfers in Chinese currency could be carried out mostly through offshore clearing banks in Hong Kong, Singapore or London. While the procedure was slow and costly, the new system is expected to significantly reduce the cost and time for money transfers.

China is also trying to reduce its reliance on the global transaction services organization SWIFT.

Beijing has been trying to bolster its currency’s presence internationally. The yuan was the fourth most-used currency for cross-border payments in August, with more than 100 countries using it for transactions.

The Chinese currency has overtaken the Japanese yen but is still well behind the US dollar, euro and the pound. Rivaling the dollar in the global financial system has been Beijing’s ambition for the yuan since 2010. The country has already opened clearing hubs in London and Frankfurt.

China is pushing hard for the inclusion of the yuan in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) currency basket. While the IMF said the yuan still does not meet the criteria of a freely usable currency, the head of the organization Christine Lagarde said it’s “not a question of if, it’s a question of when.”


Caspian Flotilla ships fire 26 cruise missiles on IS targets in Syria — Defense Minister


“The strike results have confirmed the missiles’ high long-range efficiency – at distances of nearly 1,500 km,” the minister said

SOCHI, October 7. /TASS/. Ships of the Russian Navy’s Caspian Flotilla have been involved in the operation against militants of the outlawed in in Russia terrorist group Islamic State (IS). They have launched 26 missiles on IS targets in Syria, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.

“Intensive work of different intelligence services over the last two days has made it possible to detect a large number of various IS facilities – command posts, ammunition depots, military equipment depots, training camps of militants. This morning, the Caspian Flotilla warships were involved in the operation against them, in addition to the aircraft. Four missile ships have launched 26 cruise missiles on 11 targets.

According to the objective control data, all the targets have been destroyed, and no civilian facilities have been hit,” Shoigu said.

Top Syrian diplomat has no doubts in success of Russian anti-terrorist efforts in Syria

“The strike results have confirmed the missiles’ high long-range efficiency – at distances of nearly 1,500 km,” the minister said.

Russian Aerospace Force group has been delivering airstrikes on IS facilities in Syria since September 30. The air group comprises more than 50 planes and helicopters. The Russian military operation was launched at the request of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Russian forces plan no ground operations in Syria.

Obama ‘apologized’ to MSF for Kunduz hospital strike – White House


US President Barack Obama has apologized to Doctors Without Borders (MSF) for the deadly US airstrike that killed the agency’s staff and patients in Kunduz, Afghanistan.
“This morning from the Oval Office, President Obama spoke by telephone with Doctors Without Borders International President Dr. Joanne Liu, to apologize and express his condolences for the MSF staff and patients who were killed and injured when a US military airstrike mistakenly struck an MSF field hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan over the weekend,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in the White House briefing.

Earnest described the hospital bombing as a “terrible tragedy,” saying that neither he nor anyone else had any evidence that it was anything more than a mistake.

MSF has called for an independent investigation of the attack, calling it a war crime.

“Under the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed, MSF demands that a full and transparent investigation into the event be conducted by an independent international body,” MSF General Director Christopher Stokes said in a statement on Sunday.


More charges possible in U.N. corruption case: U.S. Attorney


NEW YORK (Reuters) – More people could face criminal charges as part of a corruption probe that has already led to the arrest of a former president of the United Nations General Assembly, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said on Tuesday.

John Ashe, a former U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda who was president in 2013, was accused on Tuesday of taking more than $1.3 million in bribes in a wide-ranging scheme that involved a billionaire Macau real estate developer and four other defendants.

Infographic by lankapage

Paul Craig Roberts On Russian Bombings In Syria – Putin Sent A Decisive Message To The West


With people around the world worried about the escalating war in Syria, today former U.S. Treasury official, Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, told King World News that with four straight days of Russian bombings in Syria, Putin has sent a decisive message to the West.

Eric King: “Dr. Roberts, about this situation in Syria, obviously the Russians have bombed key targets and the rest of the world is watching and saying, ‘Putin just took over and put a stop to the madness.’”

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts: “It certainly looks that way. You know Putin told the world at the U.N. meeting, ‘We can no longer tolerate the state of affairs in the world.’ So he told the United States, Europe, and the other puppet states such as Canada, Australia, and Japan that Russia will no longer tolerate this. And two days later they (the Russians) have taken over the situation in Syria.

Essentially the United States is responsible. This (warring force) is the group that came out of the forces we created in Libya to overthrow Gaddafi. And when Russia blocked the intended U.S. invasion of Syria, Obama sent these people to Syria and pretended they were a free Syrian army of oppressed Syrians who were fighting to liberate their country from a dictator who used chemical weapons against his own people.

But the United States lost control of them, even though Washington’s clandestine operations still seem to supply them. So basically the Russians have said they can’t tolerate complete and total chaos in the Middle East and it’s going to stop before it engulfs Syria…

William C. Campbell, Satoshi Omura and Youyou Tu win 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine


William C. Campbell, Satoshi Omura and Youyou Tu have jointly won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work against parasitic diseases. Campbell and Satoshi shared half of the price for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites, while Tu shared the other half for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria.

Chinese warplanes join air strikes in Syria as Russia gains Iraqi air base


Russia’s military intervention in Syria has expanded radically in two directions. debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report that China sent word to Moscow Friday, Oct. 2, that J-15 fighter bombers would shortly join the Russian air campaign that was launched Wednesday, Sept. 30. Baghdad has moreover offered Moscow an air base for targeting the Islamic State now occupying large swathes of Iraqi territory
Russia’s military intervention in Syria has five additional participants: China, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hizballah.

The J-15 warplanes will take off from the Chinese Liaoning-CV-16 aircraft carrier, which reached Syrian shores on Sept. 26 (as debkafile exclusively reported at the time). This will be a landmark event for Beijing: its first military operation in the Middle East as well the carrier’s first taste of action in conditions of real combat.

Thursday night, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi, made this comment on the Syrian crisis at a UN Security Council session in New York: “The world cannot afford to stand by and look on with folded arms, but must also not arbitrarily interfere (in the crisis).”

A no less significant development occurred at about the same time when Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, speaking to the US PBS NewsHour, said he would welcome a deployment of Russian troops to Iraq to fight ISIS forces in his country too. As an added incentive, he noted that this would also give Moscow the chance to deal with the 2,500 Chechen Muslims whom, he said, are fighting with ISIS in Iraq.

debkafile’s military sources add that Al-Abadi’s words came against the backdrop of two events closely related to Russia’s expanding role in the war arena:

1.  A joint Russian-Iranian-Syrian-Iraqi war room has been working since last week out of the Iraqi Defense Ministry and military staff headquarters in Baghdad to coordinate the passage of Russian and Iranian airlifts to Syria and also Russian air raids. This command center is also organizing the transfer of Iranian and pro-Iranian Shiite forces into Syria.

2.  Baghdad and Moscow have just concluded a deal for the Russian air force to start using the Al Taqaddum Air Base at Habbaniyah, 74 km west of Baghdad, both as a way station for the Russian air corridor to Syria and as a launching-pad for bombing missions against ISIS forces and infrastructure in northern Iraq and northern Syria.

Russia has thus gained a military enclave in Iraq, just as it has in Syria, where it has taken over a base outside Latakia on the western coast of Syria. At the same time, the Habbaniyah air base also serves US forces operating in Iraq, which number an estimated 5,000.


Lankan Resolution Historic and Pragmatic


In a pragmatic move, which has sound geo-political and economic basis, the Sri Lankan ‘national’ government of major parties, headed by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, on Thursday co-sponsored with the United States and an overwhelming majority of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), a resolution which ties Colombo to far-reaching institutional reforms for bringing about reconciliation and accountability. Among the reforms, one which will have an immediate impact on the ethnic question is the establishment of an ad hoc Judicial Mechanism with the participation of foreign judges and other legal personnel to try cases of alleged war crimes and rights abuses. Lanka’s historic step at Geneva stemmed from its new rulers’ desire to abjure divisive and confrontationist domestic and international politics, which had taken the country to rack and ruin, and opt for dialogue and accommodation. The Tamil problem, the root cause of Lanka’s woes, may now move towards a solution with the country’s judicial system acquiring legitimacy and credibility in Tamil eyes.

India, which faces a potentially destabilising fallout from the Lankan Tamil problem, will be relieved. Former president Rajapaksa had driven India to despair as he dragged his feet on the devolution of power to the Tamils. Except for a decade under President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Lanka was looked upon with disfavour by the West because of its uncompromisingly confrontationist approach to the Tamil question. Under Rajapaksa, it was in danger of facing unaffordable western trade and economic sanctions. It stood to lose a huge trade surplus of USD 2.5 billion with the US, and also Euro 2.3 billion worth of exports to the EU. China, which the Rajapaksa government favoured, is no substitute, importing only goods USD 153 million. The present government’s Look West policy promises to bring in FDI and the restoration of GSP Plus concessions for a wide range of Lankan exports.

But, Sinhalese ‘nationalists’ led by Rajapaksa will denounce the stand taken in Geneva as a ‘sellout’ to recapture power. But if, unlike its predecessors, the present government implements its commitments, thereby satisfying the Tamil minority, and also convinces the majority Sinhalese to accept the deal, the Tamil problem will be mitigated and the resultant peace will benefit all stakeholders.


Lanka Agrees to Give Powers as Per 13A


COLOMBO: The UN rights council adopted a resolution on Thursday calling for international judges and lawyers to be part of a war crimes probe in Sri Lanka.

While the resolution included measures for rehabilitation and bringing perpetrators of war crimes to justice, it also spoke of the other side.

Not to forget the human rights violations perpetrated by the LTTE, the resolution said that accountability and reconciliation mechanisms should cover the doings of the LTTE also.

On the political plane, the resolution said that the Lankan government has agreed to devolve power to the provinces as per the 13th Amendment of the constitution.

Finally, the resolution requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to give an oral update on the implementation of the resolution in the 32nd session, and a formal report, in the 34th session of the UNHRC.


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