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Disputes over the South China Sea could put East Asia at war again

Written by Timo A. Kivimäki.

Philippine authorities have released satellite pictures of six reefs in the Spratly archipelago that indicate that the Chinese are building artificial structures in the disputed territories of the South China Sea. According to some observers, these features could allow China to extend the range of its navy, air force, coastguard and fishing fleets into the disputed areas.

In response, the US and the Philippines announced they would further strengthen their alliance to increase their military capacity. The Philippines have already given the US military access to bases on Philippine soil, two decades after the closing of the last American bases there.

The news about Chinese building projects and the possible military consequences have not yet been commented on by the Chinese media or by Chinese officials, but it seems clear that the reinforcements are yet another move in a long, steady game of escalation between the US and China. Continue reading Disputes over the South China Sea could put East Asia at war again

North Korea unveils its nuclear ‘treasured swords’ to the world again

Written by Robert Winstanley-Chesters.

North Korea’s announcement that “normal operation” was again underway at its Yongbyon reactor complex sent a characteristic wave of anxiety through the world’s Pyongyang watchers. The country’s nuclear ambitions had, after all, been largely forgotten in what seemed like a lull in North Korea’s fractious relations with the wider world.

Even as the Korean peninsula itself endured a summer of high tension, the West’s complicated fear of North Korea has been displaced by a myopic public narrative currently fixated on the European refugee crisis, the murderous idiocy of Islamic State, and the travails of Donald Trump.

Things are clearly rather different on the inside. The regime’s primary tool of geo-political leverage can have slipped nobody’s mind – and North Korea’s recent statements speak volumes about how the Kim regime conceives of its nuclear programme. Continue reading North Korea unveils its nuclear ‘treasured swords’ to the world again

Plenty for Labour’s new recruits, but Corbyn speech was no vote winner

Written by Charles Lee.

Jeremy Corbyn is not a great orator. He has spent most of his career talking to the already persuaded from the backbenches. Nevertheless, his low-key and patently decent approach proved highly effective in the Labour leadership campaign. The test, then, for his first major speech as party leader was whether he could carry these qualities over into the high-stakes arena of the televised party conference.

Lengthy and rambling in places, there was a familiar mixture of personal modesty and ideological conviction that delighted delegates in the conference hall. What is less certain though, is whether Corbyn has done enough to convince the wider public.

My University of Bath colleague David Moon is an expert on the rhetoric of Labour Party leaders. He told me before the speech that tone rather than content would be key to understanding its impact. And he was right. Continue reading Plenty for Labour’s new recruits, but Corbyn speech was no vote winner

By welcoming Syrian refugees, Serbs hope to salvage their reputation

Written by Vanessa Pupavac and Mladen Pupavac.

Serbia’s reputation has suddenly been dramatically rehabilitated, taking it from being seen as the worst nation in Europe to being among the most open and tolerant. While Hungary is busy fencing itself in and authorising the use of rubber bullets against refugees and migrants, Serbia has been keeping its borders open and promising to be a good host.

As Andrew MacDowell asked in Politico: “Wait, the Serbs are now the good guys?

It’s certainly a sea change. Back in the summer, Bosnian Muslims attacked Serbia’s prime minister Aleksandar Vučić at a Srebrenica massacre commemoration. They were angry at the presence of the former ultra-Serbian nationalist Vučić, whose official condemnation of “this horrible crime” did not go as far as recognising the killings as genocide. Continue reading By welcoming Syrian refugees, Serbs hope to salvage their reputation

How Turkey began the slide towards civil war

Written by Cengiz Gunes.

The speed with which Turkey has became engulfed in violence since the Suruç massacre on July 20 2015 is causing mass anxiety.

While public discussion has largely focused on questions of whose fault it is and why the country has suddenly descended into violence, one thing everyone agrees is that the country is passing through an extraordinary period in its history. While the current crisis has much deeper roots, the developments of the past year provide us sufficient clues about why the spiral of violence is likely to continue. Continue reading How Turkey began the slide towards civil war

Labour conference: John McDonnell sticks to broad brush strokes in debut as shadow chancellor

Written by Victoria Honeyman.

John McDonnell’s debut Labour Party Conference speech as shadow chancellor was hugely anticipated by both friends and foes. Would this left-wing firebrand light up conference with his alternative vision of Britain’s economy? How would he convince those outside the hall that he was a man to be trusted, a man with a realistic vision for Britain’s economic future?

Even though he’d only been shadow chancellor for two weeks, McDonnell was nonetheless expected to go beyond generalities and start laying out specific plans. Detailed policies would allow his supporters to rally behind him and counter the criticisms from both inside and outside the Labour party. His opponents hoped that detailed proposals would give them the evidence they needed to paint the Corbyn leadership as a cabal of “loony lefties”.

McDonnell worked hard to squash any expectations that his speech would be incendiary. Instead, he argued it would be fairly bland and boring, nothing extreme, merely the start of a discussion with the electorate well within “new politics” of Corbyn’s leadership.

Continue reading Labour conference: John McDonnell sticks to broad brush strokes in debut as shadow chancellor

Why are the Gulf states so reluctant to take in refugees?

Written by Rana Jawad.

Europe’s reaction to the refugee crisis has hardly been a calm and considered one; with fences erected and border controls reinstated, the continent’s governments are struggling to agree on a response.

But at least Europe’s governments are acting. In the Middle East, things are rather different. In particular, the Arab Gulf States are catching serious flack for their response to the crisis – or rather, their failure to respond.

One big question is reverberating in the minds of the general public, expert observers and policy-makers; why have the Gulf states, who are among the richest countries in the world, not taken in any Syrian refugees? There’s no need to rewrite the commentary that’s already out there: many articles have provided useful statistics and background information on the international conventions and treaties the Persian Gulf countries are signed up to, and their failure to honour them.

Continue reading Why are the Gulf states so reluctant to take in refugees?

Catalan election: a leap into the unknown

Written by Paul Kennedy.

Parties in favour of Catalan independence have obtained an overall majority in terms of seats at the regional elections, which attracted an unusually high turnout (77.44%).

Although the pro-independence alliance Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) fell six seats short of the 68 needed for a majority in the 135-seat parliament, it will secure an overall majority with the addition of the ten seats won by the far-left pro-independence Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP).

Artur Mas, the regional president and key figure behind Catalonia’s shift towards independence, indicated that the result vindicated his strategy. But even though they can now assemble a parliamentary majority, the two parties just failed to win a combined 50% of the vote, and those opposed to independence are nevertheless likely to argue that their opponents don’t have a mandate to press on with their secessionist plans. Continue reading Catalan election: a leap into the unknown

He has a beef with David Cameron, but who is Lord Ashcroft?

Written by Tim Bale.

Britain is still reeling from the allegations that surfaced about the university antics of its prime minister, David Cameron. The claims, made in a forthcoming unauthorised biography of the PM, are the work of Conservative peer Michael Ashcroft and journalist Isabel Oakeshott.

Ashcroft has said he has a “beef” with Cameron, after being passed over for a cabinet position, but he denies the book is his form of revenge. So who is this troublesome Lord? And why do his claims hold so much sway?

Ashcroft is not just some rich guy who has it in for David Cameron. He has a long history in the Conservative Party and can claim, with some justification, to have had a significant influence on the direction it has taken for more than two decades. Continue reading He has a beef with David Cameron, but who is Lord Ashcroft?

What are the UN sustainable development goals?

Written by Asghar Zaidi.

At the end of one of the largest summits at the United Nations headquarters in New York, government representatives from all over the world will sign a commitment to new global development goals. These will replace the millennium development goals, setting objectives for bringing peace and prosperity, and reducing the impact of climate change.

UN member states have agreed on a list of 17 broad goals and 169 more specific targets. These goals are not legally binding but they will be important. They are aimed at eradicating hunger and poverty, while at the same time promoting peace, prosperity, health and education and combating climate change.

The SDGs come into effect at the end of 2015, following the completion of the millennium development goals (MDGs), and cover the period 2016-2030. Unlike the MDGs, which were aimed largely at poorer countries, the SDGs are designed to be universal. The idea is to involve the whole world in taking responsibility for development. Continue reading What are the UN sustainable development goals?