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China Expected to Gain in Asian Maritime Dispute after Regional Defense Leaders Meeting
China is likely to come away from a regional meeting of defense leaders this month with tentative new support around Asia, bolstering its expansion in a disputed sea, according to regional analysts.
Defense ministers from China and up to 10 countries in Southeast Asia – some resentful of Beijing’s maritime ambitions – will meet October 18-20 at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) event. Defense heads from Japan and the United States, both of which have pushed back against Beijing’s expansion, are also scheduled to attend.
Association members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam claim parts of the South China Sea, overlapping tracts controlled by the more militarily powerful China. China calls about 90 percent of the sea its own. The 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea is prized for fisheries, oil, gas and shipping lanes.
Southeast Asian defense heads will go soft on China because they hope to work with it more on maritime safety or economic initiatives such as joint energy exploration, experts say. China in turn gets a tacit go-ahead to keep expanding in the contested waterway, they add.
“We know the two main claimant countries are not in the vibe to criticize China at this time,” said Yun Sun, East Asia Program senior associate at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington. “Vietnam has its domestic political consolidation and the strengthened political ties with China. The Philippines is not yet finished with its current friendly tide with China.”
Becoming better friends
Vietnam has clashed with China periodically since the 1970s and the two sides now spar over oil tracts in their overlapping claims. In 2012 China took control of a shoal frequented by Filipino fishing boats and located in Manila’s exclusive economic zone. U.S. and Japanese vessels have helped both Southeast Asian countries bolster their defenses.
But at the annual ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting defense ministers will probably seek “open-ended confidence building” opportunities with Beijing, said Alan Chong, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
They will try at the meeting in Singapore to push for speeding up talks on a South China Sea code of conduct aimed at avoiding mishaps, analysts believe. The code would avoid touching on anyone’s sovereignty claims. ASEAN and China agreed last year to start those negotiations after years of stalling by Beijing.
“Within ASEAN, when you talk about the South China Sea, the default consideration is always the support for the code of conduct, so I think we’re going to go back to that,” said Herman Kraft, political science professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman in Manila.
“The main issue would be to try to get the discussions on the code of conduct moving forward and trying to find ways in which that could be completed as soon as possible,” he said.
Any statements from the meeting will avoid criticizing China, especially in name, said Carl Thayer, professor emeritus with the University of New South Wales in Australia. Ministers might call just for “restraint” in the sea or for avoiding “escalation of conflict,” he said.
The Philippines is aiming to sign a deal with China to explore part of the sea together for deposits of gas and oil, Kraft noted. Vietnam looks to China as a source of trade, investment and tourism.
Gains for China
China will gain from the event first by avoiding open criticism from Japan and the United States, scholars say. Southeast Asian leaders, particularly China’s staunch ally Cambodia, would mute anything too harsh, Thayer said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due to visit Beijing, so his government is unlikely to soil the defense meeting, Chong said. He will travel October 25-27.
“I don’t see anything negative or anything that would upset China coming in that,” Thayer said. “It’s all generalities that stays within the wording that ASEAN has already issued. I can’t see that particularly changing.”
Chinese defense officials could technically use the ASEAN event to talk with U.S. counterparts about rekindling cooperation. China blocked a U.S. warship due to visit Hong Kong this month after Washington sanctioned the Chinese military over its purchases of Russian weapons.
Beijing may be able to finish militarizing islands before the code of conduct is signed, Chong suggested. The code, he said, is unlikely to be signed this year.
Over roughly the past decade, China has reclaimed land to build islets in the sea’s Paracel chain and the heavily contested Spratly Islands. This year to date, Beijing has parked missiles, held naval drills and considered floating nuclear power stations in the sea that runs from Hong Kong to the island of Borneo.
“It may have actually consciously planned to complete the militarization of the islands it currently controls, so it could be stalling ASEAN for time,” Chong said.
Pompeo: Saudis Promised to 'Show the Entire World' Results of Missing Journalist Probe
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is meeting Wednesday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after getting assurances from Saudi leaders that they will "show the entire world" results of a thorough investigation into the disappearance of a U.S.-based Saudi journalist.
Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi monarchy who wrote for the Washington Post, was last seen October 2 entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
Turkish officials have said Saudi agents killed Khashoggi. Saudi officials say he walked out of the consulate on his own.
The Wall Street Journal reported late Tuesday that Saudi operatives beat and drugged Khashoggi, then killed and dismembered him. The newspaper said Turkish officials have shared evidence, including details of an audio recording, with both Saudi and U.S. officials.
Pompeo told reporters Wednesday before he flew to Turkey that in his meetings with Saudi King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir he stressed the need for a complete investigation and received assurances such a probe would take place.
"They made a commitment, too, to hold anyone connected to any wrongdoing that may be found accountable for that whether they are a senior officer or official," Pompeo said.
When asked if that would hold true for members of the royal family, Pompeo said the Saudi leaders "made no exceptions to who they would hold accountable."
Turkish officials have identified 15 suspects they say flew to Istanbul and went to the consulate the day Khashoggi disappeared. The New York Times and Washington Post each reported late Tuesday that several people from that list are linked to Saudi security services and the crown prince.
The Associated Press also quoted an unnamed high-level Turkish official as saying during a search of the consulate Turkish crime scene investigators found evidence of Khashoggi's killing, but did not give further details. Reuters said investigators found "strong evidence" but no conclusive proof of Khashoggi's death.
When asked what gives Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt amid the various reports about Turkey's allegations of Saudi responsibility in Khashoggi's disappearance, Pompeo said he is waiting for Saudi leaders to follow through on their promise for a complete investigation.
"They gave me their word. And we'll all get to see if they deliver against that commitment," he said.
U.S. President Donald Trump criticized the growing condemnation of Saudi Arabia in an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday.
"Here you go again with, you know, you're guilty until proven innocent," Trump said.
He compared the situation with that of his recent Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who faced sexual abuse allegations during his confirmation process.
"We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I'm concerned," Trump told the AP. "I think we have to find out what happened first."
While Pompeo was in his meetings in Saudi Arabia, Trump, in Washington, said on Twitter, "For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter). Any suggestion that I have is just more FAKE NEWS (of which there is plenty)!"
But during a 2015 campaign stop, Trump boasted about his business dealings with the Saudis. “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them,” Trump said. “They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”
As he dispatched Pompeo to Riyadh on Monday, Trump told reporters at the White House that King Salman's denials to him about Khashoggi's fate in a phone call "could not have been stronger."
But some U.S. lawmakers have all but accepted Turkey's version of the events, that a team of Saudi agents arrived in Istanbul and killed Khashoggi when he went to the consulate to pick up documents he needed to marry his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish national who waited in vain for Khashoggi to emerge from the consulate.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday the United States should "sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia" over the incident and said he would never again work with the crown prince, assailing him as "toxic" and calling him a "wrecking ball."
Chris Hannas, Ken Bredemeier and State Department correspondent Nike Ching, contributed to this report.
Shanghai Airport Automates Check-in with Facial Recognition
It's now possible to check in automatically at Shanghai's Hongqiao airport using facial recognition technology, part of an ambitious rollout of facial recognition systems in China that has raised privacy concerns as Beijing pushes to become a global leader in the field.
Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport unveiled self-service kiosks for flight and baggage check-in, security clearance and boarding powered by facial recognition technology, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China.
Similar efforts are under way at airports in Beijing and Nanyang city, in central China's Henan province.
Many airports in China already use facial recognition to help speed security checks, but Shanghai's system, which debuted Monday, is being billed as the first to be fully automated.
"It is the first time in China to achieve self-service for the whole check-in process,'' said Zhang Zheng, general manager of the ground services department for Spring Airlines, the first airline to adopt the system at Hongqiao airport. Currently, only Chinese identity card holders can use the technology.
Spring Airlines said Tuesday that passengers had embraced automated check-in, with 87 percent of 5,017 people who took Spring flights on Monday using the self-service kiosks, which can cut down check-in times to less than a minute and a half.
Across greater China, facial recognition is finding its way into daily life. Mainland police have used facial recognition systems to identify people of interest in crowds and nab jaywalkers, and are working to develop an integrated national system of surveillance camera data.
Chinese media are filled with reports of ever-expanding applications: A KFC outlet in Hangzhou, near Shanghai, where it's possible to pay using facial recognition technology; a school that uses facial recognition cameras to monitor students' reactions in class; and hundreds of ATMs in Macau equipped with facial recognition devices to curb money laundering.
But increased convenience may come at a cost in a country with few rules on how the government can use biometric data.
"Authorities are using biometric and artificial intelligence to record and track people for social control purposes,'' said Maya Wang, senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch. "We are concerned about the increasing integration and use of facial recognition technologies throughout the country because it provides more and more data points for the authorities to track people.''