Monday, 10 March 2014 00:00 Published in Headlines
KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia yesterday launched a terror investigation into the disappearance of a passenger jet carrying 239 persons, investigating suspect passengers who boarded with stolen passports, as relatives begged for news of their loved ones.
The United States sent the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to conduct an inquiry after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished from the radar early Saturday somewhere at sea between Malaysia and Vietnam, but stressed there was no evidence of terrorism yet.
Malaysian authorities also expanded their search for wreckage to the country’s west coast, asking neighboring Indonesia for help. Searches so far had concentrated on waters to the country’s east, in the South China Sea. A total of 40 ships and 22 aircraft from an array of countries including China and the US are now involved in the hunt across the two areas, officials said.
“There is a distinct possibility the airplane did a turn-back, deviating from the course,” said Malaysia’s Air Force chief, Gen. Rodzali Daud, citing radar data.
But Malaysia Airlines (MAS) chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the Boeing 777’s systems would have set off alarm bells.
“When there is an air turn-back the pilot would be unable to proceed as planned,” he said, adding authorities were “quite puzzled” over the situation.
After it emerged that two persons boarded the flight with stolen European passports, Malaysia’s Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he was looking at four suspect passengers in all.
He declined to offer details, saying authorities were examining “the entire manifest,” but confirmed the FBI was dispatching personnel to Malaysia.
“At the same time our own intelligence has been activated, and of course, the counter-terrorism units... from all the relevant countries have been informed,” Hishammuddin said, refusing also to rule out the possibility of a hijack.
A Malaysian civil aviation official said authorities still so far believe only two passengers had used stolen passports and were examining CCTV footage of them.
Flight MH370 had relayed no distress signal, indications of rough weather, or other signs of trouble. Both Malaysia’s national carrier and the Boeing 777-200 model used on the route are known for their solid safety records.
The flight went missing about an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, bound for Beijing. A total of 153 Chinese were on board, and relatives camped out at the main international airport in China’s capital bemoaned the lack of news Sunday.
“The airline company didn’t contact me, it was a friend,” a middle-aged woman surnamed Nan told reporters, holding back tears, after finding out her brother-in-law was on the flight.
“I can’t understand the airline company. They should have contacted the families first thing,” she said.
MAS insisted it was doing its best to keep relatives informed given the confusion surrounding the plane’s fate.
Buddhist monks chanted prayers for the missing passengers in the departure hall of Kuala Lumpur’s airport, while the airline gathered dozens of somber-looking relatives at a nearby hotel to await news.
The carrier said it was “fearing for the worst,” after Vietnamese boats reached the scene of two large oil slicks detected overnight.
Search aircraft scoured the sea Sunday but had nothing more to report yet, Vietnam’s army deputy chief of staff Vo Van Tuan told AFP.
The search effort involves planes and vessels from several nations with rival maritime claims in the tense South China Sea, including China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.
The US Navy has contributed a surveillance plane, and said the destroyer USS Pinckney was approaching the search area, which would soon be in range of its helicopters.
A Chinese Coast Guard vessel also was in the area, China’s state news agency said.
Two European names — reported as Christian Kozel, an Austrian, and Luigi Maraldi of Italy — were listed on the passenger manifest but neither man boarded the plane, officials said. Both had their passports stolen in Thailand over the past two years.
The disclosure came after it emerged that two people boarded the missing flight, MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with stolen European passports.
China Southern, which has a code-share agreement with MAS, listed one Italian and one Austrian among its ticketed passengers on the flight. There were no other passengers of those nationalities listed on the MAS manifest.
Meanwhile, a Chinese whose passport number was listed on the manifest did not board the plane and was still in China, China’s state media reported, adding the passport was never stolen.
In Washington, a US administration official said authorities were aware of the passports issue but had “not determined a nexus to terrorism yet.”
“We’re still tracking the situation,” the official told AFP.
A US Department of Homeland Security official told The Los Angeles Times the bearers of the stolen passports could merely have stolen or bought them on the black market.
The flight carried 227 passengers and 12 crew. A US company based in Texas said 20 of its employees were on the flight — a dozen from Malaysia and eight from China.
Aboard the plane were 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians and other nationalities including Australian, Indian, American, Dutch, and French.
If the worst is confirmed, it would be just the second fatal crash in the nearly 20-year history of the popular Boeing plane. A 777-200 operated by South Korea’s Asiana Airlines skidded off the runway after hitting a sea wall in San Francisco last year, killing three persons.
Monday, 10 March 2014 00:00 Published in Commentary
NATIONAL HARBOR — Traditional Republicans, stand aside — or at least make room under your tent.
Renewable energy conservatives, Tea Party faithful opposed to the death penalty, and GOP loyalists who support legalizing marijuana are among new bands of Republicans seeking political inclusion at CPAC, America’s top conservative confab.
Even conservative atheists — “Pro gun rights, pro small government, just no God involved!” — handed out pamphlets at this year’s event, where many are known to equate Christian values with American values.
The Conservative Political Action Conference, hosted by the American Conservative Union (ACU), is part family reunion with a cast of familiar characters, part political bacchanalia, and part therapy session as the Republican base contends with deep divisions and plots strategy in a mid-term election year.
Luminaries like Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, Governors Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Chris Christie of New Jersey, and far-right darling Sarah Palin all make their pilgrimage to the closely-watched event.
But beyond the headline-grabbing speeches, or acts that baldly pandered to conservatives such as Senator Mitch McConnell walking on stage brandishing a rifle, a youthful exuberance is coursing through the 10,000 participants clogging a Maryland convention center through Saturday to exchange business cards and plot their next political revolution.
Sure, many of them bashed President Barack Obama, and real estate mogul Donald Trump was on hand to call Democratic leaders “pathetic.”
But this is no longer your father’s Republican core; a new generation of broad-minded, pragmatic and more socially open conservatives is muscling in on traditional turf.
Take Shannon Smith. The head of Abundant Power Group is a dyed-in-the-wool fiscal conservative who expressed disdain for the government’s environmental regulations and doubts about human responsibility for global warming. But he recognizes that the renewable energy industry is here to stay.
“We conservatives need to own the non-carbon energy economy,” he said in a session on global warming.
In CPAC’s cavernous exhibition hall, college students snapped selfies with “Star Wars” Stormtroopers or posed with cardboard cutouts of conservative icon president Ronald Reagan. Others took target practice with an infra-red shotgun at the National Rifle Association’s booth, or gently cradled the size- and weight-accurate fetus models displayed by the National Right to Life Committee.
But Jon Crane was peddling something new to CPAC: opposition to the death penalty.
He was extremely nervous about the reception that a cause more associated with liberals might get here.
“We didn’t know if we’d be eaten alive, but actually we’ve been warmly received,” Crane told AFP about his group Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.
Supporters latch on to how anti-execution arguments merge with conservative principles: respect for human life, the need to reduce costs, and prevention of government abuse.
“We’re convincing people one conservative at a time,” Crane said.
Retired cop Howard Wooldridge, who wears a cowboy hat and a shirt with his message advocating marijuana legalization, does little arm-twisting at CPAC.
Republicans traditionally backed tough drug laws for decades, but that appears to be changing.
He frames his argument about the absurdity of the nation’s pot laws in strict conservative principles — personal responsibility and limited government — and CPAC attendees are almost 100 percent behind him, he said.
This year saw two states, Colorado and Washington, legalized recreational marijuana use, and “I’m a pig in slop,” Wooldridge said.
Not all movements got their due. Gay conservative group GOProud tried to squeeze in to the event, after the organization was reportedly prevented from sponsoring CPAC like they did in 2010 and 2011.
A push-back led to their exclusion in 2012 and 2013, and one of GOProud’s founders quit the group last month, saying its members were being used as “stooges” by the ACU over this year’s compromise that allowed them to attend only as individuals.
Monday, 10 March 2014 00:00 Published in Commentary
BEIJING — As world leaders scramble to shape events in Ukraine, China has stood by unable even to articulate its stance, exposing an inconsistent approach to foreign affairs despite its fast-growing global interests and stature, analysts say.
Beijing can partly blame the lag on its rapid ascent into the top tier of international heavyweights. But it faces huge pressure to catch up fast, both from other governments and its own increasingly far-flung nationals and companies.
“Welcome to the real world,” said Kenneth Lieberthal, a China expert and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
“China by now has global interests but is not a global strategist or global player...(it) is not the one that initiates and tries to drive the outcome,” he said.
Although China aspires to greater global standing, it pursues narrow goals overseas as long as its core concerns are not involved, letting its ally and fellow UN Security Council member Russia take the lead on crises such as the conflict in Syria while it zeros in on business deals.
It is a ruthlessly pragmatic approach that has seen its influence and commercial presence soar not only in its “near abroad” of Central and Southeast Asia, but also in Africa — a continent where it has become a major player — and further afield.
Meanwhile its foreign ministry tends towards non-specific bromides, urging “calm” here, “restraint” there and a “political solution” elsewhere.
“But they have interests now that force them to get beyond those broad statements,” said Lieberthal. “They have to make commitments, they have provide security, they have to do contingency planning.”
On Ukraine, where Moscow has deployed troops in Crimea while the West backs an opposition that is now in government, Beijing has found itself struggling to take a stand, stymied by competing interests.
For years it has sought to solidify ties with Russia, successor to the Soviet Union, which was once a brother Communist state until a bitter split, followed by rapprochement.
President Xi Jinping made it his first destination after taking office last year and again last month, attending the Sochi Winter Olympics while Western leaders stayed away.
But Beijing also vehemently urges “non-interference” in other countries’ domestic affairs, in part to facilitate trade with unsavory regimes — but especially to discourage foreign support for popular uprisings.
It regularly brandishes the concept to ward off criticism from Western powers of its policies in its Tibet and Xinjiang regions, where ethnic minorities complain of repression, feeding political dissent.
“China has long maintained a principle of non-interference in internal affairs and respects Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the foreign ministry said on its website this week.
“There are reasons that the Ukrainian situation is what it is today,” it added, in what Niu Jun, a professor of international affairs at Peking University, interpreted as a reference to Russia’s long-standing links with Crimea.
The events in Ukraine were “very inconvenient” for Beijing, he said. “That’s why they came out with a statement nobody can understand.”
When pressed to clarify whether Beijing supported Moscow’s actions or considered them a form of interference, foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang refused to elaborate. But he said Friday that China would oppose the imposition of sanctions.
On its website, the ministry said China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi told US National Security Adviser Susan Rice that a resolution must “take full care of the legitimate rights of the Ukrainian people” — without specifying what they were.
Yet Beijing’s global ambitions are undeniable. Xi’s slogan since taking office — the “Chinese Dream” — evokes the widely held idea that, as a centuries-old civilization that once led the world in achievements, the Middle Kingdom is poised to reclaim the center stage it deserves.
Its presence is expanding from the Middle East to Africa to Latin America, even in conflict zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq, to acquire the energy and resources needed to feed the world’s largest population and second-biggest economy.
That brings added pressure to protect China’s supply lanes, companies and workers popping up worldwide.
Two-way trade with Ukraine, not a major partner, reached $11 billion last year, according to customs figures.
Beijing is starting to recognize the benefits of getting involved, said Jia Qingguo, a professor of international studies at Peking University, citing a debate over whether it might have prevented the bloody 2011 Western-backed uprising in oil supplier Libya by seeking to persuade late dictator Moamer Kadhafi to compromise.
But it needed to build up its foreign policy know-how, he added, and was still figuring out its approach to the world as it adjusts from being a poor to a powerful nation.
“China does not have a broader strategy. Its foreign policy behavior is often ambiguous and sometimes incoherent,” he said.
“China is both a developing country and a developed country, a weak country and a strong country, a poor country and a rich country, an ordinary country and a superpower.
“As a result its interests are also in contradiction.”
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