11 February 2019   Leave a comment

The US has sent two Aegis-class destroyers, the USS Spruance and USS Preble, into the South China Sea. The two ships were conducting what the US calls “freedom of navigation exercises” into waters that it considers international but that China considers part of its sovereign territory. The media reports that the ships passed close by Mischief Reef which is occupied by China but also claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines. The move comes as Great Britain announced that it would send its only aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, into the disputed waters as well. The South China Morning Post quoted Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on what the Chinese consider a provocation by the US:

“’The relevant actions of the US warships violated Chinese sovereignty and undermined peace, security and order in the relevant sea areas,’ Hua said. ‘The Chinese side expresses strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition.’

“‘China has indisputable sovereignty over islands in the South China Sea, including the Second Thomas Shoal, Mischief Reef and the adjacent waters,’ Hua said.

“’China has always respected and safeguarded freedom of navigation and flight based on international laws in the South China Sea, but resolutely opposes any country falsely using these harm the sovereignty and security of coastal countries.’”

The confrontation comes as the US and China restart their trade negotiations to stave off new tariffs that the US has threatened if an agreement is not reached by 1 March. Stirring both pots simultaneously does not seem to be an optimal negotiating strategy.

Mischief Reef

Russia has announced plans to test plans to sever all electronic communications in Russia from the global internet. According to Newsweek:

“The experiment aims to test Russia’s cyber defenses and ensure the nation’s internet service, known as Runet, can continue to function in the event of a foreign attack. Officials will verify whether Russia can continue to operate its web service without passing data to and from the outside world. Russian telecom companies will have to re-route all internet traffic to exchange points managed or approved by the Russian telecom supervisor Roskomndazor….

“The experiment is part of a new draft law known as the Digital Economy National Program. The law will also obligate Russia to create its own Domain Name System (DNS) so it can continue to operate if it loses connection to international servers. The DNS is what translates domain names into Internet Protocol (IP) addresses so that people surfing the web can access them.”

Such an experiment might be highly controversial as it suggests that the Russian government could try to block all outside information from coming into the country. Other states exercise a great deal of control over outside sources of information, but a physical block would represent a major step forward in complete state control of information. The BBC outlines the worst case:

“The test is also expected to involve ISPs demonstrating that they can direct data to government-controlled routing points. These will filter traffic so that data sent between Russians reaches its destination, but any destined for foreign computers is discarded.

“Eventually the Russian government wants all domestic traffic to pass through these routing points. This is believed to be part of an effort to set up a mass censorship system akin to that seen in China, which tries to scrub out prohibited traffic.”

Such a move would also make it very difficult to penalize Russian users of the internet for Russian government efforts to spread disinformation abroad.

There have been five days of demonstrations in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as citizens have protested against the corruption of the government led by President Jovenel Moise. There are reports that four people have died in the protests and there does not seem to be any movement toward negotiations between the government and the opposition. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world and has been plagued by governments more interested in satisfying private greeds and the interests of foreign investors and governments.

Posted February 11, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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