Thursday, October 31, 2013

CSIRO GMO Wheat can Silence Human Genes, Causes Early Death

Fact or fiction?  Could this be just a scare tactic?  It is always best to err on the safe side.

Posted by Christina Sarich on October 28, 2013 at 1:39 pm

CSIRO GMO Wheat can Silence Human Genes, Causes Early Death

Two Australian researchers have found that CSIRO-developed GMO wheat which was created to silence particular genes within the crop can also silence certain rNA and DNA sequences in the human body, causing fatality as early as age five or six. The researchers are calling the GMO wheat a ‘safety’ issue, which requires more profundity before the genetically modified crop is planted in more areas of Australia and offered in products in grocery stores.
Professor Jack Heinemann of the University of Canterbury, NZ, and Associate Professor Judy Carman, a biochemist at Flinders University, released their expert scientific opinions on the safety of CSIRO’s GM wheat at a press conference in Melbourne. The Safe Food Foundation & Institute has a video of their conference, here.
While studies on the wheat have been released by CSIRO, the scientists point out that there are some grave holes in the overall assessment of the crop that have serious repercussions for people who consume it.
According to the Heinemann and Carman, extended testing should be performed before the wheat is put on store shelves.
“We firmly believe that long term chronic toxicological feeding studies are required in addition to the detailed requests . . . for the DNA sequences used. . .The industry routinely does feeding studies anyway, so it should not be too much more difficult to do long term (lifetime) studies and include inhalation studies.”
“The technology is too new,” the scientists said in the press conference, “What we found is that the molecules created in this wheat intended to silence wheat genes can match human genes and through ingestion can possibly silence human genes. We found over 770 pages of potential matches between the genes in wheat and the human genome.” This is the cause for concern.
The issue may end up in Australian courts if the company does not respond to the scientist’s and publics concerns about the GM wheat.

Glass-Steagall or Mass Genocide

The following mass circulation leaflet was released today by the LaRouche Political Action Committee, as the collapse of conditions of life in the United States is quickly approaching the genocidal conditions in Greece and others in Europe.
            Mike Billington

Glass-Steagall or Mass Genocide

October 31st, 2013 • 10:09 AM

LaRouche PAC issued the following statement, for mass circulation, on Oct. 30, 2013.

The entire trans-Atlantic financial system is hopelessly bankrupt, and the only solution to this crisis is the immediate reinstatement of Glass Steagall in the United States. Unless the Congress passes Glass Steagall in the coming days and weeks, with a veto-proof majority, breaking the power of Wall Street and restoring a commercial banking system free from the quadrillion dollars in derivatives and other gambling debts, the American people will soon be facing a mass kill, far beyond the genocidal horrors that have been imposed on Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Cyprus and Spain. Wall Street must be bankrupted before they bankrupt us all.
Every month, the Federal Reserve, with the full backing of President Obama, pumps $85 billion in fresh bailout money into Wall Street and the major European banks. At the same time, the White House and Congress have agreed to impose killer austerity cuts on the vast majority of Americans. In the coming months, the body count will skyrocket, as health insurance costs triple, as the health care delivery system is vastly scaled back, and vital social safety net programs, from Medicare and Medicaid to Social Security and Food Stamps, are stripped down to a minimum.
Already, under Obamacare,14 million Americans have lost their existing health insurance, thousands of doctors have been fired by the major HMOs, critical care hospitals are to be shut down all across the American heartland, and home health care services are being cancelled. Whether you can afford health insurance or not, the doctors, nurses, hospitals and research facilities are not going to be there unless you are among the wealthiest handful of Americans.
To be blunt: This is how it was in Nazi Germany under the Hitler T-4 euthanasia program, and this is how it is in Great Britain today with the Tony Blair-initiated N.I.C.E. program, under which medical care is denied to those deemed to be lives not worth living.
In order to feed Wall Street's insatiable appetite for bailouts, hard-working Americans are being told that their pensions can no longer be paid and they are facing a brief life of abject poverty, despite decades of contributions to their pension plans. City workers in Detroit have been told that their pensions will be cut by 90 percent, which is nothing less than a death sentence. What is happening in Detroit today is in the near-future for every city in America. In New York City, the home of the Wall Street too-big-to-fail banks, the official poverty rate is 46 percent.
Under Title II of the Dodd-Frank bill, not even your household savings accounts are secure. As in Cyprus, your savings will be looted as part of the so-called bail-in scheme to save the banks at all costs.
The message coming from Washington is clear: If you are old, sick or disabled, you are as good as dead. If you are young, you have no future. The message is coming from President Obama and from Congressional Republicans, who are fully complicit in plans to vastly reduce Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. So far, the vast majority of Democrats in Congress have been cowed into accepting Obama's diktats.
The only serious fight-back is coming from those in Congress who are backing the return to Glass Steagall. With two bills in the Senate (S. 985 and S. 1282) and one in the House (HR. 129) with 75 co-sponsors, Glass Steagall could be restored now. It is no exaggeration to say that this is a life or death issue. Under Glass Steagall, the United States can return to a Constitutionally-mandated credit system and launch an era of unprecedented economic growth and prosperity for all. Without Glass Steagall, we are facing mass kill.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

China as a Major Arms Exporter: Implications for Southeast Asia

RSIS presents the following commentary China as a Major Arms Exporter: Implications for Southeast Asia by Richard A. Bitzinger
. It is also available online at this link. (To print it, click on this link.). Kindly forward any comments or feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentaries, at

No. 202/2013 dated 30 October 2013
China as a Major Arms Exporter:
Implications for Southeast Asia

By Richard A. Bitzinger

Predictions of China becoming a major exporter of advanced weapons systems may still be premature, as it faces considerable challenges in bringing competitive products to market. However, Beijing could eventually (although not anytime soon) succeed in expanding its arms sales globally, including to Southeast Asia, with implications for regional security.
AN ARTICLE in the New York Times on 20 October 2013 highlighted China’s emergence as a major exporter of advanced weapons systems. The global arms market has traditionally been dominated by a handful of mostly Western suppliers: the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and, increasingly, Israel.

Now, however, China appears to be mounting some serious competition to this cabal, with its ability to offer increasingly sophisticated weaponry at rock-bottom prices. According to the NYT, this catalogue includes Predator-like armed drones, air-defence systems similar in capabilities to the Patriot missile, and perhaps even stealth fighter jets.

Too soon for a victory lap?

China’s recent successes as an arms exporter are impressive. It has consistently ranked among the top five arms sellers in recent years, averaging approximately US$2 billion annually in arms deals. It has also expanded beyond its usual customer base of South Asian and African states and begun to penetrate new markets in Latin America and the Middle East. In particular, in recent years it has racked up large sales to Venezuela, Bolivia, and even NATO member Turkey, which in September agreed to buy the Chinese HQ-9 air-defence missile system - a deal potentially worth up to US$4 billion.

Nevertheless, it may be premature to declare China a major new player in the high-end global arms business. China’s position as an arms exporter remains tenuous, particularly when it comes to selling high-tech systems such as supersonic combat aircraft, submarines, and precision-guided weapons. In the first place, most of China’s biggest arms sales are still to a handful of purchasers, particularly Pakistan and Bangladesh. These two countries alone accounted for nearly half of all Chinese arms exports in 2012, according to IHS Jane’s reporting. In addition, it is not certain that China will be able to retain many of its new clients over the long run. Myanmar purchased large amounts of Chinese weaponry in the 1990s and early 2000s, but its buys have tapered off significantly in recent years. Iran, too, used to be a major consumer of Chinese arms, but it has not placed a new order with Beijing in several years.

Moreover, despite offering a handful of competitive high-tech products – such as the HQ-9 SAM or the C-802 antiship cruise missile – most Chinese arms sales remain overwhelmingly at the low end of the spectrum. China still mainly exports relatively simple items like light armoured vehicles, artillery and mortar systems, patrol craft, and man-portable SAMs. One of its biggest sellers, the K-8 jet, is a relatively unsophisticated subsonic trainer and attack aircraft, suitable mainly for developing countries lacking the money or training to operate advanced fighter jets.

Many of China’s more high-end weapons systems, such as the J-10 and JF-17 combat aircraft, have won few export orders. The JF-17, for example, has only been purchased by Pakistan (which is partnered with China in jointly producing the plane).

What is more significant about China’s arms exports is what it is not selling – mainly  transformational weapons such as precision-guided munitions, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, advanced combat systems, and most defence electronics. According to the NYT article, for example, Algeria is buying Chinese corvettes, but outfitting them with French radar and communications gear. China is also still far behind the West when it comes to stand-off land-attack weapons and armed drones.

ASEAN: Rising market for Chinese arms?

Despite these caveats to China’s success as a weapons exporter, Beijing’s growing presence in the global arms market could have an impact on arms acquisition decision-making within Southeast Asia. Many ASEAN nations already have acquired some Chinese weaponry. Myanmar, of course, has been China’s largest customer in Southeast Asia, buying the K-8 trainer jet, armoured personnel carriers, and corvettes and frigates armed with antiship cruise missiles.

In addition, Cambodia and Malaysia have bought Chinese SAMs, Laos has acquired helicopters and light transport aircraft, and Timor-Leste has procured small patrol craft. Thailand recently bought two frigates from China, while Jakarta is not only purchasing Chinese SAMs and antiship cruise missiles, it has entered into several joint ventures with Beijing to help develop Indonesia’s missile sector.

Beyond these purchases – many of which are still rather paltry – ASEAN states may feel increasingly pressured to purchase additional arms from Beijing in order assuage growing Chinese power in Asia - and also to hedge against a possibly declining US presence in the region. That said, for most Southeast Asian nations, buying arms from China will still be more of a political decision than one borne out of sound military necessity, and some ASEAN member states – particularly Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam – will likely never buy Chinese arms.

Future prospects for Chinese arms exports

Despite the challenge to China when it comes to exporting advanced arms, defence industries remain dynamic institutions, constantly adding to their capabilities and churning out better and better products. At the same time, the arms market is also highly fluid – new suppliers can and do break into this business. Consequently, while China may remain a niche arms supplier for some time to come, it will probably not remain so. It has many new products coming online within the next decade – the J-31 stealth fighter, for example – and these may yet prove to be winners for Beijing’s arms export efforts over the long run.

China’s gradual emergence as a major arms producer and exporter will naturally have broader implications for Southeast Asia. The injection of new, more capable Chinese weapons systems could, of course, have military repercussions for regional security. Beijing could become an alternative supplier of advanced weapons systems that Western countries might be reluctant to export; thus, Chinese arms could potentially upset the regional military balance.

In addition, China’s willingness to sell all kinds of arms could inject a new, unpredictable variable into the ASEAN arms market, perhaps even setting off a regional arms race. Overall, as China becomes a purveyor of increasingly more sophisticated weaponry, it will likely become even more of a wildcard when it comes to regional security.

Richard A. Bitzinger is a Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the Military Transformations Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. Formerly with the RAND Corp. and the Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies, he has been writing on military and defence economic issues for more than 20 years.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Mindanao Peace Process: Can Indonesia Advance It?

RSIS presents the following commentary The Mindanao Peace Process: Can Indonesia Advance It? by Margareth Sembiring. It is also available online at this link. (To print it, click on this link.). Kindly forward any comments or feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentaries, at

No. 200/2013 dated 28 October 2013
The Mindanao Peace Process:
Can Indonesia Advance It?

By Margareth Sembiring

The recent violence in Zamboanga has prompted Indonesia to offer assistance in brokering peace in the southern Philippines, citing its role in the OIC and its experience with mediating peace. In view of the conflict’s complexity, are those credentials enough?
VIOLENCE SHOOK Zamboanga city in Mindanao, Philippines, for weeks in September 2013, leading to renewed calls for peace. The Indonesian government through Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa expressed Indonesia’s willingness to mediate peace in that strife-torn region.

Quoting Indonesia’s role in the committee of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and its involvement in sealing a peace agreement between the government of the Philippines and rebels in 1996, Indonesia said that it was ready to facilitate peace talks at the request of the Philippine government and other concerned parties. While this offer deserves some attention, what are the prospects for Indonesia’s success at mediating peace in Mindanao?

Credentials and complexities

Indonesia has several relevant credentials. Operating under the peace framework of the OIC, it was actively involved in facilitating the peace process in the beleaguered Muslim-dominated Mindanao in the 1990s. After hosting peace talks between the Philippine government, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and OIC representatives for almost four years, a peace agreement was reached in 1996. Indonesia also deployed military observers, the Garuda Contingent XVII, to the region between 1994 and 2002.

In addition, Indonesia has twice deployed its personnel to be part of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) observing the ceasefire between the Philippine armed forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an MNLF breakaway faction. Indonesia’s first participation in the IMT in July 2012 was received positively for its perceived impartiality. Its de-facto leadership in the region through its role in ASEAN and its current chairmanship of the OIC Peace Committee for Southern Philippines lend it further credibility.

Notwithstanding its previous involvement in Mindanao and its position in the region and the OIC, Indonesia will not find it easy to broker peace in Mindanao. The 1996 agreement that Indonesia successfully facilitated is neither the first nor the only peace accord ever attempted. In fact, various Philippine administrations have tried to make peace deals with rebel groups in the area. In 1976, the Marcos administration and the MNLF signed the Tripoli Agreement, with the OIC playing a mediating role. During Corazon Aquino’s era, an agreement was reached in 1987 on the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

In 2001, Malaysia and Libya played major roles in negotiations that resulted in a unity agreement between the MNLF and the MILF. In 2008, under Arroyo’s presidency, the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the Philippine government and the MILF gained some traction but was ultimately ruled unconstitutional by the Philippine Supreme Court.

All of these peace accords ultimately failed to quell instability in Mindanao for various reasons. The 1996 agreement, for example, frayed due to growing dissatisfaction over Nur Misuari’s poor management of the ARMM and a lack of a sense of ownership by tribal communities and non-Muslims who had been largely left out of the negotiation process. As peace agreements have generally been fraught with problems, the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the Aquino administration and the MILF in October 2012 was viewed with trepidation. The recent standoff in Zamboanga was therefore not completely unexpected.

The existence of different rebel groups and factions represents another hurdle to a peace settlement. The MNLF was dominant in the early days, but its influence dwindled following a leadership rift that resulted in the establishment of the MILF by Hashim Salamat in 1978, which then fractured in 2008 into the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) headed by Kato. The MNLF is itself also divided into several factions, such as the Council of 15, the Islamic Command Council and the Misuari group.

The situation is made more complicated by issues of identity, culture and rights associated with the heterogeneity of the population in the southern Philippines. Further, local officials and business entities have their own priorities. Regardless of attempts at inclusive approaches, the presence of multiple groups with different interests increases the probability of dissatisfaction and disagreement.

The Philippine government is also partly responsible for the unravelling of peace agreements. Within the government, there are different policy positions towards Mindanao, and this often creates gridlock and makes progress generally slow. The government’s perceived motives and lack of commitment have also led to a sense of distrust. The 1976 Tripoli agreement was believed to be merely an attempt by the Marcos administration to weaken MNLF leaders and mollify them. The government has also been criticised for inadequate allocation of resources to the region. The historical lack of consistency creates ingrained misgivings and renders peace processes constantly fragile.

What will it take?

Against this backdrop, Indonesia’s position in the region and the OIC and its prior involvement in Mindanao may not be enough for it to effectively broker a sustained peace agreement. Indonesia must acquire an excellent understanding of the real dynamics between the Philippine government, the different rebel groups, and the diverse societies of southern Philippines. It needs to get buy-in from the wider groups within the society for it to extend its influence to ground-level actors.

Further, the sensitivity of the relationships between the Bangsamoro and the Filipino majority needs to be carefully addressed throughout the process. This is a very challenging undertaking as it deals with the notion of identity and associated inequality.

At its core, it is imperative for Indonesia as a potential mediator to be able to effectively influence rebel groups and other stakeholders to want to compromise on their demands and truly desire sustained peace. It could take advantage of its perceived impartiality and its role in the region and the OIC to encourage other states and private actors to engage with these groups, in particular to establish trust so as to prepare the ground for a common negotiating position.

They would also need to be able to effectively influence the policy processes within the Philippine government. These would be key to Indonesia’s success in initiating fresh peace talks in Mindanao.

Margareth Sembiring is a Research Analyst at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Why is China Isolating Japan and the Philippines?

Why is China Isolating Japan and the Philippines?

By Zachary Keck
The Diplomat
Image credit: Xi Jinping via Shutterstock
Image credit: Xi Jinping via Shutterstock
One of the more curious aspects of China’s greater assertiveness in recent years has been its comprehensiveness.
Historically Chinese leaders have pursued a divide and conquer policy towards their neighbors, and with great success. Over the last year or two, however, China has seemingly tangled with just about anyone and everyone (arguably excluding Russia and Pakistan). In certain cases, like the incident last year where it issued new visas that sported an expansive map of China on it, Beijing has simultaneously angered most of its neighbors with a single, pointless action.
The results have been all too predictable: China’s neighbors have increasingly banded together in an attempt to offset Beijing’s superior power. Thus, we’ve witnessed developments like India’s Look East policy finally gaining some traction, while Japan has greatly expanded its influence in ASEAN. At the same time, China’s neighbors have increasingly courted external powers to assist them in their efforts to balance its rise.
Over the last couple of months China has begun walking back this policy. Thus, Xi Jinping and China’s top leaders have revamped their predecessor’s smile diplomacy in places like Central and Southeast Asia. They have also courted India after repeatedly provoking it earlier in the year. Even relations with the U.S. have gradually improved, as is evident from the growing military-to-military ties between the two powers.
Two nations that have been pointedly excluded from China’s charm offensive are the Philippines and Japan. Beijing has made it a point of maintaining tensions with them and rejected overtures from their respective leaders.
This is generally in line with a “divide-and-conquer” strategy. Nevertheless, it raises the obvious question of why Chinese leaders have decided to retain tensions with the Philippines and Japan while improving them with other countries, even those it maintains territorial disputes with such as Vietnam and India.
There are a number of possibilities. With regards to Japan at least, Chinese scholars have noted that Beijing views the outstanding dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands as qualitatively different from its other territorial disputes. As Fudan University’s Shen Dingli has explained, “For the East China Sea, it is more political. China considers we have been invaded by Japan, and Japan has stolen our island. But for South China Sea, it’s largely about economics.” Still, this can only explain why China has targeted Japan, not the Philippines.
Another possibility is that China has decided to target Japan and the Philippines because they are treaty allies of the United States. Leaders in Beijing may therefore calculate that China has less to lose by clashing with Manila and Tokyo because they are already firmly in America’s camp. By contrast, antagonizing countries like Vietnam and India risks pushing them into the U.S. camp, as has indeed been happening.
It’s worth noting, however, that China hasn’t targeted other U.S. treaty allies like Thailand and South Korea, and indeed has been courting them. However, Beijing doesn’t have outstanding territorial disputes with Thailand or South Korea (at least South Korea as it’s currently configured).
A less obvious but equally intriguing possibility is that Japan and the Philippines are being targeted because they don’t share land borders with China. As is well known, China has spent the last few decades overhauling its naval and air force while paying relatively less attention to its traditionally dominant land forces. It has had the ahistorical luxury of doing so because it was largely pacified its land borders with its neighbors, sometimes by agreeing to make concessions.
China’s continued projection of power outward depends largely on its ability to maintain tranquil land borders. Intense and prolonged disputes with neighbors that it shares borders with could therefore put its march out to sea in jeopardy. Thus, if China wishes to maintain strained ties with any powers, it has relatively less to loss by doing so with countries that don’t border it on land.

Dual leadership in Asia can avert clashes

Dual leadership in Asia can avert clashes

By Hugh White
Global Times 
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
Worries about security in Asia today usually focus on maritime and territorial disputes between Asian countries in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. But the real problem is the future of relations between China and the US.
If these two great powers can get on well, the region’s maritime and territorial disputes could be easily resolved. But if they become bitter rivals, these disputes could flare into serious confrontation and even conflict.
That would be a disaster for both countries, and for the whole region. Leaders in both countries know that. They want a harmonious relationship which will promote peace and prosperity.
But the problem is that Washington and Beijing have quite different views about how to achieve that. Washington wants to keep things as they have been, while China wants big changes.
For four decades China has accepted the US as the primary power in Asia. Washington believes this should continue.
China sees things differently. President Xi Jinping says that China seeks a “new type of great power relations” in Asia. That means a relationship which is not based on US leadership over China, but on equality between them. That is very different from Washington’s ideas.
US and Chinese conceptions of their future relationship therefore seem diametrically opposed and mutually incompatible.
But we should not be surprised by this. It is quite natural that the US should want to remain the leader in Asia, and to expect regional governments to support it. And it is equally natural that China should expect to play a larger role in Asia’s strategic order as its power grows, just as the US once did.
Nonetheless, this situation is inherently dangerous, because Washington and Beijing cannot get on well if they do not share a common vision of their relationship. Instead, there is a real risk that strategic rivalry between them will escalate as each tries to impose its own ideas on the other.
We have already seen this happen. US President Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia” has clearly aimed at resisting China’s challenge and preserve US leadership.
At the same time, China appears to see disputes with US friends and allies in the East China Sea and the South China Sea as a chance to strengthen its challenge to the regional leadership of the US.
Where will this end? The danger is that each side continues to respond to the other in an escalating spiral of confrontation which continually increases their rivalry and even the risk of direct conflict.
This can easily happen, especially when each side underestimates the other’s resolve.
Americans seem to think that if they stand firm, China will drop its hopes for a “new type” and simply accept US leadership in Asia. Some Chinese may think that Washington’s financial and political problems, and preoccupations in the Middle East will force it to step back from Asia and allow China to take its place as the regional leader.
Both sides would be wrong to think this way. Both are very powerful and determined countries, and neither is going to simply give way to the other.
That means the only way to avoid escalating strategic rivalry is for them both to agree to a compromise. They would need to agree on a new order in Asia in which the US and China share power.
The US would still play a leadership role, but it would step back from the sole leadership it has exercised until now. China would play a larger role, but it would not become the sole leader either. Essentially they would share power as equals.
China already shows signs of flexibility, saying it is willing for the US to continue to play a major role in Asia. The US has not yet done the same, but as the pivot proves unworkable, perhaps the time has come for a new approach in Washington.
The author is professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University in Canberra.

A Game of Shark and Minnow

A Game of Shark and Minnow
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A Game
of Shark
and Minnow
In a remote corner of the South China Sea, 105 nautical miles from the Philippines, lies a submerged reef the Filipinos call Ayungin.
In most ways it resembles the hundreds of other reefs, islands, rock clusters and cays that collectively are called the Spratly Islands.
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But Ayungin is different. In the reef’s shallows there sits a forsaken ship, manned by eight Filipino troops whose job is to keep China in check.
A Game of Shark
And Minnow
By Jeff Himmelman
Photographs and video by Ashley Gilbertson
Produced by Mike Bostock, Clinton Cargill, Shan Carter, Nancy Donaldson, Tom Giratikanon, Xaquín G.V., Steve Maing and Derek Watkins

Ayungin Shoal lies 105 nautical miles from the Philippines. There’s little to commend the spot, apart from its plentiful fish and safe harbor — except that Ayungin sits at the southwestern edge of an area called Reed Bank, which is rumored to contain vast reserves of oil and natural gas. And also that it is home to a World War II-era ship called the Sierra Madre, which the Philippine government ran aground on the reef in 1999 and has since maintained as a kind of post-apocalyptic military garrison, the small detachment of Filipino troops stationed there struggling to survive extreme mental and physical desolation. Of all places, the scorched shell of the Sierra Madre has become an unlikely battleground in a geopolitical struggle that will shape the future of the South China Sea and, to some extent, the rest of the world.

In early August, after an overnight journey in a fishing boat that had seen better days, we approached Ayungin from the south and came upon two Chinese Coast Guard cutters stationed at either side of the reef. We were a small group: two Westerners and a few Filipinos, led by Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon Jr., whose territory includes most of the Philippine land claims in the South China Sea. The Chinese presence at Ayungin had spooked the Philippine Navy out of undertaking its regular run to resupply the troops there, but the Chinese were still letting some fishing boats through. We were to behave as any regular fishing vessel with engine trouble or a need for shelter in the shoal would, which meant no radio contact. As we throttled down a few miles out and waited to see what the Chinese Coast Guard might do, there was only an eerie quiet.

Bito-onon stood at the prow, nervously eyeing the cutters. Visits to his constituents on the island of Pag-asa, farther northwest, take him past Ayungin fairly frequently, and the mayor has had his share of run-ins. Last October, he said, a Chinese warship crossed through his convoy twice, at very high speed, nearly severing a towline connecting two boats. This past May, as the mayor’s boat neared Ayungin in the middle of the night, a Chinese patrol trained its spotlight on the boat and tailed it for an hour, until it became clear that it wasn’t headed to Ayungin. “They are becoming more aggressive,” the mayor said. “We didn’t know if they would ram us.”

We didn’t know if they would ram us, either. As we approached, we watched through binoculars and a camera viewfinder to see if the Chinese boats would try to head us off. After a few tense moments, it became clear that they were going to stay put and let us pass. Soon we were inside the reef, the Sierra Madre directly in front of us. As we chugged around to the starboard side, two marines peered down uncertainly from the top of the long boarding ladder. The ship’s ancient communications and radar equipment loomed above them, looking as if it could topple over at any time. After a series of rapid exchanges with the mayor, the marines motioned for us to throw up our boat’s ropes. Within a minute or two the fishing boat was moored and we were handing up our bags, along with cases of Coca-Cola and Dunkin’ Donuts that naval command had sent along as pasalubong, gifts for the hungry men on board.
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From afar, the boat hadn’t looked much different from the Chinese boats that surrounded it. But at close range, water flowed freely through holes in the hull.
With the tropical sun blasting down on it, the ship was ravaged by rust. Whole sections of the deck were riddled with holes.
Old doors and metal sheets dotted paths where the men walked, to prevent them from plunging into the cavernous tank space below.
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It was hard to imagine how such a forsaken place could become a flash point in a geopolitical power struggle.

But before we had much time to think about that, someone pointed out that the Chinese boats had started to move. They left their positions to the east and west of the reef and began to converge just off the starboard side, where the reef came closest to the ship.
Chinese Coast Guard cutters patrol within sight of the Sierra Madre.

The mayor and several others stood quietly on deck, watching them as they came. The message from the Chinese was unmistakable: We see you, we’ve got our eye on you, we are here.

As the Chinese boats made their half-circle in front of the Sierra Madre, the mayor mimed the act of them filming us. “Wave,” he said. “We’re going to be big on YouTube.”
Dangerous Ground

To understand how Ayungin (known to the Western world as Second Thomas Shoal) could become contested ground is to confront, in miniature, both the rise of China and the potential future of U.S. foreign policy. It is also to enter into a morass of competing historical, territorial and even moral claims in an area where defining what is true or fair may be no easier than it has proved to be in the Middle East.

The Spratly Islands sprawl over roughly 160,000 square miles in the waters of the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and China — all of whom claim part of the islands.
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Since the 18th century, navigators have referred to the Spratlys as “Dangerous Ground” — a term that captures not only the treacherous nature of the area but also the mess that is the current political situation in the South China Sea.
In addition to the Philippines, the governments of China, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim the Spratlys for themselves, and have occupied some of them as a way to stake that claim. Malaysia and Brunei make more modest partial claims.
The Chinese and Taiwanese base their claims on Xia and Han dynasty records and a 1947 map made by the Kuomintang. The nine-dash line derived from that map pushes up against the coastlines of all the other countries in the area.

The current Philippine claim is based mostly on the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea from 1982, which established an Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nautical miles off the shore of sovereign states.
Why the fuss over “Dangerous Ground”? Natural resources are a big piece of it. According to current U.S. estimates, the seabed beneath the Spratlys may hold up to 5.4 billion barrels of oil and 55.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. On top of which, about half of the world’s merchant fleet tonnage and nearly one third of its crude oil pass through these waters each year. They also contain some of the richest fisheries in the world.
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In 2012, China and the Philippines engaged in a standoff at Scarborough Shoal, after a Philippine warship attempted to expel Chinese fishing boats from the area, which they claimed had been harvesting endangered species within the Philippine EEZ. Although the shoal lies well to the north of the Spratlys, it is in many ways Ayungin’s direct precedent.
The Cabbage Strategy

China is currently in disputes with several of its neighbors, and the Chinese have become decidedly more willing to wield a heavy stick. There is a growing sense that they have been waiting a long time to flex their muscles and that that time has finally arrived. “Nothing in China happens overnight,” Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, the director of Asia-Pacific programs at the United States Institute of Peace, said. “Any move you see was planned and prepared for years, if not more. So obviously this maritime issue is very important to China.”

It is also very important to the United States, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made clear at a gathering of the Association of Southeast Nations (Asean) in Hanoi in July 2010. Clinton declared that freedom of navigation in the South China Sea was a “national interest” of the United States, and that “legitimate claims to maritime space in the South China Sea should be derived solely from legitimate claims to land features,” which could be taken to mean that China’s nine-dash line was illegitimate. The Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, chafed visibly, left the meeting for an hour and returned only to launch into a long, vituperative speech about the danger of cooperation with outside powers.

President Obama and his representatives have reiterated America’s interest in the region ever since. The Americans pointedly refuse to take sides in the sovereignty disputes. But China’s behavior as it becomes more powerful, along with freedom of navigation and control over South China Sea shipping lanes, will be among the major global political issues of the 21st century. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, of the $5.3 trillion in global trade that transits the South China Sea each year, $1.2 trillion of it touches U.S. ports — and so American foreign policy has begun to shift accordingly.

In a major speech in Singapore last year, Leon Panetta, then the secretary of defense, described the coming pivot in U.S. strategy in precise terms: “While the U.S. will remain a global force for security and stability, we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.” He referred to the United States as a “Pacific nation,” with a capital “P” and no irony, and then announced a series of changes — most notably that the roughly 50-50 balance of U.S. naval forces between the Pacific and the Atlantic would become 60-40 Pacific by 2020. Given the size of the U.S. Navy, this is enormously significant.

In June of last year, the United States helped broker an agreement for both China’s and the Philippines’s ships to leave Scarborough Shoal peacefully, but China never left. They eventually blocked access to the shoal and filled in a nest of boats around it to ward off foreign fishermen.

“Since [the standoff], we have begun to take measures to seal and control the areas around the Huangyan Island,” Maj. Gen. Zhang Zhaozhong, of China’s People’s Liberation Army, said in a television interview in May, using the Chinese term for Scarborough. (That there are three different names for the same set of uninhabitable rocks tells you much of what you need to know about the region.) He described a “cabbage strategy,” which entails surrounding a contested area with so many boats — fishermen, fishing administration ships, marine surveillance ships, navy warships — that “the island is thus wrapped layer by layer like a cabbage.”

There can be no question that the cabbage strategy is in effect now at Ayungin and has been at least since May. General Zhang, in his interview several months ago, listed Ren’ai Shoal (the Chinese name for Ayungin) in the P.L.A.’s “series of achievements” in the South China Sea. He had already put it in the win column, even though eight Filipino marines still live there. He also seemed to take some pleasure in the strategy. Of taking territory from the Philippines, he said: “We should do more such things in the future. For those small islands, only a few troopers are able to station on each of them, but there is no food or even drinking water there. If we carry out the cabbage strategy, you will not be able to send food and drinking water onto the islands. Without the supply for one or two weeks, the troopers stationed there will leave the islands on their own. Once they have left, they will never be able to come back.”
‘If You Want to Live, Eat’

On the deck of the Sierra Madre, with morning sun slanting off the bright blue water and the crowing of a rooster for a soundtrack, Staff Sgt. Joey Loresto and Sgt. Roy Yanto were improvising. Yanto, a soft-spoken 31-year-old, had lost an arrow spearfishing on the shoal the day before. Now he had pulled the handle off an old bucket and was banging it straight with a rusty mallet in an attempt to make it into a spear. Everything on the Sierra Madre was this way — improvised, repurposed. “Others came prepared,” Loresto said of previous detachments that had been briefed about life on the boat before they arrived and knew they would need to fish to supplement their diet. “But we were not prepared.”
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For the final touches to the arrowhead, Yanto used a hammer and a rusted, machete-like blade.
They made spearfishing guns from a piece of wood, a bolt repurposed as a trigger and two pieces of rubber for propulsion.
In the afternoons, if the weather was good and the tide was low, they would don snorkels and old goggles and swim around the boat.
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A successful spearfishing session meant avoiding barracudas and sharks and gathering a basket full of Philippine grouper known as lapu-lapu.

Yanto lived alone at the stern of the boat, in a room with a bed, a mosquito net, an M-16 propped against the wall and nothing but a tarp wrapped around a steel bar to separate him from the sea. He also took care of the three fighting cocks on the boat. They were lashed to various perches at the stern and took great pleasure in crowing at anybody who tried to use the “toilet,” a seatless ceramic bowl suspended over the water by iron pipes and plywood.

Yanto has a wife and a 6-year-old son back in Zamboanga City. Like the others, he is able to talk to his family once a week or so, when they call in to one of the two satellite phones that the men take care to keep dry and charged. “It’s enough for me,” he said, of the 5 or 10 minutes he gets on the phone with his family. “What’s important is that I heard their voice.”

Like Yanto, Loresto was wearing a sleeveless jersey with “MARINES” printed across the front and a section of mesh between the chest and waistline, uniforms for the world’s most exotic basketball team. “It’s a lonely place,” Loresto said. “But we make ourselves busy, always busy.”

When his arrow was complete, Yanto turned to two tubs covered in plastic, which were filled with fish that he had picked off his line the previous night. Fishing lines descended at regular intervals from the port side of the boat, with each soldier responsible for his own; they spend hours tending to them. Yanto split the fish open, covered them with salt, then laid them out to dry on a plank hanging above the deck. “Good for breakfast,” he said, gesturing to the fish he was putting up.
The men depend on fish as their main means of physical survival.

The men depend on fish — fresh, fried, dried — as their main means of physical survival. They were all undernourished and losing weight, even though eating and meal prep were the main activities on board, after fishing. Asked what meal he missed most from the mainland, Yanto said, “Vegetables,” without hesitation. “That’s more important than meat or any other kind of dish.” The motto of the boat, spray-painted on the wall near the kitchen, was “Kumain ang gustong mabuhay” — basically: “If you want to live, eat.”

In the long hours between lunch and dinner, most of the men would disappear into their quarters to pass the time. Aside from Yanto and the one Navy seaman on board, who occupied an aerie above everybody else, the marines lived in the old officer’s quarters and on the boat’s bridge. When the Sierra Madre was first driven up on the shoal in 1999, it was apparently a desired posting: there was less rust, you could sleep wherever you wanted and people played basketball in the vast tank space below deck. (Now that space was filled with standing water and whatever trash the men threw into it.) Aside from the quarters, which were themselves full of leaks and rust, there was hardly any place inside the boat to congregate that wasn’t either a health hazard, full of water or open to the elements. In bad weather, they gathered in the communications room on the second floor, where Loresto’s DVD player and computer were kept, to watch movies or sing karaoke. (They were all pretty good, but Yanto stood out. He nailed George Michael’s “Careless Whisper,” down to the vividly emotional hand gestures.) If they weren’t at the computer, they were just off to the side, in a small, dark workout area that held an exercise bike (extra resistance supplied by pulling a strap with your hands), an ancient bench press and a bunch of Vietnam-era American communications equipment.
Servicemen Roel Sarucam, Joey Loresto, Charlie Claro, Lionel Pepito, Israel Briguera and Antonio Olayra on the deck of the Sierra Madre.

The Sierra Madre at one time was the U.S.S. Harnett County, built as a tank-landing ship for World War II and then repurposed as a floating helicopter and speedboat hub in the rivers of Vietnam. In 1970 the U.S. gave the ship to the South Vietnamese, and in 1976 it was passed on to the Philippines. But nobody had ever taken the time to strip all of the communications gear or even old U.S. logbooks and a fleet guide from 1970.

In good weather, the men socialized outside, under the corrugated-tin roof that sheltered the boat’s small kitchen and living area. The “walls” were tarps, repurposed doors, old metal sheets and the backs of storage lockers. The “floor” consisted of two large canted metal plates that met in the middle of the boat, suspended above a large void in the deck. The plates popped and echoed with deep thuds whenever anybody walked over them. Everything was on an incline, so the legs of the peeling-leather couches and tables were sawed to various lengths to square their surfaces. A locker at the center, the driest spot on deck, held mostly inoperable electronic equipment and a small television that had a satellite connection but stayed on for only five minutes at a time. The men got together in the evenings to watch the Philippine squad make a surprising run in the FIBA Asia basketball tournament, only to be interrupted as the television repeatedly went dark. To fix it they had to insert a thin metal wire into a hole in the set and then power the machine off and back on again. “Defective,” one of marines said, by way of explanation. Loresto smiled and shook his head. “Overuse,” he said.

Loresto was the life of the boat. When the men played pusoy dos, a variation of poker, he displayed an impressive and sustained level of exuberance, often plastering the winning card to his forehead, face out, and shouting with laughter. He comes from Ipilan, on the island of Palawan. He’s 35, with a wife and three children, ages 2, 10 and 12. Before this posting, he spent 10 years fighting Islamic extremists in Mindanao, the southernmost island group in the Philippine archipelago. Asked whether he preferred combat or the Sierra Madre, Loresto thought for a second and then said, “Combat.”

He also had one of the only real military jobs on the boat, manning the radio and reporting the number and behavior of the boats outside the shoal. He was also the one to note and record that a U.S. intelligence plane, a P-3C Orion, tended to fly over the shoal whenever the Chinese made a significant tactical shift.
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Loresto regularly updated his “sightings” — a Hainanese fishing vessel there, a Vietnamese one here.
When the Chinese swapped their maritime surveillance boats out for Coast Guard cutters, Loresto took note.
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Every four hours, he radioed his reports. He didn’t love being there, but he knew why it was necessary. “It’s our job to defend our sovereignty,” he said.

One morning, as a Chinese boat circled slowly off the Sierra Madre’s starboard side, Mayor Bito-onon pulled out his computer to deliver a PowerPoint presentation about the various Philippine-held islands in the Spratlys. Most of the men had never seen anything like it before, and they gathered eagerly behind the mayor as he sat on a bench and walked them through it. Bito-onon was surprised at how little they knew about the struggle that was playing out around them. “They are blank, blank,” he told me after the presentation. “They don’t even know what’s on the nightly news.”

Other than a couple of jokes about “visiting China without a passport” (i.e., being captured), life at the tip of the gun didn’t feel much like life at the tip of a gun. It felt more like the world’s most surreal fishing camp. The Chinese boats were always there, but they were a source more of mystery than fear. “We don’t know why they’re out there,” Yanto said at one point. “Are they looking for us? What is their intention?”

To Bito-onon, the Chinese intentions were clear. At breakfast he had said, “They could come take this at any time, and everybody knows it.” What would these guys do if that happened? He raised both hands, smiled and said, “Surrender.”
Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon Jr. has 288 voting constituents across a domain called the Kalayaan Island Group.

Later, as he sat on the bamboo bench that was his workplace, television-viewing station and bed for five days and nights on the deck of the Sierra Madre, he talked about Ayungin as the staging ground for China’s domination of the Pacific. “The Chinese want both the fisheries and the gas. They’re using their fisheries to dominate the area, but the oil is the target.” Almost as if on cue, one of the Chinese Coast Guard cutters chased off a fishing boat north of the shoal. As the mayor watched, he said that he hoped they wouldn’t do the same to our boat when we tried to leave. “What does that mean for me if they do?” he asked. “I can’t even come here or to Pag-asa?” Earlier he joked about the headline if the Chinese stopped him: “A Mayor Was Caught in His Own Territory!”
Threadbare Settlements

The official name of the mayor’s domain is the Kalayaan Island Group, which technically encompasses most of the Spratlys but in reality amounts to five islands, two sandbars and two reefs that the Philippines currently controls. He has 288 voting constituents, of which about 120 live at any one time on Pag-asa, the only island with a civilian population.
About 120 people live at any one time on Pag-asa, including civilians.

He is a slender, spry man of 57, with a quirky sense of humor that enables him to leaven his criticisms of graft and corruption at the higher levels of the Philippine government with friendly jokes and oblique asides. But his frustration with the lack of resources and the lack of political will is obvious. The Philippines, he says, has done very little to develop the islands they hold, while Vietnam and Malaysia have turned some of the reefs and islands they occupy into resorts that the Chinese would find much more difficult to justify taking as their own. Except for Pag-asa, the Philippines has mustered only the most threadbare of settlements, some even more desolate than Ayungin.

Three days later, we would ride in a small dinghy over the break and up onto the sloped beach of Lawak, 60 nautical miles to the north of the Sierra Madre. Like Ayungin, Lawak serves as a strategic gateway to the rich oil and gas reserves of the Reed Bank. Unlike Ayungin, Lawak also happens to look like a postcard picture of a deserted-island paradise — a circle of crushed-coral beach enclosing nearly 20 acres of scrub grass, palm trees, a bird sanctuary and a sea-turtle nesting ground.

Second Lt. Robinson Retoriano runs the detachment of 11 worn Filipino troops there. Most of the men under his command wear shorts, flip-flops and tank tops, but he led us on a tour of the island in full camouflage, pointing out with pride their recently constructed barracks and a basketball court with a spectator swing made of “drifted things.”
Lawak is a circle of crushed-coral beach enclosing scrub grass, palm trees, 11 worn Filipino troops and one basketball court.

As we sat down in the courtyard, Pfc. Juan Colot, an M-16 slung low off his bony shoulders, whistled to the camp’s domesticated gull, which flew directly into his hands and chirped complacently. Retoriano is from Manila, and when we asked what a city boy like him was doing on an island in the middle of the South China Sea, he said, “I’m still wondering myself.”

In some ways, the guys on Lawak were even more isolated than Loresto and Yanto and the others on Ayungin. They were not allowed any use of the satellite phones whatsoever, not even for calls from loved ones. “It doubles the distance,” Retoriano said. To combat the loneliness, Retoriano sometimes gave the marines jobs to do, just to keep them busy. In the mornings they got up at 6 to sweep the camp. In the afternoons they fixed their hammocks outside, to sleep in the fresh air.

Over the course of a few hours, Retoriano referred to the island as “paradise” several times — which it was, if you focused on its physical beauty and didn’t think of how hard it would be to actually live there. And in truth these guys had it better than some of the other detachments — Kota, Parola, Likas, Rizal Reef, Patag — because at least they had ground to live and sleep on.

The settlements on Rizal Reef, Patag and Panata are mostly crude stilted structures over shallow water or small sandbars, with very little room to maneuver and fishing as the sole activity and consolation. According to Bito-onon, the troops on Rizal Reef used to tie themselves to empty oil drums when there was particularly bad weather at night, so that if a high sea or an errant piece of ocean debris wiped out the stilts, they’d at least be able to float.

“A lot of Filipino people might not know why we’re fighting for these islands,” Retoriano said as we prepared to leave Lawak. “But once you see it, and you’ve stepped on it, you understand. It’s ours.” He accompanied us into the water and out to our launch boat, still in full fatigues and big black combat boots, getting drenched up to his chest. As he helped me swing up and over the lip of our boat, he said, “I’m glad we didn’t talk much about the sensitive political situation. But if you ask me, I think China is just a big bully.”
‘I’ve Never Seen More White Knuckles’

The Philippines’ best hope for resisting China currently resides inside a set of glassy offices in the heart of the K Street power corridor in Washington. There, Paul Reichler, a lawyer at Foley Hoag who specializes in international territorial disputes, serves as the lead attorney for the Philippines in its arbitration case over their claims in the South China Sea. Initiated in January, the case seeks to invalidate China’s nine-dash line and establish that the territorial rights be governed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both China and the Philippines have signed and ratified. The subtleties of the case revolve around E.E.Z.’s and continental shelves, without expressly resolving sovereignty issues. China has refused to participate, but the Philippines has proceeded anyway.

The key element, as far as the Sierra Madre is concerned, is that the case is growing to reflect the new reality on the water. “Ayungin will be part of the case now, now that the Chinese have virtually occupied it,” Reichler told me. He was hoping that the tribunal would define Ayungin as a “submerged feature.” A submerged feature, he explained, is considered part of the seabed and belongs to whoever owns the continental shelf underneath it, not to whoever happens to be occupying it. “The fact that somebody physically occupies it doesn’t give them any rights,” he said.

This took a second to sink in. Historically, the physical presence of troops on the Sierra Madre had been a vital part of the Filipino strategy; currently their presence was the only thing stopping a complete Chinese takeover there. Wasn’t that against the Philippines’ own interests? “No,” Reichler said. “Not if we’re not occupying it.” What he meant was that the Philippines wants to nullify any claim to a submerged feature based on who has control above the water — which applies beyond Ayungin to Mischief Reef and others, which the Chinese currently occupy. Surely this is a strong legal strategy, calibrated for an international tribunal. But if this is the strategy, you couldn’t help wondering what those guys were still doing out there, getting choked off a little bit more each day, while the legal process sought to make them irrelevant.

Mischief, a submerged reef similar to Ayungin and roughly 20 miles to its west, makes for an instructive example. It used to belong to the Philippines, but in 1994 the Chinese took advantage of a lull in Filipino maritime patrols caused by a passing typhoon and rapidly erected a stilted structure that they then made clear they were not going to leave. Slowly they turned it into a military outpost, over the repeated protests of the Filipinos, and now it serves as a safe harbor for the Chinese ships that patrol Ayungin and other areas.

What China has done with Mischief, Scarborough and now with Ayungin is what the journalist Robert Haddick described, writing in Foreign Policy, as “salami slicing” or “the slow accumulation of actions, none of which is a casus belli, but which add up over time to a major strategic change.” Huang Jing, the director of the Center on Asia and Globalization at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, noted that in all of these conflicts — Scarborough, Ayungin — China insists on sending its civilian maritime force, which is theoretically unarmed. This has a powerful double significance: first, that the Chinese don’t want to start a war, even though in many ways they are playing the aggressor; and second, that they view any matter in the South China Sea as an internal affair. As Huang put it: “What China is doing is putting both hands behind its back and using its big belly to push you out, to dare you to hit first. And this has been quite effective.”

In bringing their complaints to arbitration, the Philippines has used the only real lever it has: to try to occupy the moral high ground and focus international attention on the issue. In response, China has tried to isolate the Philippines — discouraging President Benigno S. Aquino III from attending the China-Asean Expo in Nanning last month and continuing to steer the Asean agenda away from a final agreement on a legally binding code of conduct in the South China Sea. (One former U.S. official told me, “So far, China has been able to split Asean the way you would split a cord of wood.”) China has stated that they view the overlapping claims as bilateral issues, to be negotiated between China and each individual claimant one at a time, a strategy that maximizes what China can extract from each party.

While an arbitration outcome unfavorable to the Chinese — which could be decided as early as March 2015 — would create some public-perception problems for them, China is unlikely to be deterred, in part because there is no enforcement mechanism. “Let’s be honest,” Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt says, “China has essentially studied how the U.S. has conducted its hegemony, and they’re saying, ‘We have to respect some court case?’ They say that the United States blatantly violates international law when it’s in its interest. China sees this as what first-class powers do.” (Multiple requests for comment from the Chinese government went unanswered.)

The official U.S. position, articulated by Secretaries Clinton and Kerry, has been that the U.S. will not take sides in disputes over sovereignty. As the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Daniel R. Russel, told me, “Our primary interest is in maintaining peace, security and stability that allows for economic growth and avoids tension or conflict.” Basically, we’re staying out of it. But the U.S. has stepped up its joint operations with the Philippines, including a recent mock amphibious landing not far from Scarborough Shoal. There has also been talk of increasing U.S. troop rotations into some of its former bases.

“I think we want to find a way to restrain China and reassure the Philippines without getting ourselves into a shooting war,” James Steinberg, the former deputy secretary of state under Hillary Clinton, told me. “We have a broad interest in China behaving responsibly. But sovereignty over the Spratly Islands is not our dispute. We need to find a way to be engaged without being in the middle.” Kurt Campbell, a former assistant secretary of state with the Obama administration, put it more bluntly: “Maritime territorial disputes are the hardest problem, bar none, that diplomats are currently facing in Asia. On all of these issues, no country has any flexibility. I’ve never seen more white knuckles.”

According to Huang Jing: “Everyone in this region is playing a double game. Ten years ago, the United States was absolutely dominant in the region — economically, politically, militarily. People only had one yardstick to measure their national interest and their foreign policy, and the name of that yardstick was U.S.A. Now there are two yardsticks. On the political one, it’s still the U.S., but on the economic one, it is China.”

The United States does not have the unlimited leverage that it once did, and so for the time being it is allowing the Chinese to slice their salami all the way up onto the shallows of Ayungin.
Beneath a Ceiling of Clouds

The first rains of the typhoon came after dark, howling sideways across the deck of the Sierra Madre. We’d been hearing about the storm for a couple of days over the radio, tracking its course as it made landfall on Luzon and then turned west toward the South China Sea.

Under the supervision of Second Lt. Charlie Claro, the 29-year-old commander of the outpost, the men drilled holes in the boards with hand-cranks and pulled old, bent, rusted nails out of stray pieces of wood, hammered them straight, then reused them.
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A couple of wooden doors were added to the walls of the living area, and additional tarps went into place.
A ceiling of clouds had lowered and blackened, and the wind began battering parts of the ship’s deck.
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Rain poured into the laundry room through the ceiling, drenching everything. A rooster took shelter in a dry corner.

By nightfall, the wind had intensified into a gale. We gathered in the living area to listen to it, more awed than scared. Lieutenant Claro surfaced every so often to make sure that his improvements were holding. The rest of the marines stayed inside, singing karaoke. Later, they watched the FIBA Asia finals, the Philippines vs. Iran. Miraculously, the satellite held for most of the game. It felt as if the wind might rip the roof off from above our heads, but the marines were in good cheer. A victory for the underdog Philippine squad would have made for a nice David and Goliath moment in a David and Goliath kind of story, but the Iranians appeared to be about nine inches taller at every position and were just too much for the Filipinos. At halftime the marines went out to check on whether their fishing lines were surviving the storm, then straggled off to bed.

The next two days passed with wind and rain and long hours with nothing to do. Yanto and Loresto led a tour of the cavernous, foul tank space below decks, where old fluorescent light bays hung overhead on dangerously rusted cables.

We started to be able to identify individual marines by their footfalls. Jokes that weren’t funny doubled us over. At one point, Pfc. Michael Navata walked in from checking his fishing line and said: “Cards. To pass the time.” We played hours of pusoy dos, making fun of one another, volume levels rising every time Loresto stuck the two of diamonds on his forehead. The slow, steady backbeat of bad weather and desolation fell away for a while, and it felt as if we could have been in Loresto’s living room in Ipilan. Yanto sat to my left, coaching me out of charity, his nonverbal instruction registering levels of depth and intelligence that language hadn’t made available to us. For a moment we could see them as they really were, these marines: men who were serving their country in an extreme and unrelenting and even somewhat humiliating situation and trying bravely to make the best of it.

On the afternoon of the second bad day, the sun came out. Yanto promptly went spearfishing. One by one, the other marines stripped down and jumped in. This turned into most of us taking turns leaping off the high starboard side of the Sierra Madre, about halfway up the deck, down into the light blue water below. You had to pick your way barefoot up to the rusted lip and then, with everybody watching, try to forget that you were on a devastated ancient boat run aground on a reef in the shark-infested South China Sea and just jump. It was maybe a 30-foot drop, which took a half-second longer than you expected it to, but the water was warm and clear. We splashed around on our backs like otters. The storm had passed, and we were safe. Lieutenant Claro led a small group in a swim around our fishing boat, which he pronounced seaworthy, but then proceeded to chuckle about for several minutes. It was so woeful looking. After five days on the Sierra Madre, it was also a reminder of the real world, of how we had gotten there, and of the fact that we’d be leaving soon while these guys had to stay behind and eat to live.
Flying Past the Death Star

A month or so later, I spoke with a U.S. pilot with extensive combat experience and knowledge of Special Forces operations. I wanted to know what the American foreign-policy pivot looked like from the inside, and he was willing to tell me only if I didn’t name him. “The Chinese are more aggressive because we’re not around,” he said. His most recent training would seem to reflect the American rebalancing to the Pacific theater: more counter-Chinese-technology operations, more engagement over water, island-hopping campaigns. He said that the joint operations with the Philippines were “a show of presence: Hey, we’re [expletive] sailing through the South China Sea, look at us. And you can’t do a thing about it.” But then he paused. “It’s funny, because China’s not that far from doing that off the California coast.”

Whatever America’s pivot might be, there’s no denying that Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific, is historically where United States foreign policy — and too many young men sent out to enforce it — has gone to die. For now, the course is a diplomatic one: the Philippines pursues its arbitration, the Asean states apply pressure for a binding code of conduct in the South China Sea, and the United States counsels patience (within reason) and the peaceful resolution of disputes. As it turns out, this somewhat scattershot approach may actually be starting to work. The Chinese leadership has undertaken a new charm offensive of late, visiting the capitals of some Asean countries (notably not the Philippines) and signaling that it might be willing to soften its positions on adopting a code of conduct and multilateral negotiations.

At the East Asia Summit meetings in Brunei two weeks ago (which John Kerry attended in place of President Obama because of the government shutdown), Kerry pushed for a quick implementation of a binding code of conduct. “That’s sort of a new thing,” Ricky Carandang, the secretary of communications for the Philippines, told me when we spoke after the meetings. “He said, ‘We welcome a code of conduct, we welcome legal processes and we think these things should happen faster.’ That’s different from saying, ‘Hey, let’s do what we can to avoid tension, and we’re not picking sides here.’ ” But Carandang also noted that Obama’s absence in Brunei had allowed the Chinese to loom larger. If he fails to show up to the next meeting, or the administration fails to follow up on some of its promises, the Southeast Asian nations will have cause to wonder about our resolve. (Obama is said to be mulling a trip to Asia in the spring.)

Nobody is questioning China’s resolve. The day after we left Ayungin, we arrived at the island of Pag-asa, the mayor’s home base and the place for which he has the grandest plans — a resort, a commercial fishery, a sheltered port. As we pulled in, we saw several large Chinese fishing boats a couple of miles off the island. Aerial photos would later confirm that they were cutting coral from the reef, which is often done to harvest giant clams and other rare species. Nobody on Pag-asa, with its broken boats, low-slung civilian buildings and quiet Air Force base, could do anything about it. There was recently a food shortage because the last two Filipino naval resupply vessels haven’t been able to make the trip because of inclement weather. After a night there, rather than getting back on our fishing boat for a 30-hour journey, we were happy to board a Philippine naval plane and begin the trip home.
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We sped down the bumpy, grass-covered runway and lifted off, looking down on the ragtag island.
Just 12 nautical miles from Pag-asa and its airstrip lies Subi Reef, one of the more developed Chinese settlements in the South China Sea.
Anchored just outside the reef were about 20 enormous Chinese fishing boats, along with 50 or so smaller sampans busily working.
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At the southwest corner sat a complex of concrete multistory structures, including a large-domed radar station, a helipad and a dormitory.

It’s easy to make China out as the villain in all of this. Most Western narratives do, even though several U.S. government officials assured me that there weren’t truly any “good guys” in these territorial disputes. One benefit of China’s political system, whatever its problems, is its farsightedness, its ability to stomach intense upheaval in the present in order to achieve a long-term goal.

Subi was a result of this commitment. After spending a few days on Pag-asa, where everything is free but nothing works quite like it’s supposed to, it was hard not to see Subi reef as the Death Star.

An hour later, we flew over Lawak, where we’d met Lieutenant Retoriano. Soon after, the pilot asked Ashley Gilbertson, the photographer on our trip, to put his headset on. We were due north of Ayungin, and our pilot had radioed the guys on the Sierra Madre to see how they were doing. Loresto answered the call, and when he heard that we were on the plane, he asked to speak with us. Gilbertson put on the headset and smiled as broadly as he’d smiled since the night Loresto fleeced us at pusoy dos during the typhoon. The weather was good, Loresto said; they were going spearfishing that afternoon. Didn’t we want to come down and join them? There was animated talk about karaoke, and then Loresto signed off. It was obviously the last time that we would ever talk to him, or maybe that any Filipino would ever be at that radio post to talk to anybody like us.

The entire world has an interest in the South China Sea, but China has nearly 1.4 billion mouths and a growing appetite for nationalism to feed, which is a kind of pressure that no other country can understand. What will happen will happen, whatever the letter of the Asean code of conduct or however the arbitration turns out. Loresto and Yanto, meanwhile, still abide on the Sierra Madre, fishing for their subsistence and watching the surf to see what wave the Chinese will choose to ride in on.

“You’ve got the wrong science-fiction movie,” one former highly placed U.S. official later told me, when I described what we saw at Subi, and what it might mean for the guys on Ayungin. “It’s not the Death Star. It’s actually the Borg from ‘Star Trek’: ‘You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.’ ” The scholar Huang Jing put it another, more organic way. “The Chinese expand like a forest, very slowly,” he said. “But once they get there, they never leave.”

Editor: Joel Lovell

Jeff Himmelman is a contributing writer for the magazine and the author of “Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee.” He last wrote for the magazine about Frank Ocean.
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Government Gave Zero Dark Thirty Filmmakers Classified Info

Nicole Bailey

Government Gave Zero Dark Thirty Filmmakers Classified Info
Oct. 26, 2013

The alleged intentional leak of classified information to Zero Dark Thirty filmmakers has come back to haunt the government during the war crimes trial of a Guantanamo Bay detainee. The defense of Ammar al Baluchi, the detainee whose torture experiences supposedly served as the model for the popular film, is now requesting classified information about the treatment of his client that was provided to filmmakers but is still currently withheld by the prosecution.

The lawyer alleges that the information was provided to the filmmakers to spin a "curated narrative" in the government's favor and justify enhanced interrogation techniques.

Multiple sources reported that the government had leaked classified information, some of which was "Top Secret," to the Zero Dark Thirty filmmakers. I did not personally see the movie, so I will defer to the analysis of Jonathan Turley when the leaks surfaced (emphasis mine):

    This week it was revealed that former CIA Director Leon Panetta disclosed classified information to “Zero Dark Thirty” filmmaker Mark Boal...

    The wonderful thing for Holder is that this leaker is known and there are witnesses. He made the disclosure in front of 1,300 people in a tent at the CIA complex on June 24, 2011...

    Notably, this disclosure helped a filmmaker who was developing a controversial film that seemed to herald the value of torture by CIA employees. Like many, I was surprised by the degree to which the movie made it look like it was torture that led to the killing of [Osama] in direct contradiction to what we know about the various sources used in the operation...

So Baluchi's lawyers' suspicions have plenty of company. When the leak was first revealed, many were outraged at the perceived hypocrisy of the Obama administration, punishing Bradley Manning and cracking down on whistleblowers while letting "pro-government leakers" walk free. The Washington Examiner reports that the Guantanamo Bay defense team is furious over another slight: the prioritization of Hollywood over the justice system:

    “It’s really insulting that the information goes to somebody in the entertainment industry, who maybe can make the administration look good, but it doesn’t go to the [people who are] charged with defending the guy’s life,” said James Connell, an attorney for al Baluchi... “The prosecution has turned over no discovery whatsoever about the treatment of Mr. al Baluchi in CIA custody,” he said. “But they did provide at least some information to the filmmakers of 'Zero Dark Thirty,' and if we could get that information, it would be more than we have now."

The defense's motion has yet to be granted or denied. If granted, the lawyers have requested the testimony of not only government authorities but also Mark Boal, one of the Zero Dark Thirty filmmakers.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Face the Facts: Obamacare Means Mass Murder

No matter where you are in the world, you have certainly heard a great deal of talk about so-called "Obamacare," and the huge opposition to it in the US. However, that opposition is almost entirely avoiding the real issue -- that Obamacare was designed and INTENDED to kill millions of people, through the denial of care to those deemed to be "unworthy of life" - based in fact on Hitler's T-4 health policy of eliminating "useless eaters" in a time of economic crisis. While some aspects of Obamacare are not yet implemented, the following fact sheet documents that there are already in place extremely deadly policies that are causing large numbers of deaths in the US, and that it must be stopped.
    This report, I believe, captures the immorality of our national leadership, the utter decay of our nation's economy, and the rapid destruction of our population.      Mike Billington
This article appears in the October 25, 2013 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.

Face the Facts: Obamacare Means Mass Murder

by Marcia Merry Baker[PDF version of this article]
Oct. 21—The United States was suffering from a crisis in health care when President Barack Obama came into office. As a result of the deindustrialization of the U.S. economy, the privatization of health care into profit-making ventures, and deregulation, both the health-care system and the health of the American population were rapidly deteriorating.
Obama's health-care program, however, has made the situation much worse. If allowed to continue, it will turn the U.S. government into the enforcer of a worse-than-Hitler genocide machine.
In other locations, EIR has provided in-depth examination of the Nazi premises behind what is called Obamacare. Here we restrict ourselves to a presentation of crucial facts which show that such Nazi measures are already underway and leading toward mass death.

I. Provenance: Hitler's T4

1. Hitler T4 Health Care. In October 1939, Adolf Hitler issued his official directive on selectively putting people to death, which was already underway in Germany against handicapped children and concentration camp inmates. It was titled, "The Destruction of Lives Unworthy of Life." It arose from a prior meeting he held with medical professionals, to review "criteria" for practical and cheap methods of removing people deemed to be "unrehabilitable," and thus burdens on the nation.
Hitler's directive was administered from Berlin headquarters at No. 4 Tiergarten Strasse, where the Reich Work Group of Sanatoria and Nursing Homes began by conducting surveys of patients nationwide, designating who was not worthy to continue to live. They were put to death; the principle came to be applied on a mass scale through the gas ovens at concentration camps.
2. Tony Blair's T4 Health Care. In Britain, on April 1, 1999, the first initiative was taken by the Blair government (1997-2007) in the name of health-care "reform," to institute an updated version of the Hitler T4 program: The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) was formed, to dictate what treatments would, and would not, be given to designated groups of patients in the British National Health Services (NHS), which had served the nation since the 1940s.
Blair's health advisor to set up NICE, Simon Stevens, then moved to take down the NHS system, by privatizing key functions, in particular, through the private insurer UnitedHealth Group UK, which Stevens joined.
The record shows how the death rate has climbed for whole classes of Britons, especially the elderly and cancer patients, as a result of both NICE barring treatments, and the NHS being dismantled. For example, as of 10 years after NICE went into effect, only 40-48% of British men diagnosed with cancer survived, and 48-54% of British women; in stark contrast to Sweden, for example, where 60% of men and 61% of women survived after a cancer diagnosis.
The particular program put into effect to speed up death rates was called the Liverpool Care Pathway for the Dying Patient (LCP). According to extensive exposés in the British press during the 2000s, participating NHS hospitals were offered financial inducements to put patients deemed to be at the end of life, on the LCP list, under which all treatment is discontinued, and even water and hygiene removed. The LCP started for cancer patients in Liverpool in the 1990s, with royal patronage; by 2012, it involved 178 NHS hospitals throughout Britain, and included patients with any illness. On average, 130,000 persons a year were put under LCP, based on the claim of saving medical resources, which, as of 2012, had rewarded hospitals with at least $40 million. An estimated 60,000 people on LCP died yearly, without having given their consent to discontinue care. After storms of protest, the U.K. government, in July 2013, ordered the LCP to be phased out over the next 12 months.
3. Obama's T4 Health Care. In 2009, the Blair/Hitler health concept was launched in the United States by the new Obama Presidency, as a campaign under the euphemism of care "reform," just as Blair had done in Britain. The Obama drive culminated in the March 23, 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Leading up to this were 18 months of intense propaganda, including 30 hearings and roundtables, under the cynical slogan that, under Obamacare, all Americans will get "access to care" through access to insurance.
In reality, the ACA law is made up of measures to cut care, destroy the means to deliver it, and to perpetrate death. At the same time, private Wall Street insurers get Federal subsidies.
Key figures in bringing about the ACA—including several with direct involvement in the British health system—have explicitly expressed the T4 principle, that there are "lives not worthy" to continue.
Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a longtime advocate for this Hitler health view, was appointed by Obama in early 2009, as the health advisor to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In April 2009, he was put on the new Federal Coordinating Council on Comparative Effectiveness Research, to devise rationalizations for cutting medical treatment. In particular, Emanuel stressed that the Hippocratic Oath caused "over-use" of medical resources, which must stop.
Peter Orszag, Obama's first head of OMB, promoted the panoply of Hitler health arguments and mechanisms. He is considered the leading architect of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB)—the analog to NICE, which was quickly dubbed Obama's "death panel." Orzag advocates cost-benefit analysis to determine whether medical treatment is warranted for a person. He backs the statistical "Quality Adjusted Life Years" (QALY) metric for whether it is worth it for a person to continue to live. Orszag's London collaborator, Sir Michael Rawlins, head of NICE, pumped the QALY formula in a Time interview March 27, 2009, saying, "A QALY scores your health on a scale from zero to one: zero if you're dead, and one if you're in perfect health. You found out, as a result of a treatment, where a patient would move up the scale," and you decided, based on how much a year of life is worth in dollar terms, whether to permit it or not, based on whether it takes too much away from society's scarce resources.
Moreover, Orszag holds that, even if you are not sick, but are living "excessively long," he advises that you should have your Social Security "adjusted" (i.e., reduced), according to a statistical formula he backs, called the "Longevity Index."
Simon Stevens, Blair's Hitler health operative, who re-located from the U.K. to the United States in 2007, personally advised the Obama White House on how to shape the new health law. In May 2009, he presented a report titled "Reducing Avoidable and Inappropriate Care," saying that $520 billion can be "saved" in the first 10 years of a new reform act, by cutting services to non-worthy people, especially the old. Stevens is the Medicare expert at UnitedHealth Group, the largest HMO in the United States (70 million policies).
Sir Donald M. Berwick, knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his work on NICE and on "reforming" the British NHS, was given a recess-appointment by Obama on July 7, 2010, to be administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). As such, he was responsible for initiating T4 policies in programs affecting 49 million older Americans on Medicare, and 48 million poor, disabled, and dependent, on Medicaid. He stayed in office as long as his recess-appointment tenure would allow, leaving in December 2011, to avoid the scrutiny that would ensue in a Senate confirmation hearing.
While in office, he moved to strike certain cancer drugs from approved Medicare reimbursement; to set up ways to financially penalize hospitals for "over-treating" patients; and to limit physicians by imposing financial penalties and pushing top-down "evidence-based" medical practice dictates. He was followed in office by Marilyn Tavenner, a technocrat for Obamacare with a pedigree as top executive at HCA, the mega-for-profit hospital chain, benefitting from the takedown of the traditional community hospital system.

II. Context: Poverty, Illness,
    Degraded Hospital System

The ACA measures are being imposed as the final health-care "solution" to the poverty, illness, and suffering already underway as of 2010, and now far worse.
1. Impoverishment. Of the U.S. population of 314 million, roughly 135 million are working, but 20 million of those are working only part-time, and more than 50 million (inclusive of most of the 20 million) have work defined as low-wage (twice the poverty line or lower). Fifty-two million people are in households defined as poor ($22,000 or less income for a family of four); this is the highest number of people ever. The number of people living in "deep poverty," represented by an impossible $11,000 annual income for that family of four, has jumped to 20 million—1 in 15 Americans.
Some 50 million are forced to use food stamps to feed themselves and their families; and 50-80% of public school students in 20 Southern and Western states are poor, and rely on discount and free meals through the school-lunch programs of the Agriculture Department.
In the official, understated jobless picture: 11.8 million Americans are unemployed; 8.8 million are forced to work part-time; 4.5 million eligible workers have left the labor force or, coming of age, never entered it. This is 25 million eligible workers who need, but do not have, full-time work.
Due to actual inflation as defined by major categories of the market basket of living, in government statistics, the lower-income 60% of the population has experienced a drop of 10-15% in its real income since 1999. The fourth quintile has somewhat more than broken even, and the top 20%'s real income has doubled. Another measure of this for the lower 60%: Their actual average income is $500 more per household than in 1999; their actual expenses of living are $5,000 more.
The ratio of the total population employed is at a four-decade low, 52.4%. For young people aged 18-34, the ratio of employed has fallen from 84% in 2000 to 72% in 2012.
But if one subtracts self-employment, and takes Americans employed full-time by an employer not themselves, that ratio is down to 43.4%. According to a Gallup survey, it has fallen by 5%