China makes a big move in the South China Sea

China makes a big move in the South China Sea

The Philippines on Monday demanded China withdraw a massive fishing fleet — presumably commanded by the Chinese navy — from waters that Manila has exclusive economic rights over in the South China Sea. Beijing, unsurprisingly, denied any involvement. But there's more to the latest milestone in China's increasingly aggressive strategy to assert its claims in one of the world's most disputed waterways.


"Little blue men." One of China's preferred tactics to win control of the South China Sea without a fight is by deploying its armed maritime militia to do the dirty work for its navy under the guise of "fishing." Their members have been dubbed China's "little blue men" because their role is similar to that of Vladimir Putin's famous "little green men," the Russian soldiers without official insignias who invaded eastern Ukraine on behalf of Moscow in 2014.

Having members of the Chinese navy masquerade as fisherfolk in the South China Sea is nothing new. What's different this time is the sheer scale of the flotilla: a whopping 220 vessels, no match for the ill-equipped Philippine navy and coast guard, not to mention the local fishing boats who have long complained of China chasing them out of their own waters.

China is winning in the South China Sea. For decades, China has claimed indisputable maritime rights to almost the entire South China Sea, the main commercial and navigation gateway to East Asia. About one-third of global shipping passes through these waters, which are also believed to be immensely rich in fisheries and (largely untapped) hydrocarbons. That's why the Chinese will do whatever it takes to control these waters, parts of which are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

As China's power has risen in recent years, so too has Beijing's determination to assert its dominance over the South China Sea. All attempts by other claimants and the US navy to challenge its provocative actions — such as building military facilities on artificial islands, disrupting freedom of navigation operations, and depleting local fish stocks — have all failed to deter China.

The US, the only individual nation with the military muscle to pose a threat to China, is no longer a major player in the dispute. Last summer, Washington recognized a 2016 international ruling — in response to a lawsuit filed by the Philippines — that struck down China's sovereignty claims (Beijing rejects the verdict). But both sides know that Americans have little appetite to go to war with China, let alone over a body of water halfway around the world.

Duterte and China. The latest incident with China in the South China Sea has put Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in a bind. The otherwise tough-talking leader is notorious for his soft-spoken deference towards China, arguing that the Philippines is too weak to risk a confrontation with such a mighty rival.

Many Filipinos who view China with growing distrust oppose Duterte's perceived kowtowing to Beijing in exchange for Chinese investment to fix the country's dilapidated infrastructure. The promise of that much-needed cash explains his reluctance to raise the 2016 ruling with Beijing, and consent to jointly explore for oil and gas in disputed areas.

But this time Duterte has at least two reasons to show he's not Xi Jinping's puppet. Although his personal approval ratings remain high, the government has faced strong criticism for its dismal pandemic response, and for delaying the country's vaccine rollout by prioritizing Chinese-made COVID vaccines over others. Also, relations with China will likely become a major campaign issue in the May 2022 election (where Duterte himself could be on the ballot as a candidate for vice president to skirt the presidential one-term limit).

What happens next? The ailing Philippine economy is so dependent on Chinese trade that it seems unlikely Duterte will take any significant action to counter Beijing's latest swipe, no matter the political risk. And with Washington having more pressing issues to sort out with Beijing these days, China's "little blue men" are set to rule the waves in the South China Sea.

Okuafo Pa means good farmer in the Twi language of West Africa. Hence, the naming of the project reflects the value of good farming and the rewards it brings to the people of Ghana. The Okuafo Pa Project will support Ghana's sustainable development by promoting socio-economic growth and sustainable business models.

Watch to learn how Eni is helping youth to develop agricultural knowledge and skills.

Iranians head to the polls on Friday to vote for president, and it appears a foregone conclusion that hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the nation's top judge, will win.

Outsiders, and many Iranians, roll their eyes at the predictability of this vote. Iran's Guardian Council, a dozen clerics and judges who answer only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has cleared the field for Raisi by ruling all of his credible challengers ineligible. The fix is in, and Iranians are now preparing for a moment when anti-reform conservatives, those who oppose social change inside Iran and deeper engagement with the West, will for the first time ever control the country's presidency, parliament, courts, and much of the media.

But simmering beneath the cynicism and predictability of this event is a deepening anxiety over Iran's future as it enters a potentially momentous period in the Islamic Republic's 42-year history. The Supreme Leader, in power for 32 years, is now 82 years old. Very few people know the true state of his health. Even if he outlives Raisi's presidency, which could last four or eight years, preparations for a historic, uncertain, and potentially dangerous leadership transition will intensify soon.

More Show less

Iranians head to the polls on June 18, in what's widely perceived to be a foregone outcome. Analysts predict that popular disillusionment with Iran's political class will make this one of the lowest turnout elections in Iran's post-revolution history. According to one poll taken by the Iranian Students Polling Agency, as few as 42 percent of the eligible voting population is expected to show up. We take a look at contemporary Iran's demographics, and how this year's vote turnout might compare to previous elections.

In 2019, Ethiopia's fresh Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accepted a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in brokering a peace treaty with neighbor and longtime foe Eritrea. At the time, Abiy was hailed by the Western media as a reformist who was steering Ethiopia, long dominated by ethnic strife and dictatorial rule, into a new democratic era.

But barely two years later, Abiy stands accused of overseeing a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the northern Tigray region, putting the country on the brink of civil war.

It's against this backdrop that Ethiopians will head to the polls on June 21 for a parliamentary election now regarded as a referendum on Abiy's leadership. But will the vote be free and fair, and will the outcome actually reflect the will of the people? Most analysts say the answer is a resounding "no" on both fronts.

More Show less

Latin America needs vaccines: The World Health Organization has called on the G7 countries that pledged to donate a billion COVID vaccine doses to the developing world to prioritize Latin America, with WHO officials pointing to the fact that out of the top 10 countries with the highest COVID death tolls per capita over the past week, nine are in Latin America, where many health systems are overstretched and vaccines are scarce. This call comes as Latin America's COVID death toll has surpassed 1 million. Cases and deaths are soaring in Argentina and Colombia, for instance, while Brazil has fully vaccinated just 11 percent of its population despite recording the world's second highest death toll. Even Chile, which has carried out Latin America's most successful vaccination campaign to date, has been forced to delay reopening due to a recent surge in infections among unvaccinated younger people. The WHO says prioritizing the region for vaccine donations makes sense in order to stop large sustained outbreaks that may spur potentially more infectious COVID variants that'll cross borders and wreak havoc in populous states. Most of the donated shots will be distributed through the COVAX facility, which is a problem for countries like Venezuela, for instance, which is shut out from COVAX due to US sanctions imposed on the Maduro regime.

More Show less

3: China has launched three astronauts into orbit in its first space mission since 2016. The astronauts will spend three months aboard the country's new space station, demonstrating China's resolve to become a space power — following successful earlier missions to collect soil samples on the Moon and land a wheeled robot on Mars — in a bid to exert its superpower bonafides.

More Show less

Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

Cyber issues took center stage at the G7 summit. Is there a consensus among world leaders on how to handle cyberweapons?

Well, depending on who is included, there is a growing consensus that the escalations of conflict in cyberspace must stop. And G7 leaders that are now all representing democracies did call on Russia to hold perpetrators of cybercrime that operate from within its borders to account. So, I guess hope dies last because laws in Russia prevents the extradition of suspects to the US, even if Vladimir Putin answered positively when Joe Biden asked for cooperation on that front. And when it comes to limiting the spread of tools that are used for hacking, surveillance and infiltration, the EU has just moved ahead and adopted new dual use regulations which reflect the concerns for human rights violations when journalists are targeted the way that Jamal Khashoggi was. So ending the proliferation of systems that are used to attack would be an urgent but also obvious step for democratic nations to agree on.

More Show less

Frequently called Europe's last dictator, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko Lukashenko has sailed smoothly to victory in all six elections he's stood in, despite widespread corruption and fraud in each one. But in 2020 the biggest threat so far to Lukashenko's tight grip on government came in an unlikely package—a former schoolteacher and stay at home mom, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. After the election result was finalized, Lukashenko claimed victory, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets, and Tsikhanouskaya leads the opposition in exile. Lukashenko recently took his boldest move yet, diverting a plane en route from Greece to Lithuania to arrest another Belarusian dissident. Ian Bremmer discusses whether a democratic transition is remotely possible in Belarus on GZERO World.

Watch the episode: The fight for democracy in Europe's last dictatorship

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZERO World Podcast

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZERO World Podcast

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal