Toothpicks Now Available

“They will beat their swords into plowshares and  spears into pruning hooks,”  proclaims a  granite tablet fronting New York ’s  43rd street entrance to the UN.  “Nation will not take up sword against nation”. These lines are from the prophet  Isaiah.

They’re reflected  in a statue  that dominates  the UN park along  East  River.  Sculpted by Evgeniy Vuchetich, it depicts a man shattering a bent  sword with  hammer.  “Never again will they train for war”, the prophet Micah wrote.

Those hopes  seemed  elusive as ever this week.  The Taliban-fanned war in Afghanistan continues. North Korea and Iran  forge ahead for a nuclear trigger.

South Sudan, which has oils wells, battles northern  Sudan which straddles pipelines and refineries. Instead of becoming a glue, oil is a sputtering  fuse, notes New York Times.   In Syria, suicide bombers blew up 55 people, adding to a casualty list of 9,000  in  over 14 months. “Has the Arab spring become a Balkan winter?”

The only conflict, not in this map, is the incoming  Barrack Obama vs.  Mitt  Romney ‘nuclear war’,” a late night show wisecrack says. Or tension  between China and the Philippines  over Scarborough shoals?

The name Scarborough  comes  from an 18th century  tea trade ship that smashed into those reefs.  Filipinos call them  “Panatag Shoal” or  “Bajo de Masinlóc”. Chinese name them  “Huangyan Island”.  Both claim ownership.

Beijing  cites  history, flagging  a Yuan dynasty 1279 map. Manila insists on geography. The  reefs are about 123 miles (198 km) west of Subic Bay —  and  350 miles from China.

These are rich fishing grounds. Between 1998 to 2001,  the Philippines arrested Chinese fishermen catching endangered and protected species using banned methods.

The shoals are well within the 200 exclusive economic zone that the 1982 UN Convention on Law of the Sea defines, the Philippines notes.  Not  valid, replies says Beijing whose claims abut into the  EEZ of other ASEAN countries.

Vietnam  bristled when China announced plans to develop tourist facilities in Paracel Islands . Forcibly taken over by Chinese troops in 1974, Vietnam continues to claim the Paracels. Chinese and Viietnamese hackers attacked each other websites last year, as Filipino and Chinese hackers did in 2012.

China jacked up  the number of  it’s ships, at the shoals, from 14 to 30: The Philippines keeps a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessel  plus a coast guard rescue ship.

Chinese foreign ministry, demanded  its boats  “be left alone to go about their normal activities”.  But  Philippine vessels must scram. Out of their own seas?   No, said  Foreign Secretary Albert  del  Rosario.  Manila  would  seek  instead a rules-based approach to all disputes in accordance with the UN  Convention on the Law of the Sea .

In stark contrast “war talk it seems, is all the rage in China,” British Broadcasting Corporation Damian Gramaticus notes:  “There are serious people in serious publications seriously advocating war” over those rocks.

China has “made all preparations to respond to any escalation, the Foreign Ministry warned.  Controlled media clobber the Philippines “it is fair to believe all this coverage is officially approved”.  Imports of  Philippine bananas and  travel of Chinese tourists are squeezed.

China reels from Bo Xilai scandal and it’s once-in-a-decade transition  even as, the US, plunges into elections. “There will be two elephants in the same room”.

How the next US President “manages emergent China will have  global  repercussions, write  Kenneth Lieberthal, Joshua Meltzer and Jonathan Pollack of  the think tank  Brookings Institute.

Asian countries view  China ’s power ascendance with growing concern. All feel they can benefit from some level of U.S.-China competition.,  No one, however, wishes to face an “either-or” choice between Washington and Beijing .

The near-term possibilities for full cooperation with China seem doubtful. Nonetheless,  the “need for China ’s active participation in building a more durable and stable regional order remains beyond dispute. The question is how to realize this fundamental objective”.

Both  Republican and  Democrat  parties center America’s relations with the Asia-Pacific region in their  foreign policy priorities  “ (But)  there will be more posturing than thoughtful analysis during the campaign. And these could exacerbate tensions. “

Chinese foreign policy has proved prickly, especially on regional issues.  Obama sought to advance presumed common (or at least complementary) interests, as  resolution of   Korea ’s nuclear  ambitions  or “contested maritime domains in the South China Sea”.

“Long-term investments in military modernization,  ratchet  prospect  of Beijing ’s being able to “restrict U.S. ability to conduct uncontested operations in waters and air space contiguous to Chinese territory.” These “enhance the possibility of misunderstanding and miscalculation that neither state seeks”.  Defense officials of both  countries  meanwhile are “engaged in a dialogue of the deaf”.

China’s gains, during global financial turmoil, ignited gripes about unfair trade practices, like feet-dragging on appreciation of the yuan, large-scale subsidies for state-owned industries, and roadblocks for access to China ’s domestic market. Obama  skewered Beijing ’s skewed trade surpluses“.

For  years  the only commodity I couldn’t find  in Chicago was the good old toothpick,” my friend and retired colonel Julian Ares emailed.   Lo and behold, they’re now available. Made in China.” 

(Email: [email protected])

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