TIME Basketball

Manny Pacquiao Has Been Drafted by the Basketball Squad He Coaches

BASKET-BOX-PHI-PACQUIAO
Manny Pacquiao dribbles during a practice session with the Kia Motors team in Manila on August 15, 2014. Jay Directo — AFP/Getty Images

And you thought he was just a boxing legend, politician, actor and singer

Manny Pacquiao has many titles — boxing legend, third-term Congressman, movie star, pop singer and professional basketball coach.

Wait, make that basketball player-coach.

Pacman, as he’s dubbed, was picked up as a player by the Philippine Basketball Association’s Kia Motors team in the first round of Sunday’s draft, according to Sports Illustrated. There are no firm reports on how much sway Pacquiao actually has over the team’s selections, but he has been Kia’s coach since June, according to Bleacher Report.

The Internet responded to the news in jocular fashion.

The 35-year-old icon might have seen his stint as a player coming, however. One Philippine news source claimed earlier this week that the boxer-Congressman had literally dreamed about dominating the basketball court and dunking over his rivals three years ago.

Considering the welterweight is only 5 ft. 6 in. tall, the dunking part is likely to remain a dream.

TIME Philippines

Philippine Ex-General in Kidnapping Case Captured

Retired Philippine general Jovito Palparan, implicated in multiple assassinations, speaks during a press conference shortly after his arrest at the National Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Manila on August 12, 2014
Retired Philippine general Jovito Palparan, implicated in multiple assassinations, speaks during a press conference shortly after his arrest at the National Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Manila on August 12, 2014 Ted Aljibe—AFP/Getty Images

Aquino's government has said it wants justice to improve the Philippines' human rights record after a decade of abuses under the Arroyo administration

(MANILA, Philippines) — Philippine security forces on Tuesday captured a fugitive former army general wanted in the kidnapping of two students, fulfilling a promise by President Benigno Aquino III to bring high-profile criminal suspects to justice, an official said.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said military intelligence and National Bureau of Investigation agents arrested Jovito Palparan in a hideout in a district of Manila.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the arrest of Palparan shows that the Aquino government is determined to “end the culture of impunity” characterized by rampant human rights violations under Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Arroyo.

Palparan, 63, has been on the run since December 2011 after a court issued a warrant for his arrest in the kidnapping and disappearance of two female left-wing activists in Bulacan province north of Manila in 2006.

The two remain missing. The retired major general, who was in charge of a regional army unit, has denied any involvement.

Human rights groups and a U.N. investigator have blamed security forces for the deaths and disappearances of about 1,000 activists between 2001 and 2010 under Arroyo. The former president gave the military a free hand in what it called an all-out war against communist rebels.

Aquino’s government has said it wants justice for the missing students, Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan, to improve the Philippines’ human rights record after a decade of abuses under the Arroyo administration.

“The human rights community, domestic and international community, has long waited for this,” de Lima told reporters.

She said an arraignment date will be set by a court in Bulacan’s provincial capital of Malolos.

A breakthrough in the case came late Monday when naval intelligence agents checked a tipoff from an informant and spotted Palparan in the crowded suburban Manila neighborhood, said military intelligence service chief Maj. Gen. Eduardo Ano, who headed a task force assigned to capture the fugitive general.

In 2012, Aquino doubled the reward for the capture of Palparan, along with a former governor wanted in the killing of an environmentalist and a former congressman convicted of murdering his wife, to 2 million pesos ($45,600), with officials saying the president was unhappy at the lack of progress in arresting high-profile fugitives.

— Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this story.

TIME Philippines

Typhoon Rammasun Rips Through the Philippines

The storm left at least seven dead and caused widespread power outages

TIME China

Many Asian Nations Believe That a War With China Is Looming

Abner Afuang, a retired policeman, sets fire to an inverted Chinese national flag in a protest action in Manila,
Abner Afuang, a retired policeman, sets fire to an inverted Chinese national flag during a protest in Manila on June 9, 2014. Romeo Ranoco—Reuters

A majority in the Asian countries polled in a new Pew study say they fear a looming military conflict with China

China’s neighbors fear the worst is yet to come.

Strong-arm tactics and tough talk coming from Beijing in the past year have succeeded in convincing neighboring countries that war may just be around the corner, according to a new poll released by the Pew Research Center.

“In all 11 Asian nations polled, roughly half or more say they are concerned that territorial disputes between China and its neighbors will lead to a military conflict,” read the report published by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank on Monday.

In Vietnam, where relations with Beijing have been exceptionally tense since a state-owned Chinese drilling platform moved into disputed waters near the Paracel Islands in early May, 84% of participants said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that territorial disputes could lead to war.

In Japan, which is embroiled with Beijing in disputes over vacant outcroppings in the East China Sea, 85% concurred.

Farther south in the Philippines, 93% of those polled feared the possibility of conflict with China. The archipelago nation has a number of ongoing disputes with China in the South China Sea and, much to Beijing’s chagrin, is pursuing international arbitration in a bid to settle those claims.

While many of the territorial disagreements with China have been ongoing for years, a number of incidents initiated by Beijing in the past nine months have led to increasingly strained ties across the region.

The perennially taut relationship between Tokyo and Beijing reached a flash point late last year when China unilaterally declared the establishment of an air-defense zone that covered the skies over disputed isles in the East China Sea.

Both Manila and Hanoi have meanwhile accused China of maintaining a large presence of paramilitary vessels, coast-guard ships and fishing boats in disputed maritime areas in a bid to edge rival nations out of contested waters. Experts following the region say the tactic must have had clearance from the upper echelons of power in Beijing.

“Xi Jinping and the central military commission as well as key figures in Zhongnanhai — they took a calculated risk,” Alexander Neill, Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow with the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Asia office, tells TIME. “China is testing the tensile strength of the sort of hub-and-spokes alliance system in the region.”

A majority of the Filipinos, Japanese, Vietnamese and South Koreans surveyed considered China as their nation’s top threat and the U.S. as their nation’s most important ally, according to Pew.

Only Pakistani and Malaysian respondents named the U.S. as their top foe and saw China as their biggest ally. (Indonesia was the lone country where respondents named the U.S. as both their biggest threat and No. 1 partner.)

The publication of the Pew poll comes after Washington has upped both economic and military cooperation with its Asian allies and fostered relations with former foe Vietnam to counter China’s increasingly brazen moves in the Asia-Pacific. Beijing has not responded kindly.

“What we seem to be seeing is increasing polarization in Washington and in Beijing,” says Neill. “The Sino-U.S. relationship is going through a rocky period.”

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution calling on China to avoid engaging in behavior that would “destabilize the Asia-Pacific region” and to refrain from enforcing its air-defense zone.

But Beijing does not appear to be interested in backing down. An editorial published in the state-linked Global Times on Monday fired back at Washington.

“[China] has the right to safeguard its sovereignty and it has no intention to go to war,” read the editorial. “China will not make trouble, but equally is unafraid of any trouble.”

TIME Pentagon

U.S. Stepping Up Scrutiny of China’s Military Moves

Uotsuri Island
This is one of the disputed Senkaku islands, controlled by Japan but sought by China. The U.S. has a treaty obligation to Japan to defend the islands. Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images

Seeks status quo in region without “containing” Beijing

Sometimes, the delicacies of diplomacies require lying. Or, as the foreign-service set puts it, diplomacy.

“Let me emphasize to you today: the U.S. does not seek to contain China,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday at the two-day China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing.

That was hard to square with the headline atop a story in Thursday’s Financial Times newspaper: Pentagon plans new tactics to deter China in South China Sea. U.S. officials say increased air and sea patrols in the region should be expected as part of President Obama’s “pivot” to the Pacific.

Neither Washington nor Beijing can get all it wants.

“The U.S. has carved out a limited number of steps that it is willing to take to signal the Chinese that the U.S. has an interest in preventing coercion, and in trying to compel a peaceful resolution of disputes,” says Bonnie Glaser, a Chinese military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The U.S. wants to keep playing the key cop in the western Pacific, a beat it has sailed since World War II. It wants to preserve the status quo. Many nations in the region appreciate the U.S. military presence, given their bloody histories with the Middle Kingdom.

But China has made clear it has expansionist aims, as its economy grows and it seeks small islands, reefs and atolls long claimed by Japan, the Philippines and other neighbors. Any one of these claims could spark shooting that could trigger war.

Thomas P.M. Barnett, a former Pentagon official and now the chief analyst at the private Wikistrat intelligence firm, says the U.S. needs to raise the price for such Chinese mischief. “Every great power goes through its reckless `teenage years,’” he says. “Beijing will persist in these 19th century behaviors for some time, but it needs to be educated—as unimperiously as possible—that such tactics come with great costs in the 21st-century interdependencies that define globalization.”

The Obama Administration has been making that clear. “In recent months, China has undertaken destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in Singapore in May. “It has restricted access to Scarborough Reef, put pressure on the long-standing Philippine presence at the Second Thomas Shoal, begun land reclamation activities at multiple locations, and moved an oil rig into disputed waters near the Paracel Islands…we firmly oppose any nation’s use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat of force to assert those claims.”

Yet despite Kerry’s claim that “the U.S. does not seek to contain China,” the U.S. has made clear it is willing to go to war to keep China from gaining control of what Japan calls the Senkaku islands, known in China as the Diaoyus. The stakes, in terms of geography, could hardly be smaller: the Senkakus consist of five uninhabited islets and three barren reefs in the East China Sea. But they’re surrounded by waters rich in fish, natural gas and oil.

The Chinese claim Japan stole the islands from them in 1895, based on ancient texts and maps suggesting the islands were theirs; Japan says they were unclaimed by any nation when it took them over. Nationalists in each country insist they belong to their side. Tensions over the islands’ fate have been steadily rising, and spiked in 2012 after Japan’s government bought three of the islands from a Japanese family.

U.S. officials repeatedly stress they have no opinion on the islands’ “ultimate sovereignty.” China is well aware of such American ambiguity. But Hagel said last fall the U.S. is willing to go to war to preserve Tokyo’s control over them: “Since they are under Japan’s administrative control, they fall under United States treaty obligations to Japan.”

Given that U.S. pledge, it may be easier to understand Beijing’s leeriness toward Kerry’s claim the U.S. doesn’t seek to contain China.

TIME China

China Fires Back at U.S. Criticism Over Asia-Pacific Instability

From left: U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel listens to Lt. Gen. Wang Guanzhong, China's deputy chief of General Staff during the start of their meeting on May 31, 2014 in Singapore.
From left: U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel listens to Lt. Gen. Wang Guanzhong, China's deputy chief of General Staff during the start of their meeting on May 31, 2014 in Singapore. Pablo Martinez Monsivais—Getty Images

The gloves came off between the U.S. and China during a defense conference in Asia over the weekend, following Beijing’s forays into disputed areas of the South China Sea early last month

Diplomatic platitudes took a backseat to tough talk in Singapore over the weekend, as Beijing slammed Washington for investing in a “containment fantasy” after the U.S. accused China of overseeing “destabilizing” maneuvers in the South China Sea.

On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel laid into China for allowing a state-owned drilling rig to drop anchor in the heart of heavily contested waters off the Vietnamese coast. He was speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“We firmly oppose any nation’s use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat of force to assert these claims,” Hagel told the conference. “We also oppose any effort — by any nation — to restrict overflight or freedom of navigation, whether from military or civilian vessels [or] from countries big or small.”

Beijing did not take kindly to the forceful criticism.

“Hagel’s speech was full of hegemony, full of words of threat and intimidation,” said Lieut. General Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, on Sunday.

“It was a speech to abet destabilizing factors to create trouble and make provocations. It was not a constructive speech.”

China’s stated-backed Global Times on Sunday railed against the Obama Administration’s renewed diplomatic thrust into Asia, which Beijing derides as a thinly veiled effort to contain China’s rise.

“Strengthened military alliance against China does not contribute to regional stability that the United States has touted for, but rather constitutes a provocative and hostile move that stirs up regional tension,” read an editorial.

This year’s Shangri-La Dialogue came at an increasingly hostile time in the region. Just four days before the meeting commenced, Hanoi accused Chinese vessels of sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat near the controversial oil rig in the South China Sea.

The incident was the latest flash point between the countries since the drilling platform entered waters claimed by Vietnam last month.

During a keynote address on Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered to supply both the Philippines and Vietnam with patrol boats. Japan has its own bitter territorial disputes with Beijing.

“Japan will offer its utmost support for the efforts of the countries of ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] as they work to ensure the security of the seas and the skies,” said Abe, according to the BBC.

Wang later dismissed the Japanese Prime Minister’s comments as “provocative.”

TIME intelligence

WikiLeaks Threatens To Reveal Unnamed Country From Snowden Documents

According to a new report from The Intercept, the NSA records every single cell phone call in the Bahamas and one unnamed country. WikiLeaks says it will name that country in just a few days.

WikiLeaks has threatened to unilaterally release the name of an as-yet unnamed country in which every cell phone call is recorded by the National Security Agency, despite the decision by other news outlets to withhold that information for fear of stoking violence.

That announcement comes after a war of words over Twitter between WikiLeaks and journalists at The Intercept, which reported Monday that the NSA collects cell phone metadata in Mexico, the Philippines and Kenya, and records and keeps for up to a month all cell phone calls in the Bahamas and one unnamed country. The Intercept declined to release the name of that country, the outlet says, due to “credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence.” The Intercept report is based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The Intercept is a media group launched earlier this year by a group of journalists including two of those originally granted access to the Snowden documents, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. The existence of this specific NSA recording program, code named MYSTIC, was previously reported by The Washington Post, which declined to name any of the countries involved.

WikiLeaks’ threat to publish the identity of the redacted country, if credible, suggests the organization has obtained access to documents leaked by Snowden or has been informed of the country’s identity by someone with access to the documents. Snowden has said he did not leak documents directly to WikiLeaks, but the key players in both organizations—Greenwald, Poitras, WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange—are well acquainted with one another.

According to the report, the NSA obtained access to the Bahamas’ cell phone networks by piggy backing on access legally obtained by the Drug Enforcement Agency, with the DEA’s cooperation. The Intercept declined to report the code name for a private firm that allows access to cell phone data in the Bahamas due to “a specific, credible concern that doing so could lead to violence.”

The program, codenamed SOMALGET, is part the NSA’s umbrella program MYSTIC, under which, The Intercept reports, the agency also collects metadata on the telecommunications of “several other countries, including Mexico, the Philippines, and Kenya,” similar to the telecom surveillance the NSA conducts in the United States.

Rather than the anti-terrorism work routinely used to justify the NSA’s surveillance activities, SOMALGET, according to NSA documents quoted by The Intercept, exists primarily as a part of the drug war to monitor “international narcotics traffickers and special-interest alien smugglers.”

In a statement to TIME, NSA spokesperson Vanee’ Vines did not deny the existence of the program but said, “The fact that the U.S. government works with other nations, under specific and regulated conditions, mutually strengthens the security of all.” Vines confirmed that the scope of the agency’s mandate extends well beyond counterterrorism efforts.

“The Agency collects data to meet specific security and intelligence requirements such as counterintelligence, counterterrorism, counterproliferation, cyber security, force protection for U.S. troops and allies, and combating transnational crime.”

TIME Vietnam

In the South China Sea, China Is Already Acting Like a Superpower

Vietnam China Oil Rig
In this photo, released by the Vietnamese Coast Guard, a Chinese ship, left, shoots water cannon at a Vietnamese vessel, right, while a Chinese Coast Guard ship, center, sails alongside in the South China Sea off Vietnam's coast, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Chinese ships rammed and sprayed water cannon at Vietnamese vessels trying to stop Beijing from setting up an oil rig in the area, according to Vietnamese officials and video evidence. AP

As Beijing appears to be openly enforcing territorial claims in the South China Sea, following a skirmish with Vietnam over a Chinese oil rig that left six people injured, one expert says a historic "moment of confrontation" has arrived

Supposedly fraternal ties between China and Vietnam failed to keep hostilities from bubbling to the surface this week, when vessels from both nations tangled near a Chinese oil rig that Hanoi claims is planning to illegally drill into the country’s continental shelf.

At least six people were injured during the skirmish on May 7, after Chinese vessels used water cannon on, and rammed into, Vietnamese craft that Hanoi had dispatched to prevent drilling from going ahead.

The deep-sea drilling platform is currently in the middle of fiercely contested waters south of the Paracel Archipelago, which is claimed by Vietnam, but has been occupied by China since its forces violently expelled a garrison stationed there by the old South Vietnamese regime in 1974.

According to Vietnamese officials, approximately 80 Chinese ships, including several naval vessels, are accompanying the rig. Displaying unusual openness, authorities in Hanoi held a press conference on Wednesday, where they showed foreign journalists video evidence of the naval encounter.

“Our maritime police and fishing protection forces have practiced extreme restraint,” Ngo Ngoc Thu, vice commander of Vietnam’s coast guard, told reporters during a press conference in Hanoi, according to the Associated Press. “We will continue to hold on there. But if [the Chinese ships] continue to ram into us, we will respond with similar self-defense.”

The weekend’s incident is the most violent confrontation to erupt between the socialist neighbors since a brief naval engagement in 1988 near the Spratly Islands left more than 60 Vietnamese sailors dead.

China has long-held claims over most of the South China Sea — in areas that are also claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines — but in recent years has become far more assertive in pursuing its territorial ambitions.

A strongly worded column in China’s Global Times newspaper on Tuesday stated that China should give Vietnam the “lesson it deserves.” The rhetoric closely mirrors the threat made by former Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping ahead of the People’s Liberation Army’s disastrous invasion of Vietnam in 1979.

“The moment of confrontation has arrived,” Jonathan D. London, a professor and Vietnamese scholar at Hong Kong’s City University, told TIME.

“We’re shifting from an extended period in which Beijing has asserted very grandiose claims over these maritime areas to a stage in which Beijing is taking concrete measures to enforce these claims.”

On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department condemned China actions and called on all parties to refrain from “dangerous conduct.”

“This unilateral action appears to be part of a broader pattern of Chinese behavior to advance its claims over disputed territory in a manner that undermines peace and stability in the region,” said State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki in a statement released Wednesday.

Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party is now faced with the delicate task of confronting China over the issue — doing so with sufficient assertiveness to placate nationalist anger at home, and yet not risk all-out enmity with the country’s biggest trading partner.

“It’s not just a matter of the claims being important in themselves, but I think it’s because they involve contention with China that they are particularly important from a Vietnamese perspective, ” Tim Huxley, executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Asia office, told TIME. “I think it’s true to say this resistance to Chinese domination has historically been an important factor in the forging of Vietnam’s sense of nationhood.’’

Meanwhile, Beijing appears to be holding firm on its current course of action.

In another forceful column Wednesday, the Global Times warned countries in the region from hoping that the U.S. could serve as a “big daddy” in any future conflict in the region. “China has more confidence than ever to face the U.S. in the South China Sea chessboard,” it warned.

The publication of the column comes more than a week after U.S. President Barack Obama concluded a four-nation trip to the region. While in the Philippines, President Obama signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with Manila that will allow U.S. forces to increase their presence in the country.

TIME Crime

58 Nabbed in Philippines Sexual Blackmail Sting

Those arrested are accused of threatening to publicize images of online video-chats if their victims didn’t pay up

Police in the Philippines this week arrested 58 people on suspected involvement in an international sexual blackmail scheme, Interpol said Friday.

In one instance, a Scottish teenager victimized by the crime ring jumped to his death after blackmailers threatened to show his family records of video-chat interactions he’d had online with someone he thought was an American girl his own age if he didn’t pay them. The alleged blackmailers demanded between $500 and $15,000 from their victims, located in places around the world including Indonesia, the Philippines, the U.K., the U.S. and Hong Kong, CNN reports.

“The scale of these sextortion networks is massive, and run with just one goal in mind: to make money regardless of the terrible emotional damage they inflict on their victims,” said Sanjay Virmani, director of Interpol’s Digital Crime Center.

[CNN]

TIME China

Obama Ends Asia Tour in China’s Long Shadow

President Obama delivers remarks to US and Philippine troops at Fort Bonifacio in Manila on April 29, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks to U.S. and Philippine troops at Fort Bonifacio in Manila on April 29, 2014 Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

The region's biggest power remained the proverbial dragon in the room throughout the U.S. President's weeklong tour to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. But the more he said the visits weren't about China, the less that rang true

U.S. President Barack Obama’s four-nation tour of Asia ended Tuesday with a speech at Manila’s Fort Bonifacio. Standing in a gymnasium packed with camo-clad soldiers, Obama spoke about the 10-year military pact signed Monday. The agreement, which was the centerpiece of his visit to the Philippines, will give U.S. planes, warships and troops greater access to the archipelago. Many Filipinos see the deal as a counter to China, with which the country is locked in a bitter maritime dispute. Obama insists it is not. “Deepening our alliance is part of our broader vision for the Asia-Pacific,” he said.

Left unsaid, of course what this “vision” for Asia means for the region’s rising power, China. The recurring theme of Obama’s tour was that it was not about Beijing. This was a friendly visit, full stop — and it was indeed full of well-wishes and vows of trust. Yet the more Obama denied it was about China, the less it rang true. Through stops in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, China loomed large — the proverbial dragon, or panda, in the room.

The mixed messaging underscores the challenge of one of the Obama Administration’s signature foreign policy initiatives: the so-called pivot to Asia. The plan calls for the U.S. to shift resources away from the Middle East to East Asia, where they see more opportunity ahead. But China is also expanding its influence in the region. And Obama chose to visit four countries that are wary of China’s rise.

“President Obama obviously wants to avoid any appearances that this is part of a new Cold War with China,” says Mark Thompson, director of the Southeast Asia Research Centre at City University of Hong Kong. “But this is a tricky balancing act because this is increasingly how the U.S.’s traditional allies that he is visiting are viewing things.”

Take Japan. President Obama’s visit to Tokyo came amid ongoing Sino-Japanese territorial disputes. A set of rocks, called the Senkaku in Japanese and the Diaoyu in Mandarin, is administered by Japan but also claimed by China. The U.S. maintains a neutral stance on their ownership. But while in Tokyo, Obama said for the first time that the islets are covered by the security treaty that commits the U.S. to defend Japan should it be attacked — a boon for hawkish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but not great news for the Chinese.

It was a similar story in the Philippines, where the signing of a military pact and a speech to soldiers did much to counter the notion that the visit was, as Obama insisted, not about countering China, but rather, deepening long-standing ties. “The Obama strategy is military deterrence and balancing, combined with political and economic engagement,” says Minxin Pei, a China scholar at Claremont McKenna College, in California. “The problem with this strategy is that the Chinese tend to take the engagement part for granted and see the deterrence part as pure containment.”

Even in South Korea, which is not embroiled in a territorial dispute with China, Beijing was, at times, a silent presence. In Seoul, Obama announced that the U.S. and South Korea agreed on a binational defense team that, in the event of war, would put South Korean troops under U.S. control. Citing signs that North Korea plans to conduct another nuke test, Obama warned the U.S. would “will not hesitate to use our military might” to defend its allies. Yet there is a growing sense that to move forward with North Korea, it is China, not the U.S. or South Korea, that holds the key.

And then there’s Malaysia, a country with whom neither the U.S. nor China has particularly strong ties. A recent editorial in Global Times, a Beijing-backed newspaper, claimed the Obama visit — the first by a sitting President since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 — was a reward for Malaysia adopting a harder stance toward China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. If that’s the case, Obama certainly isn’t saying. But he certainly stepped lightly in Kuala Lumpur, choosing not to visit opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is appealing charges of sodomy that he says are politically motivated. The President also failed to convince Malaysia (or Japan for that matter) to commit further to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-country trade bloc that does not include China.

Still, the host countries gained much: Japan’s Abe got U.S. cover for his rightism; the Philippines and South Korea received some military muscle; and Malaysia’s leaders gained prestige from hobnobbing with Obama. Beijing seems quite content to let all this play out. State media predictably lashed out at Obama’s pledge on the Senkaku/Diaoyu islets and had some stern words on the U.S.-Philippines military agreement. But the official response to Pivot 2.0 was uncharacteristically measured, almost dismissive. When asked about Obama’s visit at a regular press conference Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, “Whether it [was] to counter China or not, we will tell based on what the U.S. says and does.” As for China not being on the itinerary, Qin riffed on a saying that traces back to a Qing-era love poem: “You come or you don’t come, I’m right here.”

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