TIME China

Russian Intervention in Crimea Puts China in Awkward Spot

U.N.
U.N. China Ambassador Liu Jieyi speaks during a U.N. Security Council meeting on the Ukraine, Monday, March 3, 2014 at U.N. headquarters. Bebeto Matthews—AP

Moscow and Beijing have for years defended the sovereignty of nations. Now, with Russian troops deployed in Ukraine, China has had to tow a very tricky line.

Here’s a conundrum for Chinese students of foreign policy. Imagine a country that Beijing supports, with a simpatico leader and a shared communist history. Now imagine that friendly ally deploys soldiers to another nation, contravening one of China’s most cherished international-relations maxims: Don’t meddle in other countries’ internal affairs. Confusing, right? So what should China do about Russian soldiers intervening in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula?

Muddle through, appears to be China’s delicate diplomatic solution. On March 3, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations Liu Jieyi offered up this clarifying gem on the unfolding crisis in Crimea. “There are reasons,” Liu said, “for why the situation in Ukraine is what it is today.” The comment was deemed important enough to be quoted in the China Daily, the nation’s English-language mouthpiece. Reasons, indeed.

A day before, just after Russia voted to allow its armed forces into Ukraine, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang had also shared his views. “There are reasons,” Qin said, “for why the situation in Ukraine is what it is today.” Sound familiar?

It got worse. The same day as when the Chinese UN representative was speaking of situations in Ukraine, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman added yet another intriguing thought into the mix. “There are reasons for today’s situation in Ukraine,” he said, moving the position of the word “today” slightly in his incisive analysis. A China Daily story covering Qin’s latest statement noted that “China’s stance on the current situation in Ukraine is objective, just, fair and peaceful.”

Asked to further comment on Russia’s military intervention, Qin added that:

“China upholds its own diplomatic principles and the basic codes for international relations, which have also been implied on the Ukraine issue. Meanwhile, we have also taken the historical and contemporary factors of the Ukraine issue into consideration.”

What exactly has been implied? What are the factors that need to be taken into consideration? Qin did not elaborate.

Of course, this expert ambiguity didn’t stop the Russian Foreign Ministry from stating that China and Russia had “broadly coinciding points of view” over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. Certainly, articles in China’s state media, a good gauge of official opinion, seemed to champion the Russian perspective. On March 4, after Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke near Moscow, Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, ran an article entitled “Putin calls Ukraine events coup, defends Russian position.” The Chinese story did little to question Putin’s stance.

China and Russia haven’t always been chums. There was that nasty Sino-Soviet split, which stole decades from a budding socialist brotherhood. (The split was fully mended in 1989 when Mikhail Gorbachev visited Beijing, shortly before the Tiananmen massacre.) But recent years have seen a thaw in relations, and the two nations have acted in lockstep over major foreign-policy stumbling blocks like Syria. The first overseas trip China’s President Xi Jinping’s took as national leader was to Russia. As a member of the UN Security Council, China could help shield Russia from international opprobrium.

Meanwhile, the Global Times, a patriotic Beijing-based daily, used the opportunity of the unfolding crisis in Ukraine to criticize a common punching bag: the U.S., which it described in a March 3 editorial as having turned into a “doormat.” Putin, by contrast, was praised for bringing “back the past glory of Russia.” That’s just what Xi, China’s proud leader, wants to do at home.

TIME Travel

Now You Can Graffiti the Great Wall of China

The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall Fabio Achilli—Flickr

You won't even get in trouble for it!

Graffiti is an ancient practice—just check out all the scandalous wall scratches in Pompeii. But adding new graffiti to ancient objects is generally frowned upon, at least until now. The Chinese government is turning a section of the Great Wall of China into a graffiti playground, allowing visitors to leave their marks in the millennia-old structure.

The graffiti section will organized at Mutianyu, a relatively uncrowded section of the Great Wall outside of central Beijing. Archaeologists who are suddenly terrified at the prospect of thousands of tourists carving up a world heritage site, worry not—much of Mutianyu is actually a reconstructed version of the Great Wall rather than the real thing.

Where ancient sections of the wall are sand-colored and worn, Mutianyu is dark grey, clean-cut, and solid. It’s also far easier to walk on. Though the sprawling construction is still impressive, it’s definitely not authentic, and it might even be improved by a little touch of humanity.

TIME Ukraine

Putin Calls Ukraine Uprising ‘Unconstitutional’

Russian President Putin takes part in a news conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin at a news conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, on March 4, 2014. Alexei Nikolskiy—RIA Novosti/Kremlin/ Reuters

Russian leader asserts the right to protect Russian citizens in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday justified his country’s intervention in the Crimea region of neighboring Ukraine as necessary to protect Russian citizens from what he called an “unconstitutional coup” by protesters in Kiev.

Putin, in his first public remarks since Russian forces moved on Crimea late last week, declared that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych is Ukraine’s legitimate leader and was deposed in “an armed seizure of power.” But while Putin was adamant that the Russian military incursion was justified, he was vague when discussing the initial waves of troops in Crimea who have been photographed with no insignia on their uniforms. “They were self-defense teams,” Putin said, adding that one can buy Russian uniforms in shops. He denied that Russian forces were surrounding bases in Crimea, despite several reports to the contrary, and said he was “not concerned about war breaking out; we are not going to be fighting Ukraine.”

Shortly after Putin spoke, NATO announced that a special council of Western and Russian diplomats will meet Wednesday to discuss the latest developments in Ukraine, the Associated Press reports.

Putin’s news conference seemed intended both to diffuse discussion of imminent war, but also to leave the door open for future military action. He said that he did not intend to make Crimea part of Russia, but would leave the peninsula to self-determination. However, he discussed screening possible presidential candidates so “some nationalist punk” does not “fly out like a jack in the box.”

His comments came just hours after Putin ordered tens of thousands of troops who had conducted military drills near Ukraine’s border to return to their permanent bases. The massive exercises, which involved a reported 150,000 troops, hundreds of tanks and more than 80 naval vessels, were scheduled to wrap up after the weekend.

In Crimea, Russian troops who took Belbek air base fired warning shots in the air as 300 reportedly unarmed Ukrainian soldiers demanded their jobs back. There were no reports of any casualties from the tense standoff, the Associated Press, which reflects high tensions as an estimated 16,000 Russian troops consolidate their hold on the peninsula.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are headed to the region, the Telegraph reports. The observers are expected to deliver a report on the situation, which has been tense but not yet violent. Andriy Parubiy, Ukraine’s top security official who earned the nickname “commander of Maidan” during protests in Kiev last month, said that the situation in Crimea was complicated but stable.

TIME Gaza strip

Gaza’s Isolation Grows As Egyptian Court Outlaws Hamas

The Islamist group's marginalization could help the more moderate Fatah faction

The lot of the beleaguered Palestinian militant group Hamas grew still worse on Tuesday, when an Egyptian court banned the Islamist organization and ordered confiscation of its assets inside Egypt. The ruling threatens to complete the physical isolation of the Gaza Strip, the coastal enclave that’s home to 1.6 million Palestinians and has been governed by Hamas since 2007. The Strip is already surrounded on three sides by the Israeli military – including gunboats that challenge any vessel that ventures beyond six nautical miles into the Mediterranean Sea. And now, on its western boundary, Gaza faces an Egyptian government that has officially declared the ruling party an enemy organization.

“Whoever threatens Egypt’s security should understand that there will be consequences,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy told a news conference, after learning of the ruling from a reporter’s question.

If enforced, the ruling’s implications will accelerate the descent of a Hamas already in political free-fall. Not 18 months ago, Hamas was hosting the Emir of Qatar in a state visit that served to reinforce Hamas’ credibility as a political entity. The Emir arrived from Egypt, crossing into Gaza at the international border station at Rafah, on the Strip’s western boundary. At the time, Egypt was controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, the mothership of political Islam that had spawned Hamas and won every election in Egypt since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

But the military coup in July removed the President Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood stalwart, and Tuesday’s ruling demonstrates just how potent a force Egyptian nationalism has become in the ensuing months. Mubarak also hated Hamas, but it’s a Palestinian group and pro-forma solidarity with the Palestinians’ struggle against Israel prevented his government from doing what Egypt’s military-backed rulers have done since July 3. After blaming Hamas not only for working with Morsi, but for sheltering militants who have turned Egypt’s Sinai peninsula into a war zone, Cairo has shuttered hundreds of tunnels carrying goods and gasoline into Gaza, and threatened military action. The Rafah crossing, long Gazans’ only outlet to the world, is now often shut down, sending patients to plead for entry into Israel for medical care unavailable in the Strip.

Hamas, which has trod carefully around Egypt’s new rulers, promptly condemned the court ruling, perhaps hoping to prevent its implementation. “The decision harms the image of Egypt and its role towards the Palestinian cause. It reflects a form of standing against Palestinian resistance,” spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

Besides Israel, the ruling will also likely serve to strengthen the hand of Fatah, the secular Palestinian party that was kicked out of Gaza in 2007 but governs the West Bank and its 2.5 million residents. Fatah, through the Palestinian National Authority set up by the 1994 Oslo Accords, has workaday administrative relations with Israel, and already does what Hamas cannot do in Gaza – arrange daily passage of hundreds of truckloads of goods into the enclave from Israel. Fatah’s brief may now have to extend to the Rafah crossing, in the event Egypt stops recognizing the authority of travel documents issued by Hamas. Shoring up Fatah may in fact be a goal of Egypt’s campaign against Hamas, though one obscured, as so many things are these days, by the wrath Cairo directs at anyone who can be tied to the Brotherhood that was itself banned on Christmas Day.

TIME Ukraine

Russian and Ukrainian Troops in Tense Crimea Standoff

Concerns Grow In Ukraine Over Pro Russian Demonstrations In The Crimea Region
Troops under Russian command fire weapons into the air and scream orders to turn back at an approaching group of over 100 hundred unarmed Ukrainian troops at the Belbek airbase, which the Russian troops are occcupying, in Lubimovka, Crimea on March 4, 2014. Sean Gallup—Getty Images

Reports of the first shots fired since Russian incursion began

Russian and Ukrainian troops were involved in a standoff at a Crimea airbase early on Tuesday morning, marking one of the tensest moments of the Ukrainian crisis so far.

Russian troops took control of the Belbek air base in the Crimea region, the peninsula that Russia now effectively controls, firing warning shots into the air as some 300 unarmed Ukrainian soldiers who were previously stationed in the airfield demanded their jobs back early on Tuesday morning.

TIME’s Simon Shuster tweeted from the airbase as the situation unfolded—the shots are believed to be the first fired since the crisis in Crimea began.

The latest reports suggest the standoff is continuing, as the unarmed Ukrainian troops have demanded to guard the airbase jointly with the Russians. Tensions are running high in the region as an estimated 16,000 Russian troops—whom Russian President Vladimir Putin has now ordered to return to their bases—tightened their effective control over the Black Sea peninsula over the weekend. Putin denied on Tuesday that the men guarding military bases in Crimea were Russian soldiers, despite their military uniforms that resemble Russian military outfits.

TIME Ukraine

Russia Denies Cutting Jared Leto’s Ukraine Shoutout From Oscars Broadcast

After the state-run television station canceled planned live coverage of the awards ceremony

Russia’s state-run television station station is denying it aired a censored version of the Academy Awards ceremony that omitted Jared Leto’s mention of Ukraine in his acceptance speech.

“The channel aired a 90-minute international version of the Oscar ceremony, which was not to be cut and was provided by the rights holder,” a spokesperson for Channel One told The Hollywood Reporter.

Channel One was criticized after it canceled planned live coverage of the Oscars ceremony, opting instead to air a recorded version later. Large segments of the ceremony were omitted from the trimmed down recorded version, including Jared Leto’s award acceptance speech in which he made reference to the turmoil in Ukraine.

“To all the dreamers out there around the world watching this tonight, in places like the Ukraine and Venezuela, I want to say: We are here, and as you struggle to make your dreams happen, to live the impossible, we’re thinking of you tonight,” he said.

The Russian station acknowledges Leto’s speech was not in its Oscars broadcast but denies the station was responsible for the censoring.

[The Hollywood Reporter]

TIME Egypt

Egypt Military Chief Gives New Hints of Presidential Run

Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi says he "can't turn his back" if Egyptians want him to run for president

Egypt’s military chief on Tuesday gave perhaps the strongest indication yet that he plans to run for president in elections set to take place sometime later this year.

Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi said he “can’t turn his back” if the majority of Egyptians want him to run for president, the Associated Press reports. During a speech to graduates at the Cairo war college, al-Sisi said, “let the coming days see the official procedures.” He added that Egypt is in the middle of difficult times, requiring unity among the people, the army and security forces.

Al-Sisi’s comments come a week after Egypt’s interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi announced the resignation of his cabinet, a move that was seen to clear the way for the military leader to declare his candidacy. But Al-Sisi remained in his position as minister of defense in the new cabinet led by former Housing Minister Ibrahim Mahlab, a senior official in the now-dissolved party of Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted by protests during the Arab Spring.

No date has been set for Egypt’s next presidential election, but the contest will be held before voting on a parliament sometime later this year.

[AP]

TIME Ukraine

U.S. Promises $1 Billion For Ukraine

Aid package comes as Secretary of State John Kerry lands in Kiev

The United States announced Tuesday a massive aid package for Ukraine, including loan guarantees and technical assistance to as the country seeks to stabilize its fragile economy amid a tense standoff with Russia.

The announcement came as Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Kiev on his way to the capital city’s Maidan Square, where he was set to visit a a memorial to slain protestors before meeting with the new Ukrainian leadership at the Verkhovna Rada, the country’s parliament. Shortly after Kerry landed, NATO announced that a special council of Western and Russian diplomats will meet Wednesday to discuss the latest developments in Ukraine, the Associated Press reports.

With Russian troops occupying a vast swath of Ukraine’s eastern Crimea region in the wake of the popular uprising that toppled pro-Russian former President Viktor Yanukovich, the U.S. and other western powers are lining up to support the new government in Kiev. A senior Obama administration official told reporters on Kerry’s plane Tuesday Tuesday that “there’s a political crisis going on but there’s also a very dire financial situation.”

In addition to loan guarantees designed to compensate for lost Russian energy subsidies, the U.S. is “moving quickly to deploy a range of other financing and technical expertise, utilizing a whole-of-government approach to support Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement detailing the $1-billion aid package.

“For example, the United States Treasury is ready to dispatch highly experienced technical advisors to help the Ukrainian financial authorities manage immediate market pressures and support Ukraine as it negotiates with the [International Montetary Fund],” Lew said.

Officials believe tensions in Ukraine are likely to remain high in the near term, as there has been no sign Moscow intends to back down in the face of international pressure. “We still have a very real concern that the Russians may have other plans in the Ukraine,” a senior Obama administration official told reporters. “They may be planning other moves on Ukraine.”

-with reporting from Michael Crowley in Kiev

TIME Nepal

Nepal to Mount Everest Trekkers: Pick Up Your Trash

NEPAL-ENVIRONMENT-POLLUTION-EVEREST-FILES
A Nepalese sherpa collects garbage left by climbers at an altitude of 8,000 metres during the Everest clean-up expedition at Mount Everest, on May 23, 2010. Namgyal Sherpa—AFP/Getty Images

Cracking down on litter bugs on the world's tallest peak

As part of a series of overhauls for this year’s trekking season on Mount Everest, Nepal has demanded that climbers bring back their own trash in a bid to keep the roof of the world cleaner.

Kapindra Rai of the mountain’s pollution control committee said that if new climbers made sure to clean up their litter, “we can be assured that no new garbage will be added,” the Associated Press reports. More than 4,000 climbers have reached the 29,035-foot summit of Mount Everest since New Zealand climber Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay did so in 1953.

The volume of climbers has contributed to the waste on the mountain, with of food wrappers and mountain equipment littering part of the routes. Private trekking companies have previously been tasked with cleaning up the garbage left behind by climbers. But experts say it is unclear how much rubbish is still remaining despite these efforts, as it has been covered by ice and snow over the years.

To enforce the new rules, the Nepalese government is setting up the first-ever Everest base camp where officials will ensure that climbers descend with 18 pounds of trash each.

[AP]

TIME Asia

Move Over Tokyo, the Most Expensive City is…

A guest swims in the infinity pool of the Skypark that tops the Marina Bay Sands hotel towers in Singapore June 24, 2010 Vivek Prakash / Reuters

Financial difficulties following Fukushima disaster edges out Japan's capital, while both the world's most and least expensive cities remain in Asia

In the aftermath of the Fukushima power plant disaster, Tokyo has forfeited the dubious merit of being the world’s most expensive city.

In the Economist Intelligence Unit’s biannual report, ranking 131 global cities, Singapore is instead throned, while the Japanese capital slumps to a sixth place.

Singapore’s ascension is on the back of soaring living costs, currency appreciation and solid price inflation. The city-state’s meager natural resources makes it heavily reliant on energy and water imports, transport costs are almost three times higher than New York and it is the most expensive place to buy clothes in the world.

The world’s 10 most expensive cities to live in:

1. Singapore

2. Paris

3. Oslo

4. Zurich

5. Sydney

6. Caracas, Geneva, Melbourne, Tokyo

10. Copenhagen

The bottom of the list features a scrum of South Asian metropolises. “Although India has been tipped for future growth, much of this is driven by its large population and the untapped potential within the economy,” says the EIU.

The five least expensive global cities to live in:

127. Damascus, Kathmandu

129. New Delhi

130. Karachi

131. Mumbai

[CNN]

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