UNSC agrees to Syria Resolution

Although passed unanimously, the UNSC Resolution was not without its usual diatribes between Russia and the US.

The resolution, tabled by Sweden and Kuwait, passed 15-0 after three days of wrangling over wording [Xinhua]

After three days of delays over wording of the document, the United Nations Security Council on Saturday unanimously passed Resolution 2401 which called for all parties in the Syrian conflict to an immediate ceasefire which would last for at 30 consecutive days.

The Resolution called on all parties to “facilitate safe and unimpeded passage for medical personnel and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties, their equipment, transport and supplies … to all people in need consistent with international humanitarian law”.

It also said that medical facilities and schools should be demilitarized.

Resolution 2401 also called on the Syrian army to lift its sieges of Eastern Ghouta (suburb of Damascus), Yarmouk, Foua and Kefraya and demanded of all warring parties to allow the rapid humanitarian aid deliveries and medical assistance without hindrance.

But the meeting of the 15 Security Council members was not without its Cold War-era jabs.

US Ambassador to the UN accused Russia of delay tactics and obstruction for a text that could have passed days earlier and prevented further loss of life.

“Every minute this council waited on Russia, the human suffering grew,” she said right after the unanimous vote was taken.

The UN estimates that over 400 people have been killed and thousands wounded in just one week of fighting. The US and its allies blame the government of Bashar Al Assad for the fighting and what they call indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas.

She also said she was very skeptical that the Syrian government would comply with the resolution.

“And after all of this time, hardly anything has changed in the resolution except a few words and some commas.”

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta was “dire” and insisted that hospitals and schools be demilitarized, indicating that Islamist rebels were using them to hide and store weapons.

But he said that the US was operating like an occupying power with territorial ambitions in Syria, and blamed the US and foreign supported Islamist militias, such Al Nusra, the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda of the carnage and humanitarian crisis in Syria.

He said a ceasefire would not work in the long run unless concrete agreements are secured between the warring parties.

He also reminded the Security Council that the Resolution did not preclude operations against Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra, some of whom are holed up in Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere in Syria.

Two other factions also dominate Eastern Ghouta – Jaysh Al Islam and Ahrar Al Sham.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

UN to vote on urgent help for Syria’s Eastern Ghouta

Russia has vetoed several draft resolutions on Syria which it says are unfair and biased, often following “fabricated” evidence [Xinhua]

The United Nations Security Council is expected to vote on a new resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, following reports of heavy fighting and mass casualties near the capital Damascus.

Russia had called for the Security Council to meet to discuss the resolution, while Kuwait and Sweden called for a vote.

A draft of the resolution says the UN is outraged at the “unacceptable levels of violence” seen in the past few days in the Ghouta district of Damascus and Idlib province.

The UN says at least 340 people have been killed in Eastern Ghouta since February 4.

The expected vote on the resolution comes a day after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged an immediate cessation of hostilities in these areas.

“I am deeply saddened by the terrible suffering of the civilian population in Eastern Ghouta, 400,000 people that live in hell on earth,” Guterres told the Security Council.

He called on humanitarian aid to be delivered to the needy and for all parties to the conflict to allow the evacuation of an estimated 700 people that need urgent medical treatment.

“This is a human tragedy that is unfolding in front of our eyes,” said Guterres.

Meanwhile, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said that a 30-day ceasefire is unrealistic and difficult to enforce.

The Russian Defense Ministry on Thursday said that efforts to broker a ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta have failed because the Islamist anti-government factions there are digging in and refusing to surrender their weapons.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has blamed them for the continuing fighting.

The Ministry’s spokesman Major-General Yuri Yevtushenko also said the humanitarian situation there was getting critical.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikii Haley has said that “it’s time to take immediate action” to save civilians who are under attack from the Syrian army.

“Eastern Ghouta cannot wait,” she said.

Russia blocks UN draft on Syria, cites ‘Western bias’

Russia has vetoes 11 draft resolutions on Syria which it says are unfair and biased, often following “fabricated” evidence [Xinhua]

Russia has for the second time this week vetoed a draft resolution in the Security Council aimed at renewing the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), which investigates chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

The vetoed drafted presented by Japan to the Security Council on Saturday was designed to give JIM a temporary extension to continue its work.

It was a compromise draft that was meant to bridge differences between Russia and the US after Moscow vetoed a resolution on JIM on Friday.

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily A. Nebenzia said that Moscow could not support extending JIM’s mandate because it had been biased and largely implementing an anti-Syria agenda imposed by Western countries.

“There can be no other way after the JIM’s [the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism] leadership disgraced itself with its fictitious investigation into the sarin use incident in Khan Shaykhun and signed off on baseless accusations against Syria,” he said.

In a September (and again in October) report, JIM had accused Syria and Russia of using chemical weapons against civilian centers in the city of Khan Shaykun last April.

Moscow had then accused the group of fabricating events; both Damascus and Moscow denied being involved in a chemical weapons attack and instead blamed Islamist extremist rebel groups for storing such armaments in civilian areas.

But JIM has generally blamed both sides for the use of illicit weapons during the seven-year Syrian civil war.

Bolivia also voted against the Japanese draft resolution, while China abstained.

The Russian veto sparked criticism from US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley: “In a world in which the council’s time and attention could be productively devoted to 100 different things, Russia is wasting our time,” Ambassador Nikki R. Haley of the United States said after Russia’s latest veto was cast.”

“Russia can obstruct this council but it can’t obstruct the truth.”

Yet Russian officials maintain that JIM has been plagued with “systemic deficiences” and that it’s methods of operations and gathering evidence are flawed.

It warned that the mechanism needed significant and comprehensive overhaul in order to be a legitimate UN apparatus for fact-finding.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Beijing on orange alert for smog

In some Chinese cities in recent years, the concentration of airborne particles, called PM 2.5, averaged nine times the safe level defined by the World Health Organisation [Xinhua]

As winter quickly approaches, the Chinese capital Beijing once again finds itself in the throes of an air pollution crisis as authorities signal an orange alert for smog for the second consecutive day.

China’s color code alerts include red – as the most dangerous and lethal, followed by orange, yellow and blue.

The red code is triggered when the city anticipates four consecutive days of heavy air pollution, including two days of severe air pollution.

A red alert is also issued if the city’s Air Quality Index (AQI) reaches 500, local media have said.

The authorities are now encouraging residents to curb the use of their vehicles while more pressure is applied to construction sites to implement stricter pollution controls.

The winter months are particularly more dangerous as millions of Chinese resort to coal as a primary heating source.

The Chinese government has earmarked a plan to help some 700 villages turn to clean energy rather than coal, as well as shut down hundreds of polluting factories.

In neighboring Shanxi province, which lies southwest of Beijing, authorities are considering shifting their economy toward technology and away from coal production.

Currently, Shanxi is becoming one of the country’s mobile phone manufacturing hubs.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Xi promises modernized, ‘more open’ China

Tackling the issue of rising mortgage’s Xi said “houses are for living in, not for speculation”[Xinhua]

The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) concludes tomorrow following week-long sessions in which President Xi Jinping outlined his priorities for the next five years.

The Communist Party’s 2,000 delegates on Tuesday inserted Xi Jinping “Thought” into its constitution, effectively making the president the most powerful man in China.

Xi Jinping Thought is the president’s principles on the CPC’s contribution in governance and includes issues of development and reform.

The delegates also concluded the composition of top governing entities in the party, including the Central Committee and the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

While combating corruption and eradicating poverty remain central themes in his vision, Xi has promised to modernize the economy by principally unloosing restrictions on foreign investors entering Chinese markets.

This he says will strengthen market forces to play a greater role in price evaluation, particularly in the financing industry, and help refocus the economy on high-quality growth.

In effect, he is promising a “wider” open-door policy.

“Living in such a great era, we are all the more confident and proud, and also feel the heavy weight of responsibility upon us,” he said.

China will “clean up rules and practices that hinder a unified market and fair competition, support development of private firms and stimulate vitality of all types of market entities,” Xi said.

The president also stressed that China should take its place center-stage among other nations, implementing “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

He would like to see China become “a modern socialist prosperous society” in 30 years.

The economy has in the past three quarters grown by 6.8 per cent and this will likely be the overall figure for the year, largely riding a surge in property investments.

Xi’s challenge will be how to curb the skyrocketing housing prices and mortgages, which threaten to increase household debt, without putting a dent in GDP growth which has lately been reliant on these sectors.

During his speech at the CPC National Congress, Xi said: “houses are for living in, not for speculation”.

Economists are worried about the specter of an unforseen drastic drop in asset prices after sustained GDP growth, which would have been largely sparked by debt or currency pressures.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

China, US in dispute over S China Sea ‘incursion’

File photo of a Marine patrol ship “Haixun 31” sails out of the Chinese port of Sanya for the South China Sea, Feb. 28, 2013 [Xinhua]

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has filed a formal complaint with US authorities in protest of a US naval destroyer crossing into territorial waters claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea near the Xisha Islands.

“China sent military vessels and planes to investigate and identify the US military ship and warned it to leave,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Wednesday said at a regular news briefing.

China has been in control of the Xisha Islands, also known as the Paracel Islands, since 1974, but announced the the baseline of territorial waters there in 1996.

Beijing says that guided missile destroyer the USS Chafee, entered its territory on Tuesday and carried out “freedom of navigation” maneuvers without Chinese consent.

“China urges the US side to respect Chinese sovereignty and security interests as well as the efforts of regional countries to maintain the peace and stability of the South China Sea,” Hua added.

But US officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to US media, said that the Navy does not declare ahead of time its intent to carry out such missions.

They said that the USS Chafee approached to a distant of 30 kms from the islands as part of a US military strategy to “challenge Beijing’s excessive maritime claims”.

The US does not recognize China’s sovereignty over the Xisha Islands and says they are contested by Vietnam and Taiwan.

Beijing claims 90 per cent of the South China Sea, a maritime region believed to hold a wealth of untapped oil and gas reserves and through which roughly $4.5 trillion of ship-borne trade passes every year. In addition to Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have contesting claims on these waters.

Maritime disputes between China on the one hand and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan on the other have caused tensions in the region and often led to a war of words between Beijing and Washington.

Beijing has long accused Washington of meddling in the South China Sea. The US conducts periodic air and naval patrols near the disputed islands that have angered Beijing.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Xi: Campaign against poverty is ‘toughest battle’

China aims to significantly reduce poverty by 2020 [Xinhua]

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday called the campaign against poverty the “toughest of all battles” and that the country should exert all efforts to eradicate it.

His statement comes ahead of the UN earmarked International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on October 17.

Two weeks ago, Beijing upgraded a new mechanism to help local governments and municipalities target poverty reduction through a 100-point assessment system that measures the efficacy of funds allocated to this pursuit.

How effective the funds have been will be marked out of 62 points; fund allocation is 10 points; supervision of the funds is 20 points and the remaining 8 points covers capital input.

Beijing wants local governments to reach 90 points or more in the new assessment mechanism. Below 60 is considered a failed approach.

The latest success story in the campaign against poverty is east China’s Jiangxi Province where the capital Jinggangshan has now been officially declassified as an impoverished area.

Through a number of local programs such as poverty relief projects and government assistance to start businesses, boosting rural infrastructure and creating employment opportunities for the less privileged, Jinggangshan managed to reduce the number of people living under the poverty line to just 1.6 per cent of the population.

The countrywide standard is two per cent.

According to official figures, there are 55 million people currently living in poverty.

One of the cornerstones of the current National People’s Congress 13th five-year plan is that it aims to significantly reduce poverty by 2020.

Elsewhere in Hunan province, for example, the local government has pledged to repeat its fund allocation from 2016, which helped lift more than a million people out of poverty.

Officials in Hunan, which is located in central China, say they want to eradicate poverty completely by 2019, bringing a total of five million out of poverty since 2014.

The Hunan provincial initiative, mimicked in other provinces such as east China’s Shandong and the southwest’s Sichuan, falls in tandem with the strategies of the National People’s Congress 13th five-year plan.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies