Cranky China's posturing puts its neighbours on edge
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- Canada isn't the only country that's feeling rattled by relations with China — the suddenly cranky superpower is also stirring things up with its South Pacific neighbours.
- Fifty-six million people in eight of the world's poorest and least-secure areas are in urgent need of food assistance, says a new report to the UN Security Council.
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China's nervous neighbours
Ottawa's relations with China have hit a new low following the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou and what appear to be retaliatory measures against three Canadians.
But Canada isn't the only country feeling rattled by the suddenly cranky superpower.
Australia is trying to negotiate the release of one of its own citizens, the Chinese-born writer Yang Hengjun. The academic and political commentator was snatched off the streets of Guangzhou on Jan. 18, and is being held in a Beijing jail on national security suspicions.
And China's sudden willingness to flex its military muscle in the South China Sea is unnerving countries all around the South Pacific.
At an international forum in Singapore yesterday, Christopher Pyne, the Australian defence minister, called on Beijing to rethink its approach to the region, saying its bellicose words and actions have been causing needless anxiety.
"As the exhortation goes, to those that much is given, much is expected; similarly for nation states, for those with great power comes great responsibility, and so I call on China to act with great responsibility in the South China Sea," Pyne said.
Even against the backdrop of a recently announced $90 billion investment in new ships for the Australian Navy, Pyne took pains to say that no one is trying "to contain" China.
Neighbouring New Zealand is also experiencing tension with China.
Last week, a well-known China expert from the University of Canterbury released a letter she had written to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asking for police protection following a campaign of harassment that she believes originated in Beijing.
Anne-Marie Brady says her home and office have been broken into, and that pressure has been brought upon her bosses to stop her research. The incidents all seem to be designed to intimidate her, falling around her speeches and public testimony to parliament.
China has certainly entered an assertive phase.
In late December, Lou Yuan, a navy rear admiral, gave a combative speech in Shenzhen in which he suggested that disputes over the East and South China Seas might best be settled by sinking a couple of U.S. aircraft carriers.
And this month, following the U.S. Navy sailing its ships past disputed islands and through the Taiwan Strait, Beijing reacted by moving some its new "ship killer" DF-26 missiles within range of targets in the South China Sea.
Meanwhile, domestic media have been pumping up the capabilities of the Chinese military, with breathless reports on new weaponry.
Since the beginning of the year, stories have appeared about an "underground steel Great Wall," meant to protect sensitive military installations from missile attacks. There's also a new stealth attack jet, a mother-of-all-bombs high-explosive, and new rifles that shoot around corners and launch grenades, with the promise that one Chinese soldier will soon be equal to 10 foreign ones.
The People's Liberation Army is in the midst of a major overhaul, which will see it reduce the number of ground troops in favour of a new Rocket Force and electronic warfare branch. The stated goal is to have an army capable of fighting and winning conflicts anywhere around the world by 2050.
And China's rapidly expanding navy could have 351 ships — more than the United States — by next year.
All of which is making the Pentagon respectful.
At a talk in Washington yesterday, Admiral John Richardson, the head of the U.S. Navy, said he is trying to open "continuous dialogues" with his Chinese counterparts in order to reduce the risk of a military mishap in the South China Sea.
"Unplanned encounters" are becoming more and more frequent, he told an audience at the Brookings Institution.
He hopes that a reliable communication channel between Beijing and Washington will soon be in place.
"If something should happen, we can call each other up and de-escalate that before it gets too hot," Richardson explained.
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A world of hunger
Fifty-six million people in eight of the world's poorest and least-secure areas are in urgent need of food assistance, says a new report to the UN Security Council.
The World Food Program and UN Food and Agricultural Organization update, tabled this morning, says protracted conflicts, coupled with factors like drought and violence against humanitarian workers, have created "acute food insecurity," and that the situation is rapidly worsening in five of the eight focus countries.
The civil war in Yemen, which now ranks as the worst human-made disaster in history, has 15.9 million people — more than half the population — at risk of famine.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) isn't far behind, with 13 million hungry residents — almost a quarter of the population — beset not only by armed conflicts, but a growing Ebola outbreak as well.
The situation in Afghanistan has also deteriorated dramatically, with 47 per cent of people in rural areas — 10.6 million residents — now facing chronic food deficits amid a large-scale drought, and increased Taliban and ISIS attacks. More than half a million people were forced out of their homes in 2018.
Six million people need immediate food assistance in South Sudan, following five years of conflict and disrupted agricultural production.
And 1.9 million in the Central African Republic are regularly going hungry.
Even where there have been improvements, the numbers remain daunting.
Syria had 5.5 million hungry people as of late summer. That's down 1 million from a year earlier, but still almost 30 per cent of the population.
The need for food assistance in Somalia has been cut by almost 50 per cent over the past year, but 1.8 million people still need daily help.
And in the Lake Chad Basin, an area which touches parts of Niger, Chad and Nigeria, 1.7 million people require food assistance. It's an improvement from the 2.7 million a year ago, but experts predict the number will rise to 3 million by the end of summer 2019.
The report to the Security Council comes on the same day that UNICEF launches its annual appeal to feed the world's hungry children.
The Geneva-based humanitarian organization is seeking $3.9 billion US this year to help 41 million kids, 80 per cent of whom live in conflict zones.
The number of countries in the throes of wars or violent insurgencies is at a 30-year high, with 31 million children having been forcibly displaced as of the end of 2018.
Yemen has 6.6 million children in urgent need. And four million kids in the DRC require food help.
This year, UNICEF is hoping to treat 4.2 million cases of severe malnutrition, provide basic education to more than 10 million kids, and fund psychosocial support for 4 million more.
Last year, the group fell short of its $3.6 billion global ask, raising just $1.85 billion US. But it ultimately managed to meet 73 per cent of its goals by tapping unused funds from previous years.
Quote of the moment
"Mr. McArthur intended and caused all of their deaths. During each of these murders, one or more of the following factors were present: planning and deliberation, a murder committed in the course of sexually assaulting the victims, or a murder committed while the victims were unlawfully confined."
- An excerpt from the agreed statement of facts filed in a Toronto court this morning as serial killer Bruce McArthur pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder.
What The National is reading
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Today in history
Jan. 29, 1980: Try pork on your fork
Cooking demonstrations for stuffed pork and recipes for tender pork stew are all part of Manitoba's campaign to promote pork. At home and abroad, demand for the meat is growing and Manitoba wants a piece of the action. The government's message that pork is a cheap and healthy alternative seems to be working. At this 1980 convention, folks admit to buying more pork. "I enjoy pork very, very much," one woman tells CBC TV. "It's tasty and it's less expensive." Hog farmers, such as John Loewen of Blumenort, Man., are banking on the four-legged beasts as well. Factory hog barns are quickly replacing traditional family farms. In this footage, Loewen talks about the efficiency of his operation. He explains how mechanized manure handling and automated feedings are keeping costs down and production high. It's all good news to Manitoba's hog industry, which is hoping to gain control of an enterprise that's been dominated by Quebec and Ontario.
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