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Cranky China's posturing puts its neighbours on edge

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: cranky China is making its neighbours wary; 56 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.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

China's aircraft carrier Liaoning takes part in a military drill by the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in the western Pacific Ocean in April last year. China's neighbours are increasingly nervous of the sharp buildup of its navy and high-tech weaponry. (Reuters)

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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.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

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.

Yang Hengjun, an author and former Chinese diplomat who is now an Australian citizen, is seen in a photo taken while he was on a visit to Tibet in July 2014. He was detained in Guanzhou by Chinese authorities on Jan. 18. (Reuters)

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.

A Royal Australian Navy MH-60R Seahawk helicopter flies an Australian national flag over Sydney Harbour during Australia Day celebrations on Saturday. Australia has announced a $90 billion US investment in its navy, in part to address China's buildup in the region. (Dan Himbrechts/EPA-EFE)

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.

Chinese military vehicles carrying anti-ship ballistic missiles, potentially capable of sinking a U.S. Nimitz-class aircraft carrier in a single strike, travel past Tiananmen Gate during a military parade in September 2015. (Andy Wong/AP)

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.

An airstrip, structures, and buildings on China's man-made Subi Reef in the Spratly chain of islands in the South China Sea are seen in April 2017. China's stance is that it has the legal right to take whatever measures it deems appropriate on the islands in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety. (Bullit Marquez/Associated Press)

"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.

A father gives water to his malnourished daughter at a feeding center in a hospital in Hodeida, Yemen, in September 2018. (Hani Mohammed/Associated Press)

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.

Conflict-affected Yemenis gather to receive free bread by a local charity bakery amid a severe shortage of food in Sana'a on Nov. 28, 2018. The impoverished Arab country is experiencing a humanitarian crisis due to an ongoing brutal conflict that has driven millions to the brink of famine. (Yahya Arhab/EPA-EFE)

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.

A man carries sacks of food aid for distribution to internally displaced people in a Protection of Civilians Camp run by the UN Mission in South Sudan near the town of Malakal, in the Upper Nile state of South Sudan, in September 2018. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

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.

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    A court sketch of Bruce McArthur's appearance in Toronto on Tuesday. (Pam Davies/CBC)

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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.

    Try pork on your fork

    43 years ago
    Duration 9:33
    Manitoba government bets its future on the booming hog industry.

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    Jonathon Gatehouse

    CBC Investigative Journalist

    Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.