UN reports that Food has run out in rebel-held Aleppo

civil_war_in_syria

Jan Egeland of Norway, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, speaks during a press conference before the meeting at the United Nations building in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, January 11, 2005. Fifteen days after an unprecedented disaster struck the nations of South Asia, the international effort to provide relief and assistance to millions of victims is gathering steam in the field and increasing amounts of aid is making its way to those who need it. Attempting to meet the needs of the 12 stricken nations will bring representatives from more than 80 governments together in Geneva today to plan a long-term recovery effort for the region. (KEYSTONE/Laurent Gillieron)
Jan Egeland of Norway, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, speaks during a press conference before the meeting at the United Nations building in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, January 11, 2005.

The last remaining food rations are being distributed in besieged rebel-held eastern districts of the Syrian city of Aleppo, the UN has said.

Humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland warned that without a resupply there would be no food left to hand out next week to the 275,000 people living there.

Mr Egeland ruled out airdrops of food, explaining that they were not possible in densely-populated urban areas.

Humanitarian agencies have been unable to get into rebel-held Aleppo since the government siege resumed in September, and the last time significant aid supplies were delivered was in July. The area is under siege by government forces with help from Russian air power.

Government forces launched a major assault on eastern Aleppo in September.

Since then, troops have pushed into several outlying areas with the help of Iranian-backed Shia militias and Russian air strikes.

aleppo-map

 

On October 28, an alliance of opposition fighters, including Islamist militants, started a major offensive to break the government siege, which has been in place on eastern Aleppo since July. But their progress slowed after early gains.

Hundreds have died since the government launched an assault on eastern Aleppo in September
Hundreds have died since the government launched an assault on eastern Aleppo in September

The UN says weeks of air strikes and shelling have killed more than 700 civilians in the east, while rocket-fire has left scores dead in the government-controlled west.

“It is a horrendous situation,” said Egeland, the United Nations’ top envoy on humanitarian efforts in Syria.

The Norwegian diplomat said the UN appealed again last week to the conflict parties to let food, medicine and health workers into eastern Aleppo, and to allow the evacuation of some 300 patients along with their families.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ryabkov
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ryabkov

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Thursday that Russia is continuing its humanitarian pause of air attacks on eastern Aleppo, in comments carried by the Interfax news agency.

However, Egeland noted that continuing heavy fighting on the ground has made aid efforts impossible.

In addition, the warring sides have raised various conditions that have further complicated UN efforts.

“I haven’t seen a place where there has been so much politicization, manipulation of aid as we have seen in Syria,” he said at a press briefing.

 Egeland urged the United States, which backs Syrian anti-government rebels, and Russia to use their influence to unblock the humanitarian operation.

“Parties that are sponsoring the parties on the ground have to help us more,” he said, adding that he was optimistic that a solution would be found.

The Syrian army said it took the strategic 1070 Apartments district on Tuesday.
The Syrian army said it took the strategic 1070 Apartments district on Tuesday.

In the divided city of Aleppo, regime forces made more advances Thursday into areas which were taken by opposition rebels last month, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The monitoring group said regime troops and their allies managed to take over the Dahiyat al-Assad region west of the city.

Iran Is Sending Elite Fighters Into The U.S. and Europe

Quds Force 01The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the country’s elite military force, is sending assets to infiltrate the United States and Europe at the direction of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, according to recent Farsi-language comments from an Iranian military leader.

 “The whole world should know that the IRGC will be in the U.S. and Europe very soon,” Salar Abnoush, deputy coordinator of Iran’s Khatam-al-Anbia Garrison, an IRGC command front, was quoted as saying in an Iranian state-controlled publication closely tied to the IRGC. He said that these forces would operate with the goal of bolstering Iran’s hardline regime and thwarting potential plots against the Islamic Republic.

 The military leader’s comments come as Iran is spending great amounts of money to upgrade its military hardware and bolster its presence throughout the Middle East and beyond. Iran intends to spend billions to purchase U.S.-made planes that are likely to be converted for use in its air force.

 Congressional leaders and others suspect that Iran has used a large portion of the cash windfall it received as a result of last summer’s nuclear agreement to upgrade its fighting capabilities war machine.

iranian-revolutionary-guard-1 “The IRGC is the strong guardian of the Islamic Republic,” Abnoush was quoted as saying. “The Fedayeen of Velayat [fighting force] are under the order of Iran’s Supreme leader. Defending and protecting the Velayat [the Supreme Leader] has no border and limit.”

 Iranian military and government officials have continued to advocate violence against the U.S. and its allies, despite the nuclear deal and several secret side agreements that gave Iran $1.7 billion in cash.

iran_rel_2001 Iran accuses the U.S. of violating its end of the agreement by not helping the Islamic Republic gain further access to international banks and other markets.

Iran’s frustration over this has led to further accusations about a U.S. plot to foster unrest in the country.

 “Our enemies have several projects to destroy our Islamic revolution, and have waged three wars against us to execute their plans against our Islamic Republic,” Abnoush said. “The IRGC has defeated enemies in several fronts. The enemy surrendered and accepted to negotiate with us.”

 “And now all of our problems are being solved and our country is becoming stronger in all fronts. Some believe the holy defense ended,” the military leader added. “They are wrong; the holy defense continues, and today, it is more complicated than before.”

 Congressional sources and experts involved in tracking Iran’s increased aggression in the region and elsewhere told media sources that these most recent comments are troubling given Iran’s very public efforts to assassinate political enemies and others across the globe.

 “If we look at Iran’s previous terror attacks and assassination campaign around the world, such a statement is alarming,” Saeed Ghasseminejad, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said. “The Islamic Republic has killed hundreds of Iranians and non-Iranians around the world in a coordinated campaign of terror. Iran may decide to restart the project now that many western companies are going to Iran and Iran feels its action in Europe may not be punished strongly.”

 Another source who advises congressional leaders on Iran sanctions issues said that the Obama administration is blocking Congress from taking action to stop this type of infiltration by Iranian forces.

 “Iran is ideologically, politically, and militarily committed to exporting the Islamic revolution through terrorism, which is why even the Obama administration says they’re the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism,” the source said. “Congress wants to act, but Obama officials keep saying that new laws are unnecessary because the U.S. has enough tools to block Iranian terror expansion. Instead of using those tools, though, they’re sending Iran billions of dollars in cash while Iran plants terror cells in Europe and here at home.”

17 Dead, 41 Wounded In Chicago Weekend Shootings

Welcome to Chicago 01At least 17 people, including four teenagers, were killed and 41 others were wounded in shootings across Chicago between Friday evening and Monday morning.

The weekend’s latest homicide happened shortly after 4 a.m. Monday in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side. A 28-year-old man was found with gunshot wounds to the chest and head on the kitchen floor of a second-floor apartment in the 1100 block of West Garfield, according to Chicago Police. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The Cook County medical examiner’s office did not immediately provide information on fatality. Area South detectives are conducting a homicide investigation.

About 3:15 a.m. Sunday, twin 17-year-old brothers were killed in a drive-by shooting in the Old Town neighborhood on the Near North Side. Edwin and Edward Bryant were standing outside in the 1300 block of North Hudson when a dark-colored vehicle drove by and someone inside opened fire, authorities said. Edwin was shot in the chest and back, while Edward suffered gunshot wounds to the chest and head. They were both taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where Edwin was pronounced dead at 3:45 a.m., and Edward died about an hour later. They both lived in the 700 block of South Kedzie.

About 15 minutes earlier, 19-year-old Raqkown Ricks was killed and a 40-year-old man was wounded in a Near West Side shooting. The men were in a car at 2:59 a.m. in the 2100 block of West Jackson when someone walked up and fired shots in their direction, authorities said. The driver tried to speed away, but their vehicle struck a parked vehicle before coming to a rest. Ricks, of the 1200 block of South Sawyer, suffered several gunshot wounds to the back and was taken to Stroger Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 3:38 a.m. The older man was shot in the shoulder and also taken to Stroger, where his condition was stabilized.

At 2:34 a.m., a 24-year-old woman showed up in the 10700 block of South Hoxie in the South Deering neighborhood on the Far South Side and told witnesses she was shot, police said. The woman had suffered a gunshot wound to the body and someone took her to Trinity Hospital, where she was pronounced dead, police said. The medical examiner’s office has not yet released her name.

About 1 a.m., officers responded to a call of shots fired in the 7900 block of South Vernon in the South Side Chatham neighborhood and found a man lying on the sidewalk, police said. The man, thought to be between 35 and 45 years old, was shot in the head and chest and pronounced dead at the scene at 1:19 a.m. He has not been identified.

Fifteen minutes earlier in the Humboldt Park neighborhood on the West Side, officers responding to a call of shots fired found a 31-year-old man lying on the sidewalk in the 3400 block of West Hirsch, according to police. He suffered a gunshot wound to the face and was taken to Norwegian American Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. His name has not been released.

At 8:05 p.m. Saturday, 19-year-old Luis Corona was shot to death in the Archer Heights neighborhood on the Southwest Side. He was in a parked vehicle in the 4800 block of South Karlov when two males announced a robbery, according to police and the medical examiner’s office. Corona tried to escape but was shot in the chest and crashed his vehicle into two parked vehicles at the end of an alley. Corona, who lived in the 6100 block of South Moody, was pronounced dead at the scene at 8:25 p.m.

Less than an hour earlier, a 28-year-old man was sitting in a parked vehicle in an alley in the 8300 block of South Hermitage in the South Side Gresham neighborhood when someone walked up and shot him in the head, police said. He was pronounced dead at the scene at 7:45 p.m., according to the medical examiner’s office. His name has not yet been released.

About 20 minutes earlier, a 36-year-old man was shot in the Englewood neighborhood and died later Sunday morning. Walter McCurry was standing in the street at 7:23 p.m. Saturday in the 1100 block of West 57th Street, when someone in a dark-colored car fired shots, hitting him in the chest, arm and hip, authorities said. McCurry, who lived in the 6300 block of South Morgan, was taken to Stroger Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 3:47 a.m. Sunday.

At 4:50 p.m., a 17-year-old boy was fatally shot in the West Garfield Park neighborhood, authorities said. He was discovered outside in the 200 block of South Kostner with gunshot wounds to his back and leg. The boy was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 5:14 p.m. His name has not been released.

At 1:23 a.m., a 14-year-old boy was gunned down in the West Side Austin neighborhood. DeMarco Webster Jr. was on the street in the 500 block of South Central when someone in a dark-colored car shot him in the torso, authorities said. Webster, who lived in the 700 block of South Kedzie, was taken to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, where he died at 3:15 a.m.

At 12:04 a.m. in the South Side Auburn Gresham neighborhood, someone walked up to 25-year-old Martell Turner as he sat in a vehicle in the 1200 block of West 79th Street and shot him in the chest and abdomen, authorities said. Turner was taken to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where he was pronounced dead at 1:31 a.m. He lived in the 7900 block of South Throop.

Five minutes before that in the South Shore neighborhood, officers responding to a call of a person shot found 30-year-old Tyrice Anderson lying in the street in the 7800 block of South South Shore Drive, authorities said. Anderson was shot in the head and taken to Christ Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 1:03 a.m. He lived on the same block as the shooting.

About 10:20 p.m. Friday, two people were gunned down at a Back of the Yards neighborhood gas station on the South side. Chiquita Ford and Brian Fields, both 30 years old, were sitting in a vehicle at the station in the 1900 block of West Garfield when a gunman walked up and fired at them, hitting the woman in the side and the man in the chest, authorities said. They were both pronounced dead at the scene at 11:02 p.m. Ford lived in suburban Westchester and Fields was from the 7200 block of South Wolcott.

The weekend’s first homicide happened about 9 p.m. Friday in the West Side Austin neighborhood. Hernando Caster, 38, was on a sidewalk in the 4900 block of West Huron when two gunmen walked up and shot him in the back and thighs, authorities said. Caster, of the 5300 block of West Washington, was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he died at 10:58 p.m.

The latest nonfatal shooting happened shortly after 2 a.m. Monday in the South Chicago neighborhood. A 37-year-old woman was a passenger in a vehicle driving south in the 8000 block of South Exchange when she heard gunfire and realized she’d been shot in the left shoulder, police said. She later showed up at South Shore Hospital, where her condition was stabilized.

At least 39 more people were wounded in other shootings across the city between 4:45 p.m. Friday and 9:15 p.m. Sunday.

Philippine leader Duterte says he wants foreign troops out

President Rodrigo Duterte
President Rodrigo Duterte

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, speaking in a country that is a staunch U.S. ally and hosts 50,000 American troops, said Wednesday that he wants his country to be free of foreign troops, possibly within two years.

“I want to be friends to China,” he told an audience of businesspeople in Tokyo. “I do not need the arms. I do not want missiles established in my country. I do not need to have the airports to host the bombers.”

He was referring to visiting U.S. troops, whose presence in five Philippine military camps was established under a security deal signed under Duterte’s predecessor as a counterbalance to China’s growing military assertiveness in the region.

Since taking office at the end of June, Duterte has reached out to Beijing while criticizing U.S. foreign policy. His approach has caused consternation in both the U.S. and Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to ask Duterte about his foreign policy when they meet later Wednesday.

In his speech, the Philippine leader departed at the end of his prepared remarks on economic development and investment to address the topic that he said he knows is “what is in everybody’s mind.”

He said he is pursuing an independent foreign policy, and that he wants foreign troops to leave, maybe in the next two years. “I want them out,” he said.

“I may have ruffled the feelings of some but that is how it is,” he said. “We will survive, without the assistance of America, maybe a lesser quality of life, but as I said, we will survive.”

Duterte is on a three-day visit to Japan. After meeting Abe, he is attending a banquet hosted by the Japanese leader. On Thursday, he is set to meet Emperor Akihito.

CIA Prepping for Possible Cyber Strike Against Russia

Russian interference in U.S. Presidential election
Russian interference in U.S. Presidential election

The Obama administration is contemplating an unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.

Current and former officials with direct knowledge of the situation say the CIA has been asked to deliver options to the White House for a wide-ranging “clandestine” cyber operation designed to harass and “embarrass” the Kremlin leadership.

CIA Headquarters
CIA Headquarters

The sources did not elaborate on the exact measures the CIA was considering, but said the agency had already begun opening cyber doors, selecting targets and making other preparations for an operation. Former intelligence officers told NBC News that the agency had gathered reams of documents that could expose unsavory tactics by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Vice President Joe Biden
Vice President Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden told “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd on Friday that “we’re sending a message” to Putin and that “it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact.”

When asked if the American public will know a message was sent, the vice president replied, “Hope not.”

Retired Admiral James Stavridis
Retired Admiral James Stavridis
Retired Admiral James Stavridis told NBC News’ Cynthia McFadden that the U.S. should attack Russia’s ability to censor its internal internet traffic and expose the financial dealings of Putin and his associates.

“It’s well known that there’s great deal of offshore money moved outside of Russia from oligarchs,” he said. “It would be very embarrassing if that was revealed, and that would be a proportional response to what we’ve seen” in Russia’s alleged hacks and leaks targeting U.S. public opinion.

Sean Kanuck
Sean Kanuck

Sean Kanuck, who was until this spring the senior U.S. intelligence official responsible for analyzing Russian cyber capabilities, said not mounting a response would carry a cost.

“If you publicly accuse someone,” he said, “and don’t follow it up with a responsive action, that may weaken the credible threat of your response capability.”

President Obama will ultimately have to decide whether he will authorize a CIA operation. Officials told NBC News that for now there are divisions at the top of the administration about whether to proceed.

Two former CIA officers who worked on Russia told NBC News that there is a long history of the White House asking the CIA to come up with options for covert action against Russia, including cyber options — only to abandon the idea.

“We’ve always hesitated to use a lot of stuff we’ve had, but that’s a political decision,” one former officer said. “If someone has decided, `We’ve had enough of the Russians,’ there is a lot we can do. Step one is to remind them that two can play at this game and we have a lot of stuff. Step two, if you are looking to mess with their networks, we can do that, but then the issue becomes, they can do worse things to us in other places.”

A second former officer, who helped run intelligence operations against Russia, said he was asked several times in recent years to work on covert action plans, but “none of the options were particularly good, nor did we think that any of them would be particularly effective,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin

Putin is almost beyond embarrassing, he said, and anything the U.S. can do against, for example, Russian bank accounts, the Russian can do in response.

“Do you want to have Barack Obama bouncing checks?” he asked.

Former CIA deputy director Michael Morell expressed skepticism that the U.S. would go so far as to attack Russian networks.

“Physical attacks on networks is not something the U.S. wants to do because we don’t want to set a precedent for other countries to do it as well, including against us,” he said. “My own view is that our response shouldn’t be covert — it should overt, for everybody to see.”

The Obama administration is debating just that question, officials say — whether to respond to Russia via cyber means, or with traditional measures such as sanctions.

The CIA’s cyber operation is being prepared by a team within the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence, documents indicate. According to officials, the team has a staff of hundreds and a budget in the hundreds of millions, they say.

The covert action plan is designed to protect the U.S. election system and insure that Russian hackers can’t interfere with the November vote, officials say. Another goal is to send a message to Russia that it has crossed a line, officials say.

While the National Security Agency is the center for American digital spying, the CIA is the lead agency for covert action and has its own cyber capabilities. It sometimes brings in the NSA and the Pentagon to help, officials say.

Retired Gen. Mike Hayden
Retired Gen. Mike Hayden

, who ran the CIA after leading the NSA, wrote this year: “We even had our own cyber force, the Information Operations Center (IOC), that former CIA director George Tenet launched and which had grown steadily under the next spy chief, Porter Goss, and me. The CIA didn’t try to replicate or try to compete with NSA… the IOC was a lot like Marine Corps aviation while NSA was an awful lot like America’s Air Force.”

“I would quote a Russian proverb,” said Adm. Stavridis, “which is, ‘Probe with bayonets. When you hit mush, proceed. When you hit steel withdraw.’ I think unless we stand up to this kind of cyber attack from Russia, we’ll only see more and more of it in the future.”

As U.S. Watches Mexico, Traffickers Slip In From Canada

US - Canada border marker
US – Canada border marker

While the Southern border with Mexico, about 2,000 miles, attracts much more attention, the 5,500-mile Northern border with Canada offers more opportunity for illegal crossing. In many places, there are few signs of where one nation ends and another begins. Some homes, farms and businesses even sit astride the two countries; in other areas, a small white obelisk is the only marker of a border. In the past year, agents made 3,000 apprehensions along the Northern border, compared with 100 times that many along the Southwestern border with Mexico. They also seized 700 pounds of marijuana and cocaine in the North compared with 1.6 million pounds along the heavily gated Southern border.

us-states-bordering-canadaBut the authorities acknowledge that they cannot say with certainty how much criminal activity occurs as a result of Northern border crossings because their means of detection are so limited.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp
Senator Heidi Heitkamp

“The problem is that we don’t know what the threats and risk are because so much attention is given to the Southwest border,” said Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Democrat of North Dakota.

This area is a haven for smugglers and cross-border criminal organizations. Each year, Border Patrol agents catch hundreds of drug smugglers and human traffickers who use the sparsely populated and heavily wooded areas along the Vermont-Canada border to bypass the agents, cameras, sensors and other electronic devices that the Department of Homeland Security has installed to make up for the lack of personnel.

The expanse and remoteness of much of the Northern border, which includes Alaska, make the task of law enforcement daunting, said Norman M. Lague, who leads the border patrol station in Champlain, N.Y., one of the eight stations in the Swanton region that oversee border security operations in Vermont, upstate New York and New Hampshire. “We do the best that we can with the resources we have,” he said.

The border with Canada, the largest between two countries in the world, has hardly warranted a mention in a presidential campaign dominated by Donald J. Trump’s call to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. But officials and law enforcement officers say that makes the region more vulnerable in many ways to exploitation by criminal enterprises and possible terrorists.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Department of Homeland Security has increased the number of Border Patrol agents stationed along the Northern border to more than 2,000, from about 340, in addition to adding ground sensors, drones and other detection devices. Nearly 18,000 agents patrol the Southwestern border with Mexico.

Ms. Heitkamp has sponsored legislation, along with several other senators from border states, including Gary Peters, Democrat of Michigan, and Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, that would require the Department of Homeland Security to assess the national security risks posed by the terrorist and criminal organizations operating on the Canadian border.
Senator Gary Peters
Senator Gary Peters
Senator Kelly Ayotte
Senator Kelly Ayotte

During a hearing last year before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, several law enforcement officials raised concerns about terrorists’ making their way to the United States through the sparsely populated areas along the border. In 2007, people from the Government Accountability Office managed to cross from Canada into the United States carrying a duffel bag with contents that looked like radioactive material, and they never encountered a law enforcement officer.

“No one is arguing that the Northern border is the same as what’s happening down on the Southwestern border, but we can’t forget about this area,” said Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana. “If we take our eye off of that, they will go where the weakest link is.”

Drug smuggling is a continuing issue because the lack of security and natural barriers makes the point of entry from Canada much easier for the smugglers than the Southern border.

While marijuana is the main drug, officials say they are starting to see an increase in drugs like fentanyl, which contributes to the national opioid and prescription drug abuse crisis.

In January, Border Patrol agents arrested Cedrik Bourgault-Morin, 22, a Canadian from Quebec, after he was detected by night vision cameras and ground sensors along a railroad track near the border in the village of North Troy, Vt., pulling a sleigh with a 182-pound duffel bag. Agents said Mr. Bourgault-Morin, who was wearing white camouflage, was trying to hide the bag in the snow when he was caught.

Agents found 300 vacuum-sealed bags of Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication, in the duffel bag. According to court records, the pills had a street value of $1.6 million. Mr. Bourgault-Morin was sentenced to one year in prison in August.

In addition to drugs, the smuggling of people is another challenge for law enforcement.

Bradley S. Curtis, the acting division chief for the Border Patrol Swanton Division, said agents had caught hundreds of people from dozens of countries trying to enter the United States through the dense forests and open fields.

“We’ve seen people from all over the world: Chinese, Haitians, Eastern Europeans, Brazilians, you name it,” Mr. Curtis said.

Law enforcement also faces another singular challenge in the North: Native American reservations where they have no legal authority to enter, making them attractive to drug smugglers.

Another issue is that officials here admit they do not actually know how many people and how much drugs get through. Officials acknowledge that many more people than they apprehend could be crossing the border illegally.

For example, cameras along the border recently showed four men dressed in camouflage outfits who appeared to have weapons crossing the border. Agents never caught them. Another camera image showed a group of about half a dozen people walking through the woods at night across the border. Agents said they had no information on the group.

“These guys make me nervous,” Mr. Curtis said. “My technology can show me when someone makes an entry, but it can’t tell me who they are, and we can’t always get there in time to catch them.”

Duterte aligns Philippines with China, says ‘goodbye’ to US

President Rodrigo Duterte
President Rodrigo Duterte

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced his “separation” from the United States on Thursday, declaring that it had “lost” and he had realigned with China as the two agreed to resolve their South China Sea dispute through talks.

Duterte made his comments in China, where he is visiting with at least 200 business people to pave the way for what he calls a new commercial alliance as relations with longtime ally the United States deteriorate.

His trade secretary, Ramon Lopez, said $13.5 billion in deals would be signed.

Duterte’s efforts to engage China, months after a tribunal ruling in the Hague over South China Sea disputes in favor of the Philippines, marks a reversal in foreign policy since the 71-year-old former mayor took office on June 30.

“America has lost now,” Duterte told Chinese and Philippine business people at a forum in the Great Hall of the People, attended by Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin

“I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to (President Vladimir) Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world – China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way,” he added.

“With that, in this venue, your honors, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States,” Duterte said to applause. “I have separated from them. So I will be dependent on you for all time. But do not worry. We will also help as you help us.”

China has pulled out all the stops to welcome Duterte, including a marching band complete with baton-twirling band master at his official welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People, which most leaders do not get.

Red carpet welcome

President Xi Jinping
President Xi Jinping

President Xi Jinping, meeting Duterte earlier in the day, called the visit a “milestone” in ties.

Xi told Duterte that China and the Philippines were brothers and they could “appropriately handle disputes”, though he did not mention the South China Sea in remarks made in front of reporters.

“I hope we can follow the wishes of the people and use this visit as an opportunity to push China-Philippines relations back on a friendly footing and fully improve things,” Xi said.

Following their meeting, during which Duterte said relations with China had entered a new “springtime”, Chinese vice foreign minister Liu Zhenmin said the South China Sea issue was not the sum total of relations.

“The two sides agreed that they will do what they agreed five years ago, that is to pursue bilateral dialogue and consultation in seeking a proper settlement of the South China Sea issue,” Liu said.

China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

scarborough-shoalesIn 2012, China seized the disputed Scarborough Shoal and denied Philippine fishermen access to its fishing grounds.

Liu said the shoal was not mentioned and he did not answer a question about whether Philippine fishermen would be allowed there. He said both countries had agreed on coastguard and fisheries cooperation, but did not give details.

Sea row takes ‘back seat’

Duterte’s tone toward Beijing is in contrast to the language he has used against the United States, after being infuriated by US criticism of his bloody war on drugs.

He has called US President Barack Obama a “son of a whore” and told him to “go to hell” while alluding to severing ties with the old colonial power.

On Wednesday, to the cheers of hundreds of Filipinos in Beijing, Duterte said Philippine foreign policy was veering towards China.

“I will not go to America anymore. We will just be insulted there,” Duterte said. “So time to say goodbye my friend.”

The same day, about 1,000 anti-US protesters gathered outside the US embassy in Manila calling for the removal of US troops from the southern island of Mindanao.

Duterte on Wednesday said the South China Sea arbitration case would “take the back seat” during talks, and that he would wait for the Chinese to bring up the issue rather than doing so himself.

hin

Xi said issues that could not be immediately be resolved should be set aside, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.

china-philippines-flags

China has welcomed the Philippines approaches, even as Duterte has vowed not to surrender any sovereignty to Beijing, which views the South China Sea Hague ruling as null and void.

China has also expressed support for his drug war, which has raised concern in Western capitals about extrajudicial killing.

Duterte’s overtures to China have been accompanied by signs of improving business ties with the world’s second largest economy.

China’s Liu said Beijing will restore Philippine agricultural exports to China and provide financing for Philippine infrastructure.