Headlines II: Spooks, pols, zones, drones, more


Today’s tales of from the dark side covers everything from political deception to the latest heated developments in the Asian Game of Zones as Washington pushes Japan into remilitarization and anxieties and violence rise.

But we begin at home with that political decepetion, covered by the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Bill to curb NSA spying looks like change, but isn’t really

The bipartisan bill that aims to put serious curbs on the National Security Agency’s mass collection of Americans’ communications is being hailed by Republicans and Democrats as a big breakthrough.

It’s not.

“The bottom line: This is largely faux reform and a surveillance salve,” said Thomas Drake, a former NSA senior official turned whistle-blower who’s critical of the agency’s collection programs. “To date, neither the House nor Senate attempts go far enough.”

Another angle, covered by the Guardian:

Everyone should know just how much the government lied to defend the NSA

  • A web of deception has finally been untangled: the Justice Department got the US supreme court to dismiss a case that could have curtailed the NSA’s dragnet. Why?

If you blinked this week, you might have missed the news: two Senators accused the Justice Department of lying about NSA warrantless surveillance to the US supreme court last year, and those falsehoods all but ensured that mass spying on Americans would continue. But hardly anyone seems to care – least of all those who lied and who should have already come forward with the truth.

Here’s what happened: just before Edward Snowden became a household name, the ACLU argued before the supreme court that the Fisa Amendments Act – one of the two main laws used by the NSA to conduct mass surveillance – was unconstitutional.

In a sharply divided opinion, the supreme court ruled, 5-4, that the case should be dismissed because the plaintiffs didn’t have “standing” – in other words, that the ACLU couldn’t prove with near-certainty that their clients, which included journalists and human rights advocates, were targets of surveillance, so they couldn’t challenge the law. As the New York Times noted this week, the court relied on two claims by the Justice Department to support their ruling: 1) that the NSA would only get the content of Americans’ communications without a warrant when they are targeting a foreigner abroad for surveillance, and 2) that the Justice Department would notify criminal defendants who have been spied on under the Fisa Amendments Act, so there exists some way to challenge the law in court.

From Süddeutsche Zeitung, a show of resistance from Berlin:

Germany Plans To Ban Tech Companies That Play Ball With NSA

It didn’t take an Edward Snowden to figure out that American espionage service providers had access to confidential information about German citizens. It’s been known for years that the Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) works for American secret services.

It’s also known that a former CSC subsidiary was involved in the abduction of German citizen Khaled el-Masri, who was turned over to the CIA and subjected to abuse and degradation before the agency finally admitted his arrest and torture were a mistake.

Nevertheless, German CSC subsidiaries have in past years received more than 100 contracts from state and federal governments in Germany, as Süddeutsche Zeitung and public broadcaster NDR reported last fall. The operative rule at the time was that only companies that were found guilty of crimes could be excluded from public contracts. So far, no CSC employee has been prosecuted for the abduction of el-Masri. Per se, working for the U.S. intel agencies is not punishable. So Germany’s federal government tied its own hands over the issue.

Turning the panopticon into art, via the Guardian:

Conversnitch turns covert surveillance into an art form

Somewhere in Manhattan, a lightbulb, a Raspberry Pi and a Wi-Fi card are listening in on idle chat and tweeting what they hear

In the pre-Snowden era, believing that a household object was speaking to you was enough to have you committed to correctional facilities for state-sponsored reprogramming.

In his new book, Nowhere to Hide, the journalist Glenn Greenwald explains how he and the NSA contractor turned whistleblower put their phones in a freezer with the batteries disconnected to thwart spooks’ ability to operate phones remotely as microphones. But what would happen if the fridge itself was listening to your words?

Two American artists are now taking that concept to a logical conclusion. Using only a credit card-sized Raspberry Pi computer, a microphone and a Wi-Fi card hacked into a lightbulb fitting, and a piece of open source software hosted at Github, they have installed a listening device at an undisclosed spot in Manhattan, New York, and connected it to a Twitter feed.

RT covers the hackable:

Tor-provided web anonymity not PRISM-proof – Microsoft security guru

The Tor anonymity network cannot provide internet users shelter from government hackers and cyber criminals, a top Microsoft security expert has revealed.

“There is no such thing as really being anonymous on the internet. If [hackers and government agencies] want you, they will get you,” Andy Malone, of Microsoft Enterprise Security and founder of the Cyber Crime Security Forum, said at the Microsoft TechEd North America 2014.

While The Onion Router (Tor) remains more resilient than alternatives such as virtual private networks, cyber criminals are able to exploit weaknesses in the system.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, to tell the truth:

Spy satellite agency says it fixed its ‘broken’ polygraph program

The nation’s spy satellite agency has announced it overhauled its lie detector program after its inspector general found “significant shortcomings” that could put national security at risk.

The National Reconnaissance Office’s inspector general found the problems were so widespread that one senior official described the agency’s polygraph program as “terribly broken.”

“This official added that the current status of the NRO polygraph program is ‘bleak,’” the inspector general report said.

The Guardian covers a Russian cutoff:

Russia halts rocket exports to US, hitting space and military programmes

  • Russia announces decision to halt export of crucial rocket engines in response to US sanctions over annexation of Crimea

Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, has announced it will halt the export of rocket engines crucial to the US military defence and space programmes.

The move marks a serious deterioration in US-Russian cooperation in space, which for two decades had remained largely above Earthly politics. It could prove a serious set back for the ailing US space programme.

The Russian RD-180 engine has been in production since 1999. The US has imported more than forty of them to power its Atlas V rockets into space.

From RT, an added twist to the already controversial:

GMO producers should be punished as terrorists, Russian MPs say

A draft law submitted to the Russian parliament seeks to impose punishment up to criminal prosecution to producers of genetically-modified organisms harmful to health or the environment.

The draft legislation submitted on Wednesday amends Russia’s law regulating GMOs and some other laws and provides for disciplinary action against individuals and firms, which produce or distribute harmful biotech products and government officials who fail to properly control them.

At worst, a criminal case may be launched against a company involved in introducing unsafe GMOs into Russia. Sponsors of the bill say that the punishment for such deeds should be comparable to the punishment allotted to terrorists, if the perpetrators act knowingly and hurt many people.

IDG News Service covers corporate snoopage:

Online advertising poses significant security, privacy risks to users, US Senate report says

  • The online ad industry should offer better protections against ‘malvertising,’ a US Senate investigation found

The current state of online advertising endangers the security and privacy of users and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission should force the industry to offer better protections through comprehensive regulation, the U.S. Senate said in a report.

The report includes findings and recommendations of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs following an investigation into the distribution of malware through online ads — also known as “malvertising.” It was followed by a hearing Thursday that included testimony from Yahoo and Google about their efforts to combat such threats.

“Consumers can incur malware attacks [through online ads] without having taken any action other than visiting a mainstream website,” the subcommittee said, referencing two attacks that involved malicious ads distributed through Yahoo and Google ad networks.

Criminalization in the corporate interest from the Guardian [and can the “terrorism” label be far behind?]:

Sussex police under fire for ‘criminalising’ fracking protests

  • Force accused of misusing section 14 orders last year with just 29 convictions resulting from 126 arrests at Cuadrilla site

Most of the people arrested during a summer of demonstrations against fracking in the village of Balcombe have been acquitted, leading to accusations that police tactics in a £4m operation criminalised peaceful protest.

The last of the criminal trials resulting from 126 arrests made by Sussex police during days of action outside the Cuadrilla site last summer finished this month. Of 114 charges, relating to 90 individuals, only 29 resulted in convictions, according to freedom of information responses from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the police.

Sussex police are accused of using mass arrests, draconian bail conditions and section 14 notices under the Public Order Act 1986 to criminalise peaceful protest at the site in Balcombe, where the energy firm Cuadrilla conducted exploratory drilling.

And an appealing possibility from the Guardian:

David Miranda allowed to appeal against ruling on Heathrow detention

  • Partner of former Guardian reporter to challenge high court ruling on legality of his detention under counter-terrorism powers

David Miranda, partner of the former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, has been granted permission to appeal against a ruling that he was lawfully detained under counter-terrorism powers at Heathrow airport.

The case – which also involves a challenge to the police seizure of computer material related to the US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden – will now go to the court of appeal.

In February, three high court judges – Lord Justice Laws, Mr Justice Ouseley and Mr Justice Openshaw – concluded that Miranda’s detention at Heathrow under schedule 7 to the Terrorism 2000 Act in last summer was legal, proportionate and did not breach European human rights protections of freedom of expression.

From the Guardian, grounds for domestic insecurity:

Albuquerque police promote officer accused of burning off man’s ear

  • Timothy Gonterman promoted despite report that was severely critical of Albuquerque police’s use of excessive force

Albuquerque police promoted a commander who was accused in a lawsuit of burning off part a homeless man’s ear with a stun gun, officials announced Thursday.

Albuquerque police department chief Gorden Eden said in a statement he was promoting two Albuquerque commanders to the newly created rank of major in response to a harsh US Justice Department report that was critical of Albuquerque police’s use of excessive force and demanded the agency adopt a number of reforms.

Foothills area commander Timothy Gonterman and criminal investigations commander Anthony Montano will now oversee the East and West Side field services divisions respectively, Eden said.

intelNews.org turns a blind eye:

US Secretary of Defense ‘not aware’ of Israel spying on America

The supreme official of the United States Department of Defense has said he is “unaware of the facts” behind recent media reports that Israel is aggressively spying on America.

Chuck Hagel, a former Republican Senator who assumed the leadership of the Pentagon in 2013, is on a three-day official visit to Israel, where he is scheduled to hold meetings with Israeli military and security officials.

He was responding to a question posed by an Israeli reporter about allegations, made by American newsmagazine Newsweek on Tuesday, that Israel’s spies “have gone too far” in targeting American interests. In

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, prodding the bear:

Ukraine crisis may lead to Western military bases closer to Russia

When Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel and other NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels in early June, their summit will be dominated by questions that would have seemed surreal just a few months ago.

How should Western leaders respond to military aggression by Moscow in Ukraine?

With defense budgets flat or declining in most of NATO’s 28 member countries and U.S. forces in Europe at their lowest levels in decades, is the trans-Atlantic alliance adequately prepared to defend its vast territory?

In the most extreme scenario, are the United States and its European allies strong enough to go to war against Russia?

From CNBC, say hello to Skynet:

Military dream come true: One system, many drones

One of the strongest wishes of America’s increasingly digital defense industry is to find a way to monitor or control several pieces of equipment on a single operating system. This is especially true in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), where too often, each manufacturer creates a unique platform for its drone, and customers who buy several different kinds of drones cannot easily coordinate operation between them.

That’s changing.

Now, buyers of a version of one of the most prolific UAVs on the market will soon be able to buy an operating system that can work with other drones. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has been given permission by the Defense Department to sell unarmed versions of its famed Predator, called the Predator XP, to international customers in places like the Middle East, or friendly allies bordering the Ukraine and Russia, like Poland.

As for Skynet, consider a clip from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines:

Skynet takes over

But it’s not just drones, as another CNBC story reports:

Defense tech in 2039: The robots are coming

In 25 years, the U.S. military will operate under the principle of “less is more.”

Less manpower. More robots.

Robots on the battlefield of the future will carry a heavier load, both literally and figuratively. They will operate with more freedom and begin to think for themselves. They will be armed and take on more tasks.

“I think you’ll see many of the high-risk missions done by autonomous platforms,” said Tim Trainer, vice president of product management for defense and security at iRobot.

IRobot is perhaps best known for its Roomba vacuum, but it has a growing arsenal of defense and security robots—everything from a five-pound robot that can be easily tossed and even dropped on its head, to a 500-pound robot that can lift close to its own weight. A trainer demonstrated some of the robots at the company headquarters in Bedford, Mass., and he sees a future where one person can control multiple machines operating on a single software system without having to constantly monitor them.

With so many American drones striking at with Pakistan’s borders, Defense One joins the club:

Pakistan Wants Drones and It Doesn’t Need America’s Permission to Get Them

one breath to the next, Pakistani officials make the case for and against drone strikes. Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan’s minister of planning and development, for instance, calls American drone operations “very counterproductive.” He says, “If they hit one target, they also bring collateral damage…. The whole tribe stands up, we get into more problems, and the U.S. gets bad publicity.”

But, Iqbal offers, Pakistan “should have the technology to do it.

Already, Pakistan has remote-piloted aircraft. Islamabad uses surveillance drones to provide the military with a real-time picture of its restive border areas or counterterrorism operations. Pakistan unveiled two new drones in November: Burraq, named after the winged horse from the heavens that transported Islamic prophets, and Shahpar. They were developed by Pakistan’s defense industry, the government said, and would not be armed.

From BBC News, an underwater drone tanks:

Malaysia flight MH370: Defective drone delays search

The search for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane has been delayed after the discovery of a technical issue with the underwater drone used in the hunt.

The communications equipment on the Bluefin-21, on loan from the US, has a “defect”, Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) said.

It is now awaiting spare parts from the UK before it can continue its search in the southern Indian Ocean.

Nextgov catches a virus:

Heartbleed Superbug Found in Utility Monitoring Systems

Software that monitors utility plants and other operations at several military installations has been found to be affected by the recently discovered superbug Heartbleed, when configured a certain way, according to the Homeland Security Department and the software’s manufacturer.

“The latest release of Schneider Electric Wonderware Intelligence Version 1.5 SP1 is not susceptible to the OpenSSL vulnerability. However, users have been known to reinstall Tableau Server, the vulnerable third-party component that is affected. Therefore, Schneider Electric Wonderware has issued a patch and a security bulletin addressing this vulnerability in all versions,” states a bulletin from the DHS Cyber Emergency Response Team.

Exploits made by hackers “that target this vulnerability are known to be publicly available” on the Web, DHS said. Heartbleed is a defect in common Web encryption software that researchers discovered in early April.

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, considerations of privacy:

Sector-specific guidelines to offer clarity on personal data matters

SINGAPORE: The Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) will be releasing advisory guidelines for the education, social services and healthcare sectors to provide greater clarity on the sectors’ obligations under the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA).

The guidelines will be open for public consultation on Friday.

In his opening address at the Personal Data Protection Seminar 2014 on Friday morning, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said the guidelines will address sector-specific matters.

After the jump, the Asian Game of Zones intensifies, with Chinese fleeing Vietnam as the body count and burned business costs become clearer inthe ake of violent portest over Chinese oil drilling on an Island claimed by Hanoi, Japan raises the pressure as remilitarization becomes a done deal, and a lot more. . .

The Guardian has the body count:

At least 21 dead in Vietnam anti-China protests over oil rig

  • Riots spread from south the central part of Vietnam as crowds set fire to industrial parks, sparked by rig in disputed territory

At least 21 people were killed and nearly 100 injured in Vietnam on Thursday during violent protests against China in one of the deadliest confrontations between the two neighbours since 1979.

Crowds set fire to industrial parks and factories, hunted down Chinese workers and attacked police during the riots, which have spread from the south to the central part of the country following the start of the protests on Tuesday.

The violence has been sparked by the dispute concerning China stationing an oil rig in an area of the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam. The two nations have been fighting out a maritime battle over sovereignty and that battle has now seemingly come ashore.

From Want China Times, collateral damage:

10 Taiwanese factories in Vietnam set alight during protests

Thousands of protesters demonstrated in the southern Vietnamese provinces, home to many foreign-invested facilities, to show their opposition to a Chinese oil-drilling venture in South China Sea waters Hanoi sees as part of its exclusive economic zone.

The demonstrations turned violent when protesters attacked factories identified by signs with Chinese characters or those with Chinese nationals as managers.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the violence and issued a travel warning to Vietnam, while the council said measures will be taken to help the affected Taiwanese businesses in Vietnam get back on their feet.

More from the China Post:

100s of Taiwan firms attacked in Vietnam

The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) yesterday told a press conference that as of May 14 in Vietnam, over 100 Taiwanese-owned companies had been attacked and damaged, over 10 factories set ablaze and several hundred Taiwanese-owned firms have suspended work owing to safety concerns, noting that the MOEA will assist Taiwanese nationals in seeking compensation from Vietnam.

During the press conference at the Executive Yuan, MOEA Vice Minister Cho Shih-chao said that, as far as he knows, in Vietnam’s Binh Doung Province, over 500 Taiwanese businesspeople have left their companies and are currently staying in local hotels.

There are also Taiwanese nationals temporarily staying in the Taipei School in Ho Chi Minh City as well as in local hotels in Dong Nai Province and Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, Cho said.

And the long-term possibility from Want China Times:

Vietnam violence could see Taiwanese investment quit

Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs said it is closely monitoring the situation in Vietnam, as anti-China protests turned violent threatened to drive Taiwanese investors to leave the southeast Asian country.

Large-scale street protests broke out in response to a Chinese oil-drilling venture in an area that Hanoi regards as its exclusive economic zone. The government will monitor the decisions made by Taiwanese companies operating there, the director general of the ministry’s Department of Investment Services, Lien Yu-ping, told the press Wednesday.

Over several years, the ministry has been pushing for Taiwanese businesses overseas to bring their investments home. These efforts could possibly show results after mounting anti-Chinese sentiment led to attacks on foreign companies in southern Vietnam.

From the Associated Press, text appeal:

Vietnam PM texts nation amid anti-China riots

Vietnam’s prime minister has sent a text message to millions of Vietnamese urging them to boost their patriotism to “defend the fatherland’s sacred sovereignty” but not to engage in violence.

The message that was sent late Thursday and into Friday to subscribers of the country’s cell phone operators didn’t directly condemn the riots that have broken out this week following China’s decision to deploy an oil rig in disputed waters off Vietnam on May 1.

It said that only that “bad elements should not be allowed to instigate extremist actions that harm the interests and image of the country.”

From the Guardian, the exodus begins:

Chinese nationals in Vietnam flee to Cambodia as anti-China riots turn fatal

  • Vietnamese anger over China’s expansionism in disputed seas spills over in attacks on foreign-owned factories

Cambodia said hundreds of Chinese nationals had poured across the border from Vietnam to escape the riots.

“Yesterday more than 600 Chinese people from Vietnam crossed at Bavet international checkpoint into Cambodia,” Kirt Chantharith, a police spokesman, told Reuters on Thursday. Bavet is on a highway stretching from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s commercial centre, to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

On Thursday the death toll was unclear, although some news agencies reported at least 20 people had been killed.

A video report from Deutsche Welle:

Chinese are fleeing Vietnam

Program note:

Tensions between Vietnam and China have been growing over the past days. Now the situation is threatening to escalate. What began as peaceful protests against China has now turned violent.

From Al Jazeera America, the inevitable sitdown:

China to discuss crisis with Vietnam

Vietnamese commerce minister to meet Chinese counterpart as anti-China protests spreads to Philippines.

China and Vietnam ministers are to discuss deadly anti-Chinese riots that have taken a toll of Beijing’s business interests in the Southeast Asian nation, a Chinese official said.

The discussions between commerce ministers in China’s Qingdao city come on Friday as Filipinos and Vietnamese residents stage a joint protest in Philippine capital of Manila against Beijing’s movements in South China Sea territories claimed by their countries.

Shen Danyang, a spokesman for the Chinese commerce ministry, demanded that Vietnam took steps to ensure the safety of Chinese people, businesses and property.

The temperature rises, via Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Vietnam groups call for more anti-China protests

Vietnamese civil society groups have called for renewed demonstrations against China in several cities Sunday after Beijing’s deployment of an oil rig in contested South China Sea waters triggered the worst anti-China unrest in decades.

But Vietnamese authorities — who have occasionally allowed demonstrations to vent anger at the country’s giant neighbour — warned they would “resolutely” prevent any further outbursts.

Want China Times responds:

PLA said to be on high alert for mass rally in Vietnam

The People’s Liberation Army has reportedly entered the second-highest state of combat readiness in the southwestern province of Yunnan, which borders Vietnam, as a nationwide demonstration against China’s deployment of an oil rig in the South China Sea is set to be held in Vietnam on May 18, reports our Chinese-language sister paper Want Daily.

The demonstration has been organized by a former army officer who became a journalist after retiring from the military, said the head of Taiwan’s armed forces General Lee Hsiang-chou. Lee said Vietnam is planning to face off against China’s government to defend its territorial claims in the South China Sea regardless of the cost or the consequences. The disputed maritime region is likely to become increasingly unstable and complicated as Vietnam or the Philippines may seek support from the United States and Japan to make up their apparent disadvantage in military power, as both have clashed recently with China over their competing claims in the region.

Tens of thousands of Vietnamese are expected to take part in the May 18 demonstration and the Taiwanese government has reached an agreement with Vietnam’s public security authorities to ensure the safety of Taiwanese citizens, said Lee.

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, also inevitable:

China vows to keep operating oil rig opposed by Vietnam

A top Chinese general vowed on Thursday his country would protect an oil rig in waters contested by Hanoi and ensure that it continued to operate despite angry protests in Vietnam.

“What we’re going to do is ensure the safety of the oil rig and ensure the operation will keep going on,” General Fang Fenghui, chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, told a news conference after talks at the Pentagon.

Vietnam had sent in ships to try to disrupt the drilling, he said through an interpreter, “and that is something that we are not able to accept.”

Internal discontent from Want China Times:

Internet users angered by China’s blackout on Vietnam protests

The Chinese media has remained mostly silent on the looting of Chinese businesses in anti-China riots in Vietnam this week, prompted by China’s deployment of an oil rig to disputed waters in the South China Sea also claimed by the Southeast Asian country, which has angered Chinese internet users.

Internet users criticized the media for not discussing the issue and called for China to take a tough stance on the protests, even suggesting that the use of force not be ruled out.

The US-based China Digital Times stated that China has imposed restrictions on Chinese media reports on the riots, and that its party-controlled media had collectively lost their voice. Related reports also disappeared swiftly from the mainstream media.

Drilling in the south, followed by buying in the north from China Daily:

China-Russia gas deal set to be signed

  • Officials expect to finalize agreement during Putin’s official visit next week

China and Russia have agreed on most of a deal for natural gas delivery and cooperation on other projects. It will be signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Beijing next week, a senior Chinese official said on Thursday.

Companies from both sides are finalizing the gas contracts in Moscow, and the aim is to sign them during Putin’s visit, Deputy Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping told a press briefing.

Putin will attend a summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia from May 20 to 21 in Shanghai. It’s his first trip to China since his opposite number, President Xi Jinping, took office.

JapanToday asserts:

China says U.S. must be objective about Asia tensions

China’s top military leader blamed the Obama administration’s new focus on Asia on Thursday for various disputes in the East and South China seas, saying “some neighboring countries” are using it as a chance to provoke problems.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, People’s Liberation Army’s Chief of the General Staff Gen. Fang Fenghui also warned Thursday that the U.S. must be objective about tensions between China and Vietnam or risk harming relations between Washington and Beijing. He defended China’s deployment of an oil rig in the South China Sea and said Beijing has no intention of abandoning the drilling despite the violent protests it has spawned in Vietnam.

Fang was at the Pentagon to meet with U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen Martin Dempsey. The session comes on the heels of a mob riot targeting Chinese at a Taiwanese steel mill in Vietnam and anti-China protests over Beijing’s deployment of a deep sea oil rig about 150 miles (240 kilometers) off Vietnam’s coast.

Kyodo News covers another sitdown with another country in the opposite seat:

Japan, China ministers hold 1st talks since ties frayed over islet

The Japanese and Chinese trade ministers on Saturday held talks for the first time in two years and agreed to strengthen economic cooperation, despite lingering political tensions between the two countries stemming from territorial and historical issues.

There had been no talks in China between ministers of the two countries since relations deteriorated severely after Japan’s purchase in September 2012 of most of the Senkaku Islands from a private owner.

The meeting took place between Japanese trade minister Toshimitsu Motegi and his Chinese counterpart Gao Hucheng on the sidelines of a two-day meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Qingdao.

Jiji Press notes obstacles:

Japan, S. Korea Far Apart over Forced Laborers, Comfort Women

Japan and South Korea ended their talks in Tokyo on Thursday apparently without any progress in narrowing their differences over the issue of former Korean forced laborers and so-called “comfort women.”

During the second round of bureau chief-level talks, Japan picked up the issue of compensation demanded by Koreans who were forced to work for Japanese companies during World War II, while South Korea focused on the issue of women who were forced into prostitution for Japanese soldiers during the wartime.

Both sides seem to have maintained their positions in the meeting. Their next meeting will be held in June in Seoul.

Taking up arms in Japan via the Asahi Shimbun:

Abe pushes collective self-defense, vows to defend pacifist ideals in Constitution

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made clear May 15 his government will lift Japan’s self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense, saying the change will help to prevent Japan from going to war.

After receiving a report from his private Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security, Abe said his Cabinet will approve the necessary legal measures to allow Japan to exercise that right after the ruling coalition agrees to change the government’s traditional interpretation of the pacifist Constitution.

“From here on, the ruling parties will deliberate the issue with specific scenarios in mind and prepare legal measures that will allow consistent efforts to defend the lives and livelihoods of the Japanese people,” Abe said at a news conference.

Kyodo News gets down to the nitty-gritty:

Abe’s security policy push puts New Komeito party in a bind

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to lift Japan’s self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense has put the New Komeito party, the junior partner in Japan’s ruling coalition, in a bind.

New Komeito faces the dilemma of either continuing to withhold approval for lifting the ban, at least until satisfied with limits placed on such action, or falling in line with Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and risk having New Komeito’s pacifist stance undermined, according to party lawmakers.

New Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi, who says the most pressing task for the ruling bloc is reviving Japan’s economy, has repeatedly expressed reservations about lifting the ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under attack.

The Mainichi hints at compromise:

LDP No. 2 suggests Japan may join multinational force in future

Shigeru Ishiba, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, suggested Saturday Japan could engage in U.N.-led collective security operations in the future if there is public support, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier ruled out doing so.

“If public awareness changes in several years, the fact that Japan alone does not participate in U.N. forces or multilateral forces may change,” Ishiba said on a Yomiuri Telecasting Corp. program.

Abe told a press conference Thursday the Self-Defense Forces should not engage in such operations because it would not be “logically consistent” with the government’s interpretation of the Constitution.

The necessary prelude complete, via NHK WORLD:

Panel submits report on collective self-defense

A panel of Japanese experts has submitted a report that calls for changing the interpretation of the Constitution to enable Japan to use the right of collective self-defense.

The panel was set up by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The panel chief, former vice foreign minister Shunji Yanai, handed the report to Abe on Thursday.

The traditional interpretation held by previous governments is that the Constitution does not enable Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense.

The Mainichi slices off some more salami:

Individual self-defense can protect U.S. warships carrying Japanese abroad: New Komeito

New Komeito, a ruling coalition partner of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), decided May 16 to argue that under the current Constitution, Japan can guard U.S. warships carrying stranded Japanese abroad during contingencies.

New Komeito believes Japan can provide such protection under the principle of individual self-defense without reinterpreting the pacifist Constitution. The party’s stance is a reaction to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s news conference on May 15 in which he called for support in lifting Japan’s self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense.

Abe highlighted cases in which the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) cannot save Japanese people overseas under the current interpretation of the Constitution. He specifically said the SDF cannot guard U.S. warships carrying stranded Japanese nationals abroad during emergencies.

And the Asahi Shimbun rationalizes:

Concerns about China behind Abe’s push for collective self-defense

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe never mentioned China by name when he explained why he plans to reinterpret the Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense.

However, Japan’s rising neighbor was clearly the potential threat in many of the scenarios the prime minister said are being considered for exercising that right.

“We will create the domestic legal structure to make possible a seamless response,” Abe said at a news conference May 15, explaining why the change in interpretation was needed. “In the world today, it is no longer possible for a single nation to defend its peace.”

The shadow of China was also evident when Abe explained the need to deal with so-called gray-zone situations for which there are currently no clear legal provisions regarding the deployment of the Self-Defense Forces.

Washington leads the cheer, via  Kyodo News:

U.S. welcomes Abe’s decision on collective self-defense

The United States on Thursday welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s announcement that his government will consider lifting the self-imposed ban on the use of collective self-defense.

“We welcome and support Japan’s debate over whether its constitution permits the exercise of its right to collective self-defense,” Marie Harf, a spokeswoman of the State Department, told reporters.

Harf said the U.S. government appreciates Japan’s bid to change the defense policy in a manner that was “as transparent as possible” by sending its government officials to other countries for explanation.

The Mainichi covers public response:

Japan divided over lifting of ban on collective self-defense

Public opinion in Japan is divided over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for reinterpreting the pacifist Constitution to enable the country to exercise the right to engage in collective self-defense.

One side insists that the reinterpretation could eventually drag Japan into a war, while the other side supports Abe’s attempt to make Japan a “proactive contributor to peace” amid a changing security landscape.

Many people gathered Thursday in front of the prime minister’s office to protest as Abe told a press conference that the Self-Defense Force must be given an expanded role to protect Japanese and the nation, citing security threats posed by North Korea and terrorists.

Numbers from Jiji Press:

50 Pct of Japanese Oppose Use of Collective Self-Defense

A slim majority of the Japanese oppose allowing the country to use its right to collective self-defense, as sought by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a Jiji Press survey showed Friday.

Opponents of Japan’s use of the collective self-defense right accounted for 50.1 pct, compared with 37.0 pct who support it.

The right means Japan can use force if countries with close ties to it come under military attack. Abe aims to lift the country’s self-imposed ban on collective self-defense through changes in the government’s interpretation of the war-renouncing constitution, rather than amendment to the constitution itself, a move that would require two-thirds support from both chambers of parliament and majority support in a national referendum.

Voices from the last time Japan fielded armies and fleets of warships, via The Asahi Shimbun:

World War II veterans warn against collective self-defense

The last time Japan allowed itself to become involved in war, Hajime Kondo was in China stabbing helpless prisoners with his bayonet and watching a fellow Japanese soldier slice off the ears of elderly civilians.

“These people’s sons killed my comrades,” Kondo quoted the soldier as saying.

Now 94 and living in Kuwana, Mie Prefecture, Kondo recalled his experiences in World War II and his own actions to warn that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is leading Japan down a potentially dangerous path.

Taking their show on the road, with Jiji Press:

Japan to Brief Neighbors on Collective Self-Defense

Japan will explain adequately to neighboring countries including South Korea to dispel their worries about its moves to lift a ban on the exercise of the collective self-defense right, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday.

“Japan will explain its attitude via diplomatic channels,” Suga told a news conference, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his determination Thursday to accelerate discussions about revising the government’s interpretation of the constitution to allow the country to come to the defense of allies under attack.

Suga also showed expectations for the issue to be fully discussed at a forum of the ruling coalition due to meet from Tuesday, so that the government can consider legislative measures to cope with the security situation seamlessly.

But they’ve got a tough sell, reports the Japan Times:

Abe’s Article 9 blitz alarms Asia

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe flatly denies as a “misconception” the view that Japan will return to being a country that wages war if it sidesteps war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.

But as he tries to justify his drive to revamp the nation’s security policy by removing the government’s long-standing ban on collective self-defense, or defending allies under armed attack, some people have found themselves with more questions than answers.

And NHK WORLD seduces the press:

MSDF shows night air patrol to media

The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force has allowed media on a patrol aircraft night flight over the East China Sea for the first time.

The move comes as China’s navy is ratcheting up its activities around Japan. Recently its ships have sailed between the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean by cutting through a Japanese island chain in the country’s southwest.

This has prompted the Maritime Self-Defense Force, or MSDF, to increase the frequency of its patrol flights in those waters both during the day and at night.

On Thursday, reporters were allowed to board a P3C patrol jet from the Kanoya Air Base in Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan. The plane took off at around 7 PM.

For our final item, the wild card does it again. From Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

New N Korea warships raise sanctions doubts

Satellite images have picked out two new North Korean warships — the largest it has constructed in 25 years and an important “wake-up call” on the effectiveness of sanctions, a US think-tank said on Friday.

Recent commercial satellite pictures showed two new helicopter-carrying frigates separately berthed at shipyards in Nampo in the west and Najin in the far northeast.

Launched sometime in 2011-12, the two vessels were primarily designed to counter what Pyongyang sees as a growing threat from South Korea’s acquisition of submarines that began in the early 1990s, the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said.

But they may also be destined for a role in patrolling regional fishing zones — with security implications for South Korea, Japan and China, the institute said in an analysis on its website 38 North.

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