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Vietnam seeks to curb Beijing’s South China Sea actions: report | News

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Tough negotiations lie ahead over a new pact between China and Southeast Asian nations aimed at easing tensions in the South China Sea, as Vietnam pushes for provisions likely to prove unpalatable to Beijing, documents reviewed by Reuters news agency suggest.

Hanoi wants the pact to outlaw many of the actions China has carried out across the hotly disputed waterway in recent years, including artificial island building, blockades and offensive weaponry such as missile deployments, according to a negotiating draft of the ASEAN Code of Conduct (COC) seen by Reuters.

The draft also shows Hanoi is pushing for a ban on any new Air Defence Identification Zone – something Beijing unilaterally announced over the East China Sea in 2013. Chinese officials have not ruled out a similar move, in which all aircraft are supposed to identify themselves to Chinese authorities, over the South China Sea.

Hanoi is also demanding states clarify their maritime claims in the vital trade route according to international law – an apparent attempt to shatter the controversial “nine-dash line” by which China claims and patrols much of the South China Sea, the draft shows.

“Going forward, there will be some very testy exchanges between the Vietnamese and China in particular over the text of this agreement,” said Singapore-based Ian Storey, a veteran South China Sea expert, who has seen the draft.

“Vietnam is including those points or activities that they want forbidden by the Code of Conduct precisely because China has been carrying these out for the last 10 years.”

Le Thi Thu Hang, a spokesperson at the Vietnamese foreign ministry, said negotiations on the Code of Conduct had made some progress recently, with Vietnam actively participating and other countries showing “their constructive and cooperative spirit”.

“Vietnam wishes related countries to continue their efforts and make a positive contribution to the negotiation process in order to achieve a substantive and effective COC in accordance with international law, especially the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, contributing to the maintenance of peace, stability and security in the East Sea (South China Sea) in particular and in the region in general,” she said.

The foreign ministry of Singapore, the chair of the 10-nation  Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc for 2018, did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

“We cannot comment right now but Thailand certainly supports discussion on the single negotiating draft,” said Busadee Santipitaks, a spokesperson for Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which takes over as ASEAN chair in the new year.






COUNTING THE COST: The scramble for the South China Sea (24:59)

China seeks ban on outsider drills

The draft also confirms earlier reports that China wants military drills with outside powers in the South China Sea to be blocked unless all signatories agree.

In addition, Beijing wants to exclude foreign oil firms by limiting joint development deals to China and South East Asia. Experts expect both elements to be strongly resisted by some ASEAN countries.

“That is unacceptable,” one Southeast Asian diplomat told Reuters, referring specifically to the suggested ban on military drills with countries outside the region.

In a statement sent to Reuters, China’s foreign ministry said negotiations on the code were confidential, and it could not comment on their content.

The next round of working level talks is expected to take place in Myanmar in the first quarter of next year, the Southeast Asian diplomat said.

In August, Chinese and ASEAN officials hailed the initial negotiating text as a milestone and a breakthrough when it was endorsed by the foreign ministers of ASEAN and China.

It will be negotiated over the coming year by senior ASEAN and Chinese officials and has not yet been released publicly.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang last month called for the pact to be sealed by 2021, a timetable some envoys and analysts are sceptical can be reached.

“There’s a lot of tough work ahead – that figure seems to have just been plucked from the air,” one senior Asian diplomat said.






ASEAN summit: Korean tensions, S China Sea militarisation

Dead letter?

The code builds on an earlier declaration on the South China Sea signed between ASEAN and China in 2002.

That document did not prevent the vital international trade route emerging as a regional flashpoint amid China’s military rise and its extensive programme of island building on disputed reefs since 2014.

The United States and other regional powers including Japan and India are not part of the negotiations, but take a strong interest in the waterway that links Northeast Asia with the Middle East and Europe.

Several countries, including Japan, India, Britain and Australia, have joined the US in gradually increasing naval deployments through the South China Sea. They are often shadowed by Chinese naval ships.

Carl Thayer, an expert on Vietnam’s military and diplomacy at Australia’s Defence Force Academy, said Hanoi was expected to prove a tough negotiator but would need support among other ASEAN members to hold a firm line against China.

The Philippines successfully challenged Beijing’s South China Sea claims in an international arbitration case in 2016, but has reversed policy under President Rodrigo Duterte, who has avoided confronting China as he seeks to secure billions of dollars of loans and investments for his infrastructure programme.

The 19-page draft remains vague in key areas including its precise geographic scope, whether it will be legally binding and how disputes will be resolved.

Bonnie Glaser, a regional security expert at the Centre for International and Strategic Studies in Washington, said she believed China’s more controversial proposals would prove unacceptable to several key ASEAN members, as well the US and its allies.

“People I have spoken to in the US government say that it is clearest evidence yet that China wants to push the US out of the region,” she said.

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Ottawa transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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