Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for February 14, 2023

Newsline: U.S. senior diplomat urges release of jailed Nicaraguan bishop

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols on Monday put fresh pressure on Nicaragua to release an anti-government bishop condemned last week to a 26-year prison sentence. “We condemn the Nicaraguan government’s sentencing of Bishop Rolando Alvarez to 26 years in prison, as well as the decision to strip him and all released political prisoners of Nicaraguan citizenship,” Nichols wrote on Twitter. (https://neuters.de/world/americas/us-makes-fresh-call-jailed-nicaraguan-bishops-release-2023-02-14/) The sentencing of Rolando Alvarez, 56, Bishop of Matagalpa and one of the most influential leaders of the country’s Catholic Church, came after more than 200 political prisoners in Nicaragua were released and flown to the United States last Thursday in what Washington described as a “constructive step” toward improving human rights. Alvarez declined to be expelled to the United States as part of the mass release, however. The Nicaragua government handed down his prison sentence shortly after. The U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua Kevin Sullivan, who helped in the mission to transport the freed prisoners, returned on Monday to his post in the Central American country. The Nicaraguan government last week denied the mass release was done to lift U.S. sanctions or as part of a negotiation.

Newsline: Philippines files diplomatic protest to China over “aggressive activities”

The Philippines on Tuesday filed a diplomatic protest calling on Beijing to ensure its vessels cease “aggressive activities” after Manila accused China’s coast guard of trying to block one of its ships in the South China Sea using a laser. The Philippine coast guard said on Monday a Chinese coast guard ship directed a “military-grade laser” at one of Manila’s vessels supporting a resupply mission to troops in the disputed waterway on Feb. 6, temporarily blinding its crew on the bridge. “These acts of aggression by China are disturbing and disappointing as it closely follows the state visit to China of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. in early January during which he and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to manage maritime differences through diplomacy and dialogue,” Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Teresita Daza said in a statement on Tuesday. The ministry said the Chinese vessel undertook dangerous manoeuvres by approaching at a close distance the Philippine vessel, risking a collision that endangered the crew, and issuing “illegal radio challenges” demanding the Philippine ship leave the area. The actions of China’s coast guard vessel were a threat to Philippine sovereignty and security and the country had a prerogative to conduct legitimate activities within its exclusive economic zone, the ministry said. There was no immediate comment from the Chinese embassy in Manila, but China’s foreign ministry said on Monday that its coast guard had conducted actions according to the law. “We urge the Philippines to avoid such actions, and the actions of China’s staff are professional and restrained,” China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, told a regular briefing. China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, including the area around the Spratly islands. The Philippines has filed 203 diplomatic notes against China since last year, foreign ministry data showed.

Newsline: Top U.S., China diplomats eye first meeting since balloon incident

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is considering meeting top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi at the Munich Security Conference starting this week, in what would be their first face-to-face talks after the United States shot down what it said was a Chinese spy balloon and other flying objects, sources said. Earlier this month, Blinken postponed a planned trip to Beijing due to what he called an unacceptable violation of U.S. sovereignty and airspace by a Chinese surveillance balloon later downed off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4. The U.S. military says it has since shot down another three unidentified objects flying over North America. The balloon’s intrusion into U.S. airspace caused outrage in Washington, with politicians criticizing the military and President Joe Biden for failing to shoot it down when it first appeared. One U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that a meeting between Blinken and Wang was possible at the Munich conference, which runs from Feb. 17-19. A second source also said it was possible but that nothing had been confirmed. (https://neuters.de/world/us/top-us-china-diplomats-weigh-first-meeting-since-balloon-drama-bloomberg-news-2023-02-13/) Officials and analysts say the March G-20 Foreign Ministers meeting in India would be another opportunity, since both Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang are expected there.