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US, China Discuss South China Sea on Final Day of Bali Summit November 19, 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama met in Bali Saturday with China’s Premier Wen Jiabao as leaders attending the East Asia Summit brought their meetings to a close.

U.S. officials say the two discussed regional tensions over the South China Sea.

The Obama-Wen meeting, announced by the White House on short notice Saturday morning, occurred before leaders at the summit held a formal plenary session and a working lunch.

Neither commented before or after. But U.S. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon said they spoke briefly about the South China Sea issue following up on a conversation from the previous day, and that there would be more discussion among leaders later.

In remarks to ASEAN leaders on Friday, Premier Wen said solutions should not involve “outside forces. . . under any pretext.” The comments were widely seen as directed at the U.S.-Australia agreement to base 2,500 U.S. Marines in Australia.

Speaking to reporters Saturday, National Security Adviser Donilon reiterated that the U.S. takes no sides in the South China Sea issue, but believes disputes need to be resolved peacefully.

Donilon said, “The U.S. has an interest in the freedom of navigation, the free flow of commerce, the peaceful resolution of disputes. We don’t have a claim, we don’t take sides in the claims, but we do as a global maritime power have an interest in seeing these principles applied broadly.”

Donilon said he would not comment on the specifics of any nation’s claim, but did note that the South China Sea issue was raised by ASEAN countries in discussions Friday.

More broadly, he was asked whether what one reporter called the “sharp tone” Mr. Obama has sounded during his Asia-Pacific trip could lead elements in China’s military to believe the U.S. is attempting to isolate or contain China.

Donilon said President Obama has made a point of repeatedly welcoming China’s peaceful rise and economic success, and anything he has said during his trip has “nothing to do with isolating or containing anybody.”

Donilon said, “The U.S. goal in the region is to have a stable, peaceful, and economically prosperous region and that is in the interests of everyone in the region, including the Chinese.”

Donilon said the United States has been “very direct” with China about its plans in the Asia-Pacific region, adding Washington has worked to deepen the “military to military conversation” to achieve more transparency regarding military plans and intentions.

China’s regional economic role and its strategic intentions in the South China Sea have been a major focus at this summit as well as during Mr. Obama’s nine-day Asia-Pacific trip that emphasized the importance of regional trade.

Mr. Obama said this in his speech to Australian troops and U.S. Marines in Darwin this past week after the announcement of a new military access agreement.

The president said, “There is another reason we are deepening our alliance here. This region has some of the busiest sea lanes in the world, which are critical to all our economies.”

National Security Adviser Donilon called the overall U.S. relationship with China complicated. But he said Beijing recognizes that the U.S. is a principle Pacific power intent on meeting its obligations and commitments to partners and allies.

At the same time, he said the U.S. is engaged in an “important conversation” with China about economic issues not limited to currency policies, including what he called areas that “impair the fair access” by the United States and other countries to China’s economy.

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Obama’s Australia Visit Focuses on Regional Security November 16, 2011

President Barack Obama is continuing his Asia-Pacific trip by heading to Australia for a one day state visit with one of America’s five security treaty allies in the region. Although brief, Mr. Obama’s visit is expected to reaffirm strong historical, political and security ties between the United States and Australia.

Mr. Obama arrives in Australia after twice postponing his visit last year due to political and other domestic issues he faced at home.

He and Prime Minister Julia Gillard have forged what White Houses officials call an extremely warm relationship, and they have two “firsts” in common. She is the first woman to head an Australian government. Mr. Obama is the first African American president of the United States.

REUTERS

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard in the Oval Office of the White House, March 7, 2011

When Ms. Gillard visited the White House in March, she tossed an Australian football with Mr. Obama in the Oval Office, and visited a local school. While in Canberra, Mr. Obama is expected to visit schoolchildren after he addresses Australia’s Parliament.

In a news briefing in Hawaii before Mr. Obama left for Canberra, White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the visit is intended to stress America’s strong economic and security relationship with Australia.

“There are important economic implications in terms of the relationship that we have and the commerce that is facilitated between our two countries,”saiad Earnest. “But he will also talk about the important strategic relationship in terms of the security cooperation that we have between the United States and Australia.”

The visit will also mark the 60th anniversary of the ANZUS security treaty, signed in 1951, which also includes New Zealand. Mr. Obama will lay wreathes at two Australian war memorials.

On Thursday, in the northern city of Darwin, scene of a major Japanese bombing raid during World War Two, the president will visit a Royal Australian Air Force base and address Australian troops and U.S. Marines.

In remarks to reporters in Hawaii, U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Robert Willard called Australia a strong ally that is found alongside U.S. forces wherever they operate in the world.

“We have a very, very tight, close relationship with our Australian friends; we train in Australia on a fairly routine basis,” said Admiral Willard. “There is a large scale combined armed exercise that we conduct annually. And the Australians are a very generous military insofar as access to their bases and to their training facilities.”

In the background are regional security issues, including increased assertiveness by China, including in the South China Sea far north of Australia, where East Asian nations have rival claims.

U.S. officials declined to discuss details of an expected U.S.-Australia agreement ahead of President Obama’s visit. But Australian media reports say it will involve increased U.S. access to ports and training facilities, and prepositioning of equipment.

Asked whether the agreement would serve as a “counterweight” in the region to China, Admiral Willard said it would contribute to relieving some of the pressure of maintaining an effective and sustained forward-deployed U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

China has also grown to be Australia’s leading trading partner – the United States is third after Japan. China has sharply increased iron ore and uranium imports from Australia.

Australia is part of President Obama’s overall focus on doubling exports and competing more aggressively in the Asia-Pacific region to help create jobs in the United States.

Australia is one of nine countries in a new Trans-Pacific Partnership the United States is promoting as a model for trade, which China has criticized as protectionist and contrary to the spirit of the World Trade Organization.

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BP’s bid to clean up its act dealt blow by revelations in Russia case November 6, 2011

BP‘s attempt to rebuild its public image after the worst oil spill in US history has been dealt a blow by court documents showing it was willing to do a major deal with Russian billionaires whom it regarded as “crooks and thugs” to gain access to the country’s vast oil wealth.

The damaging allegations have come to light at a critical time for BP, which faces a criminal investigation by the US justice department while preparing to fight a massive legal case in New Orleans over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

North American rival Norex Petroleum is seeking $1bn damages in its case at the New York supreme court as it argues that BP and its Russian business partner, TNK, have benefited from oil assets that were seized in the late 1990s. Russia is important to BP – its joint-venture, TNK-BP, produces a quarter of its oil. At the heart of the dispute is the alleged misappropriation of the Yugraneft oilfield in Siberia, which Norex claims has generated $1bn in oil revenues in the past decade.

In 2003, BP announced a $6.75bn (£4.2bn) deal to acquire a 50% holding in Tyumen Oil – TNK – which was backed by Alfa Access Renova (AAR), a consortium controlled by four of the country’s richest businessmen, Mikhail Fridman, German Khan, Leonard Blavatnik and Viktor Vekselberg.

A BP internal briefing, obtained by Norex and published through the New York court procedure, says: “Sources close to TNK believe [that the] local oil industry [has] been infested with criminal elements long before Alfa took over TNK.”

BP itself suffered losses when the Yugraneft field was taken over by TNK and another confidential memo, dated 9 September 1999, and also revealed in the court papers, described the tension: “[Former TNK chief executive, Simon] Kukes noted … TNK was purportedly characterised by BP Amoco as ‘crooks and thugs’.”

Russia’s image as a place for foreign companies to do business has been tainted by various high-profile court actions. The current Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, has repeatedly expressed his concern at levels of corruption inside his country, while a new book by Guardian reporter Luke Harding, called Mafia State, has laid bare the wider political problems of the country.

At present, Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich is battling his former friend Boris Berezovsky, the Kremlin critic and political exile, at the high court in London. Berezovsky is suing Abramovich for more than $5bn in the world’s biggest private litigation case. The two men both benefited from an infamous privatisation programme under President Boris Yeltsin, where state oil and other groups were all but given away to a small group of oligarchs.

Berezovsky claims Abramovich betrayed him after he fell out with the Kremlin in 2000 and fled to Britain. He says the Chelsea owner took advantage of his political difficulties with Vladimir Putin, forcing him to sell his interests in Russian oil company Sibneft at a knockdown price. Berezovsky also says that Abramovich cheated him in another deal with the Russian aluminium firm Rusal.

When BP formally teamed up with TNK, it asked for a clause to be written into the contract that would remove it from any liability in the event of a successful action by Norex. The Canadian company believes this is a “smoking gun”, as it says it shows BP realised that the Yugraneft field could resurface as an issue. Norex’s chairman, Alex Rotzang, said BP made a “deal with the devil” by striking the TNK deal in 2003.

An official spokesman for AAR declined to comment on the affair, while BP argued that there was “no merit” in the Norex suit and said it had moved to have it dismissed.

“The allegations made by Norex all involve conduct that predates the formation of TNK-BP and had nothing to do with BP,” said a spokesman from the oil company’s London head office. He went on to rubbish the idea of a “smoking gun” and said that the special clause was “to protect itself against exactly the kind of meritless claims Norex is bringing”..

Privately BP executives dismissed the Norex documents as old material and pointed to previous failed attempts to bring legal action in the US against TNK as proof of their lack of merit.

But BP will not welcome any further legal action or bad publicity at a time when its share price is still badly dented from the Macondo well blowout.The British company has been working hard over the last 18 months to try to repair a reputation sullied by the Deepwater Explorer accident but also erase memories of the Texas City fire and pollution problems in Alaska which have forced out two of the company’s three previous chief executives.

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US military to get ‘unfettered access’ to bases in Australia September 19, 2011


September 18, 2011

by legitgov

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US military to get ‘unfettered access’ to bases in Australia 14 Sep 2011 Military ties between the US and Australia are set to take the biggest leap forward in 30 years, with defence and security officials from the two countries meeting in San Francisco on Thursday to lay the groundwork for much closer co-operation. Washington and Canberra are set to finalise agreements that will give the US military unfettered access to bases in Australia, a big step forward that will provide the US with a foothold between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The countries are also discussing greater US access to Australian training and test ranges and pre-positioning of US equipment on Australian soil.

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