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China caught red handed in the South China Sea

Chinese officials were caught Friday with their pants down when the Defense Ministry was forced to admit in a brief statement that a naval frigate has run aground on the south eastern edge of the Spratly Islands-- waters the Philippine government claims exclusive sovereignty over. Though Chinese officials described the vessels as a part of a "routine patrol," the incident comes barely two weeks after the Philippine navy openly accused China of ignoring a June agreement to withdraw all ships from the Scarborough Shoal.

The "thoroughly stuck" grounded ships are an awkward reminder of growing aggression in the South China Seas. The Chinese Defense Department's terse statement Friday was released just as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) failed to reach agreement in Phnom Penh and were forced to conclude without a customary joint statement for the first time in the organization's 45 year history.

ASEAN officials are pointing fingers at China, who they accuse of blindly denying the organization the right to mediate maritime disputes and refusing to participate in negotiations at large. In open defiance of the five-day conference, 20 Chinese shipping vessels returned to disputed waters Wednesday as state papers reminded readers that "China is considering setting up a legislative body in the newly established city." Accordingly, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's seemingly innocuous proposal that "the nations of the region should work collaboratively and diplomatically to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation, without threat, and without use of force" was decried by the state-run China Daily as "inappropriate and ill-intentioned."

Despite the harsh words, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi concluded the conference by reminding reporters of his desire to establish "win-win" U.S.-Sino cooperation. Considering their actions this week, it might be at another state's loss.

ANTONY DICKSON/AFP/GettyImages

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France issues arrest warrant for Equatorial Guinea heir

The party may be coming to an end for Teodorin Nguema Obiang, Equatorial Guinea's heir apparent and the world's richest minister of agriculture and forestry. The U.S. Justice Department filed a complaint against Teodorin, son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, in June, seeks tens of millions of dollars in assets in the Untied States the feds say were purchased with dirty money laundered in the United States. Now, French prosecutors have issued an arrest warrant for Teodorin, after he refused to be interviewed by magistrates on graft charges: 

Since 2010 French judges have been probing allegations of corruption under President Obiang, Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso, and Omar Bongo, the late president of Gabon.

Investigating magistrates Roger Le Loire and Rene Grouman issued the warrant on Thursday, four months after beginning proceedings and after Obiang refused a second summons for questioning.

The charges were brought by Transparency International (TI), an anti-corruption campaign group which alleges the leaders and their relatives spent state funds from their countries on lavish purchases in France.

TI alleges Obiang owned more than four million euros worth of vehicles in France, while altogether the three leaders had accumulated French assets worth 160 million euros ($210 million). [...]  In September last year, 11 of the family's luxury cars were seized in Paris as part of the probe. Police in February searched an Obiang residence in an upmarket Paris district, removing vanloads of possessions.

 

Obiang is claiming immunity sovereign immunity as vice president of Equatorial Guinea. He also enjoys diplomatic immunity as the recently appointed deputy head of mission to Paris-headquartered UNESCO. As sovereign immunity is generally recognized except in cases of war crimes or crimes against humanity, it seems pretty unlikely that prosecutors could make charges stick. Short of going all Danny Glover,  the best foreign governments can probably do is take away Teodorin's toys and revoke his priveleges.

If, as expected, internationally-indicted Teodorin takes over from his father as president of the budding petrostate and U.S. ally, things should really get interesting. 

ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/GettyImages