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Obama set to defy China over sea rows
by Staff Writers
Phnom Penh (AFP) Nov 20, 2012


China frees jailed opponent of Bo Xilai
Beijing (AFP) Nov 20, 2012 - A Chinese official sentenced without trial to hard labour for opposing the Maoist revival policies of disgraced politician Bo Xilai has been freed and is seeking compensation, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Ren Jianyu, 25, was released from a re-education through labour camp in Chongqing, the southwestern city Bo used to head, after serving 15 months for attacking his "sing red" campaign, lawyer Pu Zhiqiang told AFP.

Bo is at the centre of the biggest political scandal in China in years, which saw his wife given a suspended death sentence in August for murdering British businessman Neil Heywood.

Bo was kicked out of the ruling Communist Party late last month and is in custody awaiting trial for corruption and abuse of power.

Before the scandal erupted, he had been tipped for promotion to the top ranks of the party at its once-a-decade leadership transition that saw President Hu Jintao hand the top party post to Vice President Xi Jinping last week.

"Ren Jianyu was released from the labour camp on Monday," Pu told AFP by telephone. "The authorities did not give a reason why they released him, but we believe he has been unjustly jailed."

Ren was a local Chongqing official when he was arrested for reposting numerous microblog comments that criticised Bo's "sing red" movement and equated it to the disastrous Maoist "Cultural Revolution" that brought chaos to China from 1966-1976.

Police in Chongqing had initially tried to convict Ren of subversion, citing other microblog reposts calling for the end to one party rule and using a T-shirt of his scrawled with "Give me liberty, or give me death" as evidence.

But Chongqing prosecutors threw out the case and Pu was instead sentenced without trial by police to two years of labour in August 2011.

In China, police can sentence petty criminals to labour camps without trial, a practice widely criticised by rights groups, as well as the United Nations.

Last month, Ren's father sued the Chongqing government, demanding his son be released and reinstated to his job, and given a public apology, Pu said.

But late Tuesday a Chongqing intermediate court ruled Ren's father's case had no merit, saying the filing should have come three months after Ren was placed in the labour camp in August 2011.

"They threw out the case, we lost," Pu said, "but we will appeal."

Pu would also seek compensation for Ren's 15 months in the labour camp by directly petitioning the re-education-through-labour administration and also demand that Ren be given back his job with the Chongqing government, he said.

Ren's trial and fate have been widely followed on China's Twitter-like microblog Sina Weibo. Since Bo's downfall, state media have also reported Ren's attempts to seek compensation and restore his reputation.

US President Barack Obama was on Tuesday set to defy Beijing's protests and use a summit to raise concerns over South China Sea rows that have sent diplomatic and trade shockwaves across the region.

Obama planned to pressure China on the highly sensitive issue of a code of conduct that would govern behaviour in the contested waters, according to a senior aide to the president, Ben Rhodes.

"We... want to see continued momentum on the diplomatic process. ASEAN needs to talk to China about a code of conduct," Rhodes said, referring to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Obama was set to hold talks on Tuesday afternoon with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and the leaders of ASEAN nations and other countries in the region, on the final day of the annual East Asia Summit.

He had earlier in the day held one-on-one talks with Wen.

Obama is on the final leg of a three-nation trip to Asia aimed at deepening Washington's influence in the region and countering the rise of China.

Repeating a long-held Chinese position, Wen insisted on Monday that the maritime disputes should not be "internationalised" and discussed at multilateral events such as the summit.

China, which claims sovereignty over virtually all the South China Sea, prefers to negotiate directly with its neighbours from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, also have claims to parts of the sea, which is home to some of the world's most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in fossil fuels.

The rival claims have for decades made the sea a powder keg issue in the region. Chinese and Vietnamese forces engaged in clashes in 1974 and 1988 in which dozens of troops died.

After a long period of relative calm, tensions have risen over the past two years with the Philippines and Vietnam expressing concerns that China is becoming increasingly aggressive in staking its claim.

Some bruising diplomatic confrontations this year have overshadowed regional meetings where the participants typically prefer to focus on improving economic ties.

At the East Asia Summit, the first day was dominated by infighting over the issue among the ASEAN bloc.

Cambodia, this year's ASEAN chair and a close Chinese ally, said the 10 nations had agreed not to "internationalise" the disputes, which would have given China an important diplomatic victory.

But the Philippines quickly denied that it had agreed, with President Benigno Aquino rebuking Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen during one of the meetings on Monday.

"How can there be a consensus? A consensus means 100 percent. How can there be a consensus when two of us are saying we're not with it," Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters afterwards.

He said later the other country that did not agree was Vietnam.

The feud echoed unprecedented infighting at an ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Phnom Penh in July, which ended for the first time in the bloc's 45-year history without a joint communique.

The Philippines and Vietnam had wanted the statement to make specific reference to their disputes with China, but Cambodia blocked the moves.

Despite the tensions, leaders are expected to make progress on important economic issues on Tuesday.

ASEAN nations are set to officially launch negotiations to create an enormous free trade pact with China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Trade ministers from China, Japan and South Korea are set to hold talks aimed at kick-starting three-way free trade negotiations.

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Obama meets Wen after political transitions
Phnom Penh (AFP) Nov 20, 2012
President Barack Obama met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao Tuesday, in the highest-level exchange between the two sides since the US election and an engineered power transfer in China. Wen and Obama met at the East Asia Summit in Cambodia, as tensions rise over maritime territorial disputes in the region which are nagging the always friction-prone relations between Washington and Beijing. Bot ... read more


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