Pacific US ‘not going anywhere’: Hagel

The United States has declared it is “not going anywhere” when it comes to its diplomatic and military presence in the Asia-Pacific region and wants China to play by the rules.

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US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel held talks with his Australian counterpart David Johnston in Sydney on Monday ahead of the Ausmin discussions involving US Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Tuesday.

The meeting came after the ASEAN regional forum in Myanmar in which China rejected a motion calling for a moratorium on actions in disputed waters and arbitration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Mr Hagel said China’s actions “speak for themselves” and the US was adamant that all of the countries involved in the South China Sea dispute needed to resolve their differences through international law.

“What we have supported is careful conduct, responsible conduct, by all nations regarding these disputes,” he told reporters in Sydney.

The US has about 200 ships and more than 360,000 military personnel in the Asia-Pacific region, which is home to five of America’s treaty obligation countries.

The US has marines rotating through Australia, and personnel and ships rotating through Singapore and the Philippines.

“We are not going anywhere,” Mr Hagel said.

“Our partnerships are here, our treaty obligations are here and are important to us.

“By any measurement of commitment it’s pretty clear the US is committed to this part of the world.”

The Ausmin partners will sign a new legal framework for the marine rotation.

There will also be discussions on a new ballistic missile defence system and developments in the region.

Wad of $100s, but no foreplay: ICAC

When embattled NSW Liberal MP Tim Owen was given a wad of hundred dollar bills in a car, there wasn’t any “foreplay” with Newcastle mayor and property developer Jeff McCloy.

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But there was a lot of seedy interaction between Central Coast MPs and developers, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has been told.

Mr Owen couldn’t remember whether it was his campaign manager Hugh Thomson or former NSW police minister and fellow Central Coast MP Mike Gallacher who arranged the December 2010 deal, which is being examined by ICAC.

Mr McCloy told Mr Owen the money was to help his campaign with printing and staffing costs as the Liberal Party wasn’t going to cover all election costs.

“I really can’t remember who (arranged the deal). Whether it was Mike Gallacher or whether it was Hugh Thomson,” Mr Owen said.

“You went down there in your own car and met Mr McCloy in his car … what happened next?” counsel assisting the commission Geoffrey Watson asked.

“He just handed over a thin envelope effectively,” Mr Owen replied.

“What, no foreplay?” Mr Watson inquired.

The ICAC heard that Mr Gallacher partially controlled the donations.

A day after Mr McCloy slipped Mr Owen the one-centimetre thick envelope, just months before 2011 NSW election, the cash was returned, he told the ICAC.

“I took it (the envelope) at the time and I must admit I thought `mmmmmm’ what do I do with this,” the former the deputy commander of the Australian forces in Afghanistan and Iraq said.

“I took it home and I thought about it and thought about it and thought about it and essentially … I went back to his house and basically dropped it in his letterbox.”

The Newcastle MP said he didn’t speak further to Mr McCloy about the money and returned it with a note saying “no thanks.”

“It just wasn’t a particularly nice look,” Mr Owen said.

Mr Watson bluntly suggested Mr McCloy was trying to buy influence.

“Yeah, I mean, you could say that but he’s a pretty generous guy,” he said.

“I agree. It does look bad. But, there’s really not anything that I as a candidate or a backbencher in the government have any influence over.”

The commission earlier heard Nathan Tinkler’s company Buildev was paying the wage of another of Mr Owen’s staffers, media adviser Josh Hodges.

Former government whip Andrew Cornwell has also admitted receiving $10,000 in a brown paper bag from Mr McCloy while sitting in the mayor’s Bentley ahead of the 2011 election.

NSW Greens MP Jamie Parker will on Tuesday move a motion in parliament to expel Dr Cornwell, saying resigning from the state Liberal Party wasn’t enough and that he should immediately quit politics.

Mr Owen and Mr Cornwell stood down from the Liberal Party last Wednesday shortly after the ICAC’s two-hour opening address into the alleged funnelling of illegal donations, focusing on the Newcastle region.

Federal Liberal MP Bob Baldwin, who supported Mr Tinkler’s plans for a Newcastle coal loader, may be called to give evidence after the inquiry heard that Buildev made donations to his campaign.

It’s not illegal for developers to donate to federal candidates.

Mr Owen will continue his evidence on Tuesday.

Keary set to face former beloved Broncos

South Sydney playmaker Luke Keary grew up cheering on Brisbane heroes Allan Langer and Darren Lockyer but will have no problem putting his former love for the Broncos to one side on Thursday night.

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Keary will come up against the club he barracked for as a child for the first time when the competition favourites meet the Broncos at ANZ Stadium.

Keary was born and raised in Queensland before moving to Sydney with his family at the age of 10.

He grew up aspiring to wear the Broncos’ maroon, gold and white jumper like fellow Ipswich product Langer and only shifted allegiances to the Rabbitohs when he signed with the Redfern club in 2012.

“I grew up supporting (Brisbane) but moved here when I was fairly young,” he said.

“I haven’t had a chance to play them so it’ll be a big game on Thursday night.

“They’re coming off a really good performance so we’re looking forward to it.”

Keary was never on the Broncos’ radar since he left their system in his junior days.

The 22-year-old’s season has been hampered by a pectoral injury suffered in the Auckland Nines which kept him out until late July.

He has been strong over the last two weeks since being handed the starting five-eighth duties following a knee injury to captain John Sutton.

Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire will have a dilemma on his hands when Sutton returns within the next two to three weeks over whether to continue to start Keary or shift Sutton to the back-row.

“Hopefully we get Sutto back in the next couple of weeks, so I’m just filling that void there while he’s gone,” Keary said.

“We’ll see what happens when he comes back … Sutto’s done the job for a lot of years now and he’s a special player and he’s our leader. We look forward to getting him back.”

After being described as predictable by Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett a week ago, the Souths attack looked crisp under Keary’s guidance in their win over Manly on Friday night.

Hooker Issac Luke said Keary had handled himself well since being given a spot in the starting 13.

“Obviously I had a lot of time with Renno (halfback Adam Reynolds),” he said.

“And Lukey is a player on the rise … We all get on well and when Sutto comes back hopefully we can still keep winning.”

Life stirs in Gaza as new truce takes hold

A 72-hour ceasefire has taken hold in Gaza, as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators headed to Cairo in search of a long-term solution to end over a month of deadly fighting.

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The truce, which began just after midnight (0701 AEST Monday,) was the fruit of days of Egyptian-brokered mediation to stem more than four weeks of violence which has killed 1939 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side since July 8.

Ten hours into the truce, the skies over Gaza remained calm, with no reports of violations on any side and signs of life emerging on the streets of the war-torn coastal enclave which is home to 1.8 million Palestinians.

As the sun rose on Gaza City, shops and businesses began opening their doors and a handful of people could be seen doing their early shopping.

Outside a UN-run school, a clutch of cars and donkey carts waited to take some of the refugees back to homes they had fled during the fighting.

“We want to go back to see what happened to our house,” said Hikmat Atta, 58, who had piled his family into a small cart and was heading back to his home in the northern town of Beit Lahiya which they had left in the first days of the war.

But with the truce still in its early stages, he was not taking any chances.

“We’re just going back for the day, at night we’ll come back here,” he said.

Egypt urged the warring sides to use the three-day lull to reach “a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire,” after efforts to extend a similar truce last week collapsed into a firestorm of violence.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it would give the two sides “another chance to agree on a durable ceasefire” while stressing the importance of addressing “the underlying grievances on both sides.”

Hamas, the de facto power in Gaza, has conditioned its agreement for any permanent agreement on Israeli lifting its eight-year blockade on Gaza.

“We insist on this goal,” Hamas’s exiled leader Khaled Meshaal said in Doha on Sunday.

“In the case of Israeli procrastination or continued aggression, Hamas is ready with other Palestinian factions to resist on the ground and politically.”

Veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat arrived in Cairo late on Sunday for talks with Egyptian and Arab League officials on behalf of president Mahmoud Abbas.

Meanwhile, an Israeli team arrived in Cairo on Monday.

The team was to resume Egyptian-mediated talks it had abandoned on Friday after Hamas refused to extend an earlier truce and resumed its fire on southern Israel.

Israel had pledged to send its negotiating team back when the truce took hold.

Palestinian delegates in Cairo said they would be happy for Abbas’s Palestinian Authority to take over the reconstruction of Gaza and execute any agreement reached in Cairo.

Israel has no direct interface with Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.

“The national unity government and the Palestinian Authority will take over the execution of all that will be agreed upon during the truce talks,” Azzam al-Ahmed, head of the Palestinian delegation, told reporters.

“We are backing the setting up of a national body to be formed by president Abbas, which will take over the reconstruction (of Gaza),” said senior Hamas official Ezzat al-Rishq.

“The president of the body should be professional, credible and one who will be accepted internationally.”

The new truce deal followed a similar arrangement last week which had brought relief to millions on both sides of the border.

Hamas had refused to extend the 72-hour lull when it expired on Friday, and Israel accused the Islamist faction of breaching the agreement in its final hours with rocket attacks.

In the gap between ceasefires, warplanes hit more than 170 targets, killing at least 19 people, while the Palestinians fired at least 136 rockets at Israel, of which 93 hit and 13 were shot down, with the rest falling short inside Gaza, the army said.

The UN says just under three quarters of those killed in Gaza were civilians. Around a third of the civilian victims were children.

Japan youth athletes on alert in China

Japanese athletes at this month’s Youth Olympics in the Chinese city of Nanjing have been warned not to wear their official tracksuits around town due to safety fears, local media have reported.

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Delegation chief Yosuke Fujiwara has told Japan’s 78 athletes to wear regular clothes outside the Games venues during the August 16-28 event to avoid any attack, with Tokyo-Beijing relations at their lowest level in years.

The teenage athletes will also be encouraged to don facemasks to protect themselves from China’s notoriously bad air pollution.

“When they are outside we want them to be aware that it might not be totally safe,” Fujiwara told Kyodo news agency.

“In the athletes’ village we want them to wear the official Japan tracksuit, but in the city normal clothes are fine.”

In an apparent attempt to avoid upsetting the Chinese before the second edition of the Youth Games, Fujiwara added: “You can get random attacks on the street in Japan too.”

Anti-Japanese resentment runs particularly high in Nanjing, where China says 300,000 people — some estimates are lower — were killed in 1937 as Japanese troops rampaged through the city during their invasion of the mainland. It became known as the Nanjing Massacre.

The massacre was the Japanese military’s worst atrocity and remains a bitter stain on the two countries’ relationship.

Fujiwara’s comments came at a time of heightened political tension between Japan and China, which are at odds over claims to islands in the East China Sea and historical grievances tied to Japan’s wartime aggression.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent decision to relax strict rules governing the country’s military has further antagonised Beijing, prompting Fujiwara to issue the warning.

But he insisted that the contestants would still be free to explore the city.

“We think it’s better for the athletes to feel the atmosphere in the city from their own perspective,” Fujiwara said.

Japanese sports teams and the country’s national anthem are frequently booed in China, most notably at the 2004 Asian Cup football final between China and Japan in Beijing which ended in a full-scale riot after Japan’s controversial win.

Japan’s delegation arrives in Nanjing on Wednesday. It features girls’ badminton junior world champion Akane Yamaguchi and Yuto Muramatsu, who won bronze in the men’s singles at the Japan Open table tennis earlier this year.

The event is open to athletes aged between 14 and 18. The first Youth Games were held in Singapore four years ago.