China protests ‘provocation’ after two US ships sail near disputed islands

Chinese ships and aircraft sent to warn US ships to leave after move made as White House seeks co-operation on North Korea

Two US warships sailed near South China Sea islands claimed by China on Sunday, two US officials told Reuters, in a move likely to anger Beijing as Donald Trump tries its continued cooperation on North Korea.

China’s defence ministry duly conveyed its opposition to what it called ” provocation “. The US action severely infringed upon Chinese sovereignty because the warships entered Chinese territorial waters without permission, the ministry said in a short statement.

Chinese ships and aircraft were sent to warn the US ships to leave, it said.

The operation was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic water. The operation was planned months in advance and such operations have become routine but it came at a particularly sensitive period, days after the Pentagon uninvited China from a major US-hosted naval drill.

The US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Higgins guided-missile destroyer and the Antietam, a guided-missile cruiser, came within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disagreements with its neighbors. The US ships carried out maneuvering operations near Tree, Lincoln, Triton and Woody islands, one of the officials said.

Trump’s cancellation of a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has put further strain on US-China ties amid a trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies. Kim and South Korea president Moon Jae-in fulfilled on Saturday in an attempt to reinstate the summit. The Washington Post reported on Sunday that US officials had traversed into North Korean territory as preparations for Trump’s meeting with Kim continued.

Critics of the naval operations, known as a” freedom of navigation”, have said that they have little impact on Chinese behaviour and are largely symbolic. The US military has a long-standing position that its operations are carried out throughout the world, including in areas claimed by friends, and that they are separate from political considerations.

Satellite photographs taken on 12 May presented China appeared to have deployed truck-mounted surface-to-air missiles or anti-ship cruise missile at Woody Island. Earlier this month, China’s air force landed bombers on disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea as part of a training exert of the states of the region, triggering fear from Vietnam and the Philippines.

The US military did not directly comment on Sunday’s operation, but said US forces-out operate in the region on a daily basis.

” We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations as we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future ,” the US Pacific fleet said in a statement.

Pentagon officials have long complained that China has not been candid enough about its rapid military build-up and using South China Sea islands to gather intelligence of the states of the region. In March, a US destroyer carried out a” freedom of navigation” operation close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands.

Chinese officials have accused Washington of viewing home countries in suspicious, “cold war” terms.

China’s claims in the South China Sea, through which about$ 5tn in shipborne trade pass each year, are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. The US has said it would like to see more international participation in freedom-of-navigation operations.

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China lands nuclear strike-capable bombers on South China Sea islands

Exercise described by air force as preparation for the battle for the disputed waters

China’s air force has landed bombers on islands and reefs in the South China Sea as part of a train exert in the disputed region, it said in a statement.

Several bombers of various types- including the long-range, nuclear strike-capable H-6K- carried out landing and take off drills at an unidentified island airfield after carrying out simulated ten-strike develop on targets at sea, the Chinese airforce said.

” A division of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force( PLAAF) recently organised multiple bombers such as the H-6K to conduct take-off and landing educate on islands and reefs in the South China Sea in order to improve our ability to’ reach all province, conduct strikes at any time and ten-strike in all directions ‘,” it said.

The statement said the pilot of the H-6K bomber conducted assault training on a designated sea target and then carried out take-offs and landings at an airport in the field, describing the workout as part of the preparations for” the west Pacific and the battle for the South China Sea “.

The notice, published on the PLAAF’s Weibo microblogging account, did not provide the exact location of the exert.

The US has dispatched warships to disputed areas of the South China Sea in a bid to challenge China’s extensive sovereignty asserts in the territory, “whos also” subject to claims by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia. The waters are vital global shipping roads and contain what are believed to be significant petroleum and natural gas deposits.

” The United States remains committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific ,” Pentagon spokesman Lt Col Christopher Logan told.

” We have watched these same reports and China’s continued militarisation of disputed features in the South China Sea only serves to raise tensions and destabilise the region .”

Wang Mingliang, a defense expert cited in the Chinese statement, said the takeoff and landing exercisings will help the us air force” strengthen its combat capability to deal with maritime security threats “.

The move comes weeks after US network CNBC reported that China had installed anti-ship and air-to-air defences on outposts in the Spratly Islands that are also claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines, quoting sources close to US intelligence.

Washington advised Beijing would face unspecified “consequences” over its militarisation of the South China Sea, and said it had raised the issue with China.

In an analysis published on its website, CSIS said the place of the runway was believed to be Woody Island, China’s largest base in the Paracel Islands, which is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

China has engaged in years of land-reclamation endeavors on reefs it controls in the region and built both civilian and military facilities in the contested area.

Chinese military facilities include air bases, radar and communications systems, naval facilities and defensive weaponry including landing strips able to accommodate military planes.

Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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Trump: ‘big price to pay’ for Syria chemical weapons attack

President tells Russia and Iran responsible for animal Assad while UK and France call for United Nations security council meeting

Donald Trump cautioned there will be a” big cost to pay” for a chemical strike in a rebel-held Damascus suburb that killed at least 42 people on Saturday, as the UK and France called for an urgent session of the United Nation security council in reaction to the the attack.

The security council will satisfy twice on Monday. Russia, a backer of Bashar al-Assad, also called for a session.

The atrocity arrived amid a bombardment by regime planes, helicopters and cannon on different districts of Douma, which the European union said pointed to” yet another chemical assault by the regime” as it called for an international reaction.

At least 300 people were affected by the gas, medics in Douma told. Many of the 42 who died had been sheltering in the cellar of a building that was struck by a projectile soon after 7.30 pm. Ill-equipped local physicians said they treated patients for suffocation, foaming at the mouth, dilated pupils and burned eyes.

Victims of the ten-strike reported a strong odour of chlorine- an industrial chemical that has been dropped by regime helicopters throughout the war. However, Jerry Smith, a former UN weapons inspector who investigated previous chemical attacks in Syria, said the high death toll, the speed of demise and convulsions shown by some patients suggested another more lethal compound- maybe organophosphate based- may have been used.

Sarin is an organophosphate chemical that has been repeatedly used in Syria- including in a mass attack on Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017 and in Ghouta in August 2013. European intelligence agencies have collected evidence that regime officials have mixed sarin and chlorine, which dilutes the gas while ensuring it remains a potent killer- especially if being implemented in confined spaces.

US government sources, quoted by Reuters, said that an initial assessment identified that chemical weapons were used in the attack. The determination was built with a certain degree of confidence, said the sources, who stopped short of assigning blame.

Britain’s foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, described the developments as “deeply disturbing” and exhorted Russia not to obstruct an independent investigation. In a bellow with Vladimir Putin that took place before the two attacks, French leader Emmanuel Macron had agreed to” put an end to the military escalation of recent months “.

Macron has flagged” very clear red lines” over the use of chemical weapons. In a statement, the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said he” denounced in the strongest terms” the Syrian regime’s siege of Douma:” The utilize of chemical arms is a war crime and a violation of the international non-proliferation regime. France, as the president of the Republic has said several times, will take all its responsibilities in terms of the fight against chemical proliferation .”

Trump demanded that access be opened to Douma, the last of three besieged districts in the Ghouta area of Damascus to remain under opposition control. Access was necessary to verify what had happened and treat remaining victims, he told, writing in a tweet:” President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay. Open area instantly for medical help and verification .”

His demand went a year to the day after he ordered a strike that insured 59 weapons crash into a Syrian air base thought to be the launching pad for the attack on Khan Sheikhoun. Trump had vowed to order another attack if chemicals were used again.

Mike Rounds of South Dakota, a member of the Senate armed services committee, signalled Republican support for a strike when he told NBC he believed Trump would now” have to send a message that he means what he said “. Ben Cardin of Maryland, a Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, told CBS there should be” an international reply “.

Rescue workers said they were attacked by airplanes as they tried to access the site in Douma. The bombing of the building where the civilians were concealing went amid a relentless assault local officials told targeted hospitals and civilian defence centres.

It appeared to be aimed at forcing the surrender of remaining rebels who have periodically shelled central Damascus in recent months. One such shelling killed at least six civilians on Friday, Syrian officials said. Opposition public officials and regional diplomats ascribed other motives to the use of gas, underpinned by a culture of impunity.

Smoke
Smoke billowed in the town of Douma on Saturday. Photograph: Stringer/ AFP/ Getty Images

” They do this when they think they’re being eluded, when they’ve just suffered a dishonour on the battlefield, or when they feel they need to assert psychological dominance ,” said a senior European official.” You can often feel the temperature rising before they do something like this. They think that the rest of the world is bluffing, and they are aware Russia and Iran will give them complete cover-up .”

The strike ordered by Trump after Khan Sheikhoun was largely symbolic, damaging runways and hangars that were quickly repaired Russia and Iran claimed the latest chemical assault was a” false flag “. Iran said it had been staged as a pretext for a US intervention. Syrian state media told rebels were in a state of collapse and spreading “fake” news.

A ground attack on Douma has so far failed, frustrating Syrian officials who have blockaded the rebel bastion for six years. Negotiations between regime officials and Jeysh al-Islam, which controls Douma, are reported to have restarted.

Trump’s recent announcement that the US would pull out of Syria ” very soon” has been widely read of the states of the region as the president losing interest in maintaining an American stake in trying to shape the conflict. The US has largely restricted its role since Trump’s election to fighting Islamic State in the east, stopping the small-scale military support to vetted groups that started under Barack Obama.

Both Trump and the American government offered little commentary as the other two districts of Ghouta fell to Russian and Syrian forces in March, during often indiscriminate bombardments that claimed at least 2,000 lives, many civilians. After being starved and bombed to submission, rebel groups and opposition communities from both areas have been bussed to Idlib province in northern Syria.

On Sunday, the Arizona Republican senator John McCain told Assad, Russia and Iran had been” emboldened by American inaction “.

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Donald Trump orders Pentagon to plan grand military parade

President reportedly tries parade in model of Frances Bastille Day celebration, prompting one veterans group to call him a wannabe banana republic strongman

Climate change threatens half of US bases worldwide, Pentagon report finds

Department of Defense says wild climate could endanger 1,700 sites in findings that run counter to White House views on climate

China vows action after US warship sails near South China Sea island

Beijing claims passage of destroyer USS Hopper in disputed water transgress sovereignty but Pentagon says operations are routine

US military to maintain open-ended presence in Syria, Tillerson says

US secretary of state says forces shall be kept in country in move against Isis, Bashar al-Assad and Iranian influence

Is whistleblowing worth prison or a life in exile?: Edward Snowden talks to Daniel Ellsberg

The two most well known whistleblowers in modern history discuss Steven Spielbergs new film, The Post, about Ellsbergs leaking of the Pentagon Papers and if theyd advise anybody to follow in their footsteps.

US believed it would ‘undoubtedly win’ war with North Korea in 1994 but with huge casualties

Declassified document predicted massive losses for US and South and Pyongyang has since made dramatic steps in nuclear and missile technology

Declassified documents published under Friday show that the United States believed its military and South Korea’s forces would” undoubtedly win” a conflict on the divided Korean peninsula, during a 1994 standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

But long before North Korea had developed nuclear weapons, the Pentagon estimated that some 490,000 South Korean service members and 52,000 US personnel would be killed or wounded in the first three months of any conflict.

The assessment does not mention North Korean and civilian casualties, but analysts say loss would be enormous.

Today, with North Korea almost able to directly threatened the US mainland with nuclear ten-strikes, the possibility of conflict looms as it did in 1994.

At that time, President Bill Clinton’s administration considered a cruise missile ten-strike on a Northern korean nuclear complex after it began defuelling a reactor that could offer fissile material for bombs for the first time. Former president Jimmy Carter headed off a conflict, meeting with the founding North Korean leader, Kim Il-sung, and helping seal an aid-for-disarmament arrangement. The pact suffered for nearly a decade, despite frequent disputes and periodic flare-ups on the peninsula.

” We had taken a very strong position that we would not permit North Korea to make a nuclear bomb ,” William Perry, who was defense secretary during the course of its crisis, said this week.” We have said that many times since then, but then we really meant it .”

A declassified transcript published by the National Security Archiveat George Washington University records Perry’s discussion on the standoff with South Korea’s president in 1998. Perry was by then Clinton’s special envoy for North Korea.

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Why does the North Korean regime pursue a nuclear programme?

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Much of the regime’s domestic legitimacy rests on portraying the country as under constant threat from the US and its regional friends, South Korea and Japan.

To support the claim that it is in Washington’s crosshairs, North Korea cites the tens of thousands of US troops lined up along the southern side of the demilitarised zone- the heavily fortified border dividing the Korean peninsula. Faced with what it says are US provocations, North Korea says it has as much right as any other state to develop a nuclear deterrent.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un is also aware of the fate of other despots who lack nuclear weapons.

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Perry told the then chairwoman, Kim Dae-jung, that the US had planned for a military showdown and that” with the combined forces of the ROK and US, we can undoubtedly win the war “. ROK refers to the abbreviation of the South’s official name, the Republic of Korea.

Speaking to South Korea’s Kim, who pursued a “sunshine” policy of diplomatic outreach to North Korea, Perry said the” war involves many casualties in the process. As a former defense secretary, I am well aware of the negative aspects of war, and will do my best to avoid war .”

Since then, North Korea has made dramatic advances in its nuclear and weapon growth, particularly under its current young leader, Kim Jong-un. Last month, it tested an intercontinental ballistic missile with a likely scope of more than 8,000 miles( 13,000 km ), moving it closer to perfecting a nuclear-tipped bullet that they are able strike all corners of the US mainland.

Trump has not ruled out using force to stop the North from achieving that capability if diplomacy fails. The US has stepped up members of the military drills with friends, which Pyongyang condemns as preparations for invasion. This week, the US and South Korea held air force drills involving more than 200 aircraft, including six US F-2 2 and 18 F-3 5 stealth fighters.

North Korea’s foreign ministry alerted this week:” The remaining topic now is: when will the war break out .”

Speaking at an Arms Control Association briefing in Washington, Perry exhorted a renewed attempt at diplomacy, which he said would not get North Korea to give up its nukes in short order, but could lower the likelihood of war.

He said that a nuclear-armed North Korea would not attack America but may be emboldened in military provocations against South Korea that could spiral into a wider conflict. The US could itself blunder into a nuclear war if it undertook a conventional military ten-strike on North Korea that inspired the North to assault the South, he said.

” An all-out war with North Korea, nuclear war, even if China and Russia did not enter ,” Perry said,” could still entail casualties approximating those of World War I or even World War II .”

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White House under fire for suggesting general’s remarks should not be questioned

Press secretary calls reporters question highly inappropriate as Frederica Wilson says Kelly lied about her during press provide information on Thursday

The White House has been condemned for attempting to stillnes the media by warning that it is” highly inappropriate” to challenge the veracity of remarks by a military general.

A reporter on Friday questioned a claim by the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, a retired four-star marine general, that the Democratic congresswoman Frederica Wilson had taken credit for securing funding for an FBI building in Florida.

Chip Reid, a CBS News correspondent, said during the daily press briefing:” He was wrong yesterday in talking about getting the money. The money was procured before she came into Congress .”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, replied coldly:” If you want to go after Gen Kelly, that’s up to you. But I think that if you want to get into a debate with a four-star marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate .”

Reid’s follow-up topic was ignored and the implication- from a democratically elected civilian government- that a military general was beyond criticism was troubling to many.

Perry O’Brien, a former army medic who served in Afghanistan, said:” It’s just another example of the administration conceal behind the uniform of others. That’s why it’s so unfortunate to see someone like Gen Kelly enable that and jump on the grenade that Trump hurled .”

O’Brien, organising director of Common Defense, a group of veterans against Trump, added:” When “theyre saying”,’ How dare you criticise a general ?’, how about[ former Trump national security consultant] Gen Michael Flynn, who was the first to resign after we learned they were colluding with foreign powers? I don’t think most generals would say a star on your shoulder stimulates you immune from criticism .”

Kelly appeared at the White House podium on Thursday, to defend Trump against the charge that he caused offence during a bellow with the widow of Sgt La David Johnson, one of four US soldiers killed in Niger earlier this month by Islamic State fighters. Wilson heard the call and criticised Trump for disrespecting Johnson’s widow, Myeshia.

While defending the president, Kelly- whose son Robert was killed in Afghanistan in 2010- accused Wilson of “grandstanding” in a 2015 speech by saying she was instrumental in getting funding for an FBI building in Florida and took care of her constituents because she got the money. Wilson denied the charge and video evidence appeared to support her account.

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John Kelly rebukes Trump critics over military deaths- video

Kelly stood by his accusation, Sanders said on Friday.” Gen Kelly said he was stunned that Representative Wilson induced commentaries at a build dedication honouring slain FBI agents about her own actions in Congress, including lobbying former president Obama on legislation ,” she said.

” As Gen Kelly pointed out, if you’re able to make a sacred act like honouring American heroes all about yourself, you’re an’ empty barrel ‘. If you don’t understand that reference, I’ll put it a bit more simply. As we say in the south: all hat , no cattle .”

Wilson regularly wears a cowboy hat.

Challenged over the video footage of the speech, in which Wilson praises FBI agents, Sanders insisted:” She also had quite a few comments that day that weren’t part of that speech and weren’t part of that video that were also witnessed by many people that were there .”

The press secretary also rejected criticism from Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, who supports the accounts of the Trump phone call given by her son’s widow and Wilson.

” Certainly, if the spirit of which those comments were intended were misunderstood, that’s very unfortunate ,” Sanders said.” But as the president has said, as Gen Kelly said- who I guess has a very deep understanding of what that individual would be going through – his comments were very sympathetic, very respectful. And that was the spirit in which the president intended them. If they were taken any other style, that’s certainly an unfortunate thing .”

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Trump: ‘I didn’t say what the congresswoman said’- video

According to Wilson, Trump told Johnson’s widow her late spouse” knew what he signed up for, but when it happens it hurts anyway “.

Kelly in effect corroborated that account, saying he had counseled Trump on how to induce the bellow by telling him of the morning he was told of his son’s death. Kelly remembered his close friend, Gen Joseph Dunford, telling him his son” was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed “.

” He knew what the possibilities were, because we’re at war ,” Kelly said.” That’s what the president tried to say to the four families the other day .”

Trump, however, continues to vehemently deny that he said such words.

” The fake news is going crazy with wacky congresswoman Wilson[ Democrat] who was secretly on a very personal call and dedicated a total lie on content ,” he tweeted late on Thursday.

Kelly also indicated Wilson had eavesdropped on a highly sensitive call. The congresswoman, a close friend of the Johnson family, pointed out she was in the car when Myeshia Johnson received the call, which was placed on speakerphone.

” I wasn’t listening in ,” she told CNN on Friday.” Please don’t characterize it as that .”

Wilson said Trump’s comments were” not a good message to say to anyone who has lost a child at war “.

” You don’t sign on because you think you’re going to die ,” she said.” You sign up to serve your country. There’s nothing to misinterpret. He said what he said. I only don’t agree with it. I just don’t agree with that’s what you should say to grieving households .”

Regarding Kelly’s statements about the FBI field office speech, Wilson said she had not been a member of Congress in 2009, when the funding mentioned by Kelly was procured. “That’s a lie,” she said of Kelly’s characterization.” How dare he ?”

She added:” I feel sorry for Gen Kelly. He has my sympathy for the loss of his son. But he can’t just go on Tv and lie on me .”

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