Chinese carrier enters South China Sea amid renewed tension

admin   •   December 26, 2016   •   2185

A general view shows navy soldiers standing on China’s first aircraft carrier ‘Liaoning’ as it is berthed in a port in Dalian, northeast China’s Liaoning province, September 25, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer

A group of Chinese warships led by the country’s sole aircraft carrier entered the top half of the South China Sea on Monday after passing south of Taiwan, the self-ruled island’s Defense Ministry said of what China has termed a routine exercise.

The move comes amid renewed tension over Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own, ineligible for state-to-state relations, following U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s telephone call with the island’s president that upset Beijing.

The Soviet-built Liaoning aircraft carrier has taken part in previous exercises, including some in the South China Sea, but China is years away from perfecting carrier operations similar to those the United States has practiced for decades.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said the carrier, accompanied by five vessels, passed southeast of the Pratas Islands, which are controlled by Taiwan, heading southwest.

The carrier group earlier passed 90 nautical miles south of Taiwan’s southernmost point via the Bashi Channel, between Taiwan and the Philippines.

“Staying vigilant and flexible has always been the normal method of maintaining airspace security,” said ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi, declining to say whether Taiwan fighter jets were scrambled or if submarines had been deployed.

Chen said the ministry was continuing to “monitor and grasp the situation”.

Senior Taiwan opposition Nationalist lawmaker Johnny Chiang said the Liaoning exercise was China’s signal to the United States that it has broken through the “first island chain”, an area that includes Japan’s Ryukyu Islands and Taiwan.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said people should not read too much into what the carrier was up to, as its movements were within the law.

“Our Liaoning should enjoy in accordance with the law freedom of navigation and overflight as set by international law, and we hope all sides can respect this right of China’s,” she told a daily news briefing.

Influential state-run Chinese tabloid the Global Times said the exercise showed how the carrier was improving its combat capabilities and that it should now sail even further afield.

“The Chinese fleet will cruise to the Eastern Pacific sooner or later. When China’s aircraft carrier fleet appears in offshore areas of the U.S. one day, it will trigger intense thinking about maritime rules,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

China has been angered recently by U.S. naval patrols near islands that China claims in the South China Sea. This month, a Chinese navy ship seized a U.S. underwater drone in the South China Sea. China later returned it.

Japan said late on Sunday it had spotted six Chinese naval vessels including the Liaoning traveling through the passage between Miyako and Okinawa and into the Pacific.

Japan’s top government spokesman said on Monday the voyage showed China’s expanding military capability and Japan was closely monitoring it.

China’s air force conducted long-range drills this month above the East and South China Seas that rattled Japan and Taiwan. China said those exercises were also routine.

Last December, the defense ministry confirmed China was building a second aircraft carrier but its launch date is unclear. The aircraft carrier program is a state secret.

Beijing could build multiple aircraft carriers over the next 15 years, the Pentagon said in a report last year.

China claims most of the South China Sea through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

(Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takanaka in Tokyo and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

U.S. carrier group heads for Korean waters, China calls for restraint

UNTV News   •   April 24, 2017


The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson transits the South China Sea while conducting flight operations on April 9, 2017. Z.A. Landers/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for all sides to exercise restraint on Monday in a call about North Korea with U.S. President Donald Trump, as Japan conducted joint drills with a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group headed for Korean waters.

The carrier group was sent by Trump for exercises in waters off the Korean peninsula as a warning, amid growing fears North Korea could conduct another nuclear test soon in defiance of United Nations sanctions.

Angered by the approach of the U.S. carrier group, a defiant North Korea said on Monday the deployment of the USS Carl Vinson was “an extremely dangerous act by those who plan a nuclear war to invade the North”.

“The United States should not run amok and should consider carefully any catastrophic consequence from its foolish military provocative act,” Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, said in a commentary on Monday.

“What’s only laid for aggressors is dead bodies and deaths,” the newspaper said.

Two Japanese destroyers have already joined the carrier group for drills in the western Pacific, and South Korea said on Monday it was also in talks about holding joint naval exercises.

Washington and its allies fear Pyongyang could be preparing to conduct another nuclear missile test or launch more ballistic missiles.

China is increasingly worried the situation could spin out of control, leading to war and a chaotic collapse of its isolated and poverty-struck neighbor.

Xi told Trump that China resolutely opposes any actions that run counter to U.N. Security Council resolutions, a Chinese foreign ministry statement said.

China “hopes that all relevant sides exercise restraint, and avoid doing anything to worsen the tense situation on the peninsula”, the statement paraphrased Xi as saying.

The nuclear issue can only be resolved quickly with all relevant countries pulling in the same direction, and China is willing to work with all parties, including the United States, to ensure peace, Xi said.

The issue has gained added urgency as North Korea prepares to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People’s Army on Tuesday. It has marked similar events in the past with nuclear tests or missile launches.

“REPEATED PROVOCATION”

Earlier, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described his conversation with Trump as a “thorough exchange of views”.

“We agreed to strongly demand that North Korea, which is repeating its provocation, show restraint,” Abe told reporters.

“We will maintain close contact with the United States, keep a high level of vigilance and respond firmly,” he said.

Abe also said he and Trump agreed that China, North Korea’s sole major ally, should play a large role in dealing with Pyongyang.

A Japanese official said the phone call between Trump and Abe was not prompted by any specific change in the situation.

The U.S. government has not specified where the carrier strike group is, but U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday it would arrive “within days”.

South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun gave no further details about the South’s plans, other than saying Seoul was holding discussions with the U.S. Navy.

“I can say the South Korean and U.S. militaries are fully ready for North Korea’s nuclear test,” Moon said.

South Korean and U.S. officials have feared for some time that North Korea could soon carry out its sixth nuclear test.

Satellite imagery analyzed by 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea monitoring project, found some activity under way at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site last week.

However, the group said it was unclear whether the site was in a “tactical pause” before another test or was carrying out normal operations.

Adding to the heightened tensions, North Korea detained a U.S. citizen on Saturday as he attempted to leave the country.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Ju-min Park; Additional reporting by Takashi Umekawa and Linda Sieg in TOKYO, James Pearson in SEOUL, Philip Wen in BEIJING, and Steve Holland in WASHINGTON; Editing by Paul Tait)

China’s Xi urges peaceful resolution of North Korea tension in call with Trump

UNTV News   •   April 12, 2017

A combination of file photos showing Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) at London’s Heathrow Airport, October 19, 2015 and U.S. President Donald Trump posing for a photo in New York City, U.S., May 17, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville/Lucas Jackson/File Photos

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a peaceful resolution of rising tension on the Korean peninsula in a telephone conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday, as a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group steamed towards the region.

Trump’s call with Xi, just days after they met in the United States, came as an influential state-run Chinese newspaper warned that the Korean peninsula was the closest it has been to a “military clash” since North Korea’s first nuclear test in 2006.

The communication between the leaders underscores the increasing sense of urgency as tension escalates amid concern that reclusive North Korea could soon conduct a sixth nuclear test, or more missile launches, and Trump’s threat of unilateral action to solve the problem.

Trump had ordered the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group to head to the Korean peninsula in an attempt to deter North Korea’s nuclear and long-range missile ambitions, which it is developing in defiance of U.N. resolutions and sanctions.

Trump pressed Xi to do more to curb North Korea’s nuclear programme when they held their first face-to-face meeting in Florida last week.

He said on Twitter on Tuesday that North Korea was “looking for trouble” and the United States would “solve the problem” with or without China’s help.

In their telephone call, Xi stressed that China “is committed to the target of denuclearization on the peninsula, safeguarding peace and stability on the peninsula, and advocates resolving problems through peaceful means”, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, who said Trump had initiated the call, urged everyone to lower the tension.

“We hope that the relevant parties do not adopt irresponsible actions. Under the current circumstances, this is very dangerous,” Lu told reporters at a regular press briefing.

China’s Global Times newspaper said in an editorial North Korea should halt any plan for nuclear and missile activities “for its own security”. While widely read in China and run by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, the Global Times does not represent government policy.

The newspaper noted Trump’s recent decision to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airfield in response to a deadly gas attack last week.

“Not only is Washington brimming with confidence and arrogance following the missile attacks on Syria, but Trump is also willing to be regarded as a man who honours his promises,” it said.

“The U.S. is making up its mind to stop the North from conducting further nuclear tests. It doesn’t plan to co-exist with a nuclear-armed Pyongyang,” it said.

“Pyongyang should avoid making mistakes at this time.”

The Global Times said if North Korea made another provocative move, “Chinese society” might be willing to back unprecedented sanctions, “such as restricting oil imports”.

‘NOT AFRAID’

North Korean state media warned on Tuesday of a nuclear attack on the United States at any sign of American aggression.

Officials from the North, including leader Kim Jong Un, have indicated an intercontinental ballistic missile test or something similar could be coming.

North Korea launched a long-range rocket carrying a satellite on April 13, 2012, marking the anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s founding president Kim Il Sung.

Saturday will be the 105th anniversary of his birth.

Residents thronged Pyongyang’s boulevards on a sunny spring morning, some practising for a parade to be held on the weekend, with no visible sign of the tension.

“So long as we are with our supreme leader Marshall Kim Jong Un we are not afraid of anything,” a woman who gave her name as Ri Hyon Sim told Reuters journalists, who were escorted by North Korean officials.

Russia has said it is worried about the possibility of a U.S. attack on North Korea and it would raise the issue with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian media quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.

Earlier on Wednesday, two sources in Tokyo said Japan’s navy planned exercises with the Carl Vinson carrier group in a joint show of force.

Japan’s Maritime Self Defence Force and the U.S. Navy could conduct helicopter landings on each other’s ships, as well as communication drills, they said.

A senior Japanese diplomat said it appeared the U.S. position was to put maximum pressure on North Korea to reach a solution peacefully and diplomatically.

“At least, if you consider overall things such as the fact that the U.S. government has not put out warnings to its citizens in South Korea, I think the risk at this point is not high,” said the diplomat, who declined to be identified.

South Korea’s acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, has warned of “greater provocations” by North Korea and ordered the military to intensify monitoring.

China’s Defence Ministry, in a one-line statement posted on its website, dismissed foreign media reports about a build-up of Chinese troops on its border with North Korea as “pure fabrication”.

The North fired a liquid-fuelled Scud missile this month, the latest in a series of tests that have displayed its ability to launch attacks and use hard-to-detect solid-fuel rockets.

North Korea remains technically at war with the United States and its ally South Korea after the 1950-1953 Korean conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. It regularly threatens to destroy both countries. —  By Michael Martina and Christian Shepherd | BEIJING

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park in SEOUL, Sue-Lin Wong and Natalie Thomas in PYONGYANG, Nobuhiro Kubo, Tim Kelly in TOKYO, and Philip Wen in BEIJING; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)

Wary of Trump unpredictability, China ramps up naval abilities

UNTV News   •   February 27, 2017

FILE PHOTO: China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier with accompanying fleet conducts a drill in an area of South China Sea, in this undated photo taken December, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer/File photo

 

The PLA Navy is likely to secure significant new funding in China’s upcoming defense budget as Beijing seeks to check U.S. dominance of the high seas and step up its own projection of power around the globe.

China’s navy has been taking an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and new Chinese warships popping up in far-flung places.

Now, with President Donald Trump promising a U.S. shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.

“It’s opportunity in crisis,” said a Beijing-based Asian diplomat, of China’s recent naval moves. “China fears Trump will turn on them eventually as he’s so unpredictable and it’s getting ready.”

Beijing does not give a breakdown for how much it spends on the navy, and the overall official defense spending figures it gives – 954.35 billion yuan ($139 billion) for 2016 – likely understates its investment, according to diplomats.

China unveils the defense budget for this year at next month’s annual meeting of parliament, a closely watched figure around the region and in Washington, for clues to China’s intentions.

China surprised last year with its lowest increase in six years, 7.6 percent, the first single-digit rise since 2010, following a nearly unbroken two-decade run of double-digit jumps.

“Certainly, the PLA Navy has really been the beneficiary of a lot of this new spending in the past 15 years,” said Richard Bitzinger, Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the Military Transformations Programme at the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“We don’t how much they spend on the navy, but simply extrapolating from the quantity and the quality of things that are coming out of their shipyards, it’s pretty amazing.”

RAPID DEVELOPMENT

The Chinese navy, once generally limited to coastal operations, has developed rapidly under President Xi Jinping’s ambitious military modernization.

It commissioned 18 ships in 2016, including missile destroyers, corvettes and guided missile frigates, according to state media.

Barely a week goes by without an announcement of some new piece of equipment, including an electronic reconnaissance ship put into service in January.

Still, the PLA Navy significantly lags the United States, which operates 10 aircraft carriers to China’s one, the Soviet-era Liaoning.

Xu Guangyu, a retired major general in the People’s Liberation Army now senior adviser to the government-run China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said China was keenly aware of the U.S. ability to project power at sea.

“It’s like a marathon and we’re falling behind. We need to step on the gas,” Xu said.

Trump has vowed to increase the U.S. Navy to 350 ships from the current 290 as part of “one of the “greatest military buildups in American history”, a move aides say is needed to counter China’s rise as a military power.

“We’ve known this is a 15-20 year project and every year they get closer to being a blue-water navy with global aspirations,” said a U.S. administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“What you have seen this last year and what I think you will see with the new budget is that they are moving ahead with the short-term goal of being the premier naval force in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, with the mid-term goal, of extending all the way to the Indian Ocean.”

In January, China appointed new navy chief, Shen Jinlong, to lead that push.

Shen has enjoyed a meteoric rise and is close to Xi, diplomatic and leadership sources say.

“The navy has gotten very lucky with Shen,” said a Chinese official close to the military, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Now they know for certain their support goes all the way to the top.”

Recent PLA Navy missions have included visits to Gulf states, where the United States has traditionally protected sea lanes, and to the South China Sea, Indian Ocean and Western Pacific, in what the state-run website StrongChina called Shen’s “first show of force against the United States, Japan and Taiwan”.

Last month, a Chinese submarine docked at a port in Malaysia’s Sabah state, which lies on the South China Sea, only the second confirmed visit of a Chinese submarine to a foreign port, according to state media.

The submarine had come from supporting anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia, where China has been learning valuable lessons about overseas naval operations since 2008.

Chinese warships have also been calling at ports in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, unnerving regional rival India.

“It’s power projection,” said a Beijing-based Western diplomat, of China’s navy.

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Adrees Ali in WASHINGTON; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

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