Chinese carrier enters South China Sea amid renewed tension

In this image taken from a video footage run by China's CCTV via AP Video, China's aircraft carrier Liaoning is seen during live-ammunition drill recently in the waters of the Bohai Sea in northern China. (CCTV via AP Video)
Updated 26 December 2016
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Chinese carrier enters South China Sea amid renewed tension

TAIPEI: 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 US 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 US one day, it will trigger intense thinking about maritime rules,” the newspaper said in an editorial.
China has been angered recently by US naval patrols near islands that China claims in the South China Sea. This month, a Chinese navy ship seized a US 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. Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.


’We’ll come back for you’: US fires split families, pets

Updated 18 November 2018
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’We’ll come back for you’: US fires split families, pets

  • Many animals arrived at the shelters injured and burned
  • The animal shelters are working with dozens of volunteers responsible for feeding, caring for and walking the animals

CHICO, United States: Steve Cox pets and cuddles Ernie, his 10-year-old English bulldog, before leaving him at a shelter. Cox lost his home in California’s devastating wildfires, and now they have to part.
“Don’t you worry Ernie. I am not gonna let you down. We’ll come back for you,” Cox whispers.
He has been staying at a hotel but it doesn’t take pets. For a week, Cox tried to take care of Ernie in the back of his pickup truck.
But now, as Cox tries to get his life back on track, he thinks Ernie would get better care at one of three animal shelters in northern California’s Paradise area where the so-called Camp Fire has claimed 76 lives and left more than 1,000 unaccounted for.
In this rural area, which had many horses, one shelter is for large animals.
Then there are two small facilities where helpers are working with dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits, turtles and even swans.
Ernie is walking with a bit of trouble after an operation on an abscess in one of his front legs. Cox says the dog is lazy, though, so he thinks Ernie will adapt quickly to the separation by sleeping a lot.
The main shelter was set up in the city of Chico’s airport, near Paradise, where rescue and firefighting operations have been based.
Animals saved by firefighters are dropped off there to be cared for.
One woman arrives desperate, her hands trembling. She pulls out an envelope of photos of her cats and dogs.
“Please, let me in and see. I might find them,” she begs in a tearful voice.
When the fire began to threaten Paradise, Cox was headed home from the doctor with his wife. He could have stopped but instead kept going, to rescue Ernie and two other smaller dogs he has.
“They are family. I couldn’t just leave them. We had 10 minutes to leave,” he recalls.
Cox, who lived there since 1973, said he lost two houses, and many pieces of furniture that his father had left him, in the blaze which virtually wiped the entire community from the map.
“I have a big question mark above my head. I don’t know what I’ll do,” he says, his face showing exhaustion.
The animal shelters are working with dozens of volunteers responsible for feeding, caring for and walking the animals.
They also have volunteer veterinary technicians, including Marshall Riddle, who are responsible for treating them.
Many animals arrived at the shelters injured and burned.
“It’s never easy, but we have to make sure every animal is safe,” he says.
The most worrying cases were sent along to specialized clinics.
Although these are not the first shelters of their kind in the state regularly ravaged by wildfires, the blazes have never been so deadly.
“Butte County is always on fire,” said Karen Falconer of the North Valley Animal Disaster Group, which runs another of the shelters, in an old hospital in the town of Oroville.
There are about 430 animals, separated into zones. The dog section is barking noisily but the cat zone is quieter.
“We’ll take care of them as long as necessary,” Falconer told AFP.
For Cox, the separation was just starting, while others were already rejoicing in reunion.
Little Eva’s face lit up when her six-month-old kitten Luke Skywalker — named for the “Star Wars” character — was handed over to her and her parents, Robert Pieper and his wife Brittany.
They had already searched in another shelter for their pet African tortoise named James Peterson.
The fire destroyed their house in Magalia, just outside Paradise.
Now, after days in a shelter and then a hotel, they were able to rent an apartment where they could be with their pets and try to start over the life the wildfires had burnt beyond recognition.