Mattis heads to Asia to draw a contrast with assertive China

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis began a one-week trip to Asia, hoping to strengthen defense cooperation with Indonesia and Vietnam. (AFP)
Updated 22 January 2018
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Mattis heads to Asia to draw a contrast with assertive China

WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Sunday began a one-week trip to Asia, hoping to strengthen defense cooperation with Indonesia and Vietnam as regional Chinese military power looms ever larger.
“We share the Pacific — it’s an ocean named for peace — we would like to see it remain peaceful, so all the nations that use it and live here are prosperous,” Mattis told reporters accompanying him on a military plane headed to the region.
In Jakarta, where he is to arrive Monday evening, Mattis is to meet on Tuesday with President Joko Widodo and Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu for talks on maritime cooperation.
The vast Indonesian archipelago reaches from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific.
In Vietnam, Mattis and his counterparts are set to discuss freedom of movement in the South China Sea, a region over which Beijing has extended its dominance in recent years, militarizing several small, disputed islands.
Washington hopes to draw a contrast between its own approach and those of China — seen as aggressively modernizing its military capacities — and Russia, which has annexed parts of Georgia and Ukraine.
“The point I want to make is, we respect Asia’s sovereign nations with a sovereign voice and sovereign decisions, and we don’t think anyone else should have a veto authority over their economic, their diplomatic or their security decisions,” Mattis said.
“We respect these countries.”


Flood death toll in India’s Kerala jumps to 164

Updated 15 min 23 sec ago
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Flood death toll in India’s Kerala jumps to 164

  • More than 10,000 kilometers of roads and hundreds of homes have been destroyed or damaged across the state
  • A heavy rainfall “red-alert” has been issued across much of the state, which is home to around 33 million people

KOCHI: The death toll from major floods in India’s tourist hotspot Kerala has jumped to 164, state chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said Friday, issuing a fresh heavy rainfall warning for the battered region.

Kerala’s government has described the crisis — one of the worst in decades — as “extremely grave” and rescue operations are underway to help thousands who remain trapped by floodwaters.

“The chief minister has confirmed 164 deaths. Around 100 people died in the last 36 hours alone,” an official in the Kerala government’s public relations department said.

Local reports indicated an even higher toll with thousands still waiting for relief and rescue across the flood-ravaged state.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said that he had discussed the flood situation with Vijayan as more troops and rescue workers were deployed across Kerala.

“Later this evening, I will be heading to Kerala to take stock of the unfortunate situation,” Modi said on Twitter.

The state, famed for its palm-lined beaches and tea plantations, is always pummeled by the annual monsoon but this year’s damage has been the most severe in almost a century.

More than 150,000 people made homeless across the state have moved into some 1,300 relief camps.

Vijayan’s office Friday posted a fresh warning for around 33 million residents of Kerala.

“Alert: all districts apart from Kasargod are under red alert... heavy rains may affect these 13 districts. Everyone please be cautious,” his office tweeted.

Even before the latest warning, locals like Ajo Varghese have been posting desperate appeals for relief and rescue on social media.

“My family and neighboring families are in trouble with flood in Pandanad nakkada area in Alappuzha,” Varghese said in a viral Facebook post.

“No water and food. Not able to communicate from afternoon. Mobile phones are not reachable and switch off. Please help... No rescue is available,” he added.

A state official said that apart from the new rainfall warnings, a breakdown of the local communication system was making it difficult for them to reach local people who may be in urgent need in the worst-affected areas.

The government says 10,000 kilometers (6,000 miles) of Kerala roads have been destroyed or damaged and tens of thousands of homes partially or completely damaged.

The gates of at least 34 major dams and reservoirs across the state have been opened in the last few days as water levels reached danger levels.

North and central Kerala has been worst-hit by the floods with the international airport in main city of Kochi shut until at least August 26.