US Navy says China’s military buildup won’t stop patrols

US military aircraft sit on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier anchors off Manila, Philippines, for a five-day port call along with guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy, on Saturday. (AP)
Updated 18 February 2018
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US Navy says China’s military buildup won’t stop patrols

ABOARD USS CARL VINSON, Philippines: US forces are undeterred by China’s military buildup on man-made islands in the South China Sea and will continue patrolling the strategic, disputed waters wherever “international law allows us,” said a Navy officer aboard a mammoth US aircraft carrier brimming with F-18 fighter jets.
Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins told The Associated Press on board the USS Carl Vinson that the Navy has carried out routine patrols at sea and in the air in the region for 70 years to promote security and guarantee the unimpeded flow of trade that’s crucial for Asian and US economies.
“International law allows us to operate here, allows us to fly here, allows us to train here, allows us to sail here, and that’s what we’re doing and we’re going to continue to do that,” Hawkins said Saturday on the flight deck of the 95,000-ton warship, which anchored at Manila Bay while on a visit to the Philippines.
When President Donald Trump came to power, Southeast Asian officials were uncertain how deep the US would get involved in the overlapping territorial claims involving China and its Southeast Asian neighbors. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, was a vocal critic of China’s increasingly aggressive actions, including the construction of seven man-made islands equipped with troops, hangers, radar and missile stations and three long runways.
China claims the South China Sea almost in its entirety and has challenged the US naval supremacy in the western Pacific.
“We’re committed,” Hawkins told reporters. “We’re here.”
The Trump administration has outlined a new security strategy that emphasized countering China’s rise and reinforcing the US presence in the Indo-Pacific region, where Beijing and Washington have accused each other of stoking a dangerous military buildup and fought for wider influence.
Washington stakes no claims in the disputes but has declared that their peaceful resolution and the maintenance of freedom of navigation are in its national interest. US officials have said American warships will continue sailing close to Chinese-occupied features without prior notice, placing Washington in a continuing collision course with China’s interests.
In January, China accused the US of trespassing when the US guided missile destroyer USS Hopper sailed near the Chinese-guarded Scarborough Shoal, which Beijing wrestled from the Philippines in 2012, despite its proximity to the main northern island of Luzon. After voicing a strong protest, China said it would take “necessary measures” to protect its sovereignty.
The nuclear-powered Carl Vinson patrolled the sea prior to its Manila visit but did not conduct a freedom of navigation operation, Hawkins said. “That’s not to say that we won’t or we can’t, but we have not, up to this point,” he said.
There are reports that the Carl Vinson will also make a port call in Danang in Vietnam — another critical rival of China’s ambitions in the South China Sea — as the first American aircraft carrier since the Vietnam War ended in 1975, but Hawkins declined to provide details of future trips.
China has also opposed the Philippine military’s deployment of a Japanese-donated Beechcraft King Air patrol plane in late January to Scarborough, a Philippine official said on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to discuss the issue publicly. Chinese officials have relayed their objection to their Philippine counterparts, the official said.
China and Japan have their own territorial rifts in the East China Sea.
There was no immediate comment from Philippine military officials about China’s opposition to the surveillance flights at Scarborough.
US and Chinese officials have said they have no intention of going to war in the disputed sea, but their governments have projected their firepower and clout in a delicate play of gunboat diplomacy and deterrence.
“We’re prepared to conduct a spectrum of operations, whether that’s providing humanitarian assistance, disaster relief in the time of an emergency, or whether we have to conduct operations that require us to send strike fighters ashore,” Hawkins said. “We don’t have to use that spectrum, but we’re ready to, in case we need to.”
The US Navy invited journalists Saturday on board the 35-year-old Carl Vinson, which was packed with 72 aircraft, including F-18 Hornets, helicopters and surveillance aircraft.
President Rodrigo Duterte has tried to back down from what he said was a Philippine foreign policy that was steeply oriented toward the US, but has allowed considerable engagements with his country’s treaty ally to continue while reviving once-frosty ties with China in a bid to bolster trade and gain infrastructure funds.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have long contested ownership of the South China Sea, where a bulk of the trade and oil that fuel Asia’s bullish economies passes through.


Supreme Court nominee accuser agrees to testify before US Senate

According to President Trump, the fact that Ford remained silent until now shows the incident probably never happened. (AP)
Updated 54 min 22 sec ago
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Supreme Court nominee accuser agrees to testify before US Senate

  • Christine Blasey Ford’s decision followed days of negotiations and came after Trump turned against her and said her accusation could not be true
  • Ford alleges that Kavanaugh drunkenly assaulted her at a party when he was 17, she was 15 and they were attending private schools outside Washington in the 1980s

WASHINGTON: The woman whose sexual assault allegation threatens to bring down President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee has agreed to testify in the Senate, her lawyers said Saturday, setting up a dramatic showdown next week.
Christine Blasey Ford’s decision followed days of negotiations and came after Trump turned against her and said her accusation could not be true.
Ford “accepts the committee’s request to provide her first-hand knowledge of Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct next week,” said a message from her lawyers to the Senate Judiciary Committee, US media reported.
Hours later, multiple outlets including Politico and The Daily Beast reported the hearing would take place on Thursday, citing sources familiar with a phone call between the committee and Ford’s lawyers.
The tentative deal capped a day of frenetic developments, with time running out for Trump to get his hand-picked conservative judge confirmed — thereby tilting the Supreme Court firmly to the right for years to come — before November elections when Republicans risk losing control of Congress.
Earlier, the panel had given the California professor until 2:30 p.m. (1830 GMT) to decide whether to appear, after she rejected a Friday evening deadline imposed by the committee’s Republican leader, Chuck Grassley.
“Although many aspects of the proposal you provided via email, on (Friday) are fundamentally inconsistent with the committee’s promise of a fair, impartial investigation into her allegations, and we are disappointed with the leaks and the bullying that have tainted the process, we are hopeful that we can reach agreement on details,” read the lawyers’ letter cited by The Washington Post.
The White House criticized Ford for allegedly dithering. “But one thing has remained consistent: Brett Kavanaugh remains ready, willing and eager to testify as soon as possible,” it added.

Ford alleges that Kavanaugh drunkenly assaulted her at a party when he was 17, she was 15 and they were attending private schools outside Washington in the 1980s.
Kavanaugh denies knowledge of any such assault and wants to give his side of the story to the committee.
Grassley had wanted the hearing to take place on Wednesday, but Ford asked that it be held on Thursday at the earliest and to be able to call as a witness a man she says was present during the assault.
The committee’s Republican leadership turned down those demands.
After several days of maintaining a relatively neutral posture, Trump on Friday declared that Ford was lying.
“TAKE THE VOTE!” Trump tweeted, blaming “radical left wing politicians” for the controversy.

According to Trump, the fact that Ford remained silent until now shows the incident probably never happened — even if this runs counter to what experts say is the typical reaction of sexual assault victims afraid or too embarrassed to report.
“I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says,” Trump tweeted, “charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.”
The senior senator for Trump’s Democratic foes, Chuck Schumer, called the president’s logic a “highly offensive misunderstanding of surviving trauma,” while Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said: “We must treat sexual assault survivors with respect, not bully or try to silence them.”
Even one of Trump’s own Republican senators, Susan Collins — who sits on the Judiciary Committee — said she was “appalled by the president’s tweet.”
“We know that allegations of sexual assault are some of the most under-reported crimes that exist,” Collins said.
Trump’s outburst saw a new #MeToo era hashtag storm the Internet, with people — mostly women — sharing why they did not report being assaulted under the Twitter hashtag #WhyIDidntReport.
Ford told the Post she went public with her claims because she felt her “civic responsibility” was “outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation” after the basic outlines of the story emerged in the media.
Ford’s husband, Russell Ford, was quoted by the Post as saying the thought that Kavanaugh could be considered for the Supreme Court after Trump took office troubled his wife so much that she considered moving as far away as New Zealand.
“She was like, ‘I can’t deal with this,’” Russell Ford said. “’I cannot live in this country if he’s in the Supreme Court.’“
Republicans are frustrated over what they say was the deliberate timing of the last-minute revelation of Ford’s allegation, accusing Democrats of seeking to prevent the process from finishing before the midterm elections in a few weeks.
For their part, Democrats say Republicans are mounting an unseemly rush to get Kavanaugh into the nine-member Supreme Court while they still control the legislature.
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