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.


US moves 100 coffins to North Korean border for war remains

Updated 24 June 2018
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US moves 100 coffins to North Korean border for war remains

  • From 1996 to 2005, joint US-North Korea military search teams conducted 33 recovery operations that collected 229 sets of American remains
  • The transfer of remains is usually done in a somber, formal ceremony, and that is what officials said was being planned

SEOUL, South Korea: The US military said it moved 100 wooden coffins to the inter-Korean border to prepare for North Korea’s returning of the remains of American soldiers who have been missing since the 1950-53 Korean War.
US Forces Korea spokesman Col. Chad Carroll also said Saturday that 158 metal transfer cases were sent to a US air base near Seoul, South Korea’s capital, and would be used to send the remains home.
North Korea agreed to return US war remains during the June 12 summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump. While the US military preparations suggest that the repatriation of war remains could be imminent, it remains unclear when and how it would occur.
Earlier Saturday, Carroll denied a report by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency that US military vehicles carrying more than 200 caskets were planning to cross into North Korea on Saturday. He said plans for the repatriation were “still preliminary.”
US Forces Korea said in a statement later in the day that 100 wooden “temporary transit cases” built in Seoul were sent to the Joint Security Area at the border as part of preparations to “receive and transport remains in a dignified manner when we get the call to do so.”
From 1996 to 2005, joint US-North Korea military search teams conducted 33 recovery operations that collected 229 sets of American remains.
But efforts to recover and return other remains have stalled for more than a decade because of the North’s nuclear weapons development and US claims that the safety of recovery teams it sent during the administration of former President George W. Bush was not sufficiently guaranteed.
US officials have said earlier that the remains are believed to be some or all of the more than 200 that the North Koreans have had for some time. But the precise number and the identities — including whether they are US or allied service members — won’t be known until the remains are tested.
The transfer of remains is usually done in a somber, formal ceremony, and that is what officials said was being planned.
Richard Downes, executive director of the Coalition of Families of Korean & Cold War POW/MIAs, said last week that he had been told the North may have the remains of more than 200 American service members that were likely recovered from land during farming or construction and could be easily returned. But he said the vast majority have yet to be located and retrieved from various cemeteries and battlefields across the countryside.
More than 36,000 US troops died in the conflict, including those listed as missing in action. Close to 7,700 US troops remain unaccounted for from the Korean War, and about 5,300 of those were lost in North Korea.
The last time North Korea turned over remains was in 2007, when Bill Richardson, a former UN ambassador and New Mexico governor, secured the return of six sets.
According to Chuck Prichard, spokesman for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, once the remains are turned over, they would be sent to one of two Defense Department facilities — Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska — for tests to determine identification.