US defense chief Mattis to visit China amid Korea talks

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis wants to “take measure” of China’s strategic ambitions after it positioned weaponry on disputed islets in the South China Sea. (AFP)
Updated 25 June 2018
0

US defense chief Mattis to visit China amid Korea talks

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE: US Secretary of Defense James Mattis will make his first visit to China this week amid rising tensions between the two countries but also a deep need for Beijing’s support in nuclear talks with North Korea.
Mattis told reporters Sunday he wants to “take measure” of China’s strategic ambitions after it positioned weaponry on disputed islets in the South China Sea and is seeking to project its military power deep into the Pacific.
But in a four-day trip that will also include South Korea and Japan, the Pentagon chief also hopes to confirm China’s commitment to pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, after historic talks between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
The United States, China, Japan and South Korea “have a common goal: the complete, irreversible and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” Mattis said.
In Beijing From Tuesday to Thursday, Mattis will meet with senior Chinese defense officials.
Then he will travel to Seoul for talks with his South Korean counterpart Song Young-moo, followed by a stop Friday in Japan to see defense chief Itsunori Onodera.
Those meetings are aimed at reassuring both allies that Washington’s regional defense commitment remains unchanged after Trump unexpectedly announced on June 12 that the US would suspend a major joint military exercise in South Korea following his meeting with Kim.
The visit to China comes amid bilateral strains that cross multiple sectors. The Trump administration is challenging China on trade, theft of industrial secrets, and cyberthreats.
In the defense sector, China’s decision to position military hardware in built-up atolls in the South China Sea has sparked new security concerns throughout Southeast Asia.
Signaling Washington’s displeasure, in May the Pentagon disinvited China from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercise, in which some two dozen navies train together for mostly civilian missions.
Weeks later at the Shangri-la Dialogue security conference in Singapore, Mattis slammed China for showing contempt of other nations’ interests in the South China Sea.
“Despite China’s claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapon systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion,” Mattis said.
The Chinese, who say the weaponry is only defensive in nature, retorted that Mattis had made “irresponsible comments” that “cannot be accepted.”
Mattis has visited Asia seven times in his 17 months since becoming defense secretary, but not China. He has yet to meet the new Chinese defense minister, Wei Fenghe.
He said the talks in Beijing seek to scope out China’s long-term strategic intentions and determine possible areas of military-to-military cooperation.
He declined to characterize the relationship, saying that could “poison the well” before he meets his counterparts.
“I’m going there to get what I consider to be straight from them what they see for a strategic relationship,” he said. “I’m going there to have a conversation.”
But speaking separately a senior Pentagon official called the United States and China “strategic competitors” and suggested that Washington needs to keep up the pressure over the South China Sea buildup.
The Rimpac disinvite could be “just a first step,” the official said.
Chinese defense ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said Mattis was visiting Beijing at Wei’s invitation.
“It is in the common interests of both China and the United States to develop a healthy and stable bilateral military relationship,” Ren said in a statement.
Beijing “hopes that the United States and China will walk toward each other and work together to make the bilateral military relationship an important stabilizing factor in the relationship between the two countries.”
Mattis will also be adding his voice to North Korea talks, urging China to hold firm on commercial pressure on Pyongyang.
He said he has had daily discussions on the talks with the lead US negotiator, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The senior US defense official said they are hoping to see a concrete outcome, including a timeline for commitments by Pyongyang, “soon.”
Mattis tied the suspension of exercises to the getting concrete results.
“We’ll see if they continuing negotiations keep them that way.”
Mattis meanwhile confirmed that US officials are awaiting the imminent release by Pyongyang of the remains of US servicemen who died in the Korean war in the early 1950s.
Preparations to receive the remains have been made, he said, and “We’re optimistic that it will begin.”


Suicide bombers in deadly attack on Afghan ministry

Updated 20 April 2019
0

Suicide bombers in deadly attack on Afghan ministry

  • At least 7 people were killed in the attack on the Afghan communications ministry in Kabul
  • The area around the building was sealed off by police as at least 3 attackers battled security forces for several hours

KABUL: Suicide bombers and gunmen attacked the communications ministry in central Kabul on Saturday, officials said, in a deadly, hours-long assault that destroyed weeks of relative calm in the capital.
The Taliban said it had “nothing to do” with the attack, which left some 2,000 people stranded in the tall office building for hours at the start of the Afghan work week.
No other group claimed immediate responsibility, but the Afghan branch of Daesh has previously carried out multiple deadly attacks in the capital.
“As a result of today’s explosion/attack in Kabul city, two people have been martyred (killed) and 6 others are wounded,” the health ministry spokesman wrote in a tweet, adding 3 of the injured were women.
In a statement, the interior ministry said four civilians and three soldiers had been killed, though unverified social media posts suggested the final toll could be higher.
AFP journalists heard one big blast around 11:40 am (0710 GMT), followed by sporadic gunfire for hours afterwards.
“The information that we have is four attackers have placed themselves near the communication ministry and are engaged in gunbattles with the Afghan security forces,” Amanduddin Shariati, a security official in Kabul told AFP.
By about 5:00 p.m. (1230 GMT), the interior ministry declared the assault over.
“Operations finished. All suicide bombers killed & more than 2000 civilians staff rescued,” the ministry said on Twitter.
Panicked workers inside the 18-story building, believed to be Kabul’s tallest, moved up to the top floor as gunmen and Afghan security officials battled lower down.
One woman said she had been in a group of about 30 people on the 10th floor when the assault started, then was told to move up to the 18th floor as gunfire increased. They were all eventually rescued by commandos.
“Women were screaming and children of the kindergarten were the first to be evacuated,” the woman, who did not want to be named, told AFP.
Afghan authorities gave conflicting reports during the incident. The information ministry initially said three suicide bombers had attacked a post office building at the ministry.
General Sayed Mohammad Roshan Dil, the Kabul police chief, said four attackers had been wearing police uniforms and had targeted a shrine near the ministry.
Footage on local television showed a small plume at the building, and people climbing out windows on a lower level.
The presidential palace said in a statement “the enemies of Afghanistan have conducted a terrorist attack.”
“Once again they have created fear and have killed or wounded a number of innocent countrymen,” the statement read.
The communication ministry is located in downtown Kabul, about two kilometers (1.25 miles) from the green zone, a heavily fortified compound for foreign embassies.
The area is the city’s main commercial zone and is home to a large hotel.
Aside from a grenade attack on a military vehicle last week and persistent crime, the capital has in recent weeks enjoyed a period of relative calm.
Last year however saw a string of attacks including one where a massive bomb concealed in an ambulance killed more than 100 people.
The attack comes a week after the Taliban announced their annual spring offensive and amid ongoing fighting across Afghanistan.
It illustrates the sprawling nature of Afghanistan’s conflict, and the obstacles to peace even if a deal is reached with the Taliban.
This week in the Qatari capital Doha, a summit planned between the Taliban and officials from across Afghanistan was scrapped at the last minute due to bickering over who should attend the conference.
The collapse comes at a critical time and amid continued bloodshed in Afghanistan, where the Taliban now control or influence about half of Afghanistan and 3,804 civilians were killed there last year, according to a UN tally.
Taliban officials are separately negotiating with the United States, which wants to forge a peace deal with the militants.