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
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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.”


US police overseers fire 4 officers in 1994 fatal shooting of black teenager

Updated 17 min 28 sec ago
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US police overseers fire 4 officers in 1994 fatal shooting of black teenager

  • Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson in 2016 accused the officers of either giving or approving knowingly false statements
  • The Laquan McDonald case has roiled the criminal justice system in Chicago
CHICAGO: The Chicago Police Board on Thursday fired four police officers for allegedly covering up a white officer’s 2014 fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald.
The nine-member board found the officers exaggerated the threat posed by the 17-year-old McDonald to justify his shooting by Jason Van Dyke and voted unanimously for the dismissal of Sgt. Stephen Franko, and officers Janet Mondragon and Ricardo Viramontes. All but one voted to fire Daphne Sebastian because of violations of department rules. She was not found to have made false reports.
The Fraternal Order of Police slammed the police board for its decision, contending the officers did nothing wrong.
“It is obvious that this police board has out-served its usefulness,” said the organization’s vice president Patrick Murray.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson in 2016 accused the officers of either giving or approving knowingly false statements. None of the four were charged criminally, however they were stripped of police powers and assigned to desk duty as their case proceeded. The firings can be appealed through a lawsuit.
A Cook County judge acquitted three other officers in January of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and official misconduct charges in the case.
Former Officer Joseph Walsh, Officer Thomas Gaffney and former Detective David March were charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy and official misconduct. Prosecutors said they lied to shield Van Dyke from prosecution. A judge rejected the contention that a video of McDonald’s death proved police officers staged a cover-up.
McDonald was allegedly high on PCP and carrying a small knife in 2014 when Van Dyke exited his squad car and almost immediately opened fire. Police video released in 2015 showed Van Dyke firing 16 bullets into McDonald, many after the teen had crumpled to the ground.
Franko was accused of approving false police reports that McDonald attempted to stab Van Dyke and another officer and had in fact injured Van Dyke.
Mondragon was accused of falsely reporting that she did not see the shooting of McDonald because she was shifting the gear of her squad car. She was also accused of incompetence for not inspecting the video equipment in her car to see if it was working and recording events.
Viramontes was accused of reporting that McDonald continued to move after he shot and that he tried to get up with the knife still in his hand. He held to his statement even when an investigator showed him a video of the shooting.
Sebastian was not found to have filed a false report. However, it was determined she gave misleading and inconsistent statements to investigators that McDonald turned toward Van Dyke and another officer with a knife in a motion toward them.
Jurors convicted Van Dyke of murder in October. He’s serving a more than six-year prison term.
Illinois’ Supreme Court denied a bid by the state’s attorney general and a special prosecutor to resentence Van Dyke. The prosecutors expressed the belief the sentence was too lenient for the crime.
The McDonald case has roiled the criminal justice system in Chicago. The then police superintendent, Gerry McCarty, was fired by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the then top prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, was ousted by voters. Many believe Emanuel decided against running for a third term because of the case. It also led to a US Justice Department investigation that found a “pervasive cover-up culture” and prompted plans for far-reaching police reforms.