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.”


Double trouble for Pakistan’s deposed PM Nawaz Sharif

These will be four fresh cases against the Sharif family. (AFP)
Updated 34 min 49 sec ago
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Double trouble for Pakistan’s deposed PM Nawaz Sharif

  • The government announced it was referring four more corruption cases against the Sharif family to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for investigation

ISLAMABAD: Legal challenges for one of Pakistan’s most influential political families, comprising ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his political heir and daughter Maryam Nawaz, and younger brother Shehbaz Sharif — former chief minister of Pakistan’s powerful Punjab province — seem to be brewing with new allegations of corruption and misuse of authority surfacing against them.

The government announced it was referring four more corruption cases against the Sharif family to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for investigation.

“They misused the taxpayers’ money and authority while in power,” Shahzad Akbar, special assistant to the prime minister on accountability, alleged during a press briefing on Saturday.

Fresh cases

These will be four fresh cases against the Sharif family and the first to be referred to the NAB and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) by the incumbent government.

Detailing the misuse of public resources by Shehbaz Sharif and Maryam, special assistant to the PM on media Iftikhar Durrani alleged that they both enjoyed unauthorized use of ex-premier Nawaz Sharif’s aircraft, besides squandering public funds on the erection of a security fence around their palatial residence in Lahore, and misuse of authority while in office.

Government officials also revealed during the press briefing that a new high-end property portfolio in Frederick Close, central London, worth around £2.3 million ($2.95 million) recently came to the fore, reportedly owned by Sharif’s late wife. 

The documents about its ownership and rental income between 2012 and 2016 had been available, “but were buried in the files,” said Akbar. 

Senator Mushahidullah Khan, veteran leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, however, said that the cases against the Sharif family were “politically motivated” and the prosecutors had failed to present concrete evidence of corruption against Sharif in the accountability court.

“The PTI (Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf) government thinks it can politically damage the Sharif family by leveling false allegations of corruption and misuse of authority against them, but this is not going to work,” he told Arab News.

Pakistan’s law required Nawaz Sharif, being a member of the National Assembly and holder of the country’s top public office, to declare his dependents’ assets, including his wife’s, in the official documents, which he did not.

 The undeclared central London property held in the name of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz will now be probed by both the NAB and the FBR.

 “We are handing over all documentary evidence to these institutions for investigation,” said Durrani. 

 The corruption cases that the Sharif family has faced until now were either filed during their own tenure in power in 2013-18, or during the previous governments of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and General Pervez Musharraf.

Shehbaz Sharif, former chief minister of Punjab Province, is currently in the NAB’s custody, facing at least two cases of corruption pertaining to his tenure in the office.

 In July this year, Nawaz Sharif, Maryam and son-in-law Muhammad Safdar were handed jail terms of 11 years, six years and one year respectively, in a corruption reference pertaining to their undeclared offshore companies and properties in London.

 The trio is currently on bail while the verdict in two more corruption references against Nawaz Sharif is expected to be announced in the next couple of weeks.

Political analysts believe that the Sharif family will still have a long way to go to prove their innocence in the courts and return to the political arena. 

“Any imminent return of the Sharif family in national politics does not seem possible in the given situation,” Professor Tahir Malik, academic and analyst, told Arab News.

Sharif has yet to defend his position in two corruption references currently undergoing hearing against him involving Al-Azizia Steel Mill in Saudi Arabia and monetary transactions made through Flagship Investment Limited, both of which he denies any connection to.