Trump's missile treaty pullout could escalate tension with China

China’s President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (File/AFP)
Updated 23 October 2018
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Trump's missile treaty pullout could escalate tension with China

  • Trump earlier said US will pullout from a Cold War-era treaty with Russia on nuclear arms
  • China was not party to the treaty and has been fielding new and more deadly missile forces

WASHINGTON: A US withdrawal from a Cold War-era nuclear arms treaty with Russia could give the Pentagon new options to counter Chinese missile advances but experts warn the ensuing arms race could greatly escalate tensions in the Asia-Pacific.
US officials have been warning for years that the United States was being put at a disadvantage by China's development of increasingly sophisticated land-based missile forces, which the Pentagon could not match thanks to the US treaty with Russia.
President Donald Trump has signaled he may soon give the Pentagon a freer hand to confront those advances, if he makes good on threats to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which required elimination of short- and intermediate-range nuclear and conventional missiles.
Dan Blumenthal, a former Pentagon official now at the American Enterprise Institute, said a treaty pullout could pave the way for the United States to field easier-to-hide, road-mobile conventional missiles in places like Guam and Japan.
That would make it harder for China to consider a conventional first strike against US ships and bases in the region. It could also force Beijing into a costly arms race, forcing China to spend more on missile defenses.
"It will change the picture fundamentally," Blumenthal said.
Even as Trump has blamed Russian violations of the treaty for his decision, he has also pointed a finger at China. Beijing was not party to the INF treaty and has been fielding new and more deadly missile forces.
These include China's DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), which has a maximum range of 4,000 km (2,500 miles) and which the Pentagon says can threaten US land and sea-based forces as far away as the Pacific island of Guam. It was first fielded in 2016.
"If Russia is doing it (developing these missiles) and China is doing it and we're adhering to the agreement, that's unacceptable," Trump said on Sunday.
John Bolton, White House national security advisor, noted that recent Chinese statements suggest it wanted Washington to stay in the treaty.
"And that's perfectly understandable. If I were Chinese, I would say the same thing," he told the Echo Moskvy radio station. "Why not have the Americans bound, and the Chinese not bound?"
Growing threat
US officials have so far relied on other capabilities as a counter-balance to China, like missiles fired from US ships or aircraft. But advocates for a US land-based missile response say that is the best way to deter Chinese use of its muscular land-based missile forces.
Kelly Magsamen, who helped craft the Pentagon's Asian policy under the Obama administration, said China's ability to work outside of the INF treaty had vexed policymakers in Washington, long before Trump came into office.
But she cautioned that any new US policy guiding missile deployments in Asia would need to be carefully coordinated with allies, something that does not appear to have happened yet.
Mismanagement of expectations surrounding a US treaty pullout could also unsettle security in the Asia-Pacific, she cautioned.
"It's potentially destabilizing," she said.
Experts warn that China would put pressure on countries in the region to refuse US requests to position missiles there.
Abraham Denmark, a former senior Pentagon official under Obama, said Guam, Japan and even Australia were possible locations for US missile deployments.
"But there are a lot of alliance questions that appear at first glance to be very tricky," he cautioned.
Still, current and former US officials say Washington is right to focus on China's missile threat. Harry Harris, who led US military forces in the Pacific before becoming US ambassador to Seoul, said earlier this year that the United States was at a disadvantage.
"We have no ground-based (missile) capability that can threaten China because of, among other things, our rigid adherence ... to the treaty," Harris told a Senate hearing in March, without calling for the treaty to be scrapped.
Asked about Trump's comments, China's foreign ministry said a unilateral US withdrawal would have a negative impact and urged the United States to "think thrice before acting."
"Talking about China on the issue of unilaterally pulling out of the treaty is completely mistaken," spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.


Media urged to deny Christchurch shooting accused the publicity he seeks

Updated 14 min 30 sec ago
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Media urged to deny Christchurch shooting accused the publicity he seeks

  • “We’re just going to be very careful we don’t become a platform for any kind of extremist agenda,” say Radio New Zealand chief
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier urged the public not to speak the gunman's name to deny the infamy he wants

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: The media has been urged to stop naming the man charged with the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch last week that left 50 people dead.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday that she would never speak his name. In a speech to parliament, she urged the public to follow suit and deny the gunman the infamy he wants.
“I implore you, speak the names of those who were lost, rather than the name of the man who took them,” she added. “He may have sought notoriety but we in New Zealand will give him nothing, not even his name.”
Arden said the media can “play a strong role” in limiting coverage of extreme views such as his.
“Of course, people will want to know what is happening with the trial,” she said. “But I would hope there are ways that it could be covered without adding to the notoriety that this individual seeks.
“But the one thing I can assure you – you won’t hear me speak his name.”
The man accused of the mass shootings has so far been charged with one count of murder, but New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush has said further charges will be brought against him. The man said in a manifesto posted online shortly before the attacks that he intended to survive so that he could continue to spread his ideals, and that he intends to plead not guilty. He has said he plans to represent himself in court, although a judge can order a lawyer to assist him.
There have been calls for the media to refuse to report anything he says during the trial. Paul Thompson, the chief executive of Radio New Zealand, said his station will exercise caution and asked editors at all media outlets to take part in a discussion about covering the case.
“We’re just going to be very careful we don’t become a platform for any kind of extremist agenda,” he said, explaining that the station does not want to inflame the situation or become a party to the accused killer’s agenda.
Thompson described the case as “uncharted territory” but said he remains confident that his reporters will do their jobs professionally.
Dr Philip Cass, a senior lecturer in journalism at Auckland’s Unitec Institute of Technology, said the media will have to make “a very fine judgment” about what is reported if the accused killer uses the court as “a forum for the expression of his opinion.” He was wary, however, of calls to completely avoid reporting what is said in court.
“If you do that then we are moving into an area of censorship,” he said, adding that it is the media’s responsibility to provide a record of what is said and done.
Dr Catherine Strong, a journalism lecturer at Massey University, said she is confident that the media in New Zealand media will act responsibly. There is no legal or ethical imperative for journalists to report everything the accused says in court, she pointed out. The country’s media has already shown maturity by not using the name of the accused in headlines and by focusing on covering the shootings from the perspective of the victims, Strong added.

Hal Crawford, the chief news officer at MediaWorks, which owns TV3 and RadioLive in New Zealand, said, "Newshub is open to an industry-wide set of guidelines for reporting on Tarrant's trial, and we are in discussions with other newsrooms. Our aims are to minimise publicity of damaging ideology while reporting the workings of justice objectively." 

The man, who has not yet entered a plea, is due to appear in court again on April 5.