Top US Navy officer to visit Beijing amid heightened South China Sea tensions

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A Navy personnel relays information to the air and deck crew aboard the USS McCampbell, which early this year sailed near disputed islands in the South China Sea where Beijing has built military installations. (US Navy/AFP)
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Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, above, will meet with his counterpart Vice Adm. Shen Jinlong and leaders of China’s Central Military Commission during his visit to Beijing. (AP)
Updated 12 January 2019
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Top US Navy officer to visit Beijing amid heightened South China Sea tensions

  • Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson will meet with his counterpart Vice Adm. Shen Jinlong and leaders of China’s Central Military Commission
  • China has warned the US against further upgrading military ties with Taiwan

BEIJING: The US Navy’s top officer will visit China starting Sunday amid increasing frictions in the South China Sea and other tensions underscoring their rivalry for dominance in Asia.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson will meet with his counterpart Vice Adm. Shen Jinlong and leaders of China’s Central Military Commission during his visit to Beijing and the eastern city of Nanjing lasting through Wednesday, the Navy said.
The goal of the visit, Richardson’s second as head of operations, is to “continue a results-oriented, risk reduction focused dialogue” between the two militaries, the Navy said.
“A routine exchange of views is essential, especially in times of friction, in order to reduce risk and avoid miscalculation,” the release quoted Richardson as saying. “Honest and frank dialogue can improve the relationship in constructive ways, help explore areas where we share common interests, and reduce risk while we work through our differences.”
Richardson and Shen met previously at the 2018 International Seapower Symposium in the US and have held three discussions via video teleconference, the most recent in December, the release said.
China has long chafed at the robust US naval presence in its region, seeing that as a key component of a strategy to contain its development.
In recent years, the South China Sea has become the main area of contention, home to islands, rich fishing grounds, undersea mineral deposits and shipping lanes through which pass an estimated $5 trillion in goods annually. China claims virtually the entire waterway on historical grounds and has strengthened its hold through the fortification of its island holdings and the construction and man-made outposts by piling sand and concrete atop coral reefs.
Five other governments also exercise overlapping claims in the area and while the US takes no formal position on sovereignty, it insists on the right to navigation and overflight, including in air and waters within the territorial limits surrounding China’s holdings.
Such freedom of navigation operations intended to assert such rights have enraged China, which has vowed to take whatever measures to thwart them.
While those usually involve the dispatch of ships and aircraft to warn off US vessels, in late September, a Chinese destroyer came perilously close to the USS Decatur in the South China Sea in what the US Navy called an “unsafe and unprofessional maneuver.” Navy officers downplayed the incident, calling it unfortunate, rare and something they’d like to avoid in future.
Richardson has said such patrols highlight the US position against “illegitimate maritime claims.”
Chinese navy academy researcher Senior Capt. Zhang Junshe said Wednesday that Beijing may further fortify the outposts depending on perceived threats.
While the sides have sought to boost understanding and signed agreements to handle unexpected confrontations at air and sea, deep mistrust lingers.
Last summer, Washington disinvited China from a major US-sponsored naval exercise in what it called “an initial response” to China’s militarization of the South China Sea.
The Pentagon cited strong evidence that China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile systems and electronic jammers to contested areas in the Spratly Islands. It called on China to remove these systems. Despite strong mutual suspicions, the US had included China in the past two versions of the naval exercise known as Rim of the Pacific, or RimPac, in 2014 and 2016.
China has also warned the US against further upgrading military ties with Taiwan. China threatens to use force against the self-governing island to assert its claim of sovereignty. Under President Donald Trump, the US has taken incremental moves to bolster ties with the island, including renewed arms sales and upgraded contacts between officials.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who also heads the Central Military Commission, said in a Jan. 2 address that the ruling communists “made no promises to abandon the use of force,” but added that was directed at those advocating formal independence for the island that split from the mainland amid civil war in 1949, along with any foreign forces that might intervene.
Adding to the tensions, China and the US are locked in a tariff dispute that shows little sign of dissipating and Washington has repeatedly accused Beijing of running a cyber espionage campaign to capture commercial and government secrets.


Women cleared of defamation in French sexual misconduct case

In this Sept. 21, 2014 file photo, Denis Baupin, a prominent Green Party member and former Paris city official, takes part in a climate change demonstration in Paris. (AP)
Updated 43 min 39 sec ago
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Women cleared of defamation in French sexual misconduct case

  • The court considered that the women and journalists acted in good faith, which is a defense for defamation under French law

PARIS: A Paris court has dismissed a defamation case against six women who accused a former French lawmaker of sexual misconduct and the journalists who reported the allegations.
The court on Friday ordered Denis Baupin to pay 1,000 euros ($1,120) in damages to each of the 12 people he sued.
In May 2016, investigative website Mediapart and radio station France Inter published and broadcast accounts from 14 women who alleged Baupin had groped, sexted or otherwise harassed them.
The prominent Green Party member resigned as vice president of the lower House of Parliament but denied wrongdoing and launched a defamation lawsuit against the six women who were identified in the reports, some witnesses and journalists.
The case had been under particular scrutiny in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
Women rights activists have seen it as a test of French women’s ability to speak out when they think powerful men have sexually harassed or abused them — and how journalists can report it.
The court considered that the women and journalists acted in good faith, which is a defense for defamation under French law.
In addition, it considered France Inter and Mediapart respected their additional obligations: the legitimacy of journalists’ goals in producing a story, demonstrating an absence of personal animosity, prudence and balance, and the quality of the investigation.
Most of the women who spoke about Baupin’s alleged behavior from 1998 to 2013 were fellow Green Party members, and outrage greeted their descriptions.
Four filed criminal complaints for sexual harassment at the time. A nine-month judicial investigation ended without charges. Prosecutors said the three-year statute of limitations had expired, but released a statement saying the women’s “measured, constant statements” and witness corroboration created a set of facts to support allegations of actions that “may for some of them be classified as criminal.”
The cleared women greeted the ruling with tears of joy and relief.
Lawyer Claire Moleon, a lawyer for one of them, told The Associated Press that “this is a great victory.”
“This is a very strong signal given by justice. It’s putting an end to a move that we were noticing to use defamation lawsuits to put more pressure on the victims of sexual harassment and sexual abuse,” she said.
Moleon stressed that Baupin’s order to pay damages to the people he sent on trial shows that “sanctions apply” to such cases.
During the February trial, women had described, often with lots of emotion, their alleged harassment through text messages and inappropriate comments, and in some cases, alleged sexual assault attempts.
Some former officials of France’s Green Party also testified in court, saying they should have acted earlier on reports of sexual misconduct. They stressed that the #MeToo movement has raised their awareness.
Baupin’s lawyer Emmanuel Pierrat, had argued his client did nothing illegal and had filed a defamation lawsuit to “fully clear his name.”
Baupin had decided not to attend the trial.