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.


Venezuela ‘on alert,’ closes Curacao border ahead of aid shipment

Venezuela's Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez attends a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, February 19, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 February 2019
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Venezuela ‘on alert,’ closes Curacao border ahead of aid shipment

  • Despite sitting on the world’s biggest oil reserves, Venezuela is gripped by a humanitarian crisis, with a shortage of food and medicine

CARACAS: Venezuela’s military said Tuesday it was on “alert” at its frontiers following threats by US President Donald Trump and ordered its border with Curacao closed ahead of a planned aid shipment.
Opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaido vowed to bring aid in from various points Saturday “one way or another” despite military efforts to block it.
But commanders doubled down on their allegiance to President Nicolas Maduro after Trump warned them to abandon him.
“The armed forces will remain deployed and on alert along the borders... to avoid any violations of territorial integrity,” said Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino.
Regional commander Vladimir Quintero later confirmed media reports that Venezuela had ordered the suspension of air and sea links with Curacao and the neighboring Netherlands Antilles islands of Aruba and Bonaire.
Shipments of food and medicine for Venezuelans suffering in the country’s economic crisis have become a focus of the power struggle between Maduro and Guaido.
Aid is being stored in Colombia near the Venezuelan border and Guaido aims also to bring in consignments via Brazil and Curacao.
A Brazilian presidential spokesman said the country was cooperating with the United States to supply aid to Venezuela but would leave it to Venezuelans to take the goods over the border.
Maduro says the aid plan is a smokescreen for a US invasion. He blames US sanctions and “economic war” for Venezuela’s crisis.

Guaido, the 35-year-old leader of the Venezuelan legislature, has appealed to military leaders to switch allegiance to him and let the aid through.
He has offered military commanders an amnesty if they abandon Maduro.
But the military high command has so far maintained its public backing for Maduro — seen as key to keeping him in power.
“We reiterate unrestrictedly our obedience, subordination and loyalty” to Maduro, Padrino said.
Guaido posted a series of tweets calling by name on senior military leaders commanding border posts to abandon Maduro.
He has branded Maduro illegitimate, saying the elections that returned the socialist leader to power last year were fixed.
The United States and some 50 other countries back Guaido as interim president.
Trump has refused to rule out US military action in Venezuela. He raised the pressure on Monday, issuing a warning to the Venezuelan military.
He told them that if they continue to support Maduro, “you will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You will lose everything.”
Padrino rejected Trump’s threat, branding the US president “arrogant.”
If foreign powers try to help install a new government by force, they will have to do so “over our dead bodies,” Padrino said.

Despite sitting on the world’s biggest oil reserves, Venezuela is gripped by a humanitarian crisis, with a shortage of food and medicine.
It has suffered four years of recession marked by hyperinflation that the International Monetary Fund says will reach 10 million percent this year.
An estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans have left the country since 2015.
Guaido says 300,000 people face death without the aid but Maduro denies there is a humanitarian crisis.
Padrino said the military would not be “blackmailed” by “a pack of lies and manipulations.”
Maduro said that 300 tons of Russian aid would reach Venezuela on Wednesday. He previously announced the arrival of goods from China, Cuba and Russia, his main international allies.
In a series of tweets, Guaido urged supporters to write to the generals “from the heart, with arguments, without violence, without insults,” to win them over.

Guaido says he has enlisted the support of 700,000 people to help bring in the aid on Saturday and is aiming for a million in total.
He thanked Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain for pledging “more than $18 million for the humanitarian aid.”
British entrepreneur Richard Branson said he will hold a pro-aid concert just over the border in Colombia on Friday.
British rock star Peter Gabriel and Colombian pop singer Carlos Vives are among those scheduled to perform.
Former Pink Floyd singer Roger Waters weighed in on Maduro’s side in a video broadcast on Venezuelan state media, criticizing Branson and Gabriel and said the aid was being politicized.
Maduro’s government plans to stage a rival concert on its side of the border.