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.


Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

Updated 19 July 2019
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Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

  • Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds
  • Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was remanded in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for 13 days, a day after he was arrested in a case involving a multibillion-rupee liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract to Qatar.
Abbasi, who is also the vice president of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N) party, was presented before Judge Bashir Ahmed of an accountability court on Friday morning. The case has been adjourned until Aug. 1.
Speaking to journalists before his appearance at the court, Abbasi called his arrest “an attack on democracy.”
Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds in the import of LNG that the agency says caused a loss of about $2 billion to the national exchequer. He is also being investigated for allegedly granting a 15-year contract for an LNG terminal to a “favored” company. Abbasi rejects the allegations.
PML-N Sen. Mushahid Ullah Khan said Pakistan was facing “the worst energy crisis of its kind” when his party came to power after the 2013 general election, and the LNG deal was quickly finalized with Qatar to overcome it.
“The industry was shutting down with thousands of people getting unemployed, but this LNG supply helped us reverse the tide,” he told Arab News.
Khan said Pakistan’s LNG contract with Qatar was “the cheapest possible deal” the country could have gotten, and rubbished allegations of corruption and kickbacks.
“If there is something wrong in the contract, why is this government not reviewing it?” Khan asked.
Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar under a 15-year agreement at 13.37 percent of Brent crude price. It is a government-to-government agreement and the price can only be reviewed after 10 years of the contract.
“It is the worst example of political victimization by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government,” PML-N Chairman Raja Zafrul Haq said on Friday after the accountability court remanded Abbasi in NAB custody. “Shahid Khaqan served the nation with dignity and did not commit any wrongdoings,” Haq added.
Abbasi was arrested on his way to Lahore to address a news conference along with PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday.
He served as federal minister for petroleum in the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he finalized an LNG import deal with Qatar. Abbasi then served for less than a year as prime minister following the resignation of Sharif in 2017.
On Thursday, Pakistan opened technical bids of four international companies for the supply of 400 million cubic feet per day of LNG for a period of 10 years to fulfil the country’s rising energy requirements.
Officials told Arab News that a Qatari delegation, led by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in June, resented that Islamabad had ignored its lowest offer of 11.05 percent of Brent for the fresh deal, and instead floated tenders seeking provision of LNG for 10 years from international companies.
The secretary of Pakistan’s Ministry of Energy said: “Yes, this is true. Qatar expressed its annoyance, but we are following our rules. Qatar has not submitted its bid to participate in the process.”
Khan won power last year vowing to root out corruption among what he describes as a venal political elite, and views the probes into veteran politicians — including Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari — as long overdue.
The NAB’s campaign has become a topic of fierce political debate in Pakistan, and its focus on the new government’s political foes has prompted accusations of a one-sided purge. The government denies targeting political opponents.
Commenting on Abbasi’s case, former NAB prosecutor Munir Sadiq said the anti-corruption watchdog would file a reference against Abbasi in an accountability court for prosecution, but only if it found irrefutable evidence against him.
“This case is now at the evidence-collection stage, and the NAB will file a reference in the court if it finds irrefutable corruption evidence against Abbasi during the investigation,” Sadiq said.
He added that any inquiry against Abbasi would be shelved after 90 days if corroborating evidence of corruption was not found.
“If a weak case will be filed against the accused, then he will surely receive support from the court,” Sadiq said.