US Navy, Coast Guard ships pass through strategic Taiwan Strait

The Navy destroyer Curtis Wilbur, above, was one of the US ships that sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 25 March 2019
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US Navy, Coast Guard ships pass through strategic Taiwan Strait

  • The two ships were identified as the Navy destroyer Curtis Wilbur and the Coast Guard cutter Bertholf
  • ‘The US will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows’

WASHINGTON: The United States sent Navy and Coast Guard ships through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, the US military said, as part of an increase in the frequency of movement through the strategic waterway despite opposition from China.
The voyage risks raising tensions with China further but will likely be viewed by self-ruled Taiwan as a sign of support from Washington amid growing friction between Taipei and Beijing.
The two ships were identified as the Navy destroyer Curtis Wilbur and the Coast Guard cutter Bertholf, a US military statement said.
“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the statement said.
“The US will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” it added.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing that China had already lodged “representations” with the United States, and that it had paid “close attention” to the US ships.
China urges the United States to “cautiously and appropriately handle the Taiwan issue to avoid harming Sino-US relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan strait,” Geng said.
In Taipei, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said the ships had passed through the Taiwan Strait from the southwest and proceeded in a northerly direction.
Taiwan’s armed forces monitored their progress to “ensure regional stability and security of the coastal border region,” the ministry said, adding nothing out of the ordinary was observed and there was no cause for alarm.
Taiwan is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the US-China relationship, which also include a trade war, US sanctions and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom of navigation patrols.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, to China’s anger, will stop over in Hawaii this week at the end of a tour of the Pacific.
Washington has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help provide the democratic island with the means to defend itself and is its main source of arms.
The Pentagon says the United States has sold Taiwan more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.
Beijing has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island, which it considers a wayward province of “one China” and sacred Chinese territory.
China has repeatedly sent military aircraft and ships to circle Taiwan during drills in the past few years and worked to isolate the island internationally, whittling down its few remaining diplomatic allies.
The US Defense Intelligence Agency released a report earlier this year describing Taiwan as the “primary driver” for China’s military modernization, which it said had made major advances in recent years.
US President Donald Trump has said trade negotiations with China were progressing and a final agreement “will probably happen,” adding that his call for tariffs to remain on Chinese imported goods for some time did not mean talks were in trouble.


PM Modi files nomination papers in India’s general election

Updated 26 April 2019
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PM Modi files nomination papers in India’s general election

  • Voting in three of the seven phases of the staggered elections has finished
  • In total, some 900 million people are registered to vote for candidates to fill 543 seats in India’s lower house of Parliament

VARANASI, India: Prime Minister Narendra Modi filed nomination papers Friday in a Hindu holy city, hoping to hold onto the seat for a second time in India’s general elections.
He prayed at a temple before arriving at the election office in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh state, flanked by Amit Shah, president of his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janta Party, and several state chief ministers. As his car passed, people shouted slogans such as “Har Har, Modi!” or “Hail, Modi!“
Thousands of BJP activists, some carrying party flags and sporting saffron caps, waived at Modi who responded with a smile. People also showered rose petals on him. Many were perched on the road dividers and many more watched the show from windows and roofs of homes on both sides of the roads.
Voting in three of the seven phases of the staggered elections has finished. In total, some 900 million people are registered to vote for candidates to fill 543 seats in India’s lower house of Parliament. Voting concludes on May 19 and counting is scheduled for May 23.
With around 1.7 million voters, Varanasi will go the polls on May 19. The election is seen as a referendum on Modi and his party. The campaigning has been marred by accusations, insults and unprecedented use of social media to spread false information.
Varanasi is one of the holiest cities for Hindus in India and is based at the banks of the Ganges River, or Ganga. Hindus believe Varanasi is the center of the world and anyone who dies in the city attains salvation.
Invoking Hindu symbolism, Modi told party workers before filing his nomination papers: “Mother Ganga will take care of me.”
“Last time when I contested nobody told me to come here, nobody sent me to Varanasi. Mother Ganga has invited me,” he said.
Modi supporters say the tea seller’s son from Gujarat state has improved the nation’s standing. But critics say his party’s Hindu nationalism has aggravated religious tensions in India.
In his five years as prime minister, Modi has pushed to promote this secular nation of 1.3 billion people and nine major religions as a distinctly Hindu state. He has rallied his support base with Hindu mega projects across India, including in Varanasi, but has also been blamed for rising attacks by Hindu mobs against minorities, mainly Muslims who number about 170 million.
Modi and his party also have adopted aggressive nationalism, using the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir to pivot away from his economic record and playing up the threat of rival Pakistan. The approach was employed especially after a suicide bombing in Kashmir on Feb. 14 killed 40 soldiers, causing brief fighting with Pakistan and allowing Modi to portray himself as a strong, uncompromising leader on national security.