US defense chief slams China’s drive for hypersonic weapons

US defense chief slams China’s drive for hypersonic weapons
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin vowed the US would maintain its capability to deter potential threats posed by China. (AFP)
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Updated 02 December 2021

US defense chief slams China’s drive for hypersonic weapons

US defense chief slams China’s drive for hypersonic weapons
  • China’s growing military muscle and its drive to end American predominance in Asia triggers unease in Washington

SEOUL: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday that China’s pursuit of hypersonic weapons “increases tensions in the region” and vowed the US would maintain its capability to deter potential threats posed by China.
Austin made the remarks in Seoul following annual security talks with his South Korean counterpart that focused on challenges from China and North Korea and other issues facing the allies.
“We have concerns about the military capabilities that the PRC continues to pursue. Again, the pursuit of those capabilities increases tensions in the region,” Austin said referring to China’s latest hypersonic weapons test in July and using the abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China, the country’s official name.
“It just underscores why we consider the PRC to be our pacing challenge,” Austin said. “We’ll continue to maintain the capabilities to defend and deter against a range of potential threats from the PRC to ourselves and to our allies.”
China’s growing military muscle and its drive to end American predominance in Asia has triggered unease in Washington. China’s efforts to accelerate its military capabilities were highlighted by its July test of a hypersonic weapon capable of partially orbiting the Earth before reentering the atmosphere and gliding on a maneuverable path to its target.
Experts say the weapons system is clearly designed with a purpose of evading US missile defenses, although China insisted it was testing a reusable space vehicle, not a missile.
On North Korea, Austin said he and South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook discussed a wide range of topics including bilateral unity in the face of the threat from the North. The two agreed that North Korea’s advancement of its missile and other weapons programs “is increasingly destabilizing for regional security,” Austin said.
The US and South Korea remain committed to a diplomatic approach to North Korea, he added.
Suh said the allies share an understanding that “diplomacy and dialogue based on previous commitments between South and North Korea and between North Korea and the United States is essential for achieving permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
Despite severe pandemic-related economic hardships, North Korea has continuously rebuffed US offers to resume talks, saying Washington must first abandon its hostility toward the North. The Biden administration maintains that international sanctions on North Korea will stay in place unless the country takes concrete steps toward denuclearization.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon released the results of a global posture review that directs additional cooperation with allies and partners to deter “potential Chinese military aggression and threats from North Korea.” The review also informed Austin’s approval of the permanent stationing of a previously rotational attack helicopter squadron and artillery division headquarters in South Korea.


Sudan to establish anti-terrorism force — Sovereign Council

Sudan to establish anti-terrorism force — Sovereign Council
Updated 5 sec ago

Sudan to establish anti-terrorism force — Sovereign Council

Sudan to establish anti-terrorism force — Sovereign Council
Sudan’s Sovereign Council is to establish an anti-terrorism force to counter “potential threats,” it said in a statement on Monday.
Huge crowds have regularly taken to the streets demanding a return to civilian rule since a military coup on Oct. 25 ended a power-sharing arrangement that began after Islamist autocrat Omar Al-Bashir was toppled by a popular uprising in 2019.

At least 12 killed in Afghan earthquake: District official

At least 12 killed in Afghan earthquake: District official
Updated 4 min 8 sec ago

At least 12 killed in Afghan earthquake: District official

At least 12 killed in Afghan earthquake: District official

HERAT: At least 12 people were killed after an earthquake hit western Afghanistan on Monday, an official said.
The victims died when roofs of their residential houses collapsed in Qadis district in the western province of Badghis, district governor Mohammad Saleh Purdel told AFP.
The quake was magnitude 5.3, according to the US Geological Survey, who originally recorded the magnitude as 5.6.
"Several people were also injured in today's earthquake," Purdel said, adding that the victims included women and children.
Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.
Earthquakes can cause significant damage to poorly built homes and buildings in impoverished Afghanistan.


North Korea fires more suspected missiles, flouts new sanctions

North Korea fires more suspected missiles, flouts new sanctions
Updated 17 January 2022

North Korea fires more suspected missiles, flouts new sanctions

North Korea fires more suspected missiles, flouts new sanctions
  • Two suspected “short-range ballistic missiles” were fired east from an airport in Pyongyang early Monday

SEOUL: North Korea fired two suspected ballistic missiles Monday, Seoul said, its fourth weapons test this month as Pyongyang flexes its military muscle while ignoring offers of talks from the United States.
Despite biting international sanctions, Pyongyang has conducted a string of weapons tests this year, including of hypersonic missiles, as leader Kim Jong Un pursues his avowed goal of further strengthening the military.
Reeling economically from a self-imposed coronavirus blockade, impoverished North Korea has not responded to Washington’s offers of talks, while doubling down on weapons tests and vowing a “stronger and certain” response to any attempts to rein it in.
The launches come at a delicate time in the region, with North Korea’s sole major ally China set to host the Winter Olympics next month and South Korea gearing up for a presidential election in March.
Two suspected “short-range ballistic missiles” were fired east from an airport in Pyongyang early Monday, the South Korean military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, with Japan also confirming the launch.
Fired just before 9 am (0000 GMT), they flew 380 kilometers (about 240 miles) at an altitude of 42 km, the JCS added.
The frequent and varied tests this year indicate North Korea “is trying to improve its technology and operational capability in terms of covert actions,” Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters.
Pyongyang said it successfully tested hypersonic gliding missiles on January 5 and January 11, with the second launch personally supervised by Kim.
In response, the United States last week imposed fresh sanctions on five North Koreans connected to the country’s ballistic missile programs, prompting an angry reaction from Pyongyang.
A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman described the move as a “provocation,” according to state news agency KCNA.
If “the US adopts such a confrontational stance, the DPRK will be forced to take stronger and certain reaction to it,” the spokesman said hours before Pyongyang fired two train-launched missiles Friday.
Analysts said the Monday test also appeared to be an attempt to send the United States a message.
“It is signalling that it will forge ahead with tests despite criticism,” Hong Min of the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul told AFP.
Hypersonic missiles are a top priority in Pyongyang’s new five-year defense development plan, unveiled in January 2021, which it has pursued while dialogue with the United States remained stalled.
With the country battling major economic hardship domestically after years of Covid-induced isolation, Pyongyang may be looking to offer citizens a military victory ahead of key domestic anniversaries.
“It needs to present something to North Koreans,” said Cheong Seong-chang of the Center for North Korea Studies at the Sejong Institute.
“It now has become clear that it will be difficult for the North to score on the economic side.”
This weekend, a North Korean freight train crossed the Yalu River railroad bridge into China for the first time in over a year, according to the Yonhap news agency.
The move could signal the prospect of resumed China-North Korea land trade, which has been suspended since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.
It is likely the missile launches will ease off ahead of the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics, said Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies.
“As stability on the peninsula is a prerequisite for the successful Beijing Olympics, the North will not cross a red line,” Yang said.


Japan’s Kishida says virus measures, defense top priorities

Japan’s Kishida says virus measures, defense top priorities
Updated 17 January 2022

Japan’s Kishida says virus measures, defense top priorities

Japan’s Kishida says virus measures, defense top priorities
  • North Korea on Monday fired two possible ballistic missiles, which Japanese officials said landed off the North’s eastern coast

TOKYO: Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday said fighting the pandemic was a “top priority” in his speech opening this year’s parliamentary session, as the Tokyo region was hit by surging infections.
Kishida also named stepping up defense measures against rising regional threats as a priority, hours after North Korea test-fired two possible ballistic missiles — its fourth this year.
“I will devote my body and soul to win this fight against the coronavirus,” Kishida said in his speech before the lower house, which marked the start of its new 150-day session. He called on people to help each other to overcome “the national crisis” of the pandemic.
The Japanese capital reported 4,172 new cases on Sunday, raising the hospital bed occupancy rate to 19.3 percent. Tokyo authorities have said that when that rate breaches 20 percent, they will request the government place the area under pre-emergency status and move toward restrictions like working from home and shorter hours for eateries.
Kishida reiterated his plans to keep Japan’s stringent border controls in place, banning most foreign entrants until the end of February, while the country tries to speed up booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines and reinforce medical systems to support an increasing number of patients being treated at home.
The highly transmissible omicron variant has driven infections higher and started to paralyze medical and public services in some areas, as more people are forced to self-isolate. Japan last week trimmed the 14-day quarantine period to 10 days.
Kishida urged companies to promote remote work, and called on schools to use online classes flexibly. Booster shots only started last month with medical workers and so far less than 1 percent of the population has had their third jab.
Japan recently cut the wait between a second and third shot for elderly people to six months from eight. In part because of a shortage of imported vaccines, most younger Japanese are not expected to get their turn until March.
In his parliamentary speech, Kishida also addressed what he said was an “increasingly severe and complex” regional situation. “I’m determined to protect the people’s lives and daily life,” the premier vowed.
North Korea’s repeated and escalating test-firing of ballistic missiles “are absolutely not permissible and we should not overlook its significant progress of missile technology,” Kishida added.
North Korea on Monday fired two possible ballistic missiles, which Japanese officials said landed off the North’s eastern coast.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile development, along with China’s rapid military buildup, have already prompted Kishida’s government to raise Japan’s military budget.
Kishida repeated his plans to review Japan’s defense policy, and consider the development of a controversial pre-emptive strike capability, to “drastically strengthen defense power”.
Kishida is set to hold an online summit with Pesident Joe Biden on Jan. 21 as the two leaders seek to further strengthen bilateral ties, Tokyo and Washington announced Monday.
Kishida called the US alliance “the lynchpin of Japan’s diplomatic and security policies.”
Kishida, who is from the city of Hiroshima that the US attacked with an atomic bomb in World War Two, also said he sought “a world without nuclear weapons” and plans to launch a conference with former and serving world leaders on phasing out nuclear weapons. He said he hoped the initiative would have its first meeting in his hometown this year.
Kishida pledged to promote energy reforms to meet the target of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. He said he supported the use of “innovative” nuclear energy, nuclear fusion technology as well as renewables to meet this goal.


Chinese cities on high COVID-19 alert as Lunar New Year travel season starts; omicron spreads

Chinese cities on high COVID-19 alert as Lunar New Year travel season starts; omicron spreads
Updated 17 January 2022

Chinese cities on high COVID-19 alert as Lunar New Year travel season starts; omicron spreads

Chinese cities on high COVID-19 alert as Lunar New Year travel season starts; omicron spreads
  • China is yet to show any solid sign of shifting its guideline of quickly containing any local infections
  • Many local governments have already advised residents not to leave town unnecessarily trips during the holiday

BEIJING: Several Chinese cities went on high COVID-19 alert as the Lunar New Year holiday travel season started on Monday, requiring travelers to report their trips days before their arrival, as the omicron variant reached more areas including Beijing.
Authorities have warned the highly contagious omicron adds to the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission as hundreds of millions of people travel around China for the Lunar New Year on Feb. 1.
Cities such as Luoyang in central China and Jieyang in the south said on Sunday travelers need to report to communities, employers or hotels their trips three days ahead of arrival.
The southwestern city of Yulin said on Saturday those who want to enter should fill in an online form, including their health credentials and trip details, one day in advance.
Over the weekend, the capital Beijing and the southern technology hub Shenzhen each detected one domestically transmitted omicron case.
The possibility that the omicron case in Beijing was infected through imported goods can’t be ruled out, Pang Xinghuo, an official at the city’s disease control authority, said on Monday.
Li Ang, vice director at the Beijing Municipal Health Commission, said a local hospital had admitted nine omicron infections, with six still being treated. He did not say when the infections arrived or why they hadn’t been disclosed earlier.
The city of Meizhou in Guangdong province found one omicron infection linked to an outbreak in Zhuhai, state television said on Monday.
So far, at least five provinces and municipalities reported local omicron infections, while 14 provincial areas found the variant among travelers arriving from overseas.
China is yet to show any solid sign of shifting its guideline of quickly containing any local infections, despite a high vaccination rate of 86.6 percent. The strategy has taken on extra urgency in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, to be staged in Beijing and neighboring Hebei province starting Feb. 4.
Many local governments have already advised residents not to leave town unnecessarily trips during the holiday, while dozens of international and domestic flights have been suspended.
China’s aviation regulator said on Monday it would suspend two flights from the United States over COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of canceled flights this year from the country, where omicron is spreading, to 76.
China reported 163 locally transmitted infections with confirmed symptom for Sunday, official data showed on Monday, up from 65 a day earlier.
Sunday’s increase in infections was mainly driven by more cases in the cities of Tianjin and Anyang, where omicron has been found in local clusters.
Tianjin and Anyang reported slightly more than 600 local symptomatic infections from the current outbreaks, smaller than many clusters overseas, but authorities there still have limited movement within the cities and trips to outside.