US military making plans in case Nancy Pelosi travels to Taiwan

US military making plans in case Nancy Pelosi travels to Taiwan
Officials said this week that a visit to Taiwan by Nancy Pelosi would go beyond the usual safety precautions for trips to less risky destinations. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Updated 27 July 2022

US military making plans in case Nancy Pelosi travels to Taiwan

US military making plans in case Nancy Pelosi travels to Taiwan
  • Military would increase its movement of forces and assets in the Indo-Pacific region if Pelosi travels to Taiwan
  • US President Joe Biden last week raised concerns about it, saying military thinks her trip is ‘not a good idea right now’

SYDNEY: US officials say they have little fear that China would attack Nancy Pelosi’s plane if she flies to Taiwan. But the US House speaker would be entering one of the world’s hottest spots where a mishap, misstep or misunderstanding could endanger her safety. So the Pentagon is developing plans for any contingency.
Officials told The Associated Press that if Pelosi goes to Taiwan — still an uncertainty — the military would increase its movement of forces and assets in the Indo-Pacific region. They declined to provide details, but said that fighter jets, ships, surveillance assets and other military systems would likely be used to provide overlapping rings of protection for her flight to Taiwan and any time on the ground there.
Any foreign travel by a senior US leader requires additional security. But officials said this week that a visit to Taiwan by Pelosi — she would be the highest-ranking US elected official to visit Taiwan since 1997 — would go beyond the usual safety precautions for trips to less risky destinations.
Asked about planned military steps to protect Pelosi in the event of a visit, US Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday that discussion of any specific travel is premature. But, he added, “if there’s a decision made that Speaker Pelosi or anyone else is going to travel and they asked for military support, we will do what is necessary to ensure a safe conduct of their visit. And I’ll just leave it at that.”
China considers self-ruling Taiwan its own territory and has raised the prospect of annexing it by force. The US maintains informal relations and defense ties with Taiwan even as it recognizes Beijing as the government of China.
The trip is being considered at a time when China has escalated what the US and its allies in the Pacific describe as risky one-on-one confrontations with other militaries to assert its sweeping territorial claims. The incidents have included dangerously close fly-bys that force other pilots to swerve to avoid collisions, or harassment or obstruction of air and ship crews, including with blinding lasers or water cannon.
Dozens of such maneuvers have occurred this year alone, Ely Ratner, US assistant defense secretary, said Tuesday at a South China Sea forum by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. China denies the incidents.
The US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security issues, described the need to create buffer zones around the speaker and her plane. The US already has substantial forces spread across the region, so any increased security could largely be handled by assets already in place.
The military would also have to be prepared for any incident — even an accident either in the air or on the ground. They said the US would need to have rescue capabilities nearby and suggested that could include helicopters on ships already in the area.
Pelosi, D-Calif., has not publicly confirmed any new plans for a trip to Taiwan. She was going to go in April, but she postponed the trip after testing positive for COVID-19.
The White House on Monday declined to weigh in directly on the matter, noting she had not confirmed the trip. But President Joe Biden last week raised concerns about it, telling reporters that the military thinks her trip is “not a good idea right now.”
A Pelosi trip may well loom over a call planned for Thursday between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, their first conversation in four months. A US official confirmed plans for the call to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity ahead of the formal announcement.
US officials have said the administration doubts that China would take direct action against Pelosi herself or try to sabotage the visit. But they don’t rule out the possibility that China could escalate provocative overflights of military aircraft in or near Taiwanese airspace and naval patrols in the Taiwan Strait should the trip take place. And they don’t preclude Chinese actions elsewhere in the region as a show of strength.
Security analysts were divided Tuesday about the extent of any threat during a trip and the need for any additional military protection.
The biggest risk during Pelosi’s trip is of some Chinese show of force “gone awry, or some type of accident that comes out of a demonstration of provocative action,” said Mark Cozad, acting associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corp. “So it could be an air collision. It could be some sort of missile test, and, again, when you’re doing those types of things, you know, there is always the possibility that something could go wrong.”
Barry Pavel, director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council, scoffed at US officials’ reported consideration of aircraft carriers and warplanes to secure the speaker’s safety. “Obviously, the White House does not want the speaker to go and I think that’s why you’re getting some of these suggestions.”
“She’s not going to go with an armada,” Pavel said.
They also said that a stepped-up US military presence to safeguard Pelosi risked raising tensions.
“It is very possible that ... our attempts to deter actually send a much different signal than the one we intend to send,” Cozad said. “And so you get into ... some sort of an escalatory spiral, where our attempts to deter are actually seen as increasingly provocative and vice versa. And that can be a very dangerous dynamic.”
On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Beijing had repeatedly expressed its “solemn position” over a potential Pelosi visit. He told reporters that China is prepared to “take firm and strong measures to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Milley said this week that the number of intercepts by Chinese aircraft and ships in the Pacific region with US and other partner forces has increased significantly over the past five years. He said Beijing’s military has become far more aggressive and dangerous, and that the number of unsafe interactions has risen by similar proportions.
Those include reports of Chinese fighter jets flying so close to a Canadian air security patrol last month that the Canadian pilot had to swerve to avoid collision, and another close call with an Australian surveillance flight in late May in which the Chinese crew released a flurry of metal scraps that were sucked into the other plane’s engine.
US officials say that the prospects of an intercept or show of force by Chinese aircraft near Pelosi’s flight raises concerns, prompting the need for American aircraft and other assets to be nearby.
The US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group is currently operating in the western Pacific, and made a port call in Singapore over the weekend. The strike group involves at least two other Navy ships and Carrier Air Wing 5, which includes F/A-18 fighter jets, helicopters and surveillance aircraft.
Prior to pulling into port in Singapore, the strike group was operating in the South China Sea. In addition, another Navy ship, the USS Benfold, a destroyer, has been conducting freedom of navigation operations in the region, including a passage through the Taiwan Strait last week.


Sri Lanka top court allows proceedings against former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, others

Sri Lanka top court allows proceedings against former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, others
Updated 56 min 2 sec ago

Sri Lanka top court allows proceedings against former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, others

Sri Lanka top court allows proceedings against former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, others
  • The case calls for accountability for the island nation’s leadership for its worst financial crisis in more than seven decades

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s top court has granted permission for proceedings against former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the rights group which filed the case against him said in a statement on Friday.
The court also agreed to allow proceedings against the country’s former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, its former finance minister and two of its former central bank governors.
The case, filed by rights group Transparency International, calls for accountability for the island nation’s leadership for its worst financial crisis in more than seven decades.


Police: 2 dead, 6 injured in stabbings along Las Vegas Strip

Police: 2 dead, 6 injured in stabbings along Las Vegas Strip
Updated 07 October 2022

Police: 2 dead, 6 injured in stabbings along Las Vegas Strip

Police: 2 dead, 6 injured in stabbings along Las Vegas Strip
  • The names of those wounded in the attack were not immediately released
  • Police described the suspect as a man in his 30s and said they were working to confirm his identity

LAS VEGAS: An attacker with a large kitchen knife killed two people and wounded six others in stabbings along the Las Vegas Strip before he was arrested Thursday, police said.
Three people were hospitalized in critical condition and another three were in stable condition, according to Las Vegas police, who said they began receiving 911 calls about the stabbings around 11:40 a.m. across the street from the Wynn casino and hotel.
The Clark County coroner’s office identified the victims who were killed as Brent Allan Hallett, 47, and Maris Mareen Digiovanni, 30, both Las Vegas residents, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
The names of those wounded in the attack were not immediately released.
Police described the suspect as a man in his 30s and said they were working to confirm his identity. He is not a Las Vegas resident, according to Metropolitan Police Department Deputy Chief James LaRochelle.
The initial stabbing was unprovoked and on the eastern sidewalk of Las Vegas Boulevard. The suspect then headed south and stabbed others, LaRochelle said.
The man fled and was followed by 911 callers before he was taken into custody, authorities said. Police recovered the “large knife with a long blade” believed to have been used, LaRochelle said, calling the case a “hard-to-comprehend murder investigation.”
There were no other suspects in the case and “the Strip is secure,” Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said.
Police said it was too early in their investigation to speculate on a possible motive for the stabbings.
“Locals and tourists are the victims of this crime,” Lombardo said.
Witnesses told Las Vegas TV stations that some of the victims appeared to be showgirls or street performers who take pictures with tourists on the Strip.
The suspect told a woman that he was a chef who wanted to take a picture with some of the showgirls with his knife, but he started stabbing people when the group declined the man’s offer, the woman told KTNV.
Jason Adams told KLAS that he witnessed the attack on a showgirl.
“This guy came, ran up, and started stabbing this lady in front of me and she ran around the escalators and she tried to get up under the bridge and her girlfriend was trying to help her,” Adams said, adding that the attack happened very quickly.
Pierre Fandrich, a tourist from Canada, told KTNV that he did not see the stabbing suspect as he was walking along the Strip. But he said he thought he heard “three or four showgirls laughing,” and it turned out to be screaming.
Fandrich said he saw “a lot of blood” as one woman ran across a bridge, one was on the ground, and another had a stab wound on her back as she tried to help the fallen woman.
Fandrich also told KTNV that he thought one of the victims fell from the bridge because there was so much blood on the ground.
Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak posted a message on social media saying, “Our hearts are with all those affected by this tragedy.”
“At the State level, we will continue to work with partners in law enforcement to make resources available on the ground and ensure the Las Vegas Strip remains a safe and welcoming place for all to visit,” Sisolak said.


Thailand mourns children, others slain by ex-police officer

Thailand mourns children, others slain by ex-police officer
Updated 07 October 2022

Thailand mourns children, others slain by ex-police officer

Thailand mourns children, others slain by ex-police officer
  • Police speculated the gunman targeted the center because it was near his home

UTHAI SAWAN, Thailand: Friends hugged sobbing family members struggling with staggering loss Friday in a rural northeastern Thailand community mourning the children and other victims slain by a fired police officer in the nation’s deadliest shooting rampage.
At least 24 of the 36 people killed in the assault Thursday in the small town of Uthai Sawan were children.
On Friday morning, royal and government representatives in white, military-style coats stood in lines to lay wreaths at ceremonial tables in front of the Young Children’s Development Center’s main door. They were followed by weeping family members, who gathered their hands in prayer before laying white flowers on the wooden floor.
“I cried until I had no more tears coming out of my eyes. They are running through my heart,” said Seksan Sriraj, 28, whose pregnant wife was a teacher at the center and was due to give birth this month. “My wife and my child have gone to a peaceful place. I am alive and will have to live. If I can’t go on, my wife and my child will be worried about me, and they won’t be reborn in the next life. That’s about it.”
Many relatives were gathered in front of the child care center to start the process of claiming compensation and psychologists were also sent to the site to help them. Seven of the 10 people who were wounded were still hospitalized Friday.
Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida were expected later Friday to visit two hospitals treating the wounded, and Prime Minster Prayuth Chan-ocha was expected to visit the daycare center and the hospitals.
When asked whether he thought the child care center was secure enough, Seksan noted the attacker had been a police officer. “He came to do what he had in his mind and was determined to do it. I think everyone did the best they could.”
Police speculated the gunman targeted the center because it was near his home. They identified him as Panya Kamrap, 34, a former police sergeant fired earlier this year because of a drug charge involving methamphetamine. He had been due to appear in court Friday.
Witnesses said the attacker got out of a car and shot a man eating lunch before pausing to reload. Staff at the child care center locked the door, but the gunman shot his way through it. The children, mainly 2- and 3-year-olds, had been taking an afternoon nap, and photos taken by first responders showed their tiny bodies still lying on blankets.
Panya took his own life after killing his wife and child at home.
Nopparat Langkapin, a local official in Uthai Sawan, said the victims were “all children of our community.”
“Relatives, families and close friends are deeply saddened by this incident. And we all felt this across the community very quickly. Most of us are feeling depressed and sad because they are our children,” he said.
The attack took place in Nongbua Lamphu province, one of the country’s poorest regions.
A video taken by a first responder arriving at the scene showed rescuers rushing into the single-story building past a shattered glass front door, with drops of blood visible on the ground in the entryway. Photos showed slashes to the victims’ faces and gunshots to their heads.
In footage posted online after the attack, frantic family members wept outside the building. The floor was smeared with blood, and pictures of the alphabet and other colorful decorations adorned the walls.
Mass shootings are rare but not unheard of in Thailand, which has one of the highest civilian gun ownership rates in Asia, with 15.1 weapons per 100 population compared to only 0.3 in Singapore and 0.25 in Japan. That’s still far lower than the US rate of 120.5 per 100 people, according to a 2017 survey by Australia’s GunPolicy.org nonprofit organization.
The US and Australia expressed sympathy and solidarity. “All Australians send their love and condolences,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tweeted. “This violence is both senseless and heartbreaking,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
Thailand’s previous worst mass shooting involved a disgruntled soldier who opened fire in and around a mall in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima in 2020, killing 29 people and holding off security forces for some 16 hours before eventually being killed by them.
Nearly 60 others were wounded in that attack. Its death toll surpassed that of the previously worst attack on civilians, a 2015 bombing at a shrine in Bangkok that killed 20 people. It was allegedly carried out by human traffickers in retaliation for a crackdown on their network.
Last month, a clerk shot co-workers at Thailand’s Army War College in Bangkok, killing two and wounding another before he was arrested.


Xi’s ‘final purge’ ahead of Chinese Communist Party congress

Xi’s ‘final purge’ ahead of Chinese Communist Party congress
Updated 07 October 2022

Xi’s ‘final purge’ ahead of Chinese Communist Party congress

Xi’s ‘final purge’ ahead of Chinese Communist Party congress
  • More than 1.5 million officials in China have been punished since Xi Jinping became leader a decade ago
  • Xi is widely expected to secure a third term as party leader, upending the succession norms in place since the 1990s

BEIJING: President Xi Jinping has embarked on a “final round of purges” ahead of a major Chinese Communist Party congress, wielding his long-running anti-corruption campaign to cement his grasp on power, analysts say.
When he became leader a decade ago, Xi vowed to root out dishonest officials, both senior “tigers” and low-ranking “flies.”
More than 1.5 million officials have been punished since then, according to data from the party disciplinary body, and China’s ranking on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index has improved.
But critics say the campaign is also a thinly veiled political tool that has helped Xi eliminate his rivals — and the build-up to this year’s congress has seen more heads roll.
About 1,100 officials have been caught in the party dragnet since the beginning of this year, according to party data.
Among them are former deputy public security minister Sun Lijun and former justice minister Fu Zhenghua, who will now spend the rest of their lives behind bars.
“This final round of purges, masquerading as an anti-corruption campaign, will ensure that Xi will have tighter if not absolute control over personnel and policy issues (at the Congress),” said Willy Lam, a political analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Xi is widely expected to secure a third term as party leader at the meeting, upending the succession norms in place since the 1990s.
“Despite all signs that his major goal of a third term is pretty much guaranteed, Xi is still paranoid about his control over appointments to key decision-making bodies within the party,” Lam added.

Once a trusted lieutenant of Xi, Sun oversaw security in Hong Kong during months of unrest in 2019 and was even sent to Wuhan at the start of the Covid pandemic.
But he reportedly fell from grace because of his political ambitions, and was officially accused of “seriously damaging the unity of the party.”
Sun confessed on national television in January to taking bribes worth $14 million, hidden inside boxes of what appeared to be seafood.
Others allegedly in his “political clique,” including Fu and three former police chiefs, were also rounded up and given harsh sentences.
“Sun Lijun’s case is linked to Xi’s absolute control of the security apparatus, which is indispensable for his political agenda,” said Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington.
“It also sends a stern message to anyone with dissenting views about Xi’s leadership.”
Chinese Communist Party politics — despite the facade of unity — has always been deeply factional with different groups vying for influence.
“There are some who are anti-Xi but very pro-party. They don’t like where the party is heading under him,” Alex Payette, chief executive of consultancy Cercius Group, told AFP.
The congress presents an opportunity for Xi to reduce that threat by promoting close allies to positions on the Politburo’s seven-person standing committee, the apex of power.

More than any other Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, Xi has built a strong personality cult, with children as young as 10 required to take lessons in “Xi Jinping Thought.”
And according to Wu Muluan, a Chinese politics expert at the National University of Singapore, he has used the anti-corruption campaign to turn the Communist Party “from a collective dictatorship to a personalist dictatorship.”
He has already brought under his wing the three critical power centers of the party — the military, the propaganda machine and the internal security apparatus — by rooting out dissenting voices and replacing them with his proteges.
For example, the recently appointed minister of public security Wang Xiaohong has known Xi at least since the mid-1990s, when they were both working in southeastern Fujian province.
“Xi is cherry-picking people who have shown absolute loyalty to him for decades,” Wu said.
Surrounding himself with allies going into his next term has become even more important given the significant political headwinds Xi faces, including an ailing economy, deteriorating relations with the United States and a strict zero-Covid policy that has accelerated China’s inward turn from the world.
“The anti-corruption card is a potent tool for Xi to send a message to the still-considerable number of opponents in the upper echelon of the party,” analyst Lam said.
“Any opposition could mean a jail term... or at least ugly harassment by the anti-graft agencies such as 24-hour surveillance.”
 


Latest 4-member SpaceX crew, including cosmonaut, welcomed aboard space station

Latest 4-member SpaceX crew, including cosmonaut, welcomed aboard space station
Updated 07 October 2022

Latest 4-member SpaceX crew, including cosmonaut, welcomed aboard space station

Latest 4-member SpaceX crew, including cosmonaut, welcomed aboard space station
  • The crew consists of two American NASA astronauts, a Japanese astronaut, and a Russian cosmonaut
  • Cosmonaut Anna Kikina joined the SpaceX Crew-5 flight under a NASA-Roscosmos ride-sharing agreement

A four-member SpaceX Crew Dragon team, including a Russian cosmonaut and the first Native American woman sent to orbit, safely docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday and moved aboard to begin a five-month science mission.
Rendezvous of the latest NASA expedition to the orbiting laboratory came just after 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) following a 29-hour flight to the ISS as the two vehicles circled the globe some 250 miles (420 km) above Earth off the west coast of Africa, according to a NASA webcast of the docking.
The autonomously flying Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Endurance, was lofted into orbit on Wednesday atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The crew consists of two American NASA astronauts — flight commander Nicole Aunapu Mann, 45, and pilot Josh Cassada, 49 — as well as Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, 59, a veteran of four previous spaceflights, and cosmonaut Anna Kikina, 38, the first Russian aboard an American spacecraft in 20 years.
The inclusion of Kikina, the lone female cosmonaut in active service with the Russian space agency Roscosmos, was a sign of continued US-Russian cooperation in space despite escalating tensions between Moscow and Washington over the war in Ukraine.
Kikina joined the SpaceX Crew-5 flight under a new ride-sharing agreement signed in July between NASA and Roscosmos allowing the two countries to keep flying on each other’s spacecraft to and from ISS.
The team was led by Mann, the first indigenous woman NASA has sent to space and the first woman to take the commander’s seat of a SpaceX Crew Dragon. Mann, a US Marine Corps colonel and combat fighter pilot, is also among the first group of 18 astronauts selected for NASA’s upcoming Artemis missions aimed at returning humans to the moon later this decade.
“We look forward to getting to work,” Mann radioed moments after the linkup was completed.
On arrival, the Endurance crew spent nearly two hours conducting a series of standard procedures, such as leak checks and pressurizing the chamber between the capsule and ISS, before opening the entry hatches.
A live NASA video feed showed the smiling new arrivals weightlessly floating headfirst through the padded passageway one by one into the station.
They were greeted with hugs and handshakes by the four-member team they are replacing — three Americans and the Italian station commander, Samantha Cristoforetti — as well as by two Russians and a fourth NASA astronaut who shared a Soyuz flight to the ISS last month.
“A lot of people are working hard to make sure our common manned space exploration will continue to exist, to develop further. We are living proof of this,” Kikina said in Russian remarks translated to English through a mission-control interpreter during a brief welcoming ceremony.
The Endurance crew marked the fifth full-fledged ISS team NASA has flown aboard a SpaceX capsule since the private rocket venture founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk began sending US astronauts to space in May 2020.
SpaceX has flown eight crewed missions to orbit in all, including non-NASA flights.
The new arrivals are set to conduct more than 200 experiments during their 150-day mission, many focused on medical research ranging from 3-D “bio-printing” of human tissue to a study of bacteria cultured in microgravity.
ISS, spanning the length of a football field, has been continuously occupied since 2000, operated by a US-Russian-led partnership that includes Canada, Japan and 11 European countries.