Pentagon: Budget readies US for possible China confrontation

Pentagon: Budget readies US for possible China confrontation
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin are greeted by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) before the start of a House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill March 23, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Updated 23 March 2023

Pentagon: Budget readies US for possible China confrontation

Pentagon: Budget readies US for possible China confrontation
  • ‘This is a strategy-driven budget,’ US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.
  • The testimony comes on the heels of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow

WASHINGTON: The US military must be ready for possible confrontation with China, the Pentagon’s leaders said Thursday, pushing Congress to approve the Defense Department’s proposed $842 billion budget, which would modernize the force in Asia and around the world.
“This is a strategy-driven budget — and one driven by the seriousness of our strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in testimony before the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense.
Pointing to increases in new technology, such as hypersonics, Austin said the budget proposes to spend more than $9 billion, a 40 percent increase over last year, to build up military capabilities in the Pacific and defend allies.
The testimony comes on the heels of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow, which added to concerns that China will step up its support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine and increasingly threaten the West.
China’s actions, said Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “are moving it down the path toward confrontation and potential conflict with its neighbors and possibly the United States.” He said deterring and preparing for war “is extraordinarily expensive, but it’s not as expensive as fighting a war. And this budget prevents war and prepares us to fight it if necessary.”
Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, pressed the defense leaders on Xi’s meeting with Putin and its impact on US competition with China, which he called “the elephant in the room.” The US, he said, is “at a crucial moment here.”
The growing alliance between China and Russia, two nuclear powers, and Xi’s overtures to Putin during the Ukraine war are “troubling,” Austin said.
He added that the US had not yet seen China provide arms to Russia, but if it does, “it would prolong the conflict and certainly broaden the conflict potentially not only in the region but globally.”
Milley, who will retire later this year, said the Defense Department must continue to modernize its forces to ensure they will be ready to fight if needed. “It is incumbent upon us to make sure we remain No. 1 at all times” to be able to deter China, he said.
Two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan eroded the military’s equipment and troop readiness, so the US has been working to replace weapons systems and give troops time to reset. It’s paid off, Milley told Congress.
“Our operational readiness rates are higher now than they have been in many, many years,” Milley said. More than 60 percent of the active force is at the highest states of readiness right now and could deploy to combat in less than 30 days, while 10 percent could deploy within 96 hours, he said.
Milley cautioned that those gains would be lost if Congress can’t pass a budget on time, because it will immediately affect training.
Members of the panel, including Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., also made it clear that while they support the ongoing US assistance to Ukraine, “the days of blank checks are over.” And they questioned the administration’s ultimate goal there.
Milley said the intent is to make sure that Ukraine remains a free and independent country with its territory intact, maintaining global security and the world order that has existing since World War II.
“If that goes out the window,” he said, “we’ll be doubling our defense budgets at that point, because that will introduce not an era of great power competition, that will begin an era of great power conflict. And that will be extraordinarily dangerous for the whole world.”
The hearing was likely one of Milley’s last in front of Congress. His four-year term as chairman — capping a 43-year military career — ends in October. While many members took the opportunity to thank him for those years of service, it was also an opportunity to press him on one of the darkest moments of his chairmanship — the loss of 13 service members to a suicide bomber at Abbey Gate during the chaotic American evacuation from Afghanistan.
Questions remain about the bombing, and Republicans have criticized President Joe Biden’s decision to completely withdraw from Afghanistan in August 2021. During an intense two-week evacuation, which took place as Kabul fell to the Taliban, US forces got more than 120,000 personnel out of the country, but paid a large price in the lives of US service members and Afghans. The withdrawal also left behind many Afghans who worked with and supported US troops during the war, and efforts to get them out continue.
“I can think of no greater tragedy than what happened at Abbey Gate. And I have yet to fully reconcile myself to that entire affair,” Milley told the panel members. He called the end state, which left the Taliban in control of the country, a strategic failure.
But that “did not happen in the last 19 days or even the last 19 months. That was a 20-year war,” Milley said. “There were decisions made all along the way which culminated in what the outcome was. And there’s many many lessons to be learned.”


North Korea announces ‘satellite’ launch: Japan

North Korea announces ‘satellite’ launch: Japan
Updated 11 sec ago

North Korea announces ‘satellite’ launch: Japan

North Korea announces ‘satellite’ launch: Japan
TOKYO: Japan said Monday it is preparing for North Korea to launch in the coming weeks what Pyongyang has described as a satellite, but Tokyo believes may be a ballistic missile.
Pyongyang has informed Japan’s coast guard that a rocket will be launched between May 31 and June 11 and will fall in waters near the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and east of Luzon Island in the Philippines, a coast guard spokesman told AFP.
However, the prime minister’s office in a tweet said Fumio Kishida issued instructions “on North Korea’s notification about the launch of a ballistic missile that it describes as a satellite.”
He has told officials to gather intelligence, remain vigilant and closely coordinate with allies including the United States and South Korea, the tweet added.
And Japan’s defense ministry has issued an order for the Air Self-Defense Force to destroy any ballistic missile confirmed to be on course to fall into the country’s territory.
The troops would be authorized to use Standard Missile SM-3 and Patriot Missile PAC-3 to shoot down a projectile in mid-air, the ministry said.
“Even if it’s described as a satellite, a launch using ballistic missile technology would be a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and a serious problem that threatens the safety of people,” Kishida told reporters.
Pyongyang has intensified its missile launches in recent months, with some triggering emergency warning systems in parts of Japan.
Seoul and Tokyo have meanwhile been working to mend long-frayed ties, including with greater cooperation on North Korea’s military threats.
Asked about possible negotiations with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, Kishida on Monday reiterated that Tokyo is open to talks, adding he was interested in “making concrete progress.”
North Korean state media meanwhile published a statement from its vice-minister of foreign affairs, appearing to endorse a conciliatory approach to relations with Japan — an unusual stance from Pyongyang.
If Japan avoids “being shackled by the past, and seeks a way out for improving the relations, there is no reason for the DPRK and Japan not to meet,” the statement from Pak Sang Gil said.

South Korean faces up to 10 years in prison for opening plane door

South Korean faces up to 10 years in prison for opening plane door
Updated 29 May 2023

South Korean faces up to 10 years in prison for opening plane door

South Korean faces up to 10 years in prison for opening plane door
  • The 33-year-old told investigators that he felt suffocated and tried to get off the plane quickly

SEOUL: A man who opened an emergency exit door during a flight in South Korea was formally arrested Sunday and faces up to 10 years in prison on a charge of violating the aviation security law, officials said.

During a preliminary questioning, the 33-year-old told investigators that he felt suffocated and tried to get off the plane quickly, according to police.

Twelve people were slightly injured on Friday after he opened the door of the Asiana Airlines Airbus A321-200, causing air to blast inside the cabin and terrifying passengers. Some testified they suffered severe ear pain and saw others screaming and crying. A video shared on social media shows passengers’ hair being whipped by air blowing into the cabin.

Normally, the emergency exit doors cannot be opened mid-flight due to the difference in air pressure inside and outside of the aircraft. But during Friday’s incident, the man succeeded in opening the door likely because the plane was flying at a low altitude while preparing to land and there wasn’t much difference in pressure, according to Asiana Airlines officials.

The Transport Ministry said the plane was at 213 meters when the man pulled the door open. The plane was preparing to land in Daegu on an hour-long flight from the southern island of Jeju with 200 people on board. They included teenage athletes on their way to a track and field competition, according to Asiana Airlines.

On Sunday, a district court in Daegu approved a warrant to formally arrest the man. Police earlier sought the arrest warrant, citing the graveness of the crime and a possibility the man may flee, according to Daegu police.

“I wanted to get off the plane soon,” the man, whose face was covered by a black hoodie, a cap and a mask, told reporters at the court ahead of its review of his arrest warrant. “I’m really sorry to kids,” he said, in a likely reference to the teenage athletes.

Daegu police said they have up to 20 days to investigate the man before determining whether to send him to prosecutors for a possible indictment.

If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for breaching the aviation security law that bars passengers from handling entry doors, emergency exit doors and other equipment on board, according to the Transport Ministry.

Daegu police said the man, surnamed Lee, told them that he was under stress after losing a job recently and that he wanted to get out of the plane soon because he was feeling suffocated just before landing.

The people who were taken to hospitals were mainly treated for minor problems such as breathing difficulties.

Asiana Airlines said in a statement that starting from Sunday, it stopped the sale of emergency exit seats on its 174-seat A321-200 planes and the 195-seat A321-200s as a safety precaution. Lee was seated near the emergency exit, airline officials said.


Indian PM inaugurates new parliament building amid opposition boycott

Indian PM inaugurates new parliament building amid opposition boycott
Updated 28 May 2023

Indian PM inaugurates new parliament building amid opposition boycott

Indian PM inaugurates new parliament building amid opposition boycott
  • Opposition describes inauguration by Narendra Modi ‘direct assault’ on democracy
  • New parliament part of controversial, $2.8bn Central Vista project

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated on Sunday a new parliament building in New Delhi amid a boycott of the ceremony by 20 opposition parties.

The triangle-shaped, four-storey building located in the heart of the capital cost nearly $120 million and is part of a controversial $2.8 billion revamp of the capital’s historic center called the Central Vista project.

Modi said the new parliament building was a “reflection of the aspirations of new India.”

“The new parliament building will be a testament to the dawn of a self-reliant India. It will be a witness to our journey toward a developed India,” he said at the inauguration ceremony.

FASTFACT

The triangle-shaped, four-story building located in the heart of the capital cost nearly $120 million and is part of a controversial $2.8 billion revamp of the capital’s historic center called the Central Vista project.

“Some moments in the developmental journey of a nation get immortalized, today is one such day. The new parliament complex will witness the realization of our developed India resolution.”

Modi also installed the Sengol, or a symbolic scepter, in the legislature’s lower house, a gold-plated object that the government claimed was gifted to India’s first prime minister on the eve of its independence from Great Britain in 1947.

The Central Vista project covers new construction of various government offices, including a residence and office for the premier as well as 10 blocks of buildings to house ministries and departments.

The government has stated that the new upgrades were necessary to increase seating capacity and allow for better facilities. The original parliament building, for example, dates to 1927 and had only around 800 seats combined for both the lower and upper house, while the newly inaugurated building had room for more than 1,000 seats.

Yet the project has sparked controversy since it was first announced, as civil society groups, opposition politicians, and environmentalists questioned the cost and need for all-new buildings.

Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has also been facing backlash for sidelining the President Droupadi Murmu by asking the PM to inaugurate the building instead. Though the Indian president is a non-elected and non-executive position, they are considered a ceremonial figurehead as the country’s first citizen and highest constitutional authority.

The opposition boycott was sparked by Modi’s decision to “inaugurate the new parliament building by himself,” which national and regional opposition parties said was “not only a grave insult but a direct assault on our democracy.”

A joint statement issued by the opposition parties on Wednesday said: “When the soul of democracy has been sucked out from the parliament, we find no value in a new building.”

Aditya Mukherjee, writer and former professor at Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University, criticized the timing of the project and how it was carried out.

He told Arab News: “The whole project has been mired in controversy right from the beginning because the foundation was laid at a time when the whole nation was passing through a deadly second wave of coronavirus.

“No consultation was held before the foundation stone for the new parliament was laid.”

Sunday’s ceremonial event, which also involved religious rituals and Hindu priests, also came under scrutiny.

“The whole effort is just to glorify the current prime minister. It is a matter of great shame that a parliament of the world’s largest democracy is being inaugurated in the absence of the main opposition parties,” Mukherjee said.

 


Pakistani pilgrims laud Hajj arrangements

Pakistani pilgrims in Madinah have expressed satisfaction with the arrangements made by the government. (SPA)
Pakistani pilgrims in Madinah have expressed satisfaction with the arrangements made by the government. (SPA)
Updated 28 May 2023

Pakistani pilgrims laud Hajj arrangements

Pakistani pilgrims in Madinah have expressed satisfaction with the arrangements made by the government. (SPA)
  • Saudi authorities reinstated Pakistan’s pre-pandemic Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims in January and scrapped the upper age limit of 65

ISLAMABAD: With Hajj flight operation to Saudi Arabia in full swing, Pakistani pilgrims in Madinah have expressed satisfaction with the arrangements made by the government, saying their experience has so far been “better than expected.”

Saudi authorities reinstated Pakistan’s pre-pandemic Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims in January and scrapped the upper age limit of 65.

About 80,000 pilgrims are scheduled to perform Hajj under the government scheme in the ongoing year while the rest will be facilitated by private tour operators.

The first group of Pakistani Hajj pilgrims arrived in Madinah on May 22, while the last flight will depart from Pakistan on June 20.

According to Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Ministry, these pilgrims will depart for Makkah after spending eight days in Madinah.

“The arrangements made for us here by the Pakistani government are better than expected,” Mohammed Farrukh, a pilgrim from southern Karachi city, said in a video interview circulated by the ministry.

“(The ministry officials) have addressed all our concerns. For instance, we were worried about purchasing sacrificial animals for Hajj. But the government returned our money so we could buy the animal of our choice.”

Another pilgrim from Peshawar, Naveed Durrani, said he boarded the Hajj flight from Islamabad.

“The hotel (booked for us) is right opposite the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, which is very convenient for us,” he added.

While most pilgrims maintained they had not faced any problem in the Kingdom, they said patience was still the key to a pleasant experience.

“I am here for Hajj for the first time and this experience has been very good,” said Zara, a pilgrim from Lahore who only revealed her first name.

“Even if we complain about small issues, they are immediately addressed,” she added. “But we should remember that Hajj teaches us patience and how to be a good human, which is the key to a good experience.”


UK launches ad drive to deter Albanian migrants

The scheme is the latest attempt by UK authorities to control the number of migrants making the journey across the Channel.
The scheme is the latest attempt by UK authorities to control the number of migrants making the journey across the Channel.
Updated 28 May 2023

UK launches ad drive to deter Albanian migrants

The scheme is the latest attempt by UK authorities to control the number of migrants making the journey across the Channel.
  • They ‘face being detained and removed’ if they reach Britain illegally, adverts warn
  • Charity CEO: Campaign ‘repeats myth that refugee migration is illegal’

LONDON: The UK Home Office is launching an advertising campaign to discourage Albanian migrants from traveling to Britain illegally via small boats.

The scheme, which will use Facebook and Instagram, is the latest attempt by British authorities to control the number of migrants making the dangerous journey across the English Channel. Albanians “face being detained and removed” if they reach Britain illegally, the adverts warn.

So far this year, more than 6,000 migrants have crossed from mainland Europe into Britain using small vessels.

The Home Office did not release information about the advertising campaign’s cost, but said it would “make clear the perils” that migrants could face in making the journey.

It described Albania as a “safe and prosperous country,” adding that migrants are making “spurious asylum claims” following their arrival in the UK.

But the campaign, which will launch next week, has been criticized by migrant advocacy groups and the main opposition Labour Party.

Refugee Action CEO Tim Naor Hilton said the advertising is “pointless” and “repeats the myth that refugee migration is illegal.

He added: “If the government wanted to smash the smuggling gangs and stop people crossing the Channel in flimsy boats, it would create more safe routes for refugees to travel here to claim asylum.”

The new campaign follows a similar scheme launched last August by the Home Office, which also used social media to deter Albanian would-be asylum seekers.

Albanians were the top asylum claimants in the UK from January to March this year, with 13,714 people from the Balkan country filing applications.

Care4Calais CEO Steve Smith warned that the new advertising campaign would fail to meet its objectives.

“No amount of taxpayer-funded PR spin will deter refugees, who have experienced some of the worst things imaginable from war and conflict to torture and human rights abuses, from seeking a safe future,” he said.

“The only solution that will put people smugglers out of business, stop small boat crossings and save lives is to offer safe passage to refugees with a viable asylum claim in the UK.”

The campaign follows the launch of the government’s proposed Illegal Migration Bill, which aims to deport asylum seekers who arrive in the UK illegally to their countries of origin or Rwanda.

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said: “We are determined to stop the boats and the campaign, launching in Albania this week, is just one component of the Home Office’s work upstream to help dispel myths about illegal travel to the UK, explain the realities and combat the lies peddled by evil people smugglers who profit from this vile trade.”