US Announces $1bn In New Arms Aid For Ukraine

In this file photo, US President Joe Biden (C) talks to service members from the 82nd Airborne Division, who are contributing alongside Polish Allies to deterrence on the Alliance’s Eastern Flank, in the city of Rzeszow in southeastern Poland, around 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the border with Ukraine, on March 25, 2022.  Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP

 

The Pentagon announced Monday $1 billion in fresh military aid for Ukraine, including additional precision missiles for the Himars system that have helped Kyiv’s forces attack Russian troops far behind the front lines.

The package also includes more surface-to-air missiles for defense against Russian aircraft and rockets, more Javelin anti-armor rockets, and other ammunition, according to a statement from the US Department of Defense.

“These are all critical capabilities to help the Ukrainians repel the Russian offensive in the east, and also to address evolving developments in the south and elsewhere,” said Under Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl.

It took to $9.1 billion the amount of security assistance the United States has provided Ukraine since Russia invaded the country on February 24.

READ ALSOChina’s Largest-Ever Taiwan Military Drills Draw To A Close

“The United States stands with allies and partners from more than 50 countries in providing vital security assistance to support Ukraine’s defense of its sovereignty and territorial integrity against Russia’s aggression,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“We will continue to consult closely with Ukraine and surge additional available systems and capabilities, carefully calibrated to make a difference on the battlefield and strengthen Ukraine’s eventual position at the negotiating table,” Blinken said in a statement.

Separately, the World Bank announced Monday $4.5 billion in aid for Ukraine paid for by the United States.

The funds will help Kyiv pay for services and pensions, key to easing economic impacts of the Russian invasion, the bank said in a statement.

“This economic assistance is critical in supporting the Ukrainian people as they defend their democracy against Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression,” US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

AFP

Biden Out Of Isolation After Testing Negative For COVID-19

In this file photo, US President Joe Biden speaks about supporting Ukrainians defending their country against Russia, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 28, 2022.  Jim WATSON / AFP

 

US President Joe Biden was out of isolation on Sunday, after testing negative for Covid for a second day in a row, the first time he was able to leave the White House since July 20.

Biden, 79, had tested positive for Covid and returned to isolation on July 30, in a result doctors attributed to “rebound” positivity from his earlier bout of the illness.

“I’m feeling good,” the smiling president told pool reporters at the White House as he boarded a helicopter which then flew him to his beach home in Delaware.

He was also optimistic about a sweeping climate and health care bill that was being debated in the Senate overnight Sunday, telling reporters: “I think it’s going to pass.”

READ ALSOUS Says Russia Will Fake Scene Around Mass POW Deaths To Blame Ukraine

The president “will safely return to public engagement and presidential travel,” his physician Kevin O’Connor said in a statement announcing the negative test.

According to Biden’s official schedule he is set to travel to the southern state of Kentucky, the scene of devastating floods, on Monday.

AFP

US Conspiracy Theorist Ordered To Pay $45.2mn For Spreading Fake News

 In this file photo taken on January 20, 2020 radio show host Alex Jones joins thousands of gun rights advocates attending a rally organized by The Virginia Citizens Defense League on Capitol Square near the state capitol building in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by WIN MCNAMEE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)
In this file photo taken on January 20, 2020 radio show host Alex Jones joins thousands of gun rights advocates attending a rally organized by The Virginia Citizens Defense League on Capitol Square near the state capitol building in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by WIN MCNAMEE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

 

A Texas jury ordered US conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on Friday to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages for falsely claiming that the deadly 2012 Sandy Hook elementary shooting was a “hoax.”

The verdict came a day after the same jury awarded a couple whose child died at Sandy Hook $4.1 million in compensatory damages for the emotional stress caused by Jones broadcasting falsehoods for years on his InfoWars online and radio talk shows.

The huge sum ordered from Jones, who for years gathered a sizable following for his often outlandish conspiracy claims, vindicated the lawsuits against him by families of some of the 20 schoolchildren and six adults killed by a 20-year-old man in one of the country’s deadliest school shootings.

READ ALSO: China Scraps Cooperation With US Over Taiwan Spat

The $49.3 million total judgement was far less than the $150 million sought by the plaintiffs in the Texas case, Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose six-year-old son Jesse was killed.

Still, Lewis said that Jones had been “held accountable.”

“Today the jury proved that most of America is ready to choose love over fear and I’ll be forever grateful to them,” Lewis tweeted.

Jones, a vocal supporter of former president Donald Trump, claimed for years on InfoWars that the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, was “staged” by gun control activists.

He has since acknowledged it was “100 percent real,” but the Sandy Hook families maintained that his denialism, coupled with his ability to influence the beliefs of thousands of followers, caused real emotional trauma.

He was also accused of pulling in massive profits from harmful lies and disinformation.

The judgement is not likely the end of legal woes for the 48-year-old Jones, who is also facing another defamation suit in Connecticut.

He has been found liable in multiple defamation cases brought by parents of the Sandy Hook victims, and the Texas case was the first to reach the damages phase.

He is also under scrutiny for his participation in the January 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol by Trump supporters.

During the hearing ahead of the decision Friday, Wesley Ball, attorney for the parents who brought the case, urged the jury to take a stand against misinformation.

“You have the ability to send a message for everyone in this country and perhaps this world to hear,” he said.

“And that is stop Alex Jones. Stop the monetization of misinformation and lies,” he added.

“Stopping Alex Jones stops the root of his message and the root of his message is fear and hate.”

The $45.2 million was close to the maximum allowed in relation to the original compensatory damages.

InfoWars declared bankruptcy in April and another company owned by Jones, Free Speech Systems, filed for bankruptcy last week.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers union, which represented the staff at Sandy Hook, praised Friday’s verdict.

“Nothing will ever fix the pain of losing a child, or of watching that tragedy denied for political reasons,” she tweeted. “But I’m glad the parents of Sandy Hook have gotten some justice.”

AFP

China Scraps Cooperation With US Over Taiwan Spat

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (2nd R), joined by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (R), speaks while facing Yang Jiechi (2nd L), director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office, and Wang Yi (L), China's Foreign Minister at the opening session of US-China talks at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska on March 18, 2021. Frederic J. BROWN / POOL / AFP
File photo: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (2nd R), joined by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (R), speaks while facing Yang Jiechi (2nd L), director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office, and Wang Yi (L), China’s Foreign Minister at the opening session of US-China talks at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska on March 18, 2021. Frederic J. BROWN / POOL / AFP

 

China said Friday it was ending cooperation with the United States on a litany of key issues including climate change, anti-drug efforts and military talks, as relations between the two superpowers nosedive over Taiwan.

Beijing has reacted furiously to a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, which it claims as its territory and has vowed to retake — by force if necessary.

It has since Thursday encircled the self-ruled, democratic island with a series of huge military drills that have been roundly condemned by the United States and other Western allies.

And Friday saw its foreign ministry hit back further against the United States, suspending talks and cooperation on multiple agreements between the two — including on climate change.

The world’s two largest polluters last year pledged to work together to accelerate climate action this decade, and vowed to meet regularly to “address the climate crisis”.

READ ALSOUS Says Russia Will Fake Scene Around Mass POW Deaths To Blame Ukraine

But that deal looks shaky as relations sink to some of their lowest levels in years, as do agreements on everything from talks on military matters to anti-drug cooperation.

Pelosi — who Beijing also hit with sanctions for the visit — has defended her trip to Taiwan, saying Friday that Washington would “not allow” China to isolate the island.

In Washington, the White House summoned China’s ambassador to Washington to condemn Beijing’s “irresponsible” behaviour over Taiwan, a senior US official said Friday.

Taiwan has also condemned Beijing’s response to the visit, with premier Su Tseng-chang calling for allies to push for de-escalation.

“(We) didn’t expect that the evil neighbour next door would show off its power at our door and arbitrarily jeopardise the busiest waterways in the world with its military exercises,” he told reporters.

‘Our Motherland Is Powerful’ 

Beijing has said its military exercises will continue until midday Sunday, and Taipei reported that 68 Chinese planes and 13 warships crossed the “median line” that runs down the Taiwan Strait on Friday.

AFP journalists on the Chinese island of Pingtan saw a fighter jet flying overhead, prompting tourists to snap photos as it flew along the coast.

A Chinese military vessel sailing through the Taiwan Strait was also visible, they added.

China’s drills involved a “conventional missile firepower assault” in waters to the east of Taiwan, the Chinese military said.

And state broadcaster CCTV reported that Chinese missiles had flown directly over Taiwan — a major escalation if officially confirmed.

On the Chinese island of Pingtan, local tourists proudly extolled their country’s military might against its much smaller neighbour.

“Our motherland is powerful. We are not afraid of having war with Taiwan, the US or any country in the world,” Liu, a 40-year-old tourist from Zhejiang province, told AFP.

“We hope to unify Taiwan soon. We are not scared of anyone,” he added.

“We don’t want to start a war, but we are not afraid of others.”

Wang, a businesswoman, was more sanguine about prospects for cross-strait ties.

“I hope China can unify Taiwan, but I don’t want war,” she said. “I hope this issue can be solved in a peaceful way.”

‘Significant Escalation’ 

The scale and intensity of China’s drills have triggered outrage in the United States and other democracies.

“These provocative actions are a significant escalation,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after talks with Southeast Asian foreign ministers at an ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh.

“The fact is, the speaker’s visit was peaceful. There is no justification for this extreme, disproportionate and escalatory military response,” he added.

China’s foreign minister countered with a warning for the United States, urging Washington not to escalate tensions.

“America’s habit is to create a problem and then use this problem to achieve its goals. But this approach will not work with China,” Wang Yi said at a press conference on the sidelines of the same summit.

“We want to issue a warning to the US not to act rashly and not to create a bigger crisis.”

Japan has lodged a formal diplomatic complaint against Beijing, with five of China’s missiles believed to have landed in its exclusive economic zone.

On Friday, Japan’s foreign ministry said China “cancelled” a planned bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit.

And Australia — which has a troubled relationship with China, its largest trading partner — condemned the drills as “disproportionate and destabilising”.

The manoeuvres are taking place along some of the world’s busiest shipping routes, used to disseminate the global supply of vital semiconductors and electronic equipment produced in East Asia.

AFP

‘Evil Neighbour’: Taiwan Condemns China Over War Drills

his screen grab from a video by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theater Command on August 4, 2022 made available on the Eurovision Social Newswire (ESN) platform via AFPTV shows a missile being fired during a Chinese military exercise in China on August 4, 2022. (Photo by various sources / AFP) 

 

Taiwan blasted its “evil neighbour next door” on Friday after China encircled the island with a series of huge military drills that were condemned by the United States and other Western allies.

During Thursday’s military exercises, which continued Friday, China fired ballistic missiles and deployed both fighter jets and warships around Taiwan.

The People’s Liberation Army declared multiple no-go danger zones around Taiwan, straddling some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and at some points coming within 20 kilometres (12 miles) of the island’s shores.

Beijing has said the exercises will continue until midday Sunday, and Taipei reported that Chinese fighter jets and ships crossed the “median line” that runs down the Taiwan Strait on Friday morning.

READ ALSOUS Says Russia Will Fake Scene Around Mass POW Deaths To Blame Ukraine

“As of 11am, multiple batches of Chinese warplanes and warships conducted exercises around the Taiwan Strait and crossed the median line of the strait,” Taipei’s defence ministry said in a statement.

The median line is an unofficial but once largely adhered-to border that runs down the middle of the Taiwan Strait, which separates Taiwan and China.

Chinese incursions have become more common since Beijing declared in 2020 that the unofficial border no longer existed.

AFP journalists on the picturesque Chinese island of Pingtan saw a fighter jet flying overhead, prompting tourists to snap photos as it flew along the coast.

A Chinese military vessel was also visible sailing through the Taiwan Strait, they added.

Beijing has insisted its war games are a “necessary” response to a visit to the self-ruled, democratic island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but Washington countered that China’s leaders had “chosen to overreact”.

Pelosi defended her visit Friday, saying Washington would “not allow” China to isolate Taiwan.

“We have said from the start that our representation here is not about changing the status quo here in Asia, changing the status quo in Taiwan,” she told reporters in Tokyo on the final leg of an Asia tour.

Taiwan’s premier Su Tseng-chang, meanwhile, called for allies to push for de-escalation.

“(We) didn’t expect that the evil neighbour next door would show off its power at our door and arbitrarily jeopardise the busiest waterways in the world with its military exercises,” he told reporters.

Missiles Over Taiwan 

Tourists look on as a Chinese military helicopter flies past Pingtan island, one of mainland China’s closest point from Taiwan, in Fujian province on August 4, 2022, ahead of massive military drills off Taiwan following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-ruled island.  (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP)

 

China’s drills involved a “conventional missile firepower assault” in waters to the east of Taiwan, the Chinese military said.

The state-run Xinhua news agency said the Chinese military “flew more than 100 warplanes including fighters and bombers” during the exercises, as well as “over 10 destroyers and frigates”.

State broadcaster CCTV reported that Chinese missiles had flown directly over Taiwan.

Japan also claimed that of the nine missiles it had detected, four were “believed to have flown over Taiwan’s main island”.

Taipei’s military said it would not confirm missile flight paths, in a bid to protect its intelligence capabilities and not allow China “to intimidate us”.

‘Temperature’s Pretty High’ 

China’s ruling Communist Party views Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to one day take it, by force if necessary.

But the scale and intensity of the drills have triggered outrage in the United States and other democracies.

“China has chosen to overreact and use the speaker’s visit as a pretext to increase provocative military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait,” John Kirby, a White House spokesman, told reporters.

“The temperature’s pretty high”, but tensions “can come down very easily by just having the Chinese stop these very aggressive military drills”, he added.

Japan lodged a formal diplomatic complaint against Beijing, with five of China’s missiles believed to have landed in its exclusive economic zone.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called China’s exercises a “serious problem that impacts our national security and the safety of our citizens” and called for an “immediate cancellation of the military drills”.

But Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the “flagrant provocation” by the United States had set an “egregious precedent”.

Trading Places 

The manoeuvres are taking place along some of the busiest shipping routes on the planet, used to supply vital semiconductors and electronic equipment produced in East Asian factory hubs to global markets.

Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Bureau has warned ships to avoid the areas being used for the Chinese drills.

“The shutting down of these transport routes — even temporarily — has consequences not only for Taiwan, but also trade flows tied to Japan and South Korea,” Nick Marro, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s lead analyst for global trade, wrote in a note.

Taiwan said the drills would disrupt 18 international routes passing through its flight information region while several international airlines told AFP they would divert flights.

But markets in Taipei appeared to shrug off the tensions, with the Taiwan Taiex Shipping and Transportation Index, which tracks major shipping and airline stocks, up 2.3 percent early Friday.

And analysts broadly agree that despite all its aggressive posturing, Beijing does not want an active military conflict against the United States and its allies over Taiwan — just yet.

“The last thing Xi wants is an accidental war ignited,” Titus Chen, an associate professor of political science at the National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan, told AFP.

AFP

US Declares Monkeypox A Public Health Emergency

Monkeypox virus was first identified by Preben von Magnus in 1958 as a pathogen of crab-eating macaque monkeys
Monkeypox virus was first identified by Preben von Magnus in 1958 as a pathogen of crab-eating macaque monkeys

 

US President Joe Biden’s government on Thursday declared monkeypox a public health emergency, a move that should free up new funds, assist in data gathering and allow the deployment of additional personnel in the fight against the disease.

The move came as nationwide cases topped 6,600, around a quarter of them from New York state, and experts warned swift action was needed if the outbreak is to be contained in its early stages.

“We’re prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus,” Health and Human Services secretary Xavier Becerra said in a call.

Observers believe the real number of cases could be much higher than official figures suggest, since symptoms in the current global outbreak, which began in May, have included subtle signs, such as single lesions, in addition to the more familiar widespread rashes.

This can lead to cases being missed or misdiagnosed as the presentation is similar to common sexually transmitted infections.

READ ALSO: US Says Russia Will Fake Scene Around Mass POW Deaths To Blame Ukraine

The US has so far delivered some 600,000 JYNNEOS vaccines — originally developed against monkeypox’s related virus, smallpox — but this number is still far short of the approximately 1.6 million people considered at highest risk and who need the vaccine most.

Supply chain constraints mean the country should receive its next shipment of 150,000 JYNNEOS vaccines — which was developed with US federal funding but is made by a small Danish company called Bavarian Nordic — only by September, said Dawn O’Connell, a senior HHS official.

 Sexual Activity Main Driver 

Some 99 percent of US cases have so far been among men who have sex with men, HHS said last week, and this is the population authorities are targeting in the national vaccination strategy.

In contrast to previous outbreaks in Africa, the virus is now predominantly spread through sexual activity — but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says other routes are also possible, including sharing bedding, clothing, and prolonged face-to-face contact.

Authorities are carrying out specific outreach efforts to the MSM community, including advising them on new types of symptoms and suggesting reducing their number of sexual partners until vaccinated.

There are a small but rising number of women and children who have also been affected as a result of sexual or household contact.

Fortunately, there have been no reported US deaths, with all patients so far recovering. However, some have required hospitalization to treat extreme levels of pain.

Some 14,000 doses of an antiviral drug known as tecovirimat, or TPOXX by its trade name, have been delivered to treat the disease — but the drug was developed against smallpox and its efficacy against monkeypox isn’t yet fully understood.

The focus on MSMs has led to concerns of stigmatization.

But writing in Medscape, University of California, San Francisco professor Monica Gandhi said the focus on the most affected population was helpful.

“Just like with HIV and COVID, it is important to define populations most at risk so we can prioritize targeted messaging and resources toward those groups,” she said.

Five Vaccines from One Dose 

The US declaration comes after the World Health Organization also designated the outbreak an emergency last month — something it reserves for diseases of highest concern.

Also Thursday, US Food and Drug Administration commissioner Robert Califf said his agency was considering changing the way the vaccine is injected, adopting an approach that would allow five times as many people to be vaccinated based on the same supply.

The vaccine is currently administered underneath the skin, but the new technique would involve administering it within the skin, at a more shallow angle.

This “means basically sticking the needle within the skin and creating a little pocket there into which the vaccine goes, so this is really nothing highly unusual,” said Califf.

The US will first need to declare another type of emergency so the new vaccine administration method can be greenlighted, he added. ia

AFP

US Says Russia Will Fake Scene Around Mass POW Deaths To Blame Ukraine

A photo combination of US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladmir Putin
A photo combination of US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladmir Putin

 

The White House accused Moscow Thursday of preparing to plant fake evidence to make it look like the recent mass killing of Ukrainian prisoners in an attack on a Russian-controlled prison was caused by the Ukraine military.

Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame over the strikes on the prison in Kremlin-controlled Olenivka in eastern Ukraine, which Russia said took place overnight on July 29.

“We expect that Russian officials are planning to falsify evidence in order to attribute the attack on the Olenivka prison on the 29th of July,” said White House spokesman John Kirby.

“We anticipate that Russian officials will try to frame Ukrainian armed forces in anticipation of journalists and potential investigators visiting the site of the attack,” Kirby told reporters.

Kirby cited undisclosed US intelligence reports in making the claim.

But he said the United States expects that Moscow will try to pin the blame on a US-supplied Himars precision-guided missile, using “planted evidence” of fragments of such missiles allegedly found at the site.

Claims to that extent are already appearing in the media, Kirby said.

More than 50 soldiers died in the incident, including troops who had surrendered after weeks of defending the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol.

Russia has claimed that Ukraine carried out a strike on its own captured fighters, while Ukrainian authorities accuse Russia of covering up a deliberate massacre.

Russian television images showed a charred room crammed with burned bed frames but independent experts are so far unclear on what could have caused the damage visible.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky called it “a deliberate mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war.”

The United Nations has announced a fact-finding mission, though it has not yet received final approval from Kyiv or Moscow.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had requested access to the site immediately after learning of the alleged attack on July 29.

But on Wednesday the ICRC said it had not yet received access to understand the fate of the Ukrainian prisoners of war.

“As of yet, we have not been granted access to the PoWs affected by the attack nor do we have security guarantees to carry out this visit,” the organization said.

“We will keep requesting access to PoWs who are or were held in Olenivka, and any other sites where PoWs are held, guided by our humanitarian commitment and our mandate under the Geneva Conventions.”

AFP

China Fires Missiles Around Taiwan In Major Military Drills

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (C) being welcomed by Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (L) after landing at Songshan Airport in Taipei, Taiwan on August 2, 2022. Taiwanese Foreign Ministry / Handout / Anadolu Agency
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (C) being welcomed by Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (L) after landing at Songshan Airport in Taipei, Taiwan on August 2, 2022. Taiwanese Foreign Ministry / Handout / Anadolu Agency

 

China fired ballistic missiles and deployed fighter jets and warships on Thursday as it held its largest-ever military exercises around Taiwan, a show of force sparked by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island.

Pelosi was the highest-profile US official to visit Taiwan in years, defying a series of stark threats from Beijing, which views the self-ruled island as its territory.

In retaliation, China launched a series of exercises in multiple zones around Taiwan, straddling some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and at some points just 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the island’s shore.

The drills began around 12 noon local time (0400 GMT), and involved a “conventional missile firepower assault” in waters to the east of Taiwan, the Chinese military said.

Taiwan said the Chinese military fired 11 Dongfeng-class ballistic missiles “in several batches” and condemned the exercises as “irrational actions that undermine regional peace”.

Taipei did not say where the missiles landed or whether they flew over the island.

But Japan, a key US ally, said that of the nine missiles it had detected, four were “believed to have flown over Taiwan’s main island”.

READ ALSO27 Chinese Warplanes Enter Taiwan’s Air Defence Zone: Taipei

Tokyo has lodged a diplomatic protest with Beijing over the exercises, with Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi saying five of the missiles were believed to have landed in his country’s exclusive economic zone.

Taipei’s defence ministry said it had detected 22 Chinese fighter jets briefly crossing the Taiwan Strait’s “median line” during Thursday’s exercises.

AFP journalists on the border island of Pingtan saw several small projectiles flying into the sky followed by plumes of white smoke and loud booming sounds.

On the mainland, at what is said to be China’s closest point to Taiwan, AFP saw a batch of five military helicopters flying at a relatively low altitude near a popular tourist spot.

Beijing has said the drills will last until midday on Sunday.

‘Unprecedentedly Close Range’ 

Tourists look on as a Chinese military helicopter flies past Pingtan island, one of mainland China’s closest point from Taiwan, in Fujian province on August 4, 2022, ahead of massive military drills off Taiwan following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-ruled island. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP)

 

Beijing has defended the drills as “necessary and just”, pinning the blame for the escalation on the United States and its allies.

“In the face of this blatant provocation, we have to take legitimate and necessary countermeasures to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing Thursday.

Military analysts told Beijing’s state broadcaster CCTV that the goal was to practice a possible blockade of the island and contain its pro-independence forces.

“The purpose is to show that the PLA is capable of controlling all the exits of the Taiwan Island, which will be a great deterrent to ‘Taiwan independence’ secessionist forces,” Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at China’s Naval Research Institute, said.

“The operations are conducted in an unprecedentedly close range to the Taiwan Island,” Meng Xiangqing, a military expert, stressed.

“The operations will leave a deterrence effect that is stronger than ever before.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington had contacted Beijing “at every level of government” in recent days to call for calm and stability.

“I hope very much that Beijing will not manufacture a crisis or seek a pretext to increase its aggressive military activity,” Blinken told ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Phnom Penh.

Speaking at the same meeting, Japan’s foreign minister called for an ‘immediate stop’ to China’s military drills near Taiwan.

“China’s actions this time have a serious impact on the peace and stability of the region and the international community,” Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters.

The manoeuvres are taking place along some of the busiest shipping routes on the planet, used to supply vital semiconductors and electronic equipment produced in East Asian factory hubs to global markets.

Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Bureau has issued warnings to ships to avoid the areas being used for the Chinese drills.

The Taiwanese cabinet said the drills would disrupt 18 international routes passing through its flight information region (FIR).

 ‘A Clear Escalation’

 

Taiwan’s 23 million people have long lived with the possibility of an invasion, but that threat has intensified under President Xi Jinping, China’s most assertive ruler in a generation.

Analysts said the Chinese leadership is keen to project strength ahead of a crucial ruling party meeting this autumn at which Xi is expected to be given an unprecedented third term.

“China’s announced military exercises represent a clear escalation from the existing baseline of Chinese military activities around Taiwan and from the last Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1995-1996,” said Amanda Hsiao, senior analyst for China at the International Crisis Group.

“Beijing is signalling that it rejects Taiwan’s sovereignty.”

Nevertheless, analysts have told AFP that China is not aiming to escalate the situation beyond its control — at least for now.

Titus Chen, an associate professor of political science at the National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan, said: “The last thing Xi wants is an accidental war.”

AFP

US Warships Cruising Near Taiwan As Pelosi Defies China

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (C) being welcomed by Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (L) after landing at Songshan Airport in Taipei, Taiwan on August 2, 2022. Taiwanese Foreign Ministry / Handout / Anadolu Agency
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (C) being welcomed by Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (L) after landing at Songshan Airport in Taipei, Taiwan on August 2, 2022. Taiwanese Foreign Ministry / Handout / Anadolu Agency

 

Several US warships were cruising in waters near Taiwan on Tuesday, US military officials said, amid Chinese anger over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to the island Beijing claims as its territory.

As China announced it would hold live-fire military drills in the Taiwan Strait in response to Pelosi’s visit, the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet said the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan was operating in the Philippine Sea, south of Taiwan.

The US Navy published images of the usually Japan-based Ronald Reagan conducting maneuvers with the cargo ship USS Carl Brashear on Sunday.

READ ALSO: Bin Laden’s Deputy Al-Zawahiri Killed In US Drone Strike

The Ronald Reagan was accompanied by the USS Higgins, a destroyer that is part of its strike group, a US Navy official said on condition of anonymity.

The aircraft carrier and its group are “on a routine operation in the Western Pacific,” a US official said on condition of anonymity.

Additionally, the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli was operating east of Taiwan, the US Navy official said, confirming reports from the United States Naval Institute (USNI), a professional association with close ties to the Navy.

The Ronald Reagan and the Tripoli are both carriers of the latest generation F-35 fighter jets, according to the USNI.

US officials have sought to reassure Beijing that the positioning of these two ships in the region was not linked to Pelosi’s visit, who became the highest-ranking elected US official to visit the island since predecessor Newt Gingrich traveled there in 1997.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN that Washington would make sure Pelosi had a “safe and secure visit.”

AFP

China Summons US Ambassador Over Pelosi’s Taiwan Trip

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (C) being welcomed by Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (L) after landing at Songshan Airport in Taipei, Taiwan on August 2, 2022. Taiwanese Foreign Ministry / Handout / Anadolu Agency
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (C) being welcomed by Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (L) after landing at Songshan Airport in Taipei, Taiwan on August 2, 2022. Taiwanese Foreign Ministry / Handout / Anadolu Agency

 

China summoned the US ambassador in Beijing Tuesday to rebuke him over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “egregious” trip to Taiwan, state media reported.

Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng voiced “strong protests” over Pelosi’s visit to the democratic self-governing island, which China considers part of its territory, during his talk with Ambassador Nicholas Burns.

“The move is extremely egregious in nature and the consequences are extremely serious,” Xie was quoted as saying by China’s state news agency Xinhua. “China will not sit idly by.”

The trip by Pelosi, the highest-profile elected US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years, sent tensions soaring between the world’s two largest economies, with Beijing regarding it as a major provocation.

Xie said the United States “shall pay the price for its own mistakes” and urged Washington to “immediately address its wrongdoings, take practical measures to undo the adverse effects caused by Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan”, Xinhua reported.

Pelosi landed in Taiwan late Tuesday, defying a string of angry warnings from Beijing.

While the Biden administration is understood to be opposed to Pelosi’s Taiwan stop, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in Washington she was entitled to go where she pleased.

China’s military said it was on “high alert” and would “launch a series of targeted military actions in response” to the visit. It announced plans for a series of military exercises in waters around the island to begin on Wednesday.

And Taiwan’s defence ministry said more than 21 Chinese military aircraft had flown on Tuesday into the island’s air defence identification zone — an area wider than its territorial airspace that overlaps with part of China’s own air defence zone.

“Taiwan is China’s Taiwan, and Taiwan will eventually return to the embrace of the motherland. Chinese people are not afraid of ghosts, pressure and the evil,” Xie told Burns, according to Xinhua.

There was no immediate comment from Washington.

Bin Laden’s Deputy Al-Zawahiri Killed In US Drone Strike

A still file image from a video released by Al-Qaeda’s media arm as-Sahab and obtained on June 8, 2011 courtesy of the Site Intelligence Group shows Ayman al-Zawahiri as he gives a eulogy for slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a video released on jihadist forums.

 

A United States drone strike killed Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri at a hideout in Kabul, President Joe Biden said Monday, declaring that “justice had been delivered” to the families of the 9/11 attacks.

Zawahiri’s assassination is the biggest blow to Al-Qaeda since US special forces killed Osama bin Laden in 2011 and calls into question the Taliban’s promise not to harbour militant groups.

It was the first known over-the-horizon strike by the US on a target in Afghanistan since Washington withdrew its forces from the country on August 31 last year, days after the Taliban swept back to power.

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“Justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said in a sombre televised address, adding he hoped Zawahiri’s death would bring “closure” to families of the 3,000 people killed in the US on September 11, 2001.

Zawahiri was believed to be the mastermind who steered Al-Qaeda’s operations — including the 9/11 attacks — as well as bin Laden’s personal doctor.

A senior administration official said the 71-year-old Egyptian was on the balcony of a three-storey house in the Afghan capital when targeted with two Hellfire missiles after dawn Sunday.

“We identified Zawahiri on multiple occasions for sustained periods of time on the balcony where he was ultimately struck,” the official said.

The house is in Sherpur, one of Kabul’s most affluent neighbourhoods, with several villas occupied by high-ranking Taliban officials and commanders.

The interior ministry previously denied reports of a drone strike circulating on social media, telling AFP a rocket struck “an empty house” in Kabul, causing no casualties.

Early Tuesday, however, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that an “aerial attack” was carried out.

“The nature of the incident was not revealed at first,” he said.

“The security and intelligence agencies of the Islamic Emirate investigated the incident and found in their preliminary investigations that the attack was carried out by American drones.”

 ‘Grossly violated’

Although Biden did not mention the Taliban in his televised address, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “by hosting and sheltering” Zawahiri, the Islamist group had “grossly violated the Doha Agreement” which paved the way for America’s withdrawal.

Zabihullah, in turn, accused Washington of breaking the 2020 deal.

“Such actions are a repetition of the failed experiences of the past 20 years and are against the interests of the United States of America, Afghanistan, and the region,” he said.

Zawahiri, who grew up in a comfortable Cairo household before turning to violent radicalism, had been on the run since the 9/11 attacks.

He took over Al-Qaeda after bin Laden was killed, and had a $25 million US bounty on his head.

News of his death comes a month before the first anniversary of the final withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, leaving the country in the hands of the Taliban insurgency that fought Western forces for two decades.

Under the Doha deal, the Taliban promised not to allow Afghanistan to be used again as a launchpad for international jihadism, but experts believe the group never broke ties with Al-Qaeda.

“What we know is that the senior Haqqani Taliban were aware of his presence in Kabul,” the senior US official said.

Afghan Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani also heads the feared Haqqani Network, a brutal subset of the Taliban blamed for some of the worst violence of the past 20 years and which has been described by US officials as a “veritable arm” of Pakistani intelligence.

In Sherpur, locals told AFP they long thought the targeted house  — surrounded by high walls and barbed wire, with green tarpaulin covering the balcony where Zawahiri was believed to have been killed — was empty.

“We have not seen anybody living there for almost a year,” said an employee of a nearby office.

“It has always been in dark, with not a single bulb lit.”

Doctor turned jihadist

Zawahiri lacked the potent charisma that helped bin Laden rally jihadists around the world but willingly channelled his analytical skills into the Al-Qaeda cause.

Still, the group is believed to have been degraded since the US invasion of Afghanistan, and the White House official said Zawahiri was “one of the last remaining figures who carried this kind of significance”.

The organisation is “at a crossroads”, said Soufan Center researcher Colin Clarke.

“Despite Zawahiri’s leadership, which minimised AQ’s losses while rebuilding, the group still faces serious challenges going forward. For one, there’s the question of who will lead Al-Qaeda after Zawahiri’s gone.”

Zawahiri’s father was a renowned physician and his grandfather a prayer leader at Cairo’s Al-Azhar institute, the highest authority for Sunni Muslims.

He became involved with Egypt’s radical Islamist community at a young age and published several books which came for many to symbolise the movement.

He left Egypt in the mid-1980s, heading for Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar where the resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was based.

Thousands of Islamist fighters were flooding into Afghanistan at the time, setting the stage for Zawahiri’s first meeting with bin Laden.

In 1998 he became one of five signatories to bin Laden’s “fatwa” calling for attacks against Americans.

Jihadist monitor SITE said some militants were questioning the veracity of the report he had been killed, while others believed Zawahiri had achieved his desire of “martyrdom.”

AFP

US Will ‘Pay The Price’ If Pelosi Visits Taiwan, China Warns

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds her weekly news conference in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center on April 29, 2022 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP

 

China said Tuesday that the United States will “pay the price” if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visits Taiwan during her Asia trip.

Pelosi was in Malaysia on Tuesday, the second stop in a tour that has sparked rage in Beijing after reports of a potential Taipei visit.

China considers Taiwan its territory and has indicated through repeated warnings that it would view a Pelosi visit as a major provocation.

“The US side will bear the responsibility and pay the price for undermining China’s sovereign security interests,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

American officials often make discreet visits to Taiwan to show support, but Pelosi would be a higher-profile visitor than any in recent history.

Reports of her plans have sent US-China tensions soaring.

In a call with US President Joe Biden last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned the United States against “playing with fire” on Taiwan.

And China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Hun, said Monday that such a visit would be “very much dangerous, very much provocative”.

While the Biden administration is understood to be opposed to a Taiwan stop, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Pelosi was entitled to go where she pleased.

“The speaker has the right to visit Taiwan,” he told reporters on Monday.

“There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with longstanding US policies into some sort of crisis.”

Kirby cited intelligence that China was preparing possible military provocations.

He said Pelosi was travelling on a military aircraft and that while Washington did not fear a direct attack, it “raises the stakes of a miscalculation”.

Kirby reiterated, however, that US policy was unchanged toward Taiwan.

This means support for its self-ruling government, while diplomatically recognising Beijing over Taipei and opposing a formal independence declaration by Taiwan or a forceful takeover by China.

All eyes on Taiwan

Pelosi arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday for meetings with the prime minister and the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Malaysian state news agency Bernama reported.

AFP journalists saw Pelosi coming out of a hotel in the Malaysian capital and entering an SUV. Her motorcade then departed under heavy security.

After Singapore and Malaysia, her itinerary includes stops in South Korea and Japan — but the prospect of a Taiwan trip has dominated attention.

Taipei has remained silent on the prospect of a Pelosi visit.

Premier Su Tseng-chang did not confirm the visit on Tuesday when asked by reporters but thanked Pelosi for her support.

Multiple Taiwanese media outlets carried comments from deputy parliament speaker Tsai Chi-chang saying Pelosi was “very likely” to visit in the coming days.

And the Liberty Times newspaper cited unnamed sources as saying she would land Tuesday night, then meet President Tsai Ing-wen the next day before departing in the afternoon.

Taiwan’s 23 million people have long lived with the possibility of an invasion, but the threat has intensified under Xi.

The island’s military on Tuesday said it was “determined” to defend it against increased threats by China over the potential Pelosi visit.

“The probability of war or a serious incident is low,” tweeted Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia programme at the US-based German Marshall Fund think tank.

“But the probability that… (China) will take a series of military, economic, and diplomatic actions to show strength & resolve is not insignificant,” she added.

“Likely it will seek to punish Taiwan in myriad ways.”

AFP