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China halts military, climate dialogue with US over Pelosi Taiwan trip

Publish: 09:36 AM, 06 Aug, 2022


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China announced on Friday it was halting dialogue with the United States in a number of areas, including between theatre-level military commanders and on climate change, in a furore over US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan.

China's foreign ministry said it was also suspending exchanges with Washington on countering cross-border crime and drug trafficking, all moves Washington called "irresponsible."

Enraged when Pelosi became the highest-level US visitor in 25 years to the self-governed island that Beijing regards as its territory, China launched military drills in the seas and skies around Taiwan on Thursday. The live-fire drills, the largest ever conducted by China in the Taiwan Strait, are scheduled to continue until noon on Sunday.

Taiwan's defence ministry said on Friday it scrambled jets to warn away Chinese aircraft that it said entered the island's air defence zone, some of which crossed the Taiwan Strait median line, an unofficial buffer separating the two sides.

A total of 68 Chinese military aircraft and 13 navy ships had conducted missions in the strait, the ministry said.

China's Eastern Theatre Command of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) said in a statement it conducted air and sea drills to the north, southwest and east of Taiwan on Friday "to test the troops' joint combat capabilities."

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington has repeatedly made clear to Beijing it does not seek a crisis over Pelosi's visit to Taiwan earlier this week during a congressional tour of Asia.

"There is no justification for this extreme, disproportionate and escalatory military response," he told a news conference on the sidelines of Asean regional meetings in Cambodia, adding, "Now, they've taken dangerous acts to a new level".

Blinken emphasised that the United States would not take actions to provoke a crisis, but it would continue to support regional allies and conduct standard air and maritime transit through the Taiwan Strait.

"We will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows," he said.

A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Chinese officials had not responded to calls made by senior Pentagon officials this week, but the move was seen as China showing displeasure over the Pelosi trip rather than severing the channel between senior defence officials including US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi told a media briefing after the Asean meetings: "I heard that US Secretary of State Blinken held his news conference and spread some misinformation and was not speaking truthfully."

"We wish to issue a warning to the United States: Do not act rashly, do not create a greater crisis," Wang said.

Jing Quan, a senior Chinese Embassy official in Washington, echoed that, telling a briefing: "The only way out of this crisis is that the US side must take measures immediately to rectify its mistakes and eliminate the grave impact of Pelosi's visit."

He said Washington should "avoid pushing China-US relations down the dangerous track of conflict and confrontation".

Diplomatic Front

"There's nothing here for the United States to rectify. The Chinese can go a long way to taking the tensions down simply by stopping these provocative military exercises and ending the rhetoric," Kirby told reporters.

China has not mentioned a suspension of military talks at the senior-most levels, such as with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley. While those talks have been infrequent, officials have said they are important to have in the case of an emergency or accident.

Kirby said it was not atypical for China to shut down military talks at times of tension, but that "not all channels" between the two countries' military leaders had been cut off.

The Pentagon said China was overreacting and that Washington was still open to building crisis communication mechanisms.

"Part of this overreaction has been strictly limiting its defence engagements when any responsible state would recognize that we need them now the most," Acting Pentagon spokesman Todd Breasseale said.

Beijing separately announced that it would impose sanctions on Pelosi personally and her immediate family in response to her "vicious" and "provocative" actions. read more

Speaking at a news conference in Japan after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Pelosi said her trip to Asia was "not about changing the status quo in Taiwan or the region." 

Stay Calm

Taiwan's defence ministry said on Friday the island's military had dispatched aircraft and ships and deployed land-based missile systems to monitor ships and aircraft that briefly crossed the Taiwan Strait median line. 

On Thursday, China fired multiple missiles into waters surrounding Taiwan.

Japan's defence ministry, which is tracking the exercises, first reported that as many as four of the missiles flew over Taiwan's capital, which is unprecedented. It also said that five of nine missiles fired toward its territory landed in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), also a first, prompting a diplomatic protest by Tokyo.

Later, Taiwan's defence ministry said the missiles were high in the atmosphere and constituted no threat.

Some Taipei residents, including Mayor Ko Wen-je, criticised the government for not putting out a missile alert, but one security expert said that could have been done to avoid stoking panic and playing into China's hands.

"It counteracted the effect of the Chinese Communist Party's psychological warfare," said Mei Fu-shin, a US-based analyst.

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen urged residents not to panic, saying in a Facebook post: "Please rest assured, stay calm and live as normal."

Bonnie Glaser, a Washington-based Asia security specialist at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said China may be rehearsing for a blockade, "demonstrating it can block Taiwan's ports and airports and prevent shipping."

Taiwan has been self-ruled since 1949, when Mao Zedong's communists took power in Beijing after defeating Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang (KMT) nationalists in a civil war, prompting the KMT-led government to retreat to the island.

Beijing has said its relations with Taiwan are an internal matter, and that it reserves the right to bring Taiwan under Chinese control, by force if necessary.

- Reuters


China   USA   Taiwan   Nancy Pelosi  


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World Inside

Gunmen killed after trying to breach FBI office

Publish: 11:33 AM, 12 Aug, 2022


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An armed man was shot dead by law enforcement after trying to breach into the FBI’s office in Ohio state on Thursday morning. The US-based intelligence agency said this in a statement, reports The Gurdian.

The gunman reportedly tried to enter the bureau's office in Cincinnati on Thursday (August 11) morning local time. As he approached, the alarm went off and when armed FBI agents responded, he fled in the vehicle. The police chased the car and stopped it in an area of ​​the city. After the vehicle stopped, gunfire was exchanged between the suspect and police officers.

The Guardian also reported that the police still tried to talk to the man, but he refused to surrender. When the suspect pointed his weapon at the police, the security officers opened fire and he waws shot dead on the spot.

AFP said in their report, this incident has given rise to widespread discussion. Because just a few days ago, former US President Donald Trump's Florida home was searched by the FBI, which angered his ardent supporters. However, the link between the two incidents could not be confirmed immediately.


Gunmen   Shooting   FBI  


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World Inside

Pelosi: US cannot allow China’s ‘new normal’ over Taiwan

Publish: 12:32 PM, 11 Aug, 2022


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House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday the United States could not allow China to normalize the new level of pressure on Taiwan it asserted with days of military drills following her visit to the Chinese-claimed island.

“What we saw with China is that they were trying to establish sort of a new normal. And we just can’t let that happen,” Pelosi told a news conference with four other Democratic House members who accompanied her on the trip to Asia.

China said on Wednesday it had “completed various tasks” around Taiwan, but will continue regular patrols, potentially signalling an end to days of war games while keeping up pressure on the self-ruled island.

Furious at the visit to Taipei last week by Pelosi, a vocal critic of China for decades who stands second in line of succession for the US presidency, China had extended its largest-ever exercises around the self-ruled island it claims as its own beyond the four days originally scheduled.

“We went there to praise Taiwan. We went there to show our friendship, to say China cannot isolate Taiwan,” Pelosi said.

She laughed when asked about China’s announcement that it was sanctioning her and her immediate family. “Who cares?” Pelosi said. “That is incidental to me, of no relevance whatsoever.”

Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi said the delegation discussed a backlog of pending arms sales to Taiwan. He and Representative Gregory Meeks, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said lawmakers were taking steps to move such deals more quickly.

“We intend to fulfill all of our obligations to all of our partners and others who are counting on us for these vital supplies,” Krishnamoorthi said.

Meeks said his committee was working on legislation that would help expedite defense equipment agreements.

- Reuters



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World Inside

LNG traders absorb huge losses after supply outages

Publish: 10:19 AM, 11 Aug, 2022


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Major energy traders are taking hundreds of millions of dollars in losses as they scramble to plug a liquefied natural gas (LNG) supply gap after several outages hampered efforts to fill European storage ahead of the winter heating season.

Unplanned disruptions at LNG plants in the United States, Nigeria and Australia have wrong-footed traders, including BP and Shell, forcing them to pay inflated costs for alternative supplies.

In a market already struggling to meet global demand for natural gas after Russia sharply reduced pipeline supplies into Europe, the lost LNG cargoes which can be transported by ship, have pushed global prices sharply higher in recent months.

BP took a more than $500 million hit to replace LNG cargoes lost after a sudden shutdown of the Freeport LNG plant in Texas in June, industry sources told Reuters.

Freeport, the second-biggest U.S. LNG export plant, supplies BP with 4 million tonnes per year from a total portfolio of 18 million tonnes, BP Chief Financial Officer Murray Auchincloss told Reuters.

"Freeport does create an impact in the quarter and we've provided for that for the year," Auchincloss said. The company had deducted the expected costs from its second-quarter profit, but Auchincloss did not specify costs.

A BP spokesperson declined to comment on the loss figure.

France's TotalEnergies also said it would replace eight cargoes of LNG it was scheduled to receive from Freeport by buying in the spot market in the third quarter of the year. It was unclear how much the replacement cargoes would cost TotalEnergies.

Freeport produces 15 million tonnes of LNG per year.

Traders typically sign long-term offtake agreements with LNG producers and agree on separate deals to supply consumers with cargoes from their global portfolios. It's rare to use plant outages to justify not supplying consumers through what is known as force majeure.

Shell, the world's largest LNG trader with a 20% market share, cut its LNG production volumes in the second quarter by 4%, mainly due to supply losses from the Sakhalin-2 plant in Russia, where it exited operations after Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February.

The company continues to receive LNG cargoes under existing long-term deals with Sakhalin-2, a company spokesperson said.

But the future of the contracts is shrouded in uncertainty after Russia gave foreign investors in the project one month to claim their stakes in a new entity that will replace the existing one. Shell Chief Executive Ben van Beurden said it was "highly unlikely" Shell would join the new entity. 

The supply loss impacted Shell's second-quarter profit by around $200 million in the quarter, according to estimates by industry sources. Shell declined to comment on the figure.

On top of that, Shell and its partners lost LNG production at the giant Prelude floating LNG off the western coast of Australia after shutting it down amid a pay dispute.

Nigeria's huge LNG export terminal on Bonny Island has also seen output declines in recent months as a result of a shortfall in natural gas supplies due to rampant theft and sabotage to oil and gas pipelines. 

The money lost is dwarfed by enormous profits both BP and Shell recorded this year on the back of soaring refining margins and high oil and gas prices.

But lower availability of LNG has pushed benchmark prices to record highs as Europe sought to ramp up imports rapidly to replace lost Russian pipeline natural gas.

At current prices, an average cargo of LNG would cost around $100 million in the spot market.

European LNG imports from January to July surpassed a record 100 billion cubic metres (bcm), or 75 million tonnes (Mt), almost reaching the level observed through the entire 2021, according to Nnenna Amobi, senior LNG analyst at Refinitiv.

Around 35% of total European imports were received from the United States in July, versus 43% in June, mainly due to the loss of Freeport cargoes.

The global LNG market reached 380 million tonnes in 2021, according to Shell.

- Reuters



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World Inside

Ukraine says 9 Russian warplanes destroyed in Crimea blasts

Publish: 09:17 AM, 11 Aug, 2022


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Ukraine said Wednesday that nine Russian warplanes were destroyed in a deadly string of explosions at an air base in Crimea that appeared to be the result of a Ukrainian attack, which would represent a significant escalation in the war.

Russia denied any aircraft were damaged in Tuesday’s blasts — or that any attack took place. But satellite photos clearly showed at least seven fighter planes at the base had been blown up and others probably damaged.

Ukrainian officials stopped short of publicly claiming responsibility for the explosions, while mocking Russia’s explanation that a careless smoker might have caused ammunition at the Saki air base to catch fire and blow up. Analysts also said that explanation doesn’t make sense and that the Ukrainians could have used anti-ship missiles to strike the base.

If Ukrainian forces were, in fact, responsible for the blasts, it would be the first known major attack on a Russian military site on the Crimean Peninsula, which was seized from Ukraine by the Kremlin in 2014. Russian warplanes have used Saki to strike areas in Ukraine’s south.

Crimea holds huge strategic and symbolic significance for both sides. The Kremlin’s demand that Ukraine recognize Crimea as part of Russia has been one of its key conditions for ending the fighting, while Ukraine has vowed to drive the Russians from the peninsula and all other occupied territories.

The explosions, which killed one person and wounded 14, sent tourists fleeing in panic as plumes of smoke rose over the coastline nearby. Video showed shattered windows and holes in the brickwork of some buildings.

One tourist, Natalia Lipovaya, said that “the earth was gone from under my feet” after the powerful blasts. “I was so scared,” she said.

Sergey Milochinsky, a local resident, recalled hearing a roar and seeing a mushroom cloud from his window. “Everything began to fall around, collapse,” he said.

Crimea’s regional leader, Sergei Aksyonov, said some 250 residents were moved to temporary housing after dozens of apartment buildings were damaged.

Russian authorities sought to downplay the explosions, saying Wednesday that all hotels and beaches were unaffected on the peninsula, which is a popular tourist destination for many Russians. But video posted on social media showed long lines of slowly moving cars on the road to Russia as tourists headed for home.

A Ukrainian presidential adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, cryptically said that the blasts were either caused by Ukrainian-made long-range weapons or the work of Ukrainian guerrillas operating in Crimea.

A Ukrainian parliament member, Oleksandr Zavitnevich, said the airfield was rendered unusable. He reported on Facebook that it housed fighter jets, tactical reconnaissance aircraft and military transport planes.

Satellite photos dated Wednesday issued by Planet Labs PBC showed wreckage in spots on the airfield where the company’s photos a day earlier showed numerous warplanes.

“Official Kyiv has kept mum about it, but unofficially the military acknowledges that it was a Ukrainian strike,” Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said.

The base is at least 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) from the closest Ukrainian position. Zhdanov suggested that Ukrainian forces could have struck it with Ukrainian or Western-supplied anti-ship missiles that have the necessary range.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said it couldn’t independently determine what caused the explosions but noted that simultaneous blasts in two places at the base probably rule out an accidental fire but not sabotage or a missile attack. 

But it added: “The Kremlin has little incentive to accuse Ukraine of conducting strikes that caused the damage since such strikes would demonstrate the ineffectiveness of Russian air defense systems.”

During the war, the Kremlin has reported numerous fires and explosions on Russian territory near the Ukrainian border, blaming some of them on Ukrainian strikes. Ukrainian authorities have mostly kept silent about the incidents, preferring to keep the world guessing.

Neither side has released much information about their own casualties. In his nightly video address Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claimed nearly 43,000 Russian soldiers had been killed.

Colin Kahl, U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, estimated Monday that Russian forces have sustained up to 80,000 deaths and injuries in the fighting. He did not break down the figure with an estimate of forces killed or provide a Ukrainian casualty count.

In other developments, Russian forces shelled areas across Ukraine on Tuesday night into Wednesday, including the central region of Dnipropetrovsk, where 13 people were killed, according to the region’s governor, Valentyn Reznichenko.

Reznichenko said the Russians fired at the city of Marganets and a nearby village. Dozens of residential buildings, two schools and several administrative buildings were damaged.

“It was a terrible night,” Reznichenko said. “It’s very hard to take bodies from under debris. We are facing a cruel enemy who engages in daily terror against our cities and villages.”

In Ukraine’s east, where fighting has raged for eight years, a Russian attack on the center of the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region killed seven, wounded six and damaged stores, homes and apartment buildings, setting off fires, Ukraine’s prosecutor general said on Telegram. Bakhmut is a key target for Russian forces as they advance on regional hubs.

In the city of Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russia-backed separatists since 2014, Ukrainian shelling hit a brewery, killing one person and wounding two, the separatists’ emergency service said. It said the shelling late Wednesday caused a leak of toxic ammonia and warned people to stay inside and breathe through cotton gauze.

Two residents of the village of Staryi Saltiv in the Kharkiv region in the northeast were killed Wednesday in Russian shelling, police reported.

In the country’s southeast, Moscow’s forces continued shelling the city of Nikopol across the Dnieper River from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia power station, the biggest nuclear plant in Europe. Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling it, stoking international fears of a catastrophe.

On Wednesday, foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialized democracies demanded that Russia immediately hand back full control of the plant to Ukraine. They said they are “profoundly concerned” about the risk of a nuclear accident with far-reaching consequences.

– AP/UNB


Russia   Ukraine  


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World Inside

China withdraws promise not to send troops to Taiwan if it takes control of island

Publish: 04:27 PM, 10 Aug, 2022


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China has withdrawn a promise not to send troops or administrators to Taiwan if it takes control of the island, an official document showed on Wednesday, signalling a decision by President Xi Jinping to grant less autonomy than previously offered.

China's white paper on its position on self-ruled Taiwan follows days of unprecedented Chinese military exercises near the island, which Beijing claims as its territory, in protest against U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit last week.

China had said in two previous white papers on Taiwan, in 1993 and 2000, that it "will not send troops or administrative personnel to be based in Taiwan" after achieving what Beijing terms "reunification".

That line, meant to assure Taiwan it would enjoy autonomy after becoming a special administrative region of China, did not appear in the latest white paper.

China's ruling Communist Party had proposed that Taiwan could return to its rule under a "one country, two systems" model, similar to the formula under which the former British colony of Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

That would offer some autonomy to democratically ruled Taiwan to partially preserve its social and political systems.

All mainstream Taiwanese political parties have rejected the "one country, two systems" proposal and it enjoys almost no public supportaccording to opinion polls. Taiwan's government says only the island's people can decide their future.

A line in the 2000 white paper that said "anything can be negotiated" as long as Taiwan accepts that there is only one China and does not seek independence, is also missing from the latest white paper.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council condemned the white paper, saying it was "full of lies of wishful thinking and disregarded the facts" and that the Republic of China - Taiwan's official name - was a sovereign state.

"Only Taiwan's 23 million people have the right to decide on the future of Taiwan, and they will never accept an outcome set by an autocratic regime."

The updated white paper is called "The Taiwan Question and China's Reunification in the New Era". The "new era" is a term commonly associated with Xi's rule. Xi is expected to secure a third term at a Communist Party congress later this year.

Taiwan has lived under the threat of Chinese invasion since 1949, when the defeated Republic of China government fled to the island after Mao Zedong's Communist Party won a civil war.

- Reuters



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