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‘Starting a Fire’: U.S. and China Enter Dangerous Territory over Taiwan

'Starting a Fire': U.S. and China Enter Dangerous Territory over Taiwan

‘Starting a Fire’: U.S. and China Enter Dangerous Territory over Taiwan

·12 min read
A photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows a Navy ship and a Coast Guard ship sail through the Taiwan Strait, Aug. 27, 2021. (U.S. Coast Guard via The New York Times)
 
A photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows a Navy ship and a Coast Guard ship sail through the Taiwan Strait, Aug. 27, 2021. (U.S. Coast Guard via The New York Times)

The 25 Chinese fighter jets, bombers and other warplanes flew in menacing formations off the southern end of Taiwan, a show of military might on China’s National Day, Oct. 1. The incursions, dozens upon dozens, continued into the night and the days that followed and surged to the highest numbers ever Monday, when 56 warplanes tested Taiwan’s beleaguered air defenses.

Taiwan’s jets scrambled to keep up, while the United States warned China that its “provocative military activity” undermined “regional peace and stability.” China did not cower. When a Taiwanese combat air traffic controller radioed one Chinese aircraft, the pilot dismissed the challenge with an obscenity involving the officer’s mother.

As such confrontations intensify, the balance of power around Taiwan is fundamentally shifting, pushing a decadeslong impasse over its future into a dangerous new phase.

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After holding out against unification demands from China’s communist rulers for more than 70 years, Taiwan is now at the heart of the deepening discord between China and the U.S. The island’s fate has the potential to reshape the regional order and even to ignite a military conflagration — intentional or not.

“There’s very little insulation left on the wiring in the relationship,” Danny Russel, a former assistant secretary of state, said, “and it’s not hard to imagine getting some crossed wires and that starting a fire.”

China’s military might has, for the first time, made a conquest of Taiwan conceivable, perhaps even tempting. The U.S. wants to thwart any invasion but has watched its military dominance in Asia steadily erode. Taiwan’s own military preparedness has withered, even as its people become increasingly resistant to unification.

All three have sought to show resolve in hopes of averting war, only to provoke countermoves that compound distrust and increase the risk of miscalculation.

At one particularly tense moment, in October 2020, U.S. intelligence reports detailed how Chinese leaders had become worried that President Donald Trump was preparing an attack. Those concerns, which could have been misread, prompted Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to call his counterpart in Beijing to assure otherwise.

“The Taiwan issue has ceased to be a sort of narrow, boutique issue, and it’s become a central theater — if not the central drama — in U.S.-China strategic competition,” said Evan Medeiros, who served on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council.

China’s ambitious leader, Xi Jinping, now presides over what is arguably the country’s most potent military in history. Some argue that Xi, who has set the stage to rule for a third term starting in 2022, could feel compelled to conquer Taiwan to crown his era in power.

Xi said Saturday in Beijing that Taiwan independence “was a grave lurking threat to national rejuvenation.” China wanted peaceful unification, he said, but added: “Nobody should underestimate the staunch determination, firm will and powerful ability of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Few believe a war is imminent or foreordained, in part because the economic and diplomatic aftershocks would be staggering for China. Yet even if the recent flights into Taiwan’s self-declared air identification zone are intended merely as political pressure, not a prelude to war, China’s financial, political and military ascendancy has made preserving the island’s security a gravely complex endeavor.

Until recently, the U.S. believed it could hold Chinese territorial ambitions in check, but the military superiority it long held may not be enough. When the Pentagon organized a war game in October 2020, a U.S. “blue team” struggled against new Chinese weaponry in a simulated battle over Taiwan.

China now acts with increasing confidence, in part because many officials, including Xi, hold the view that U.S. power has faltered. The United States’ failures with the COVID-19 pandemic and its political upheavals have reinforced such views.

Some advisers and former officers in China argue that the U.S. no longer has the will to send forces if a war were to break out over Taiwan. Under the right conditions, others suggest, the People’s Liberation Army could prevail if it did.

“Would the United States court death for Taiwan?” Teng Jianqun, a former Chinese navy captain, said on Chinese television.

Such posturing, in turn, ignites more tensions.

In Taiwan, China’s military provocations have bolstered political support for the island’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, who has sought to forge ties with countries increasingly wary of China. The Biden administration is trying to bolster Taiwan’s defense capabilities and international standing, hoping to delay or prevent the need for U.S. military intervention.

“The three sides have seen their interactions caught in a vicious spiral,” Jia Qingguo, a professor of international relations at Peking University who advises the Chinese government, recently wrote. “The process of vicious interactions between Taipei, Beijing and Washington resembles the forming of a perfect storm.”

A ‘Historic Mission’

Two days after the fall of Kabul in August, as the Biden administration scrambled to evacuate thousands stranded by the U.S. withdrawal, China staged military exercises explicitly designed to show off its prowess.

Chinese warships fired missiles into the sea south of Taiwan, while amphibious landing vehicles swept ashore a beach in China. It was one of the largest exercises ever to simulate an invasion across the Taiwan Strait.

In previous drills, the People’s Liberation Army maintained a gauze of deniability about its imagined adversary, but this time it left no doubt. One officer on Chinese television warned the U.S. and Taiwan “not to play with fire on the Taiwan issue and immolate themselves.”

The question is whether Xi intends to act.

He has vowed to lead the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” including bringing Taiwan under Chinese control. Some interpret that to mean within a decade, if not sooner. His hard-line policies have made it less likely that Taiwan could ever willingly agree to China’s terms, especially after Xi throttled political freedoms in Hong Kong.

Every leader since Mao has vowed to absorb Taiwan, but Xi is the first who commands a military strong enough to make forced unification plausible, albeit still a formidable task.

Any assault on Taiwan, which lies 100 miles off the coast, would require overwhelming military advantage. Even if Chinese forces seized control over the island of 24 million, the war would badly shake China’s economy and international relations, while exacting a significant human toll.

“Even moderate voices in Beijing have been calling for tossing out peaceful reunification,” said Oriana Skylar Mastro, a fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. “I think the military option is the option now.”

China’s leaders began the long, politically fraught process of overhauling the People’s Liberation Army after watching the U.S. put its military power on display in the Persian Gulf war against Iraq in 1990.

Six years later, they understood just how far behind their military had fallen when the U.S. dispatched two aircraft carriers near Taiwan in response to China firing missiles into the seas near the island. After the U.S. show of force, China backed down.

Robert L. Thomas, a former vice admiral who commanded the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet in Japan, recalled a meeting with a Chinese admiral in 2015. The admiral told him that the 1996 confrontation still stung nearly two decades later.

“It’s clear to me that they won’t allow themselves to be embarrassed again by a Taiwan Strait crisis where the U.S. Seventh Fleet shows up and says, ‘Everybody calm down,’” Thomas said.

Since then, China’s leaders have poured money into the People’s Liberation Army. In a decade, military spending grew by 76%, reaching $252 billion in 2020, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. (The U.S. spent $778 billion on its military last year.) Xi has also reorganized the military, raising the status of naval and air forces and pushing commanders to master joint warfare.

In an exercise last year, the military conducted a drill that simulated sealing off the Taiwan Strait from outside forces. What was unthinkable in 1996 could now be within reach.

The exercise was like “trapping a turtle in a jar,” said a website run by China’s office for Taiwan affairs.

‘A Matter of Time’

When the U.S. Air Force held its own war games over Taiwan in autumn last year, the outcome rattled Washington’s political and military establishment.

In war games since at least 2018, American “blue” teams have repeatedly lost against a “red” team representing a hypothetical Chinese force — in part by design, since the exercises are intended to test officers and war planners. In a game simulating a war around 2030, reported earlier by Defense News, the “blue” team struggled even when given new advanced fighter planes and other weapons still on the Pentagon’s drawing board.

The classified game culminated with China launching missile strikes against U.S. bases and warships in the region, and then staging an air and amphibious assault on Taiwan, according to a Department of Defense official. The officials concluded that Taiwan, backed by the U.S., could hold out for maybe two or three days before its defenses crumbled.

The Pentagon’s annual assessments of China’s military have since 2000 chronicled its evolution from a large but ineffective force into a potential rival. Its latest report said Chinese capabilities have already surpassed the U.S. military in some areas, including shipbuilding, conventional ballistic and cruise missiles, and integrated air defense systems. All three would be essential in any conflict over Taiwan.

“I worry that they are accelerating their ambitions to supplant the United States,” Admiral Philip S. Davidson, the retiring commander of the Indo-Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March. “Taiwan is clearly one of their ambitions before then, and I think the threat is manifest during this decade; in fact, in the next six years.”

His bleak prediction has since colored debates in Washington over what to do. Some have argued that explicit security guarantees for Taiwan are needed. Others have called for building up of military forces around China, and helping Taiwan to do the same.

“To us, it’s only a matter of time, not a matter of if,” Rear Admiral Michael Studeman, the director of intelligence with the United States’ Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii, said in a July talk, about the possibility of armed conflict over Taiwan.

It is far from clear that Taiwan is ready. Since Taiwan’s government has phased out mandatory conscription for most young men, it has struggled to sustain a professional, all-volunteer force. The state of its military has declined steadily, punctuated by a series of accidents, including a helicopter crash last year that killed its top commander.

“The training isn’t as intense as it was before,” said Chang Yan-ting, a former deputy commander of Taiwan’s air force. He said that decades of prosperity encouraged a view that the island no longer needed to maintain a heightened military alert.

“That’s in keeping with the whole tide of the times,” he added, “but certainly it has some relative strategic impact, even if there hasn’t been a war to test it.”

An internal assessment of the Chinese military by Taiwan’s defense ministry, reviewed by The New York Times, also documented the increasing challenge. China’s military, for example, has developed the capability to cripple communications around the island, the assessment found. That could hamper the arrival of American reinforcements.

“This really is the grimmest time I’ve seen in my more than 40 years working in the military,” Taiwan’s minister of defense, Chiu Kuo-cheng, told lawmakers Wednesday. China already had the means to invade Taiwan, though still at a high price, he said. “By 2025, the cost and attrition will be squeezed lowest, and so then it could be said to have ‘full capability.’”

Since coming to office in January, the Biden administration has stepped up support, continuing moves made under Trump.

U.S. warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait eight times in the first eight months of the year. The administration approved a new arms sale in August worth about $750 million. Since at least last year, small teams of U.S. troops, including Marines and Army special forces, have conducted training sessions with the Taiwanese military.

The administration has also marshaled statements supporting Taiwan and criticizing China from a succession of international summits, including the Group of 7.

Chinese leaders, for their part, fear that U.S. support for Taiwan is entrenching pro-independence tendencies. None of the U.S. moves are entirely new, but as mutual animosity has deepened, Beijing views them as an increasingly belligerent strategy to “contain China by using Taiwan.”

The depth of U.S. and allied assistance for Taiwan, though, has not been tested.

“You get to this issue of how far are you willing to go to defend Taiwan,” said Thomas. “I’ve thought about it a lot, and I don’t know if the United States is willing to see U.S. young people coming back in body bags for the defense of Taiwan.”

Behind the scenes, Biden administration officials have expressed worry that China is trying to normalize a new baseline of hostile pressure on Taiwan, and they have deliberated on ways to slow or thwart its military development.

President Joe Biden is also trying to lower the temperature, speaking last month with Xi. On Tuesday he said he and the Chinese leader had agreed to the standing agreements on Taiwan. A day later, the White House announced that he and Xi would hold a virtual summit by the end of the year.

The two leaders know each other well. A decade ago, Biden, then vice president, went to China to size up Xi before he became the nation’s top leader.

“My father used to tell me, Joey, the only thing worse than a war is an unintentional war,” Biden told Xi, according to Russel.

Russell added: “I think it is a prescient warning.”

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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India is updating its air force for a modern war, and China isn’t its only concern

India is updating its air force for a modern war, and China isn't its only concern

India is updating its air force for a modern war, and China isn’t its only concern

·6 min read
Indian Air Force Rafael fighter jet
 
A newly inducted Indian Air Force Rafael fighter jet on October 6, 2020. Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
  • The Indian air force is in the midst of a massive modernization and expansion effort.

  • India has focused on archrival Pakistan for decades, but it is now contending with a much larger foe: China.

  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Earlier this month, at the end of India’s annual Independence Day parade in New Delhi, the Indian Air Force showed off its aircraft inventory in multiple flyovers of the Rajpath, a ceremonial boulevard in the capital.

The flyovers included transport aircraft, helicopter gunships, fighters, and fighter-bombers. It was the latest show of force for a military branch that, like its naval counterpart, is in the midst of a massive modernization and expansion effort.

Focused for decades on the threat from archrival Pakistan, India is now preparing its air force to fight another much larger foe: China.

With roughly 2,000 combat aircraft from its air force and navy, China has the largest aviation force in Asia and the third largest in the world. Worse for India, China’s increasingly close relationship with Pakistan is resulting in closer military cooperation, including joint development of fighter jets.

Faced with the potential for an air war against two enemies, the IAF is increasing its size and capabilities.

A significant inventory

Indian MiG-29 fighter jet
 
Indian Air Force personnel next to a MiG-29 fighter jet, October 4, 2013. SAM PANTHAKY/AFP via Getty Images

With well over 1,000 aircraft itself, the IAF is by no means small. Since India’s independence, it has mostly fielded Russian aircraft made entirely in Russia or licensed for local production.

Even today, the biggest fleets in the IAF inventory are those of the MiG-21, MiG-29, and the Su-30MKI – a version of Russia’s Su-30 made specifically for and by India. (India signed a contract for the Su-30MKI in the 1990s and has built more than 200 of them domestically since the mid-2000s.)

The service also has some European models, such as SEPECAT Jaguars and Mirage 2000s, which are the IAF’s primary strike platforms. But those aircraft, which were acquired in the 1980s, are showing signs of age, and the IAF plans to retire them by 2030.

India’s MiG-21s, first introduced in the 1960s, are also expected to be retired by 2030 – even the modernized MiG-21 Bison models. The jet has a poor safety record; as of 2013, more than 480 of India’s MiG-21s had been involved in accidents that had caused over 200 deaths.

Threats on two fronts

Indian Air Force Sukhoi Su-30MKI
 
An Indian Air Force Su-30MKI at Lajes Field in Portugal, July 13, 2008. US Air Force/1st Lt. George Tobias

The Su-30MKI purchase was more than just a general upgrade. It came after the Pakistan Air Force in 1982 accepted the first of 28 US-made F-16s, which seriously increased the PAF’s capabilities a decade after it last fought the IAF.

The US paused F-16 deliveries in 1990 because of Pakistan’s nuclear program, but they resumed in 2005, and the PAF now has some 75 F-16s. Their use is conditional and closely monitored by the US, but Pakistan would likely have no qualms about using them in an all-out war.

In 2019, a series of skirmishes between India and Pakistan included airstrikes on each other’s territory and resulted in one MiG-21 Bison being shot down by PAF fighters, possibly by an F-16. It was the first time since 1971 that air attacks had been conducted across the Line of Control.

During the Cold War, China sold Pakistan its J-6 and J-7 fighters, which were Chinese copies of Russia’s MiG-19 and MiG-21. The PAF has also benefitted from Pakistan’s closer ties with China in recent years.

India Kashmir MiG-21 Bison crash
 
Civil-defense personnel remove the wreckage of an Indian Air Force MiG-21 Bison after it crashed in Kashmir, August 24, 2015. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Their air forces regularly conduct joint exercises, and they have even jointly developed a fourth-generation multirole combat aircraft, the JF-17, of which Pakistan has over 100.

China and Pakistan are now planning upgrades to Pakistan’s JF-17 fleet, and China has announced the sale of 50 Wing Loong II combat drones to Pakistan. Pakistan may also acquire Chinese strike aircraft.

China’s own air force also poses a threat to the IAF. Particularly worrying for India are the J-10 and J-11 fighters and the J-20 stealth fighter.

The aerial threat from China was abundantly clear after last year’s deadly standoff along its disputed border with India.

India has a longer history of air operations in the area, but China is rapidly building and expanding air bases and defenses along its western borders.

A major modernization

Indian Air Force Rafale fighter jet
 
An Indian Air Force Rafale fighter jet lands in Bangalore, February 3, 2021. MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images

Appreciating the threats, the IAF has committed to modernization.

In 2016, India signed a contract with French firm Dassault Aviation four 36 Rafale multirole fighters. Twenty-six of them have been delivered so far, and some have already been deployed to counter possible Chinese aggression.

The IAF has also purchased 15 CH-47 Chinook helicopters and 22 AH-64 Apache gunships, both of which have also been deployed to the border region.

India has developed its own lightweight fighter jet, the HAL Tejas, and has about 20 in service. The original order for 40 fighters was supplemented by an additional order of 83 improved Tejas Mark 1A variants, with a second production line built to speed up production.

To meet its needs in the near-term, India is buying another 21 MiG-29s and 12 Su-30MKIs. It is also upgrading its MiG-29 fleet and modifying its Su-30MKIs to be able to fire Brahmos cruise missiles.

Indian Air Force Tejas fighter jet
 
An Indian Air Force Tejas during the Aero India 2021 air show in Bangalore, February 4, 2021. Xinhua/Xinhua via Getty Images

The IAF is also seeking 114 medium multirole combat aircraft.

The US-made F/A-18E/F and F-15, the French-built Rafale, the European-made Eurofighter Typhoon, and Russia’s MiG-35 and Su-35 – all twin-engine jets – are in the running, as are the single-engine Swedish-built JAS 39 Gripen and US-built F-21, a version of the F-16 designed specifically for India.

India also has a number of high-profile domestic projects in development. It plans to fly a prototype from its own fifth-generation stealth fighter program by 2025 and recently unveiled an unmanned fighter jet program.

India has relied on foreign suppliers for much of its military hardware – especially Russia, with which it has a longstanding but increasingly fraught relationship – but many of the new acquisition efforts will require some degree of local production as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” program aimed at boosting domestic manufacturing.

Amid ongoing tensions with China and renewed uncertainty about the future in Afghanistan, India’s efforts to expand and modernize its air force show how serious it is about countering the threat from its two most contentious neighbors.

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Britain fears US forces may pull out of Kabul airport within days

Britain fears US forces may pull out of Kabul airport within days

Britain fears US forces may pull out of Kabul airport within days

Exclusive: Whitehall and security sources worry they will not be able to continue emergency evacuations

A man holds a certificate acknowledging his work for Americans as people gather outside Kabul international airport on Tuesday
A man holds a certificate acknowledging his work for Americans as people gather outside Kabul international airport on Tuesday. Photograph: AP
 
 

Britain fears US forces may pull out of Kabul international airport within days, putting it at risk of closure and raising concerns over the emergency airlift of thousands of people from Afghanistan.

Whitehall and security sources said they could not guarantee how long the US would keep its contingent of 6,000 troops on the ground and cautioned that the UK could not continue the rescue without their presence. They also indicated Britain was not engaging with the Taliban directly over security or other issues after the militant group seized the Afghan capital.

 

The Guardian has learned that some in government, however, believe there is a shift by UK ministers and the military towards dealing directly with the Taliban and legitimising their role – a position that would anger those who believe they have not changed.

Gen Sir Nick Carter, the head of the British armed forces, said on Wednesday he thought the Taliban wanted an “inclusive Afghanistan” and described them as “country boys” who had “honour at the heart of what they do”. Asked on Sky News about the Taliban’s repression of women, Carter said: “I do think they have changed and recognise Afghanistan has evolved and the fundamental role women have played in that evolution.”

Boris Johnson also hinted at the possibility of recognising the Taliban, potentially in conjunction with other countries, telling MPs: “We will judge this regime based on the choices it makes and by its actions rather than by its words.”

A Whitehall source said uncertainty over the Taliban’s actions, however, and the US position, meant the UK wanted to complete its evacuation as rapidly as it could, saying: “There’s a realistic view that we want to just go as quickly as possible.”

The airport in Kabul was the scene of chaos this week but has since been secured by the US ahead of a planned evacuation deadline of 31 August. British attempts to seek reassurances from the US over that timeline had not proved successful, a source said, although on Tuesday the US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, tweeted that the country would hold the airport “to get all Americans out of Afghanistan”.

A total of 700 Britons, Afghans and others were airlifted out of Kabul on Tuesday, according to official figures, taking the total to more than 1,150 out of as many as 6,000, half of which are Britons and dual nationals and the remainder Afghans eligible to settle in the UK because they previously helped the British. Of the 1,150, 300 are Britons.

Carter said he expected seven aircraft to head to Kabul, enabling up to a further 1,000 people to leave on Wednesday. “The situation has stabilised since the weekend but it remains precarious,” he said.

The operation of the airport is also dependent on the Taliban, who now control its surroundings. Military experts say it is easy to close an airport by firing mortars or shells on to the runway.

A particular problem is the difficulty of eligible people getting to the airport. Some Britons have been advised to say, at Taliban checkpoints, that they want to “go to the airport and leave the country”, which it is feared could put them at risk of reprisals.

What could Taliban rule mean for Afghanistan? – video explainer
 
05:26
What could Taliban rule mean for Afghanistan? – video explainer

A security source said the UK was having to rely on “uncomfortable intermediaries” in its dealings with the Taliban, who have a separate agreement with the US to allow it to conduct its retreat. Insiders also acknowledge the UK has limited intelligence on what is happening outside Kabul.

Carter’s interview with Sky News, which followed a Taliban press conference on Tuesday, prompted a furious reaction among MPs. The Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani told the Guardian: “Not a single Afghan woman has stated this naive optimism about the Taliban. They have not changed, women are hiding at home in fear of having been teachers and lawyers and just yesterday a women was killed in Afghanistan for not covering her hair.”

Caroline Nokes, the Tory chair of the equalities committee, said: “I would rather judge them by their actions than their words. Look at the pictures of the streets of Kabul, the women have disappeared, gone into hiding, especially those who have any sort of leadership role. The civic mayors, the activists, the journalists, the judges. The women we have encouraged to step up, to build civic society in Afghanistan, they are the ones most likely to suffer reprisals.”

The Labour MP Stella Creasy said: “Anyone thinking that Taliban pledges on women’s rights are enough – as if it’s equality being able to leave the house alone – needs to ask if they would be happy to live under such restrictions and feel an equal citizen.”

Asked about Carter’s position, Johnson’s spokesperson said: “He was reflecting what was claimed by the Taliban.”

‘I stand squarely behind my decision’: Biden defends handling of Afghanistan as Taliban forces seize Kabul

'I stand squarely behind my decision': Biden defends handling of Afghanistan as Taliban forces seize Kabul

‘I stand squarely behind my decision’: Biden defends handling of Afghanistan as Taliban forces seize Kabul

·6 min read
 
 
 
46th and current president of the United States

 

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WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden said Monday he made the right call to pull American troops out of Afghanistan even though he said the Taliban’s swift seizure of Kabul unfolded faster than expected.

“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said during a speech at the White House.

Biden said Afghan officials – including former President Ashraf Ghani – had assured him Afghan forces would fight the insurgents.

“The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated,” Biden said.

Without specifying any particular mistakes that were made, Biden said the withdrawal process has been “hard and messy – and yes, far from perfect.”

But Biden emphasized he is honoring the commitment he made when he ran for president to bring the military involvement to an end.

The president interrupted a working vacation at Camp David to make his first public comments about the Taliban’s takeover of the country, a foreign policy debacle – particularly for a president who came to the office with decades of foreign policy experience.

He took no questions and quickly went back to the presidential retreat.

David Axelrod, who was a top aide in the Obama administration, said Biden made a compelling case for why the U.S. is leaving Afghanistan that will resonate with many Americans.

“He didn’t do as well taking responsibility for HOW we got out, and the obvious failure to anticipate events,” Axelrod tweeted.

Experts had warned that the Afghan military might not be able to hold on after the the U.S. left.

Taliban fighters completed their sweep of the country by seizing control of Afghanistan’s capital Sunday as American troops scrambled to evacuate thousands of U.S. diplomats and Afghans from the U.S. Embassy.

Biden said there have been “gut-wrenching” scenes in Afghanistan. He defended efforts to close the embassy and secure the airport to fly people to safety.

Addressing criticism about why the evacuation of Afghanis didn’t happen sooner, Biden said some didn’t want to leave because they were still hopeful about the outcome. He said the administration didn’t want to trigger a crisis of confidence.

He said he followed through on a troop withdrawal plan developed during the administration of President Donald Trump.

“I know my decision will be criticized,” he said.

Claiming “my share of responsibly” for what happened, Biden said he did not want to pass along an unsolvable problem to yet another president.

“I cannot and will not ask our troops to fight on endlessly in another country’s civil war,” he said

Biden said there “was never a good time to withdraw US forces.”

Afghan security forces dissolved as the Taliban raced to Kabul in days. Protesters blocked access to the airport.

Dozens of people jogged beside and in front of a military transport plane, trying to prevent it from taking off. Some clung to the plane and fell to their deaths as it ascended.

Before Biden’s speech, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban “an embarrassment for our country and a victory for terrorists around the world.”

McConnell said the United States “abandoned the women and children of Afghanistan to these barbarians” and left behind thousands of Afghan allies. “We turned our backs on our friends and left the country in chaos,” said the Senate’s top Republican.

Republicans and other critics said Biden did too much finger-pointing and not enough accepting responsibility for the mess in Afghanistan.

“Biden’s surrender strengthens our terrorist enemies, hands them a massive new caliphate, abandons our allies & ensures a longer, costlier war for years to come,” tweeted Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.

In a brief statement, Trump said, “It’s not that we left Afghanistan. It’s the grossly incompetent way we left!”

Democrats generally stood behind Biden, but said little about the problems with the withdrawal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., cited the president’s warnings to the Taliban about their behavior, saying, “The world is watching its actions. We are concerned about reports regarding the Taliban’s brutal treatment of all Afghans, especially women and girls.”

Others said there’s plenty of blame to go around.

“I blame both Trump for this moment coming, and Biden for this botched ending,” tweeted Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill. “I’m not picking sides, because both sides have failed you. It’s the truth about #Afghanistan.”

Before Biden made his brief return from Camp David , national security adviser Jake Sullivan made the rounds of the news shows to defend the administration.

“The president had to make the best possible choice he could, and he stands by that decision,” Sullivan said on NBC’s “Today” show.

But the Biden comments that much of the media highlight are the president’s previous optimistic statements that it was “highly unlikely” that the Taliban would overrun the entire country after the U.S. withdrew from its 20-year involvement.

Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport in Kabul on Aug. 16, 2021, as thousands of people mobbed the city's airport trying to flee the group's feared hardline brand of Islamist rule.
 
Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport in Kabul on Aug. 16, 2021, as thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule.

Republicans called for Biden to – as Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., put it – “come out of hiding, and take charge of the mess he created.”

“President Biden needs to man up,” Sasse tweeted.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was equally blunt.

“Mr. President,” McCarthy tweeted, along with video of Afghans climbing aboard a taxiing U.S. Air Force jet, “do your job and address the nation.”

Biden, who left Washington on Thursday, had been scheduled to be in Camp David in Maryland through Wednesday. He had been out of sight save for an image of him participating in a videoconference that was released Sunday by the White House.

In this White House handout, U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris (on screen) hold a video conference with the national security team to discuss the ongoing efforts to draw down forces in Afghanistan.
 
In this White House handout, U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris (on screen) hold a video conference with the national security team to discuss the ongoing efforts to draw down forces in Afghanistan.

Biden’s speech in the East Room on Monday afternoon came about five weeks after he got defensive on whether it was inevitable that the Afghan government would collapse.

Biden said Afghan troops were “as well-equipped as any army in the world.”

“The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely,” he said.

On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Sullivan defended Biden’s assertion.

“He thought the Afghan national security forces could step up and fight,” Sullivan said.

On NBC’s “Today,” Sullivan acknowledged how much that assessment was off.

“The speed with which cities fell,” he said, “was much greater than anyone anticipated.”

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily briefing of the White House on June 7, 2021.
 
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily briefing of the White House on June 7, 2021.

On CBS’s “This Morning,” Sullivan said Biden “was not prepared to usher in a third decade of war and put U.S. troops in harm’s way, fighting and dying to try to hold Afghanistan together when its own armed forces would not fight to hold it together.”

“This is about hard choices,” Sullivan said, “and the choice he made he believes was in the national security interest of the United States.”

Contributing: Courtney Subramanian

Is Kabul ‘Biden’s Saigon? Images of chaotic exit evoke comparisons to retreat from Vietnam

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden says he stands by decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan

US Senators Ask Team USA to Boycott China’s Digital Yuan at 2022 Olympics

US Senators Ask Team USA to Boycott China’s Digital Yuan at 2022 Olympics

US Senators Ask Team USA to Boycott China’s Digital Yuan at 2022 Olympics

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Three Senators are calling on the U.S. national team to effectively boycott China’s digital currency at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Athletes should be forbidden from “receiving or using digital yuan during the Beijing Olympics,” Republicans Marsha Blackburn, Cynthia Lummis and Roger Wicker said in a Monday letter to the U.S. Olympic Committee leadership, citing privacy concerns.

“We cannot allow America’s athletes to be used as a trojan horse to increase the Chinese Communist Party’s ability to spy on the United States,” Lummis told CoinDesk.

 

Related: Why Central Bankers Invoke Free Banking to Attack Stablecoins

The boycott call amounts to an early salvo in the digital currency arms race, and a poignant one, given its proximity to the 2020 summer games. Tokyo’s year-delayed event is set to begin later this week.

China, which in February 2022 will host the winter games, is in the midst of debuting its e-CNY digital currency, by far the most advanced central bank digital currency (CBDC) project in the world. Last week the People’s Bank of China confirmed travelers will be allowed to open digital wallets while visiting the country.

That’s got the three republicans fearful that China’s commnist regime might attempt to exploit the e-CNY as a surveillance tool.

“Olympic athletes should be aware that the digital yuan may be used to surveil Chinese citizens and those visiting China on an unprecedented scale, with the hopes that they will maintain digital yuan wallets on their smartphones and continue to use it upon return,” they wrote to Olympic Committee board chair Suzanne Lyons.

Related: Digital Yuan Used in $5B of Transactions, Says China’s Central Bank

A representative for U.S. Olympic Committee did not immediately respond CoinDesk.

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Taiwan tells US it hopes it can sign a free trade deal in a move likely to anger China

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Taiwan tells US it hopes it can sign a free trade deal in a move likely to anger China

 
·2 min read
 
 
In this photo released by the Taiwan Presidential Office, president Tsai Ing-wen speaks at the presidential office on 20 June, 2021 (AP)
 
In this photo released by the Taiwan Presidential Office, president Tsai Ing-wen speaks at the presidential office on 20 June, 2021 (AP)

Taiwan has told the United States that it hopes the two countries can sign a free trade agreement, in a move likely to anger China which had warned against any official exchanges.

Taiwan and the US restarted trade talks on Wednesday which had been stalled since former president Barack Obama left office in 2016. The two sides held the eleventh Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, or TIFA, council meeting virtually.

An Office of the United States Trade Representative said in a statement that the talks focused on “enhancing the longstanding trade and investment relationship between the United States and Taiwan.”

Taiwan’s chief trade negotiator John Deng told reporters he raised the issue of a free trade deal directly with the US during the talks. He was quoted as saying by Reuters: “We expressed to the US that Taiwan hopes to sign a trade agreement.”

The US officials in the meeting “emphasised the importance of the US-Taiwan trade and investment relationship and expressed a desire for stronger and more consistent engagement”.

A day earlier, Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen had welcomed the resumption of talks and said it marked important progress for Taiwan-US economic relations. It also signals “our shared resolve in the face of regional and global challenges,” she had said.

Taiwan is America’s ninth largest goods trading partner and a major producer of semi-conductors. The island exported billions of dollars in chips, computer and telecommunications equipment to the US last year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Taiwan is self-governing but claimed by Beijing as a breakaway province. Any US agreement with Taiwan is likely to get a strong reaction from China.

Earlier this month, China had warned the US after the latter said it would resume economic talks with Taiwan.

China’s foreign ministry had urged Washington “to stop any form of official exchanges with Taiwan, handle the Taiwan issue cautiously, and refrain from sending any wrong signals to Taiwan independence forces”.

But the Joe Biden administration has said that its support for Taiwan is “rock solid”.

During a recent briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “Taiwan is a leading democracy and major economy and a security partner. And we will continue to strengthen our relationship across all areas — all the areas we cooperate, including on economic issues.”

She also said that the US has been clear “publicly and privately” about its growing concerns about China’s aggressions toward Taiwan.

Last week, Taiwan said it witnessed a record 28 Chinese military jets entering its airspace in what was the biggest intrusion yet by Beijing.

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source

China’s unprecedented crackdown on its internet sector

China's unprecedented crackdown on its internet sector

Tue, June 29, 2021, 6:27 AM

China is clamping down on its internet sector.

Not even the likes of e-commerce giant Alibaba are safe, with it receiving a record-breaking fine in April.

Beijing’s competition regulator is dishing out fines and investigating some of the biggest names in the “platform economy”, after issuing anti-monopoly guidelines that target internet platforms.

Let’s look at five of Beijing’s highest-profile targets.

Firstly, there’s the antitrust probe into Didi, just as the ride-hailing giant gears up for America’s potentially largest IPO of the year.

The investigation will see if it’s guilty of uncompetitive practices that squeezed out smaller rivals, and whether the pricing mechanism used by Didi’s core ride-hailing business is transparent enough, sources told Reuters.

Alibaba got hit with a record $2.78 billion fine in April, after it was found guilty of abusing its dominant market position since 2015, by preventing merchants from using other online e-commerce platforms.

The fine was about 4% of Alibaba’s 2019 domestic revenue.

China torpedoed the $37 billion listing of Alibaba fintech affiliate Ant Group in November.

That came after company founder Jack Ma said the country’s financial and regulatory system stifled innovation.

Chinese regulators imposed a sweeping restructuring on the fintech giant, Forcing it to turn itself into a financial holding firm.

Tencent could face a penalty of at least $1.5 billion for anti-competitive practices and not properly reporting past acquisitions and investments for antitrust reviews.

It’s also been told it may have to give up exclusive music streaming rights, and may even be forced to sell its acquired music apps.

Regulators also launched an antitrust investigation into food delivery giant Meituan.

It had an estimated 68.2% of China’s food delivery market in the second quarter of 2020, according to Trustdata.

So why is all of this happening now?

Some analysts say the government fears they’ll grow too powerful if left unchecked.

source

Pompeo: ‘Enormous evidence’ that COVID-19 may have escaped from Wuhan lab

Pompeo: ‘Enormous evidence’ that COVID-19 may have escaped from Wuhan lab

Sat, May 29, 2021, 7:35 AM

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discusses the possible origins of the coronavirus, U.S.-China relations, and President Biden’s budget proposal.

Philippines summons Chinese ambassador over reef dispute

Philippines summons Chinese ambassador over reef dispute

 
JIM GOMEZ
·2 min read
 
 

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government summoned the Chinese ambassador to press its demand for Chinese vessels to immediately leave a reef claimed by Manila in the South China Sea and said their presence was stoking tensions, officials said Tuesday.

The escalating feud between Manila and Beijing started after more than 200 Chinese vessels suspected by Philippine authorities to be operated by militias were spotted early last month at Whitsun Reef. The Philippine government demanded the vessels leave then deployed coast guard and patrol vessels to the area but China said it owns the reef and the Chinese vessels were sheltering from rough seas.

After summoning Ambassador Huang Xilian on Monday, Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Elizabeth Buensuceso expressed to him Manila’s “displeasure over the illegal lingering presence of Chinese vessels around Julian Felipe Reef,” the foreign affairs department said in a statement, using the Philippine name for Whitsun Reef in the most hotly disputed Spratlys region of the busy waterway.

 

“The continuing presence of Chinese vessels around the reef is a source of regional tension,” Buensuceso said.

She reiterated to Huang that the reef, which lies about 175 nautical miles (324 kilometers) west of the Philippine province of Palawan, is within an internationally recognized offshore zone where Manila has the exclusive right to exploit fisheries, oil, gas and other resources.

She also cited a 2016 ruling in an international arbitration case the Philippines brought against China that invalidated Beijing’s vast claims on historical grounds to virtually all of the South China Sea under a 1982 U.N. maritime treaty.

The Philippine military has said aerial surveillance showed some of the Chinese vessels have left the reef but more than 40 remained moored in the area in late March. It debunked China’s claim that the vessels were sheltering from rough seas saying the weather has been fine around the reef.

The United States has said it would stand by the Philippines amid the standoff. The Department of National Defense in Manila said last week that the Philippines could seek the help of the U.S., with which it has a mutual defense treaty, to protect its interests in the South China Sea.

The Philippines’ high-profile protests against China over Whitsun has unfolded amid the cozier relations President Rodrigo Duterte nurtured with China after taking office in mid-2016. Duterte has been repeatedly criticized for not immediately demanding Chinese compliance with the 2016 arbitration ruling and taking a stronger stand against China’s actions in the disputed waters.

The Spratly chain of islands, islets and atolls are claimed entirely or partly by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei. China has turned seven disputed reefs into missile-protected island bases in recent years, ratcheting up tensions in what has long been feared as a potential flashpoint in Asia.