Wednesday, June 27, 2012

U.S. sees momentum on South China Sea code---------Defense News

WASHINGTON — The United States said on June 27 it saw momentum in talks between China and Southeast Asia on agreeing to a code of conduct to ease deep friction over competing claims in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is likely to be high on the agenda when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads next month to Cambodia for talks of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and regional powers including China.
Kurt Campbell, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said he understood that a draft proposal on a code of conduct was being discussed and that the United States expected to hear more details while in Cambodia.
“What we have seen of late has been an increase in diplomacy between ASEAN and China about aspects associated with a potential code of conduct,” Campbell told a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“I will say that we are frankly impressed with the level of focus that particularly ASEAN has given to this,” Campbell said.
Campbell did not give more details on the potential code of conduct and acknowledged that disputes over the South China Sea are “fraught with difficulty.”
“They spur nationalist sentiment across the region as a whole and it is extraordinarily important to deal with them with great delicacy,” he said.
ASEAN and China agreed in 2002 to negotiate a code of conduct. But there has been little visible progress, with a rising China preferring to negotiate with each country individually instead of dealing with a unified bloc.
ASEAN foreign ministers, meeting in April in Phnom Penh, said they hoped to narrow differences and sign a code of conduct with China by the end of the year.
The Philippines and Vietnam accuse China of aggressively asserting its claims in recent years, leading to minor clashes that diplomats and military commanders fear could quickly escalate into major conflicts.
The United States have recently expanded military relations with the Philippines and Vietnam, part of what President Barack Obama’s administration has cast as a growing U.S. focus on relations with Asia.
The details of the code of conduct remained murky. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, speaking to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 2, said the code should set a binding “rules-based framework” to prevent and manage disputes.
At the annual ASEAN talks in 2010 in Vietnam, Clinton said the United States had a “national interest” in open access to the South China Sea, through which half of the world’s trade flows.
Her statement generated a wide response in Asia, with Southeast Asian nations largely welcoming the remarks and stepping up cooperation with the United States but China accusing her of fanning tensions.
Campbell said Clinton was also looking to visit Laos. If confirmed, the trip would be the first by a U.S. secretary of state to Laos since the communist victory in 1975.
The United States established normal trade ties with Laos in 2004 and has been studying ways to clean up ordnance. The United States dropped millions of bombs on Laos during the Vietnam War to cut off Hanoi’s supply lines.
U.S. relations with Laos have remained uneasy largely due to concerns over treatment of the Hmong, a hill people who assisted U.S. forces during the Vietnam War and have reported persecution afterward.
One signature effort of the Obama administration has been reaching out to another long-isolated nation — Myanmar.
The country formerly known as Burma has undertaken dramatic reforms since last year including allowing elections in which opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in parliament.
U.S. senators said Wednesday that they expected soon to confirm Derek Mitchell as the first U.S. ambassador to Myanmar in more than 20 years.

Cartwright: China, S. Korea Need To Pressure North Korea---------Defense News

The United States should take a back seat to China and South Korea when it comes to applying pressure on North Korea, according to an influential, retired U.S. general.
“We could probably do a substantial amount of solving the problems of North Korea if we would let South Korea and China work the problem,” said retired Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, who retired last year as the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Cartwright’s comments came during a June 26 presentation at an event sponsored by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
“Once you start to introduce commerce, risk equations change substantially,” he said, noting both China and South Korea have built roads and rail lines up to the North Korean border.
“But as long as we’re there, it looks like a wartime footing. We’ve just got to think our way through how to do this,” he said.
The U.S. has about 28,000 troops based on the Korean Peninsula.
Cartwright, who since his retirement has been outspoken on defense issues such as nuclear deterrence and cybersecurity, said the United States should partner with China to make sure nations in the region “are taken care of, that they have access to goods, that they can move their goods.”
“We’re better off solving these problems if we do so with China,” he said.
Cartwright said there needs to be an authoritative venue that could address nations’ claims of natural resources under the South China Sea.

Russia May Fly Military Cargo to Syria: Report------------Defense News

MOSCOW — Russia may decide to fly a controversial military cargo of helicopters and air defense systems to Syria after it abandoned an attempt to ship the material by sea, according to a June 27 report.
The West wants Russia to halt military cooperation with Syria because of the escalating conflict between the Damascus regime and rebels, but Moscow has insisted it cannot break contracts.
A freighter, the Alaed, docked in the Russian Arctic port of Murmansk over the weekend after turning back off the British coast. The ship halted its voyage to Syria to deliver the military cargo when its British insurer dropped coverage.
“The three Mi-25 helicopters and air defense systems could easily be delivered to Syria by air,” a military source, who was not identified, told the Interfax news agency.
“Russia has to fulfill its obligations. But everything will depend on if we can resist pressure from the West, who want us to break military cooperation with Syria,” the source said, adding a decision would be made soon.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has confirmed the Alaed was carrying three attack helicopters Moscow had repaired for Damascus under a previous agreement.
He said last week the cargo also included air defense systems but gave no further details on the type or quantity on board.
Russia delivers a range of limited air defense systems to Syria but reportedly has refused to provide the more advanced S-300 technology that it had previously also failed to give to Iran under Western pressure.
The Vedomosti business daily reported June 26 that Russia this year chose to withhold the S-300 from Syria, despite a $105 million delivery contract being signed by the system’s producer and Damascus in 2011.
Military experts have speculated that the Alaed was carrying the more basic Russian Buk-M2e air defense systems for Syria, whose forces last week shot down a Turkish warplane off the Syrian coast.
In Murmansk, the Alaed’s flag has been changed to a Russian flag from that of the Caribbean island of Curacao.
But Russia has yet to confirm if the ship will now make a repeat attempt to reach the Syrian port of Tartus or travel on to Russia’s Far East port city of Vladivostok as originally planned.

U.S. Pays High Price for Pakistan Route Cut-Off: Admiral

WASHINGTON — Moving supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan via Central Asia costs three times as much as routes through Pakistan, which Islamabad shut seven months ago in anger, a senior U.S. officer said June 27.
“On the ground, it’s almost three times more expensive to come from the north as it does from Pakistan. More expensive and slower,” said Vice Adm. Mark Harnitchek, director of the Defense Logistics Agency.
NATO now uses an alternative network of northern routes that pass through Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Transporting a container from the United States to Afghanistan costs about $20,000, he told a group of defense reporters.
But the cost of ferrying cargo to the Pakistani port of Karachi and then over roads to the Afghan border amounts to only a third of that price, he said.
Pakistan imposed a blockade on NATO supply convoys after 24 of its soldiers were killed by mistake in a U.S. air strike in November along the Afghan border.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said earlier this month that the Pakistan border closure costs the United States an additional $100 million a month.
Before the route cut-off, about 30 percent to 40 percent of the fuel used by coalition forces came through Pakistan.
Fuel is now transported over land via the northern routes, while food is flown in on cargo aircraft, he said.
“It was challenging initially and we took a bit of a dip there in terms of days of supply. But now our stocks of food and fuel have never been higher,” Harnitchek said.
The supply routes will be on the agenda when the commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, meets his counterparts in Pakistan on June 27, officials said.
U.S. officials raised expectations in May that a deal was imminent with Pakistan on the reopening of the routes, but no announcement came and Washington withdrew its team of negotiators.
The United States has refused to issue a formal apology over the air strikes, despite appeals from Pakistan.
Amid continued deadlock, the Pentagon on June 27 expressed hope that a deal eventually could be reached on the supply routes.
“I think there is reason for optimism. I think we’re reaching a point in our relationship with Pakistan that suggests that things are settling down a bit,” spokesman George Little told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.
“I think the basis for some kind of agreement on the GLOCs (ground lines of communication) is there and is real and we hope that we reach a resolution,” he said.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pakistan Responds to Indian Missile Test , Plans to Conduct Her Own

New Delhi: Just days after India successfully test fired its first Inter Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), Agni-V, Pakistan has said that it plans to conduct a long-range missile test.
The neighbour has informed India that it plans to conduct a long-range missile test in the Indian Ocean over the next five days.
Islamabad has asked New Delhi to issue a notice to all commercial airlines to steer clear of the area.
The move by Pakistan comes just five days after India test fired Agni-V to join the elite club of ICBM nations.
Agni-V, the ICBM test fired by India five days ago, is capable of carrying nuclear warheads and will be crucial for India's defence against China. The missile can carry a pay-load of 1 tonne, is 17 m long, 2 m wide and weighs 50 tonnes. After the missile is inducted into India's strategic forces by 2014-2015, India will acquire a strong deterrent capacity against China.
Agni-V can cover entire China, Eastern Europe, North Eastern and Eastern Africa and even Australia if fired from the Nicobar Islands.
Only the permanent members of the UN Security Council - China, Russia, France, the United States and the United Kingdom - have such long distance missiles. Israel, too, is believed to posses ICBMs although there is no official confirmation of the same.
The missile has a range of 5,000 kilometres, a marked improvement over India's current missiles which can hit potential enemy targets over a distance of just 3,500 kilometres.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Americans take China at Word Over North Korea's Sanctions--------------Defense News

A missile is transported on a vehicle during a military pararade April 15 commemorating the 100th birth anniversary of former North Korean President Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang.

WASHINGTON — The United States said April 19 that it believed China’s assurances that it is abiding by sanctions on North Korea after charges that Beijing supplied technology for a missile launcher.
IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly said that U.N. officials are investigating allegations that China violated sanctions imposed by the Security Council after North Korea unveiled the 16-wheel launcher at a military parade.
“China has provided repeated assurances that it’s complying fully with both Resolution 1718 as well 1874. We’re not presently aware of any U.N. probe into this matter,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.
“I think we take them at their word,” Toner said, adding that he was not aware of specific conversations between the United States and China about the launcher.
North Korea showed off the launcher, carrying an apparently new medium-range missile, as part of national celebrations on April 15 for the centennial of the birth of the regime’s founder Kim Il-Sung.
Quoting an unidentified official, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly said China could be in breach of the two resolutions approved after North Korea’s 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests if it passed along the vehicle since then.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, who heads a panel of the House Armed Services Committee, asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and intelligence chief James Clapper to investigate whether China supplied the launcher’s technology.
In a letter, Turner quoted military specialist Richard Fisher as telling him that the launcher was “very likely based on a Chinese design” and that the technology transfer would have required a green light from Beijing.
“I am sure you agree that the United States cannot permit a state such as the People’s Republic of China to support — either intentionally or by a convenient lack of attention — the ambitions of a state like North Korea to threaten the security of the American people,” the Ohio Republican wrote.
“Indeed, the possibility of such cooperation undermines the administration’s entire policy of investing China with the responsibility of getting tough on North Korea.”
China, which holds a veto on the Security Council, is the main supporter of North Korea, although it voiced misgivings over Pyongyang’s defiant rocket launch last week.
North Korea described the launch as an unsuccessful bid to put a satellite into orbit, but the United States said it was a disguised missile test.
Separately, Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun reported April 18 that China has stopped sending back fleeing North Koreans in retaliation for its ally’s failure to consult Beijing over its rocket launch.
China’s repatriations have triggered wide criticism overseas, with human rights groups saying that North Koreans face imprisonment, forced abortions and even sometimes execution if returned home.
“We obviously hope that the media reports are true,” Toner said.
But the spokesman said the United States could not confirm a change in China’s policy.
“We consistently urge China to adhere to its international obligations as part of the U.N. Convention on Refugees,” he said.

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Obama warns Iran Of Use Of Force-------------Defense News

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Barack Obama reaffirmed his strong backing for key ally Israel on March 4, warning Iran that he would not hesitate to use force, if required, to stop it developing a nuclear weapon.
“Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I’ve made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests,” Obama said in a keynote address to a pro-Israeli lobby group.

The Red Dragon Flexes more muscle ----------------------Defense News

China announced March 4 a double-digit hike in military spending in 2012, in a move likely to fuel concerns about Beijing's rapid military build-up and increase regional tensions. Above, Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers showing off their fighting skills at a media event on the outskirts of Beijing in this file photo.BEIJING — China said March 4 its military spending would top $100 billion in 2012 — a double-digit increase on last year — in a move likely to fuel concerns about Beijing’s rapid military build-up.
The defense budget will rise 11.2 percent to 670.27 billion yuan ($106.41 billion), said Li Zhaoxing, a spokesman for China’s national parliament, citing a budget report submitted to the country’s rubber-stamp legislature.
The figure marks a slowdown from 2011 when spending rose by 12.7 percent but is still likely to fuel worries over China’s growing assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region and push its neighbors to forge closer ties with the United States.
Li described the budget as “relatively low” as a percentage of gross domestic product compared with other countries and said it was aimed at “safeguarding sovereignty, national security and territorial integrity”.
“We have a large territory and a long coastline but our defense spending is relatively low compared with other major countries,” Li told reporters.
“It will not in the least pose a threat to other countries.”
China has been increasing its military spending by double digits for most of the past decade, during which time its economy, now the world’s second largest, has grown at a blistering pace.
The People’s Liberation Army — the world’s largest with an estimated 2.3 million troops — is hugely secretive about its defense programs, but insists its modernization is purely defensive in nature.
The rapid military build-up has nevertheless set alarm bells ringing across Asia and in Washington, which announced in January a defense strategy focused on countering China’s rising power.
Analysts said the smaller-than-expected increase in spending this year was an attempt by Beijing to ease concerns in the United States and the region about its growing military might.
“It is doubtful whether the message will get across because most countries know that the real budget is at least double the published one,” said Willy Lam, a leading China expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Lam said funding for modernizing the country’s military was not included in the published budget, which mostly covered salaries for defense personnel and maintenance of existing equipment.
Money for research and development of modern weaponry “comes from elsewhere”, he said.
Taiwan-based PLA expert Arthur Ding said the still considerable growth in this year’s budget would push “regional countries to try to build closer ties with the United States”.
“I think the regional countries will be really concerned about that,” Ding told AFP.
“China has to explain and try to convince the regional countries why they need such a high growth rate.”
Tokyo has repeatedly questioned Beijing’s military intentions. A Japanese government-backed report last month warned that Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea could soon be replicated in neighboring waters.
China lays claim to essentially all of the South China Sea, where its professed ownership of the Spratly archipelago overlaps with claims by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.
Beijing and Tokyo also have a long-standing dispute over an uninhabited but strategically coveted island chain known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, which lies between Japan and Taiwan in the East China Sea.
The two sides have occasionally clashed diplomatically over the issue, most notably in late 2010, when Japan arrested the captain of a Chinese fishing vessel near the island chain after a collision with its coastguard.
China began revamping the PLA — the former ragtag peasant force formed in 1927 by the Communist Party — in earnest after a troubled 1979 incursion into Vietnam, when the neighbors vied for influence over Southeast Asia.