by Nasra Ismail and Biodun Iginla, BBC News, Jerusalem JERUSALEM | Sun Jun 2, 2013 4:51am EDT Iran aims to start a reactor next year which the West fears could arm an atomic bomb; Israel, which has bombed such construction sites around the Middle East…
Latest update: 02/06/2013 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has proved in the past that he knows how and when to retreat, is likely to learn an important lesson on the limits of his power following the fierce protests that have swept…
by Melissa Gruz and Biodun Iginla, BBC News The road to the 2016 general election is becoming more and more rocky as mounting numbers of members of the U.S. Congress announce their intentions to seek a life beyond Capitol Hill. The latest retirement…
Zanu-PF is confident it has the momentum to the Movement for Democratic Change
Shipments to go ahead this summer if ‘Geneva 2’ does not make progress
Buy AP Photo Reprints
SINGAPORE — A Chinese military leader on Saturday pointedly questioned the expanded U.S. role in the Pacific after the Pentagon chief said he hoped for better military ties between the two powers.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in a speech at a security conference in Singapore, also warned China about cyberattacks seemingly linked to Beijing.
He said the U.S. has expressed its concerns about “the growing threat of cyberintrusions, some of which appear to be tied to the Chinese government and military.”
Other U.S. officials have publicly blamed China for computer-based attacks that steal data from the U.S. government and corporations, but Hagel’s rebuke came in China’s backyard and in front of a Chinese delegation.
Maj. Gen. Yao Yunzhu, director of the Center for China-America Defense Relations at the People’s Liberation Army’s Academy of Military Science, challenged Hagel to better explain America’s intentions for its military buildup across the region.
“Thank you for mentioning China several times,” she said in the question-and-answer session after Hagel’s speech.
She said the Obama administration’s new focus on the Pacific has been widely interpreted as an “attempt to counter China’s rising influence and to offset the increasing military capabilities of the Chinese PLA. However, China is not convinced.”
She asked Hagel how he can assure China that the increased U.S. deployments to the region are part of an effort to build a more positive relationship with Beijing.
“That’s really the whole point behind closer military-to-military relationships,” Hagel responded. “We don’t want miscalculations and misunderstandings and misinterpretations. And the only way you do that is you talk to each other.”
The U.S. welcomes a strong and emerging China that takes on responsibilities for security in the region, Hagel said, adding that the countries have to be inclusive and direct with each other. “I think we’ve made continued progress,” he said. “And we’ll make more progress.”
These matters, and the overall U.S.-China relationship, will be on the agenda for President Barack Obama’s meeting next week in California with Chinese President Xi Jinping. It will be their first meeting since Obama’s re-election and Xi’s promotion to Communist Party chief.
U.S. defense officials said Hagel also broadly raised the issue of cybersecurity in a brief and informal meeting with Lt. Gen. Qi Jianguo, PLA deputy chief, on Friday evening.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to publicly discuss the content of the meeting, said Hagel mentioned plans for the formation of a cyberworking group.
In his speech, Hagel said the U.S. is determined to work closely with China and others to establish appropriate standards for behavior in cyberspace.
The U.S. also is looking to China for help in resolving problems with North Korea, which has raised tensions with a series of rocket launches, an underground nuclear test and threats of nuclear strikes against the U.S. and its allies.
Hagel spoke of the need for “a continuous and respectful dialogue” and said the U.S. and China must build trust in order to avoid military miscalculations.
Much of the speech, however, was designed as a follow-up to last year’s gathering, when then-U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta first detailed what has been called the U.S. military’s new pivot to the Pacific.
Hagel assured Asian nations that despite sharp budget cuts, the Pentagon will continue to shift troops, ships and aircraft to the Pacific region.
Where Panetta had laid out promises, Hagel was able to point to results. U.S. Marines have been sent to Darwin, Australia, while a U.S. combat ship has arrived in Singapore and plans are unfolding for U.S. Army units to rotate in and out of the region.
Hagel suggested that the Pentagon’s five-year budget plan continues to anticipate additional F-22 Raptor fighter jets and F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in the region, along with a fourth fast-attack submarine deployed to Guam.
He provided a glimpse into the broad review he ordered to determine whether budget cuts will force the U.S. military strategy to change, a year after Panetta unveiled it.
International leaders have been watching the deliberations in Washington closely to see what the roughly $487 billion in automatic spending cuts over the next 10 years will mean to America’s commitment’s abroad.
Already the military services have curtailed flight and combat training for many units, grounded some Air Force squadrons and delayed or canceled some ship deployments.
The Pentagon also has said it will furlough about 680,000 civilian employees for up to 11 days through the end of the fiscal year.
The initial report on the strategy review was due to Hagel on Friday, and while he said the outcome is not final, it should reflect the rise of Asia.
“For the region, this means I can assure you that coming out of this review, the United States will continue to implement the rebalance and prioritize our posture, activities and investments in Asia-Pacific,” he said.
The Asia-Pacific, Hagel said, is at the epicenter of historic changes around the world and the U.S. is committed to strengthening its military, economic and diplomatic partnerships with nations across the region.
As part of that he noted that the U.S. will set aside $100 million to expand its military exercises in the region.
Just finishing his third month as Pentagon Chief, Hagel used the speech to introduce himself on a more personal level to the audience. For many he is a familiar face. He was one of the founders of the conference in 2002, and as a U.S. senator, was a speaker at the first three gatherings.
He talked about his long ties to the region, including his father’s service in World War II flying B-25 bombers in the South Pacific, and his own service in Vietnam with his brother. Hagel was wounded and twice received the Purple Heart.
Later, he traveled to Asia as the co-founder of a cellular telephone company and then, as a Republican senator from Nebraska, he served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“What I took away from all these experiences,” Hagel said, “was a firm belief that the arc of the 21st century would be shaped by events here in Asia.”
Heavy fighting raged around the strategic Syrian border town of Qusair and the capital Damascus on Monday and further reports surfaced of chemical weapons attacks by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces on rebel areas.
Intensified government offensives are widely seen as a bid to strengthen Assad’s position before a peace conference proposed by the United States and Russia for next month.
In Brussels, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who was pushing his European Union colleagues to allow member states to arm the rebels, said the expiry of existing EU sanctions this week meant countries could now choose to send weapons to opposition fighters if they wanted to.
While Britain and France say such a move could strengthen the rebels ahead of the peace talks, other countries oppose sending arms and EU diplomats said there was an agreement not to send weapons for now.
The Syrian military pounded eastern suburbs of Damascus with air strikes and artillery and loud explosions echoed around al-Nabak, 80 km (50 miles) north of the capital, where fighting has cut the highway running north to the central city of Homs, the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group said.
Opposition activists said Syrian troops backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters were pressing a sustained assault on Qusair, a town long used by insurgents as a way station for arms and other supplies from Lebanon.
For Assad, Qusair is a crucial link between Damascus and loyalist strongholds on the Mediterranean coast. Recapturing the town could also sever connections between rebel-held areas in the north and south of Syria.
Hezbollah’s deepening involvement in Qusair has raised the prospect of renewed civil war in Lebanon, where two rockets hit the Shi’ite Muslim movement’s stronghold in south Beirut on Sunday and one was fired from south Lebanon towards Israel.
The rockets struck hours after Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah promised that his anti-Israel guerrillas, fighting alongside Assad’s forces, would win whatever the cost.
A Lebanese security source said another 107mm rocket, which did not go off, had been aimed at Beirut airport. The launch sites were near Aitat, in the hills just south of the capital.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced “deep concern” at Hezbollah’s admitted combat role and the risk that the Syrian conflict will spill into Lebanon and other neighboring states.
“CHEMICAL ATTACK” AFFECTS DOZENS
The U.S.-Russian initiative so far appears only to have intensified the violence, especially around Qusair and Damascus.
In Harasta, an eastern Damascus suburb largely under rebel control, dozens of people were afflicted by respiratory difficulties after an apparent overnight chemical attack, according to opposition sources. Video showed victims lying on the floor of a room, breathing from oxygen masks.
The sides in the conflict, now in its third year, have accused each other of using chemical weapons. France’s Le Monde newspaper published first-hand accounts on Monday of apparent chemical attacks by Assad’s forces in April.
The newspaper said one of its photographers had suffered blurred vision and breathing problems for four days after an attack on April 13 on the Jobar front, in central Damascus.
Another video from Harasta overnight showed at least two fighters being put into a van, their eyes watering and struggling to breathe while medics put tubes into their throats.
It was not possible to verify the videos independently.
Syria, which is not a member of the anti-chemical weapons convention, is believed to have one of the world’s last remaining stockpiles of undeclared chemical arms.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Brussels there was “increasingly strong evidence of localized use of chemical weapons” in Syria and said Paris would consult its partners on what action ought to be taken.
The U.S.-Russian initiative provides the first slim hope in almost a year for a diplomatic end to a conflict that has cost more than 80,000 lives and caused a refugee exodus that the U.N. refugee agency expects to top 3.5 million by the end of 2013.
After a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said organising a peace conference - which may happen in Geneva in June - was a tricky but not, he hoped, impossible endeavor.
“It’s not an easy task. It’s a very tall order. But I hope that when the United States and the Russian Federation take this kind of initiative, the chances for success are there,” he said after the two met by themselves for roughly 90 minutes.
China, which along with Russia, has three times blocked U.N. Security Council action on Syria, said on Monday it would join the proposed talks and would push all concerned towards peace.
Damascus has indicated it will take part in the talks. But the fractured opposition, which has previously required Assad’s exit to be guaranteed before any negotiations, has yet to lay out its position and remains mired in internal quarrels.
The opposition crisis deepened on Monday when liberals were offered only token representation, undermining international efforts to lend the Islamist-dominated alliance greater support.
To the dismay of envoys of Western and Arab nations monitoring four days of opposition talks in Istanbul, the 60-member Syrian National Coalition thwarted a deal to admit a liberal bloc headed by opposition campaigner Michel Kilo.
The failure to broaden the coalition, in which a Qatari-backed bloc influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood is prominent, could sap Saudi support for the revolt.
The coalition’s Western backers had wanted more seats for liberals, an idea backed by Saudi Arabia, which had been uneasy about Qatar’s rising influence, coalition insiders said.
China is ready to open up new sectors of its economy to German investors, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Monday, in comments that highlight Beijing’s drive for a special bilateral partnership with Berlin bypassing the EU.
“If we both come together in an ideal and optimal way, a dream team will emerge,” Li told representatives of German business during a visit to Berlin, his first to a European Union capital since becoming premier in March.
Li urged closer cooperation in manufacturing - an area where German firms increasingly see China as a competitor as it moves up the value chain - and he singled out logistics, education and healthcare as sectors for German investment.
The European Commission in Brussels oversees EU trade ties with third countries and it was unclear how far Beijing could offer Berlin special access to markets denied to other member states, but Li’s comments underscored the importance of China and Germany, the world’s top two exporters, to each other.
Bilateral trade totaled nearly 150 billion euros in 2011 and Germany accounts for about a third of China’s total trade with the 27-nation EU.
Germany produces the high-quality machinery and equipment that Chinese companies need to manufacture their goods, many of which end up back in Germany. China is a giant market for German luxury cars and state-of-the-art machinery, while Chinese exports to Germany include textiles, electrical goods and toys.
Underlining the importance of this economic relationship, Germany along with a number of other EU governments came out on Monday against the European Commission’s plan to impose hefty duties on solar panel imports from China.
Brussels accuses Chinese firms of selling solar panels at below cost in Europe and plans to impose duties, making it far harder for China to gain market share.
German Economy Minister Philipp Roesler said after talks with Li there was “no need for more sanctions measures”, echoing Chancellor Angela Merkel who had stressed Berlin’s commitment to free trade during her own meeting with the premier on Sunday.
Merkel, who faces an election in September, is keen to avoid trade tensions with China, the world’s second biggest economy. China has proven a valuable alternative market for German companies during the euro zone debt crisis, which has badly dented demand in their more traditional markets nearer to home.
Li also told Roesler China was determined to tackle intellectual property theft, a longstanding concern among Western investors, adding: “This also harms the innovation and motivation of Chinese firms.”
The chief executive of industrial giant Siemens, Peter Loescher, said direct Chinese investment into Germany was still far too low at 1.2 billion euros against some 35 billion euros worth of German direct investment in China.