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China extends military drills around Taiwan after Pelosi visit

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China announced Monday it will be extending military drills around Taiwan — a day after the scheduled end of its largest ever exercises, which were conducted in retaliation for last week’s controversial visit to Taipei by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

China’s Eastern Theatre Command said it would conduct joint drills focusing on anti-submarine and sea assault operations — confirming the fears of some security analysts and diplomats that Beijing would continue to maintain pressure on Taiwan’s defenses.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry headed by Joseph Wu condemned China’s decision to continue military drills, saying the country was still “deliberately creating crises and continues to provoke.”

Wu called on China to immediately stop the threatening exercises and “pull back from the edge,” but also sounded a defiant note.

“In the face of military intimidation created by China, Taiwan will not be afraid nor back down, and will more firmly defend its sovereignty, national security, and free and democratic way of life,” the ministry said in a statement.

China fired 11 short-range ballistic missiles during the four earlier days of exercises, while its warships, fighter jets and drones maneuvered around Taiwan.
REUTERS
A Chinese military plane flies during a training exercise of the air force corps of the Eastern Theater Command of the Chinese People's Liberation Army on Friday.
A Chinese military plane flies during a training exercise of the air force corps of the Eastern Theater Command of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army on Friday.
AP

Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last week infuriated China, which regards the self-ruled island as its own and responded with test launches of ballistic missiles over Taipei for the first time, as well as by halting some defense and climate talks with Washington.

The duration and precise location of the latest round of drills is not yet known, but Taiwan has already eased flight restrictions near the six earlier Chinese exercise areas surrounding the island.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said Sunday it detected a total of 66 aircraft and 14 warships conducting the naval and air exercises. The island has responded by putting its military on alert and deploying ships, planes and other assets to monitor Chinese aircraft, ships and drones that are “simulating attacks on the island of Taiwan and our ships at sea.”

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s official Central News Agency reported that Taiwan’s army will conduct live-fire artillery drills in southern Pingtung county on Tuesday and Thursday, in response to the Chinese exercises.

The drills will include snipers, combat vehicles, armored vehicles as well as attack helicopters, said the report, which cited an anonymous source.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan last week infuriated China, prompting it to carry out its largest ever exercises near Taiwan.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last week infuriated China, prompting it to carry out its largest ever exercises near Taiwan.
REUTERS

Beyond the firing of 11 short-range ballistic missiles during the four earlier days of exercises, Chinese warships, fighter jets and drones maneuvered extensively around the island.

Shortly before those drills ended on Sunday, about 10 warships each from China and Taiwan maneuvered at close quarters around the unofficial median line of the Taiwan Strait, according to a person familiar with the situation who is involved with security planning.

A Chinese state television commentator said late on Sunday that the Chinese military would now conduct “regular” drills on the Taiwan side of the line.

In Taipei, defense ministry spokesman Sun Li-fang told reporters that Taiwan’s armed forces had “calmly” handled the Chinese drills. Earlier, the ministry had said the drills had used warships, aircraft and drones to simulate attacks on the island and its navy.

China’s designated no-fly zones, and crossings of the median line, have “compressed” Taiwan’s training space and will affect the normal operation of international flights and air routes in the future, the ministry said in a statement.

China conducted missile tests into the waters off the eastern coast of Taiwan, from an undisclosed location on Aug. 4.
China conducted missile tests into the waters off the eastern coast of Taiwan, from an undisclosed location on Aug. 4.
via REUTERS

But Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Monday that China was conducting normal military exercises “in our own waters” in an open, transparent and professional way, adding that Taiwan was part of China.

When asked whether China’s ongoing drills abided by international law and whether new warnings for civilian air and sea traffic would be issued, Wang said relevant departments issued timely announcements in line with both domestic and international law.

China’s defense ministry, meanwhile, maintained its diplomatic pressure on the US, defending its shelving of military-to-military talks in protest at Pelosi’s visit.

A TV screen shows China's People's Liberation Army conducting military exercises including live firing on the waters and in the airspace surrounding Taiwan.
A TV screen shows China’s People’s Liberation Army conducting military exercises including live firing on the waters and in the airspace surrounding Taiwan.
REUTERS

“The current tense situation in the Taiwan Strait is entirely provoked and created by the US side on its own initiative, and the US side must bear full responsibility and serious consequences for this,” defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian said in an online post.

“The bottom line cannot be broken, and communication requires sincerity,” Wu said.

China called off formal talks involving theater-level commands, defense policy coordination and military maritime consultations on Friday as Pelosi left the region.

Pentagon, State Department and White House officials condemned the move, describing it as an irresponsible over-reaction.

According to security analysts and diplomats, China’s decision to cut some of its few communication links with the US military raises the risk of an accidental escalation over Taiwan at a critical moment.

One US official noted that Chinese officials had not responded to calls from senior Pentagon officials amid the tensions last week, but that they did not see this as a formal severing of ties with senior figures, such as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) conducts conventional missile tests into the waters off the eastern coast of Taiwan.
Forces from China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conduct conventional missile tests into the waters off the eastern coast of Taiwan.
via REUTERS

Asked directly about those reports, defense ministry spokesman Wu said, “China’s relevant counter-measures are a necessary warning to the provocations of the United States and Taiwan, and a legitimate defense of national sovereignty and security.”

The Biden administration and Pelosi said the US remains committed to the “one-China” policy that extends formal diplomatic recognition to Beijing while allowing robust informal relations and defense ties with Taipei.

The US, however, criticized Beijing’s actions in the Taiwan Strait, with White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre calling them “fundamentally irresponsible.”

“There’s no need and no reason for this escalation,” Jean-Pierre said.

In Washington, Taiwanese de facto ambassador Bi-khim Hsiao said China had no reason to “be so furious” over Pelosi’s visit, which follows a long tradition of American lawmakers visiting Taiwan.

“Well, you know, we have been living under the threat from China for decades,” Hsiao told CBS News on Sunday. “If you have a kid being bullied at school, you don’t say you don’t go to school. You try to find a way to deal with the bully.

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China Regroups to Snuff Out a Wave of Protests

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After China experienced its boldest and most widespread protests in decades, defying Xi Jinping, a Communist Party leader who prizes his reputation for ironclad authority, his security apparatus is scrambling to reassert control.

Public security personnel and vehicles have blanketed potential protest sites. Police officers are searching some residents’ phones for prohibited apps. Officials are going to the homes of would-be protesters to warn them against illegal activities and are taking some away for questioning. Censors are scrubbing protest symbols and slogans from social media.

The campaign to quash the protests on multiple fronts draws on the party’s decades-old toolkit of repression and surveillance, which Mr. Xi has upgraded in pursuit of unshakable dominance. He has expanded the police forces, promoted loyal security leaders into key positions and declared that “political security” — for him and for the party — must be the bedrock of national security.

Yet even as Mr. Xi rolls out the police, he is projecting an unruffled appearance of business as usual.

He has stayed silent about the rare open challenge to his rule that erupted in the protests, including calls for him to step down. He appears to be wagering that by outwardly ignoring the demonstrations, he can sap their momentum while the security services move in and the party’s army of online loyalists try to discredit protesters as tools of American-led subversion.

“They’re saying as little as possible for as long as possible,” said William Hurst, a professor at the University of Cambridge who studies politics and protest in China. “If they speak, it could inflame the situation, so it’s better to sit back and pretend nothing is happening.”

On Tuesday, the People’s Daily, the party’s main newspaper, featured Mr. Xi’s talks with the visiting Mongolian president and a front-page celebration of Mr. Xi’s decade in power, but not a word about the protests, China’s most widespread since the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement of 1989.

Still, there seems no doubt that inside the guarded seclusion of the party’s Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing, Mr. Xi and his advisers have been monitoring the unrest and plotting a response. Since the protests of 1989, Chinese leaders have fixated on the dangers of anti-government social movements, determined to nip them in the bud and avoid the trauma of another bloody crackdown.

Even so, the protests that broke out in parts of Shanghai, Beijing and other Chinese cities over the weekend appeared to catch leaders off guard.

The collective public anger first welled up in Urumqi, a city in western China where at least 10 people died in an apartment fire last week. Many people have said, despite official denials, that the deaths were caused by pandemic restrictions that prevented residents from leaving their apartment block. Protests over the tragedy escalated into wider denunciations of China’s pandemic policies, as well as calls from some for democracy, a free press and other ideals anathema to the country’s authoritarian rulers.

This week, China’s security forces have regrouped, making new demonstrations much more difficult and risky.

“I am pretty sure that the security apparatus will get this under control fairly quickly,” said H. Christoph Steinhardt, a scholar at the University of Vienna who studies patterns of protest in China. “I guess they will begin with identifying ringleaders and then leaning on them, combined with preventive policing in public areas.”

In Hangzhou, a prosperous city about 100 miles southwest of Shanghai, the police broke up an attempted demonstration on Monday night, shouting at passers-by and dragging away one woman who was screaming. Dozens of people also confronted officers who had detained someone, chanting “release them.”

In the southern city of Guangzhou, a hundred or so police officers wearing helmets and white protective clothing to possibly ward off Covid banged their clubs on their riot shields as they strode through a street, warning people not to hang around.

Officers across China have been visiting protesters’ homes or stopping possible ones on the street. They check their phones for apps banned in China, delete pictures of demonstrations and warn people not to take to the streets again.

“When the police came to my door, I had to delete my text records,” said a Beijing resident who joined a protest vigil near the Liangma River on Sunday night. She asked that only her surname, Chen, be used, citing fear of police reprisals.

Ms. Chen said she was motivated by grief and frustration with the stringent “zero Covid” policies that have been enforced for nearly three years, including citywide lockdowns and constant Covid tests.

“I really didn’t have any specific slogans and demands,” she said. “It was more about the pent-up pain of so many years.”

Officials appear to be trying to quietly address the most common of grievances about China’s Covid restrictions, which have disrupted life, schooling and business.

Many residents have complained about a 20-point set of rules issued by the government on Nov. 11, which at first seemed to promise an easing in pandemic restrictions. However, it has made little effect on the ground, where local officials are under enormous pressure to stifle Covid outbreaks.

Since the protests over the weekend, local governments across China have said that they will stop residents from being locked in their homes any longer than necessary to prevent expanding outbreaks. On Tuesday, an article from Xinhua, the main state news agency, urged officials to show compassion to frustrated residents.

“All areas and departments must be more patient in relieving the anxieties of the public,” the article said. “The fight against the pandemic is complex, arduous and repetitive, and we must listen to the sincere voice of the public.”

Avoiding any direct mention of the protests by Chinese leaders or in state media is likely a deliberate strategy to try to downplay their significance. In 1989, the students who occupied Tiananmen Square galvanized in fury after an editorial in the People’s Daily, the party’s mouthpiece, condemned them as being infiltrated by agents of turmoil. The unrest this time has not reached that scale, and officials appear to have learned their lesson.

“The moment that the central leadership takes an official line, they are dignifying the protests with an official response and admitting that they must be reckoned with, which gives them a status that they would rather deny them,” Prof. Hurst of Cambridge University said.

In Shanghai, Beijing and other cities, the police have bundled away some protesters. Some have been released after a couple of days in detention. Particular attention has been paid to university students. At Tsinghua University, a prestigious school in Beijing, shouts rang out from a crowd of hundreds of students for “democracy and rule of law” and “freedom of expression” in what was likely the boldest campus protest.

Tsinghua’s administrators said Sunday that students could leave early for their winter break and offered free train or air travel, a step that may have been intended to defuse fresh protests.

In China, such a response is considered restrained. But that may not last, and it does not mean that the Communist Party authorities will treat all protesters with leniency. Instead of speaking out directly, the party has allowed loyalists on social media to depict the protesters as pawns, witting or unwitting, of Western efforts to destabilize China and discredit its “zero Covid” policies.

Since Monday, a growing chorus of these online commentators have tied the protests to “color revolution,” a term borrowed from Russia to describe purported Western-backed plots to sow insurrection in rival states. Some have claimed the protesters are acolytes of those who shook Hong Kong in 2019, prompting Mr. Xi to impose a national security law there and a sweeping crackdown on anti-government activists.

“Their style in stirring up trouble is the typical color revolution way,” said one commentary about the weekend protests that spread on unofficial Chinese websites and social media. Protest leaders, it said, “were using their worst malice to agitate members of the public who don’t understand their true nature — especially university students and intellectuals whose heads are stuffed with Western ideas — to join in.”

In previous years, the authorities’ intimidation and the heavy police presence would likely have been enough to douse any incipient protest movement. This time, some protesters are vowing to keep pressing the Chinese government. On social media groups operating beyond China’s censorship firewall, they have swapped ideas for moving around in smaller clusters, using multiple phones, and figuring out how to track and share information about the movements of police.

But Mr. Xi’s security options are far from exhausted. China has about 2 million regular police officers — by some measures, relatively few for its 1.4 billion people — but also a million or more People’s Armed Police troops trained in suppressing unrest, as well as legions of security guards and auxiliary police officers. Ultimately, there is also the Chinese military. And as in the crackdown in Hong Kong, the Chinese authorities may make more arrests after the tumult subsides.

Edward Luo, a 23-year old who watched the protest in Shanghai on Sunday, said he was a student in Hong Kong during the 2019 protests and was worried that the young demonstrators in Shanghai did not grasp the risks they faced.

“I think that some people were unafraid, and there were some students who maybe don’t understand how much pressure this state can pile on them,” he said. “Like a newborn calf that isn’t afraid of a tiger.”

Joy Dong, Olivia Wang and Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting.



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Air Force to unveil its new B-21 Raider stealth bomber Friday

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The U.S. Air Force and Northrop Grumman plan to unveil the latest stealth aircraft called the B-21 Raider at the company’s facility in Palmdale, California, this Friday.

“The B-21 is the most advanced military aircraft ever built and is a product of pioneering innovation and technological excellence,” Dough Young, sector vice president and general manager at Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems said in a press release. “The Raider showcases the dedication and skills of the thousands of people working every day to deliver this aircraft.”

Northrop was awarded a contract in 2015 to design and build the world’s most advanced strike aircraft.

The B-21 was made using advanced manufacturing techniques and breakthrough stealth technology. It is a sixth-generation aircraft, which Northrop Corporate President Tom Jones said is “optimized for operations in highly contested environments.”

The plane, according to Northrop’s website, is designed to perform long-range conventional and nuclear missions.

The estimated cost to develop, purchase and operate 100 aircraft is estimated at $203 billion, or about $2 billion per plane.

Currently, the company has six aircraft being assembled in Palmdale and the first B-21 is set to take flight sometime in 2023, depending on ground test results.

The unveiling on Friday is by invitation only.

Northrop Grumman Corp develops and manufactures advanced aircraft systems. The Aeronautics Systems segment engages in the design, development, production, integration, sustainment, and modernization of advanced management systems, weapons systems and aircraft, and mission systems.

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One Step Closer to a Universal Flu Vaccine?

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Imagine a single dose of vaccine that prepares your body to fight every known strain of influenza — a so-called universal flu vaccine that scientists have been trying to create for decades.

A new study describes successful animal tests of just such a vaccine, offering hope that the country can be protected against future flu pandemics. Like the Covid vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the experimental flu vaccine relies on mRNA.

It is in early stages — tested only in mice and ferrets — but the vaccine provides important proof that a single shot could be used against an entire family of viruses. If the vaccine succeeds in people, the approach could be used against other virus families, perhaps including the coronavirus.

The vaccine would not replace annual flu shots but would provide a shield against severe disease and death from potential pandemic threats.

“There’s a real need for new influenza vaccines to provide protection against pandemic threats that are out there,” said Scott Hensley, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania who led the work.

“If there’s a new influenza pandemic tomorrow, if we had a vaccine like this that was widely employed before that pandemic, we might not have to shut everything down,” he said. He and his colleagues described the vaccine last week in the journal Science.

By the age of 5, most children have been infected with the flu multiple times and have gained some immunity — but only against the strains they have encountered.

“Our childhood exposures to influenza lay down long-lived immune memory that can be recalled later in life,” Dr. Hensley. But “we’re sort of living the rest of our life dependent on the random chance of whatever we got infected with as a kid.”

Current influenza vaccines protect against seasonal flu but would provide little protection against a new strain that may emerge as a pandemic threat. During the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic, for example, the conventional vaccine offered little defense against the virus. But older adults who had been exposed to H1N1 strains in childhood developed only mild symptoms.

Scientists have long tried to create a vaccine that would introduce children to every possible strain of flu they may encounter later in life. But researchers have been constrained by technical hurdles and by the diversity of the flu virus.

Broadly speaking, there are 20 subgroups of influenza that each represent thousands of viruses. Current vaccines can target four subgroups at most. But the experimental vaccine contains all 20, and it would be faster to produce.

The vaccine elicited high levels of antibodies to all 20 flu subtypes in ferrets and mice, the researchers found — a finding that several experts said was unexpected and promising.

If the vaccine behaves similarly in people, “we’ll have a more broad coverage of influenza viruses — not only those that are circulating, but those that might spill over from the animal reservoir that might cause the next pandemic,” Alyson Kelvin, a vaccinologist at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, said.

Packing 20 targets into one vaccine does have a downside: Antibody levels in the test animals were lower than when they were given vaccines aimed at individual strains. But the levels were still high enough to be effective against influenza.

Because a new pandemic strain of influenza might differ from the 20 targets included in the experimental vaccine, the researchers also tested it against viruses that were imperfectly matched. The vaccine still provided strong protection, suggesting that it would prevent at least severe illness, if not infection, from a novel pandemic flu virus.

This phenomenon is akin to that with the current Covid vaccines: Although the latest Omicron variants are so different from the ancestral virus that the original vaccine does not prevent infections, it continues to help safeguard most people against severe illness.

This quality may be a particular advantage of mRNA vaccines, Dr. Kelvin said. Conventional flu vaccines target only the specific viruses they are designed for. But mRNA vaccines seem to produce antibodies that defend the body against a broader range of viruses than those included.

The experts noted some important caveats and questions that must be answered before the vaccine becomes a viable candidate.

The animals in the study built defenses against all 20 flu strains equally. But “these animals have not seen flu before,” said Richard J. Webby, an expert in influenza viruses at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

Such a complete lack of immunity against flu is only true of very young children, Dr. Webby noted. Older people are exposed to many different strains over their lifetimes, and it’s not clear whether their immune responses to a universal vaccine would be quite so uniform.

“The proof of the pudding will be what happens when it goes into humans and how going into a preimmune population skews the response to it,” Dr. Webby said.

Designing universal vaccines for varying age groups, if necessary, would be a challenge. It would also be important to see how long protection from such a vaccine lasts, some experts said.

“The biggest issue about universal flu is what you need to target and how long you can continue to use the same vaccine,” Ted Ross, director of Global Vaccine Development at the Cleveland Clinic, said. “If you have to keep updating it, it may not increase the advantage of how we do vaccines today.”

The next step for the vaccine would be to test it in monkeys and in people. But proving its effectiveness might be challenging. “How do you evaluate and regulate a vaccine where their targets aren’t circulating, and so you can’t really show effectiveness?” Dr. Kelvin said.

Perhaps the vaccine could be tested in small sporadic outbreaks, or in poultry workers who are at risk of becoming infected with an avian flu virus, she said: “Those are questions that I think we need to answer before we have our next pandemic.”

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