More Than a Show: China’s Exercises Could Help It Practice Seizing Taiwan | Big Indy News
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More Than a Show: China’s Exercises Could Help It Practice Seizing Taiwan

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A day after Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, visited Taiwan, celebrating it as a bulwark of democracy, the island faces three days of military exercises during which China’s forces may press closer than ever, flexing and honing their abilities to blockade it.

A barrage of Chinese propaganda said the drills, scheduled to start at midday Thursday, would serve as punishment for Ms. Pelosi’s visit, and as a shock-and-awe deterrent against opponents of Beijing’s claims to the self-ruled island. But more than that, the six exercise zones that the People’s Liberation Army has marked out in seas off Taiwan — one nudging less than 10 miles off its southern coast — could give Chinese forces valuable practice, should they one day be ordered to encircle and attack the island.

“They’re definitely going to use this as an excuse to do something that helps them prepare for a possible invasion,” said Oriana Skylar Mastro, a fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University who studies China’s military and its potential to attack Taiwan.

“It’s not just about the messaging,” she said. “Under the guise of signaling, they’re trying to basically test their ability to conduct complex maneuvers that are necessary for an amphibious assault on Taiwan.”

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has said that he hopes to secure eventual unification with Taiwan through peaceful steps. But like his predecessors, he has not ruled out force, and China’s military buildup has reached a point where some military commanders and analysts think an invasion is an increasingly plausible, though still highly risky, scenario.

“I wouldn’t underestimate President Xi’s determination to assert China’s control” over Taiwan, William J. Burns, the director of the C.I.A., told the Aspen Security Forum last month. “I think he’s determined to ensure that his military has the capability to undertake such an action, should he decide to move in that direction. I think the risks of that become higher, it seems to us, the further into this decade that you get.”

It remains unclear how close Chinese forces will come to Taiwan during the exercises. In one possible sign of what to expect, China’s Liberation Army Daily said on Thursday that the Eastern Theater Command was holding its own practice operations that included the navy, air force and rocket force, and were focused on “joint enclosure and control,” assaults on sea and land, and air domination operations. Kinmen Island, a Taiwanese-controlled island a little over six miles off China’s coast, reported that on Wednesday night, flying objects of unclear origin — probably drones — flew overhead.

China is trying to reinforce its influence over Taiwan by upgrading deterrence after the visit by Ms. Pelosi, who praised the island’s people for standing strong against Beijing, several Chinese analysts said.

“The tendency of external forces exploiting Taiwan to contain China has become increasingly clear,” Wu Yongping, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing who studies Taiwan, said in written answers to questions. “The Chinese government has adopted some unprecedented military operations in response to this.”

One of the People’s Liberation Army’s designated exercise zones lies off the eastern coast of Taiwan, at the farthest point from the Chinese mainland. When China held intimidating military exercises off Taiwan during a geopolitical crisis 25 years ago, the People’s Liberation Army, or P.L.A., did not go that far.

“It’s an intentional message meant to highlight the P.L.A.’s heightened capacity to project power farther from the Chinese mainland, and it’s a visible signal that China can surround the island,” said Brian Hart, a fellow with the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It will also complicate traffic to and around the island from all sides.”

Global Times, a swaggeringly nationalist Chinese newspaper, raised the possibility of missiles being fired from the mainland into that eastern zone, arcing over Taiwan. “If the Taiwan military responds, the Liberation Army is entirely able to trap the turtle in the jar,” one Chinese commentator, Zhang Xuefeng, told the paper, using a Chinese saying for catching prey with ease.

But Mr. Hart said China was unlikely to fire missiles over Taiwan. “That would be extremely escalatory,” he said. “They will more likely fire ship-based or air-launched missiles into that area without flying missiles over the island.”

After decades of tensions and several military crises with China, many on Taiwan have become inured to threats. But even if China does not take the most potentially incendiary steps this time, experts and officials on the island worry that the operations could spark an incident — a collision at sea or in the air, or a misfired missile — that inflames tensions into a full-fledged crisis.

A monitoring service run by the U.S. Naval Institute reported on Monday that a strike group led by the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier was in the Philippine Sea, some distance east of Taiwan, and that the U.S.S. Tripoli, an amphibious assault ship, was also in that area.

“The three sides — U.S., China and Taiwan — should all have some tacit understanding to avoid direct military clashes,” said Chieh Chung, a security analyst with the National Policy Foundation in Taipei. But, he added, “if an incident occurs, it may rapidly heat up, triggering a military clash outside the expectations of each side.”

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What to expect in Herschel Walker-Raphael Warnock Georgia Senate runoff

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​The final​ Senate contest of the 2022 midterm elections will finally be decided in Georgia on Tuesday as voters choose between incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a ​high-stakes race that will determine whether Democrats can expand their razor-thin majority in the chamber. ​

The candidates were forced into a runoff after neither Warnock, 53, nor Walker, 60, got more than 50% of the vote in the Nov. 8 midterm election.​

Leading up to Election Day on Tuesday, early voting in the Peach State set a number of single-day records and nearly 2 million ballots had already been cast before the period ended on Friday.

Reflecting the critical significance of the race, spending by the candidates and outside groups has neared $400 million, making it the most expensive contest in the 2022 election cycle, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets.org.​

​According to a RealClear Politics’ average of the polls,​ Warnock has as much as a 5 percentage point lead over his political rival Walker, a former star running back at the University of Georgia, in the USFL and in the NFL. 

Herschel Walker campaigns Dec. 4 in the runoff election in Georgia for US Senate.
JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Warnock speaking
Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., speaks during a campaign rally at Georgia Tech on Dec. 5 in Atlanta.
AP

Walker, endorsed by former President Donald Trump, has received strong support from national Republicans with a number of high-profile lawmakers trekking to Georgia to campaign with him – including Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rick Scott of Florida and Tom Cotton of Arkansas. 

Trump was expected to hold a tele-rally for Walker on Monday evening. 

Former President Barack Obama rallied with Warnock last week, but Biden, like Trump, did not travel to Georgia to campaign for the senator. 

Walker speaking at a rally.
Herschel Walker speaks during a campaign stop in Smyrna, Ga., on Nov. 3.
AP
Sen. Raphael Warnock greets voters in Atlanta on Dec. 5.
Sen. Raphael Warnock greets voters in Atlanta on Dec. 5.
REUTERS

Democrats point to the large early vote as an advantage for Warnock but Republicans are hoping a surge of GOP voters on Tuesday can turn the tide for Walker. 

A win by Warnock could give Democrats a 51-49 advantage in the Senate, a margin large enough to provide Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer room to maneuver around Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have used their influence in narrow majority to block some of Biden’s legislative agenda. 

With 51 Democratic senators, Schumer could afford to lose the support of one member of his caucus and still win votes.

If Walker wins, the 50-50 split in the upper chamber would remain as it has over the past two years, with Democrats relying on Vice President Kamala Harris to cast tie-breaking votes. 

Republicans won a small majority in the House in the Nov. 8 midterm elections. 

Trump defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by about 5 points in Georgia in the 2016 presidential election, but lost to President Biden by about less than one point in 2020. 

Early voting in the runoff election for US Senate in Georgia between Sen. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker has shattered records.
Early voting in the runoff election for US Senate in Georgia between Warnock and Walker has shattered records.
REUTERS
Voters line up to cast their ballots on Nov. 29 in the runoff election between Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker.
Voters line up to cast their ballots on Nov. 29 in the runoff election between Warnock and Walker.
REUTERS

But the 2020 election in Georgia was pivotal for Democrats as both Warnock and Sen. Jon Ossoff racked up wins to give Democrats the 50-50 majority they have in the Senate. 

Warnock, the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, defeated incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler to become the first African-American elected to the US Senate from Georgia. 

But he had to run for re-election again this year because his win over Loeffler was in a special election to finish the remainder of Sen. Johnny Isakson’s six-year term after he stepped down in 2019 because of health concerns. 

With Post wires

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Ukrainian long-range drone attacks expose Russian air defenses

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A third Russian airfield was ablaze on Tuesday from a drone strike, a day after Ukraine demonstrated an apparent new ability to penetrate hundreds of kilometers deep into Russian air space with attacks on two Russian air bases.

Officials in the Russian city of Kursk, located closer to Ukraine, released pictures of black smoke above an airfield in the early morning hours of Tuesday after the latest strike. The governor said an oil storage tank there had been set ablaze but there were no casualties.

It came a day after Russia confirmed it had been hit by what it said were Soviet-era drones – at Engels air base, home to Russia’s fleet of giant strategic bombers, and in Ryazan, just a few hours drive from Moscow. Kyiv did not directly claim responsibility for the strikes but celebrated them.

Ukraine never acknowledges responsibility for attacks inside Russia.
AFP via Getty Images

“If Russia assesses the incidents were deliberate attacks, it will probably consider them as some of the most strategically significant failures of force protection since its invasion of Ukraine,” Britain’s ministry of defense said on Tuesday.

“The Russian chain of command will probably seek to identify and impose severe sanctions on Russian officers deemed responsible for allowing the incident.”

Russia’s defense ministry said three service members were killed in the attack at Ryazan. Although the attacks struck military targets it characterized them as terrorism and said the aim was to disable its long-range aircraft.

The New York Times, citing a senior Ukrainian official, said the drones involved in Monday’s attacks were launched from Ukrainian territory, and at least one of the strikes was made with the help of special forces close to the base.

Ukraine never acknowledges responsibility for attacks inside Russia. Asked about the strikes, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleskiy Reznikov repeated a longstanding joke that explosions at Russian bases were caused by careless cigarette smokers.

“Very often Russians smoke in places where it’s forbidden to smoke,” he said.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych went further, noting that Engels was the only base Russia has that is fully equipped for the giant bombers which Russia has used in attacks on Ukraine.

Blown out building in Ukraine.
Russian commentators fear that Ukraine may have the capability to hit Moscow.
AFP via Getty Images

“They will try to disperse (strategic aircraft) to airfields, but all this complicates the operation against Ukraine. Yesterday, thanks to their unsuccessful smoking, we achieved a very big result,” he said.

Russian commentators said on social media that if Ukraine could strike that far inside Russia, it might also be able to hit Moscow.

“The ability of the armed forces of Ukraine to reach military targets deep in the territory of the Russian Federation has a very symbolic and important meaning,” Ukrainian military analyst Serhiy Zgurets wrote on the Espreso TV website.

NEW BARRAGE

The huge Tupolev long-range bombers that Russia stations at Engels air base are a major part of its strategic nuclear arsenal, similar to the B-52s deployed by the United States during the Cold War. Russia has used them in its campaign since October to destroy Ukraine’s energy grid with near weekly waves of missile strikes.

The Engels base, near the city of Saratov, is at least 600 km (372 miles) from the nearest Ukrainian territory.

Building on fire.
Ukraine hopes that Russian attacks will calm after last month left Ukrainians in darkness and cold.
AFP via Getty Images

Russia responded to Monday’s attacks with what it called a “massive strike on Ukraine’s military control system.” Missile strikes across Ukraine destroyed homes and knocked out power, but the impact seemed to be less severe than barrages last month that plunged millions of Ukrainians into darkness and cold.

Ukraine’s air force said it had shot down more than 60 of around 70 missiles.

A missile had torn a huge crater out of the earth in the village of Novosofiivka, about 25 km (16 miles) east of Zaporizhzhia city in southern Ukraine and completely shredded a nearby house. Ambulance workers collected two bodies lying by a destroyed car.

Olha Troshyna, 62, said the dead were her neighbors who were standing by the car seeing off their son and daughter-in-law when the missile struck. With houses now destroyed and winter setting in, she had no idea where she would go.

“We have no place to go back to,” she said. “It would be fine if it were spring or summer. We could have done something if it were a warm season. But what am I going to do now?”

Bombed out street.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that at least four people were killed in Russia’s latest strikes.
AFP via Getty Images

Ukraine warned there would be emergency blackouts once again in several regions as it repaired damage.

At least four people were killed in Russia’s latest strikes, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

“In many regions, there will have to be emergency blackouts,” he said in a late Monday video address. “We will be doing everything to restore stability.”

Russia, which calls the invasion a “special military operation” to root out nationalists, claims a military justification for its attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure. Kyiv says the attacks have no military purpose and are intended to hurt civilians, a war crime.

“They do not understand one thing – such missile strikes only increase our resistance,” Ukraine’s defense minister Reznikov said. “Moreover, they increase the desire of our partners to support us.”

The United States said it would convene a virtual meeting on Thursday with oil and gas executives to discuss how it can support Ukrainian energy infrastructure, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia would fail in its “current gambit of trying to, in effect, get the Ukrainian people to throw up their hands”.

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A Clash of Rights

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The Supreme Court is struggling to draw a line between two kinds of rights: those afforded to gay people and protections for free speech.

Yesterday, the justices heard a highly anticipated case about whether a Colorado website designer who opposes same-sex marriage should be compelled to serve gay couples.

The designer, Lorie Smith, said she wanted to expand her business to offer wedding sites. But she did not want to peddle her wedding services to gay clients, based on her religious beliefs. She worried that she would run afoul of Colorado state law, which prohibits businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation. So she sued state officials, claiming that forcing her to provide services to gay couples amounted to endorsing their marriages and violated her free speech rights.

Both sides argue that the case could have big consequences. Smith’s supporters say a decision against her would allow the government to compel speech the speaker does not agree with — a First Amendment violation. Her opponents say that a ruling in her favor would effectively legalize all kinds of discrimination currently prohibited against certain classes, including races or disabilities, under the guise of free speech.

The court heard a similar case in 2017, about a bakery that, by happenstance, is also in Colorado. But the justices then were more closely divided than the current court, and they issued a narrow ruling that did not settle the bigger issues. Now that the court is controlled by a 6-to-3 conservative majority, it seems more likely to take decisive action — and rule in favor of Smith, said my colleague Adam Liptak, who covers the court.

Under Colorado’s law, businesses serving the public cannot turn away customers based on their race or sexual orientation, among other protected characteristics. A baker can refuse to make doughnuts for anyone at all. But if a baker says he will make doughnuts only for white people, that is illegal discrimination.

But what if the business’s work is meaningfully expressive, as a website can be? Justice Elena Kagan, a liberal, pointed to one example: A site creator may be comfortable with a design that says “God bless this union” for straight couples but not for gay couples. If the law compels her to offer that design to gay couples, it could amount to forcing her to express views that she disagrees with.

That example gets at a core issue in the case: Is Smith discriminating against gay people or is she refusing to support same-sex marriage in any way? The answer is the difference between a case more about nondiscrimination laws or one more about free speech rights.

The problem for Smith’s supporters is that a similar free speech argument could be used to allow other kinds of discrimination. A white wedding photographer who refuses to serve Black or mixed-race couples could say that they are against interracial marriage. A Black videographer could do the same to white or mixed couples. Or a band could turn away couples with disabilities because of eugenic views.

At yesterday’s hearings, the conservative justices especially struggled with the risk of a ruling that allows other kinds of discrimination. No clear solution emerged on how to draw the line. “It’s genuinely a difficult problem for them,” Adam told me.

It is possible that the court punts on the issue, as it did in the Colorado bakery case. Justice Clarence Thomas, a conservative, began yesterday’s hearings by asking whether the case was truly “ripe,” or ready for the court to weigh in, given that Smith had not actually started her wedding website business yet.

But a punt by the justices is unlikely, Adam said: “They knew those issues were in the case before they took it.”

The question, then, could be how the conservative majority draws a line between all the thorny issues that a ruling in Smith’s favor would present.

  • The court’s conservative majority seems prepared to rule that Smith has a right to refuse to create websites celebrating same-sex weddings.

  • Two justices joked about hypothetical scenarios involving dating websites and a Black mall Santa Claus.

  • Justices will hear arguments tomorrow in a case that could drastically increase the power that state legislatures have over voting issues.

The facilitator: Rodrigo De Paul understands his role for Argentina — do what it takes to let Messi be Messi.

Local traditions: An expert can tell a country by its corner kicks.

The last round of 16 matches: Morocco faces Spain at 10 a.m. Eastern today, and Switzerland plays Portugal at 2 p.m.

It’s dinner party season — nights for intimacy, wine and perhaps a bit of chaos. T Magazine dropped into 12 dinners, hosted by creative people from London to Gapyeong, South Korea, to discover how people are gathering. Here are tips from the hosts:

Conversation: “I force everyone to reveal a secret about themselves,” said the writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who hosted a party in Lagos, Nigeria. “Invariably, I want it to be about their sex lives. It doesn’t always work.”

Music: French jazz and bossa nova tracks played at the visual artist Nadia Lee Cohen’s dinner in Los Angeles. (Listen to the playlist, which includes “The Girl From Ipanema.”)

Party game: Tomo Koizumi, a fashion designer, has guests list the names of stations on a Tokyo train line. “If you make a mistake, you have to drink,” he said.

Credit…Mark Weinberg for The New York Times

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