U.S. Warns China Not to Turn Pelosi’s Expected Trip to Taiwan Into a ‘Crisis’ | Big Indy News
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U.S. Warns China Not to Turn Pelosi’s Expected Trip to Taiwan Into a ‘Crisis’

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WASHINGTON — The United States warned China on Monday not to respond to an expected trip to Taiwan by Speaker Nancy Pelosi with military provocations even as American officials sought to reassure Beijing that such a visit would not be the first of its kind nor represent any change in policy toward the region.

With tensions rising on the eve of Ms. Pelosi’s anticipated arrival in Taipei, the White House said it was concerned that China might fire missiles into the Taiwan Strait, send warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense zone or stage large-scale naval or air activities that cross traditional lines.

“There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with longstanding U.S. policy into some sort of crisis or conflict, or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait,” John F. Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman, told reporters. “Meanwhile,” he added, “our actions are not threatening and they break no new ground. Nothing about this potential visit — potential visit, which oh, by the way, has precedent — would change the status quo.”

But Beijing made clear it was not reassured. “We would like to tell the United States once again that China is standing by, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will never sit idly by, and China will take resolute responses and strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Zhao Lijian, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters. “As for what measures, if she dares to go, then let’s wait and see.”

The standoff over the speaker’s visit has set nerves on edge on both sides of the Pacific at a time when the United States is already consumed with helping Ukraine fight off Russia’s invasion. Even as they were trying to head off a confrontation in Asia on Monday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and other officials were announcing a new $550 million shipment of arms to Ukraine.

While military, intelligence and diplomatic officials who briefed Ms. Pelosi before she left for Asia cautioned that a stop in Taiwan might instigate a response that could escalate out of control, President Biden stopped short of urging her not to go out of deference to her status as head of a separate, equal branch of government.

In a telephone call with President Xi Jinping of China last week, Mr. Biden explained that he did not control Ms. Pelosi and, as a longtime former member of Congress himself, respected her right to make her own decisions. But American officials fear that China does not accept that he has no power to stop her.

Mr. Blinken stressed that point on Monday. “The speaker will make her own decisions about whether or not to visit Taiwan,” he said. “Congress is an independent, coequal branch of government. The decision is entirely the speaker’s.

He added that members of Congress routinely go to Taiwan, including earlier this year. “And so if the speaker does decide to visit, and China tries to create some kind of crisis or otherwise escalate tensions, that would be entirely on Beijing,” Mr. Blinken said. “We are looking for them, in the event she decides to visit, to act responsibly and not to engage in any escalation going forward.”

Ms. Pelosi, who arrived in Singapore on Monday, has not officially confirmed her plan to stop in Taiwan, citing security concerns. But local reports in Taiwan said officials there had been informed that she would arrive on Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning local time. She originally planned to visit Taiwan in April but called off that trip after testing positive for the coronavirus.

American officials monitoring intelligence reports have become convinced in recent days that China is preparing a hostile response of some sort — not an outright attack on Taiwan or an effort to intercept Ms. Pelosi’s plane, as some fear, but an assertion of military power that may go beyond even the aggressive encounters of recent months. Some cited the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1995 and 1996, when China fired missiles to intimidate the self-governing island and President Bill Clinton ordered aircraft carriers into area.

Analysts said a similar conflict could be vastly more perilous today because the People’s Liberation Army is far more robust than it was then, armed now with missiles that could take out carriers. The worry is that even if no combat is intended, an accidental encounter could easily spiral out of control.

“This is an exceptionally dangerous situation, perhaps more so than Ukraine,” said Evan Medeiros, a China expert at Georgetown University and a former Asia adviser to President Barack Obama. “The risks of escalation are immediate and substantial.”

At the White House, Mr. Kirby did not say whether American intelligence agencies had detected any concrete indications of Chinese actions, but he was unusually specific in outlining the possible responses that the United States anticipated.

White House officials have privately expressed concern that a visit by Ms. Pelosi would touch off a dangerous cycle of escalation in Asia at the same time Washington is already consumed with helping Ukraine fight off Russia’s invasion. Much of America’s military industrial complex is busy arming Ukraine, which could hamper efforts to bolster weapons shipments to Taiwan.

Mr. Kirby said American officials did not necessarily anticipate an attack by China in response but cautioned that the possible military demonstrations of force could touch off a conflict by mistake. “It does increase the risk of miscalculation, which could lead to unintended consequences,” Mr. Kirby said.

He seemed particularly intent on getting the message through to Beijing that it should not view any visit by Ms. Pelosi as a fresh provocation by the United States since she would not be the first speaker to go there; Speaker Newt Gingrich stopped in Taiwan in 1997. Mr. Kirby also stressed repeatedly that the United States still subscribed to its one-China policy of not recognizing independence for Taiwan.

“We’ve laid out very clearly if she goes — if she goes — it’s not without precedent,” he said. “It’s not new. It doesn’t change anything.”

While White House officials held out little hope of deterring Beijing, they opted to outline the possible Chinese responses to set the geopolitical ground in case there is a provocation so it will not come as a surprise.

But even if they get past the immediate conflict without escalation, officials worry that the dispute will accelerate an increasingly assertive posture by China, which has been moving in that direction in recent months anyway. Analysts said Mr. Xi cannot afford to look weak heading into a critical party congress in the fall when he will seek a third term.

Just as Mr. Xi’s domestic politics were a factor, so were Mr. Biden’s and Ms. Pelosi’s. Even if the speaker wanted to cancel her stop in Taiwan, it would be problematic at home because it would be viewed as an act of appeasement with a revanchist power. Republicans have been particularly vocal in encouraging her to proceed with the trip regardless of the Biden administration’s qualms.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said that China should not push the United States over her trip. “I pray leaders of the Communist Party of #China will remember ancient but wise advice,” he wrote on Twitter, citing an aphorism, “When anger arises think of the consequences.”

“We may have deep domestic political differences,” he added, “but we will respond with unbreakable unity if threatened from abroad.”



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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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Georgia Runoff: What a Walker or Warnock Victory Would Look Like

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Maybe it’s because I’m a former high school debater, but every few weeks I try to go through the mental exercise of imagining what I would write the day after an election — if either side won.

It can be an illuminating exercise. I did this every few weeks before the 2016 general election, and I was always struck by how easy it was to write a plausible post-election story explaining how and why Donald J. Trump would win the election. This year, it was also fairly easy to imagine how Democrats would fare well. In each case, it made it straightforward to explain the eventual result, even though each case seemed less likely than not.

Today’s Georgia runoff is a very different case. The election seems about as close — or even closer — than those other contests. But if the Republican Herschel Walker wins, I don’t know how I would explain it. I would have to shrug my shoulders.

Of course, that doesn’t mean he can’t win. Surprises happen. Sometimes, a football team with a great record loses to a team that hasn’t won a single game, even though there’s no good reason to expect it.

And in some ways, a “surprise” in the runoff wouldn’t take anything especially unusual. The polls show a close race, with the incumbent Democrat, Raphael Warnock, leading by about three percentage points. Similarly, Mr. Walker trailed by less than a percentage point in the Nov. 8 election results, and historically, the runoff electorate has sometimes been more conservative. By those measures, it wouldn’t take much at all for Mr. Walker to win.

But it’s hard to come up with good reasons that Mr. Walker would do better in the runoff than he did a month ago, even if on any given Tuesday any candidate can win.

The core issue for Mr. Walker is simple: He is a flawed and unpopular candidate, while Mr. Warnock, by contrast, is fairly popular. And unlike in the November election, the two are the only candidates on the ballot in most of the state. This poses a much greater challenge to Mr. Walker in the runoff election than it did in the general election.

It’s easy to imagine several kinds of voters who backed Mr. Walker in November but who won’t be showing up this time. There’s the Republican who didn’t like Mr. Walker, but who showed up to vote for another Republican — like Brian Kemp in the governor’s race. There’s the Republican who might grudgingly vote for Mr. Walker if the Senate were on the line — as it appeared to be in November — but doesn’t think the stakes are high enough to support someone who 57 percent of voters said does not have strong moral values, according to the AP VoteCast survey.

Worse for Mr. Walker, there’s reason to think these challenges have gotten worse since the Nov. 8 election. Mr. Warnock has outspent him by a wide margin on television. The polls now show Mr. Warnock doing even better than in the pre-election polls in November.

The final turnout data from the November election also raises the possibility that it will be challenging for Mr. Walker to enjoy a more favorable turnout than he did last month. Turnout among previous Republican primary voters outpaced Democratic turnout, in no small part because the Black share of the electorate dipped to its lowest level since 2006. Indeed, Republican candidates won the most votes for U.S. House and the other statewide offices.

In other words, there’s an argument that the electorate last month represented something more like a best-case scenario for Mr. Walker in a high-turnout election. He still didn’t win. Conversely, the early voting estimates raise the possibility that there’s some considerable upside for Mr. Warnock if the electorate looks a bit more like the ones in recent cycles. According to our estimates, the electorate is arguably consistent with one that’s a few points better for Democrats than in November.

Despite a curtailed early voting window, nearly two million Georgia voters cast ballots ahead of today’s election. By our estimates, Mr. Warnock won these voters in November, 59-41, probably giving him a lead of nearly 400,000 votes.

Black voters represented 32 percent of the early vote, up from 29 percent in November.

But it’s hard to read too much into the early voting numbers. The restricted one-week voting period makes it impossible to directly compare the results with those of prior years. And there’s not any hard, factual basis to assert that Mr. Walker can’t overcome his deficit on Election Day.

In fact, early voting and Election Day results are highly correlated — in the opposite direction. The better a party does in early voting, the worse it does on Election Day. But there’s no doubt that these numbers surpass any reasonable set of expectations that Democrats might have had. To the extent it offers any signal, it’s a good one for Mr. Warnock.

The race may be close, but it’s hard to think of a good signal for Mr. Walker.

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