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Pompeo urges neighbours to back Afghan peace talks

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WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Afghanistan on a surprise visit, stressing the need for neighbouring countries to support Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s effort to start peace talks with the Taliban, according to a transcript released in Washington.
Pompeo, who was greeted by Chief of Staff Abdul Salam Rahimi when he arrived at Gul Khanna presidential palace in Kabul for a meeting with Ghani, said the US not only supported the proposed talks but was also willing to participate.
But he clarified that the peace process would be Afghan-led and the US would only participate to help resolve differences and encourage Afghan­istan’s neighbours to support the process as well.
“We’re counting on all the actors in the region to be supportive. The Pakist­anis, too, need to understand that we need to have a set of elections [in Afghanistan] that do not have violence,” he said. “We’re counting on all the actors in the region to support this process and make sure the Afghan people can have their voices heard during these elections,” he added.
“We have seen good signs from lots of regional partners,” he said, repeating what his senior aide, Prin­ci­pal Deputy Assistant Secre­tary Alice Wells, earlier said in Islamabad last week.
Wells, who heads the bu­­r­eau for South and Central Asian affairs at the US State Department, said at a news briefing in Washing­ton this week, “It’s critical that Pakistan and Afghan­istan have improved relations in order to reinforce what has to be a unified effort to achieve reconciliation in the region. And we would like to see those steps extended to more vigorous counterterrorism effort on behalf of the Pakistani government.”
In Kabul, Ghani said at a joint news conference with Pompeo that all sides involved in the effort to promote the peace talks need to move with caution. “If we think only in one day a 40-year-crisis can be ended we are being unrealistic,” he said.
Pompeo’s visit to Kabul, which followed a tour of Asian countries, was his first to Afghanistan since he became secretary of state in April.


International

US eyes Taiwan risk as China’s military capabilities grow

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Washington: The United States is closely watching Chinese intentions toward Taiwan, concerned that Beijing’s growing military prowess may increase the risk it could one day consider bringing theself-ruled island under its control by force, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.

The senior US defense intelligence official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, did not predict that China’s military, known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), would take such a step but said such a possibility was the top worry as China expands and modernizes its military capabilities.

“The biggest concern is that … they are getting to a point where the PLA leadership may actually tell Xi Jinping that they are confident in their capabilities,” the official said, referring to China’s president.

 

Pressed on whether the official was referring to Chinese confidence in its capabilities to be able to successfully win a battle with Taiwan, the official said, “Well, specifically that would be the most concerning to me.”

Taiwan is only one of a growing number of flashpoints in the US-China relationship, including a trade war between the countries, US sanctions on the Chinese military, and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea.

However, in meetings with Pentagon leaders, PLA officials have long described Taiwan as China’s most sensitive issue.

China has repeatedly sent military aircraft and ships to circle the island on drills in the past few years and worked to isolate the island internationally, whittling down its few remaining diplomatic allies.

It has also strongly objected to U.S. warship passages through the Taiwan Strait this year, and issued a terse warning about Taiwan after talks in Beijing on Tuesday with the U.S. Navy’s top officer, Admiral John Richardson.

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International

High drama, few results as Donald Trump warns of ‘long’ shutdown

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Washington: Staring down the next deadline to pay federal workers, the White House shifted tactics Tuesday, trying to bypass House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to negotiate with rank-and-file lawmakers even as President Donald Trump dug in for a prolonged shutdown.

The House and Senate announced they would stay in session, cancelling an upcoming recess week at home if the shutdown continued, which seemed likely. On the shutdown’s 25th day, Trump did not move off his demand to have Congress provide $5.7 billion to build his promised border wall with Mexico. Democrats say they will discuss border security once the government has reopened, but Pelosi is refusing money for the wall they view as ineffective and immoral.

The president, on a conference call with supporters, showed no signs of backing down.

 

“We’re going to stay out for a long time, if we have to,” Trump said. “We’ll be out for a long time.”

Nancy Pelosi says House Democrats will quickly pass legislation to re-open the government – without border wall funds – when Congress convenes on Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calls the plan a total nonstarter.

With some 800,000 federal employees furloughed or working without pay, Trump suggested the partial shutdown that has clogged airport security lines and shuttered federal agencies was going smoothly.

“People are very impressed with how well government is working with the circumstances that we’re under,” Trump said.

Behind the scenes, though, the administration _ and its allies on Capitol Hill _ are warily eyeing the next payday, hoping to reach a resolution before next week’s Tuesday deadline when they’ll need to prepare the next round of paychecks for workers who have been seeing zeros on their pay slips.

“There is definitely a sense that there is a deadline approaching, which would be next Tuesday, to make sure that we’re able to solve this problem,” said Mercedes Schlapp, a White House spokeswoman.

Tuesday brought another day of high theatrics, but low substance, as the shutdown dragged into its fourth week.

The president, who a week ago seemed intent on declaring a national emergency in order to build the wall, has turned his attention back to Congress as polling shows he is taking much of the blame for the standoff.

The White House invited rank-and-file lawmakers to lunch with Trump at the White House as part of a strategy to build support from centrist Democrats and newly elected freshmen, including those from areas where the president is popular with voters.

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China takes lead in hypersonic weapons and missiles technology: Pentagon

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Washington: China is on the cusp of fielding some of the world’s most advanced weapons systems — and in some cases already has surpassed its rivals, a Pentagon assessment released on Tuesday found.

An unclassified report by the Defense Intelligence Agency says Beijing has made enormous military strides in recent years, thanks partly to domestic laws forcing foreign partners to divulge technical secrets in exchange for access to China’s vast market.

As a result of “acquiring technology by any means available,” China now is at the leading edge on a range of technologies, including with its naval designs, with medium- and intermediate-range missiles, and with hypersonic weapons — where missiles can fly at many times the speed of sound and dodge missile-defense systems.

 

“The result of this multifaceted approach to technology acquisition is a PLA (People’s Liberation Army) on the verge of fielding some of the most modern weapon systems in the world,” states the report, entitled “China Military Power.”

“In some areas, it already leads the world.”

China’s increasing military might means it has advanced capabilities in the air, at sea, in space and in cyberspace that will “enable China to impose its will in the region,” the report notes.

A particular focus for Beijing has been the prospect of an eventual conflict with Taiwan, which China sees as part of its territory.

Beijing has said it will not hesitate to use force if Taipei formally declares independence, or in the case of external intervention — including by the United States, the island’s most powerful unofficial ally.Speaking to Pentagon reporters, a senior defense intelligence official said he was worried China’s military is now advanced enough that PLA generals could feel confident they could invade Taiwan.

“The biggest concern is that as a lot of these technologies mature… (China) will reach a point where internally within their decision-making they will decide that using military force for a regional conflict is something that is more imminent,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Taiwan is a self-ruled island and has its own currency, flag and government, but is not recognized as an independent state by the United Nations.

Still, the official noted, China has not fought in a war for 40 years and its massive military and joint command structure lacks experience in real-world conflict.

“It will take a while for (the PLA) to be able to work these (military) services together, to be able to work these joint theaters and to be able to deal with a large, complex operation,” the official said.

The intelligence report said China is developing new medium- and long-range stealth bombers capable of striking regional and global targets.

Such planes will likely reach initial operational capability by about 2025, the report notes.

The official added that China keeps a lot of its military development secret by conducting research in underground complexes, away from the prying eyes of satellites.

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