Riyadh: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman ordered a sweeping government reshuffle , replacing key security and political figures including the foreign minister, as the kingdom grapples with the international fallout over critic Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.
The surprise shake up saw the appointment of a new National Guard chief and the head of a new space agency, but the ministries of energy and finance were unaffected despite an economic downturn.
The revamp left untouched the authority of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler facing intense international scrutiny over the October 2 murder of journalist Khashoggi, which tipped the kingdom into one of its worst crises.
Ibrahim al-Assaf, a former finance minister who was detained last year in an anti-corruption sweep, will replace Adel al-Jubeir as foreign minister, a royal decree said.
Jubeir was effectively demoted to minister of state for foreign affairs, the decree added without explaining the change, as the kingdom appears diplomatically weakened after Khashoggi’s murder.
In other significant appointments, Prince Abdullah bin Bandar was named chief of the powerful National Guard, and Musaed al-Aiban was appointed the new national security adviser.
The reshuffle would help the crown prince further “consolidate power” as many of those promoted were his “key allies”, tweeted Ali Shihabi, head of the pro-Saudi think tank The Arabia Foundation.
In other changes, Turki al-Shabanah was appointed as the new information minister, replacing Awwad al-Awwad — who was named as an advisor to the royal court.
Turki al-Sheikh, a close aide to the crown prince, was removed as the head of the kingdom’s sports commission and appointed entertainment authority chief, while Ahmed al-Khatib was named tourism authority chief.
The king also ordered the creation of a national space agency to be led by one of his other sons, Prince Sultan bin Salman, a former astronaut.
The energy, economy and finance ministries were left untouched even as the kingdom grapples with a sharp fall in crude prices that has generated renewed uncertainty over Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 reform programme for a post-oil era.
But the appointment as foreign minister of Assaf, who holds a seat on the boards of state oil giant Aramco and the vast Public Investment Fund, indicates an emphasis on “economic diplomacy” as the kingdom seeks to reassure foreign investors rattled by the Khashoggi crisis, analysts say.
Assaf was held in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel last year along with hundreds of elite princes and businessmen, in what the government called an anti-corruption crackdown.
US eyes Taiwan risk as China’s military capabilities grow
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.
High drama, few results as Donald Trump warns of ‘long’ shutdown
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.
China takes lead in hypersonic weapons and missiles technology: Pentagon
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.