An act of aggression: Chinese ship spotted hugging coast of Australia

Revelations 6:3-4 “when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.

Important Takeaways:

  • Peter Dutton confirms Chinese spy ship is off the Australian coast as he labels PLA Navy’s movements ‘an aggressive act’
  • “Its intention of course is to collect intelligence right along the coastline, it has been in close proximity to military and intelligence installations on the west coast of Australia,” he told reporters on Friday.
  • Dutton said Australia has not “seen a ship from the People’s Liberation Army Navy come this far south” and said it has been on a “strange course,” causing authorities concern.
  • “But clearly its intention is to gather intelligence and we’re very conscious of that, that’s why we’ve had the P-8s in the air and the other surveillance techniques that we’ve been able to deploy.

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Troops head to Australia in anticipation of conflict with China

Revelations 6:3-4 “ when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.

Important Takeaways:

  • Biden sending THOUSANDS of Marines to Australia in Anticipation of Conflict with China
  • 1,000 Marines have already arrived in the country
  • The Pentagon is to deploy over two thousand troops to Australia by September to join an established rotational force of 200
  • Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton warned Wednesday that Beijing may look to annex Taiwan while the eyes of the world are on the conflict in Ukraine.
  • China has signaled that it could use nuclear weapons in response to the AUKUS security pact between Australia, America and Britain, which sees the former receiving nuclear powered submarines in years to come.
  • China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian responded but saying “the US … creating and spreading false information”.

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Unprecedented Storm Hit Queensland Australia

Important Takeaways:

  • Australia flooding: Torrential rain in Brisbane kills eight people after river peaks and floods homes
  • Thousands of homes and businesses in Queensland are underwater and police say several people are still unaccounted for. “I think everyone would agree no one has seen this amount of rain in such a short period of time,” the state premier said.
  • 2,145 homes and 2,356 business submerged and a further 10,827 properties flooded above their floorboards.
  • Emergency services have rescued more than 130 people in the past 24 hours, according to officials, with searches still under way.
  • Around 15,000 people have been evacuated.

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Massive quake strikes near Australia

Luke 21:11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

Important Takeaways:

  • Northern Australia rocked by magnitude-7.2 earthquake in Indonesia
  • The quake is believed to have been a magnitude-7.2 quake and hit north of East Timor at 5.25am AEDT
  • There is no tsunami threat to anywhere in Australia.
  • Northern Territory’s Chief Minister has reacted to the region’s early morning earthquake, saying it was the most dramatic he’s felt.

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Washington caps year of drills to deter China with ten-day military exercise

By Tim Kelly

USS CARL VINSON (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday completed ten days of joint military drills in Asian waters with Japan and other allies as it ups the ante on deterring China from pursuing its territorial ambitions amid growing tension in the region over Taiwan.

The ANNUALEX drill included 35 warships and dozens of aircraft in the Philippine Sea off Japan’s southern coast. The U.S. and Japanese forces were led by the nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson carrier, which was also joined by ships from Canada, Australia, and for the first time, Germany. On Tuesday, the Vinson was being shadowed by a Chinese navy ship.

“We try to deter aggression from some nations that are showing burgeoning strength that maybe we haven’t experienced before,” U.S. Seventh Fleet commander Vice Admiral Karl Thomas said at a briefing aboard the carrier.

The exercise was meant to “tell those nations that maybe today is not the day,” he said.

Thomas was accompanied by the commander of the exercise, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Vice Admiral Hideki Yuasa. Home to the biggest concentration of American forces outside the United States, Tokyo is Washington’s key ally in the region.

Increasing pressure by China on Taiwan is causing concern in both Japan and the United States. Japan worries that key sea lanes supplying it will come under Beijing’s sway should it gain control of the island. That move would also threaten U.S. military bases in the region.

China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province, says its intentions in the region are peaceful.

The ten-day exercise caps a year of drills between the United States, Japan and other countries, including Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

London this year deployed its new $4.15 billion aircraft carrier the HMS Queen Elizabeth to the region, culminating in a visit to Japan in September along with two destroyers, two frigates and a submarine.

To get there, it sailed through the contested South China Sea, of which China claims 90%. Also in September, Britain’s HMS Richmond passed through the Taiwan Strait separating the island from mainland China, prompting a rebuke from Beijing.

Tokyo, in its latest annual defense strategy paper, identifies China as its main national security threat and said it had a “sense of crisis” regarding Taiwan as Chinese military activity around the island intensifies.

The British carrier joined a Japanese carrier, along with the Vinson – which operates F-35 stealth jets – and the USS Ronald Reagan, for a rare four-carrier training exercise in the waters around Japan.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Biden meets with France’s Macron, calls U.S. ‘clumsy’ in submarine deal

By Jeff Mason and Michel Rose

ROME (Reuters) -President Joe Biden on Friday called U.S. government actions “clumsy” during his first meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron since a diplomatic crisis erupted last month over a U.S. security pact with Britain and Australia.

Biden used the meeting at the G20 summit in Rome, Italy, to try to turn the page on a relationship that came under strain over the U.S.-Australia security alliance, known as AUKUS, which also includes the United Kingdom. The pact effectively canceled a 2016 Australian-French submarine deal.

The U.S. decision to secretly negotiate a new agreement drew outrage from Paris. France temporarily recalled its ambassador from Washington, canceled a gala in the U.S. capital and officials accused Biden of acting like former President Donald Trump.

“I think what happened was, to use an English phrase, what we did was clumsy. It was not done with a lot of grace,” Biden said. “I was under the impression certain things had happened that hadn’t happened. And – but I want to make it clear: France is an extremely, extremely valued partner – extremely – and a power in and of itself.”

Biden also said the United States does not have an older and more loyal ally than France and that there is no place in the world where the United States cannot cooperate with France.

“I was under the impression that France had been informed long before that the deal was not going through. I, honest to God, did not know you had not been,” Biden told Macron.

Macron said his meeting with Biden was “important” and that it was essential to “look to the future” as his country and the United States work to mend fences.

“What really matters now is what we will do together in the coming weeks, the coming months, the coming years,” Macron said.

Since the rift erupted, Washington has taken several steps to fix the relationship.

Biden and Macron spoke to each other last week. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also visited Paris, where he acknowledged the United States could have “communicated better.” Vice President Kamala Harris also announced that she would travel to Paris in November and meet with Macron.

Biden and Macron met at the Villa Bonaparte, the French embassy to the Vatican, which a French diplomat said was a significant mark of goodwill from Biden.

“It’s an important gesture,” the French diplomat said, adding that the United States recognized that it underestimated the impact of its actions.

France now wants to see if Biden follows his words with actions. “Trust is being rebuilt. This is one step. Tokens of goodwill were given, we’ll see whether they follow through over the long term,” the diplomat said.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Michel Rose in Rome, Writing by Nandita Bose and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Editing by Franklin Paul, Heather Timmons, David Gregorio and Marguerita Choy)

Sydney to tighten COVID-19 curbs, Australian capital to enter lockdown

By Renju Jose

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Extra Australian military personnel may be called in to ensure compliance with lockdown rules in Sydney, the New South Wales state government said on Thursday, as the highly infectious Delta coronavirus variant spreads into regional areas.

The move comes as Australia’s capital city, Canberra, 260 km (160 miles) southwest of Sydney, announced a snap one-week lockdown from Thursday evening after reporting its first locally acquired case of COVID-19 in more than a year. Authorities later confirmed an additional three cases, all close contacts of the first case, an unnamed man.

Australia is battling to get on top of the fast-moving Delta strain that has plunged its two largest cities – Sydney and Melbourne – into hard lockdowns.

“We are making sure that we do not leave any stone unturned in relation to extra (military) resources,” New South Wales (NSW) state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said at a media conference in Sydney, the state capital.

Some 580 unarmed army personnel are already helping police enforce home-quarantine orders on affected households in the worst-affected suburbs of Sydney, Australia’s most populous city.

Several regional towns scattered across NSW have also been forced into snap lockdowns after fresh cases, raising fears the virus is spreading out of control.

Despite seven weeks of lockdown in Sydney, daily infections continue to hover near record highs. NSW on Thursday reported 345 new locally acquired cases, most of them in Sydney, up from 344 a day earlier.

Lockdown rules were tightened in three more local council areas in Sydney, limiting the movement of people to within 5 km (3 miles) of their homes.

Joe Awada, the mayor of Bayside Council, one of the areas placed under additional restrictions, questioned why more targeted curbs were not introduced.

“I mean to lockdown 200,000 residents because of three suburbs is not acceptable to me,” Awada told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Officials also reported the deaths of two men in their 90s, taking the total deaths in the latest outbreak to 36. A total of 374 cases are in hospitals, with 62 in intensive care, 29 of whom require ventilation.

In Canberra, authorities said the one-week lockdown was needed as they were unsure how the man is his 20s acquired COVID-19.

Canberra has largely escaped any COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, and confirmation of a Delta variant saw panic buying at the supermarkets and long lines at testing sites.

Neighboring Victoria state on Thursday reported 21 new locally acquired cases, up from 20 a day earlier, as 5 million residents of Melbourne, the state capital, prepare to enter a second week of lockdown.

Of the new cases, six spent time outdoors while infectious, a number which authorities have said must return to near zero before restrictions can be eased.

Australia has largely avoided the high coronavirus numbers seen in many other countries, with just over 37,700 cases and 946 deaths, and several states remain almost COVID-free despite the outbreaks in Sydney and Melbourne.

But the rapid spread of the Delta variant in New South Wales and a slow vaccine rollout has left the country vulnerable to a new wave of infections.

Only around 24% of people above 16 years of age are fully vaccinated.

(Reporting by Renju Jose; additional reporting by Colin Packham in Canberra, Editing by Stephen Coates, Richard Pullin and Sam Holmes)

U.S. and allies accuse China of global hacking spree

By Steve Holland and Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and its allies accused China on Monday of a global cyberespionage campaign, mustering an unusually broad coalition of countries to publicly call out Beijing for hacking.

The United States was joined by NATO, the European Union, Britain, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Canada in condemning the spying, which U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said posed “a major threat to our economic and national security.”

Simultaneously, the U.S. Department of Justice charged four Chinese nationals – three security officials and one contract hacker – with targeting dozens of companies, universities and government agencies in the United States and abroad.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Chinese officials have previously said China is also a victim of hacking and opposes all forms of cyberattacks.

While a flurry of statements from Western powers represent a broad alliance, cyber experts said the lack of consequences for China beyond the U.S. indictment was conspicuous. Just a month ago, summit statements by G7 and NATO warned China and said it posed threats to the international order.

Adam Segal, a cybersecurity expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, called Monday’s announcement a “successful effort to get friends and allies to attribute the action to Beijing, but not very useful without any concrete follow-up.”

Some of Monday’s statements even seemed to pull their punches. While Washington and its close allies such as the United Kingdom and Canada held the Chinese state directly responsible for the hacking, others were more circumspect.

NATO merely said that its members “acknowledge” the allegations being leveled against Beijing by the U.S., Canada, and the UK. The European Union said it was urging Chinese officials to rein in “malicious cyber activities undertaken from its territory” – a statement that left open the possibility that the Chinese government was itself innocent of directing the espionage.

The United States was much more specific, formally attributing intrusions such as the one that affected servers running Microsoft Exchange earlier this year to hackers affiliated with China’s Ministry of State Security. Microsoft had already blamed China.

U.S. officials said the scope and scale of hacking attributed to China has surprised them, along with China’s use of “criminal contract hackers.”

“The PRC’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) has fostered an ecosystem of criminal contract hackers who carry out both state-sponsored activities and cybercrime for their own financial gain,” Blinken said.

U.S. security and intelligence agencies outlined more than 50 techniques and procedures that “China state-sponsored actors” use against U.S. networks, a senior administration official said.

Washington in recent months has focused heavy attention on Russia in accusing Russian hackers of a string of ransomware attacks in the United States.

The senior administration official said U.S. concerns about Chinese cyber activities have been raised with senior Chinese officials. “We’re not ruling out further action to hold the PRC accountable,” the official said.

The United States and China have already been at loggerheads over trade, China’s military buildup, disputes about the South China Sea, a crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong and treatment of the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region.

Blinken cited the Justice Department indictments as an example of how the United States will impose consequences.

The defendants and officials in the Hainan State Security Department, a regional state security office, tried to hide the Chinese government’s role in the information theft by using a front company, according to the indictment.

The campaign targeted trade secrets in industries including aviation, defense, education, government, health care, biopharmaceutical and maritime industries, the Justice Department said.

Victims were in Austria, Cambodia, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Norway, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“These criminal charges once again highlight that China continues to use cyber-enabled attacks to steal what other countries make, in flagrant disregard of its bilateral and multilateral commitments,” Deputy U.S. Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in the statement.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, David Shepardson, Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Grant McCool)

China, U.S. can coexist in peace but challenge is enormous – White House

By David Brunnstrom and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said on Tuesday that it was possible for China and United States to coexist in peace but the challenge was enormous and Beijing had become increasingly assertive.

At an event hosted by the Asia Society think tank, Campbell said President Joe Biden will host a summit later this year with the leaders of Australia, India and Japan – the so-called “Quad” grouping that Washington see as a means of standing up to China.

Asked when he expected a first meeting between Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping and whether this could come at the G20 summit in October, he replied: “My expectation will be that we’ll have some sort of engagement before too long.”

Campbell said the challenge for the United States would be to come up with a strategy that presented China with opportunities, but also a response if it takes steps “antithetical to the maintenance of peace and stability”.

There were likely to be “periods of uncertainty, perhaps even periods of occasional raised tensions,” he said.

“Do I think it’s possible that the United States and China can coexist and live in peace? Yes I do. But I do think the challenge is enormously difficult for this generation and the next,” he said.

He said Beijing had been increasingly assertive in recent times, taking on many countries simultaneously, a strategy that contrasted with how it operated in the 1990’s.

​ He criticized China’s approach to U.S. ally Australia.

“I’m not sure they have the strategic thinking to go back to a different kind of diplomacy towards Australia right now. I see a harshness in their approach that appears unyielding”

On Taiwan, the self-ruled U.S.-backed island China sees as part of its territory and wants to reclaim, Campbell maintained a cautious approach.

He said the United States supports having a strong unofficial relationship with Taiwan but does not support its independence.

“We fully recognize, understand the sensitivities involved here,” he said. “We do believe that Taiwan has a right to live in peace. We want to see its international role, particularly in areas like vaccines, and issues associated with the pandemic, they should have a role to play here, they should not be shunned in international community.”

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Spy phones ‘in gangsters’ back pockets’ betray hundreds to police

By Colin Packham and Toby Sterling

CANBERRA/AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -A global sting in which organized crime gangs were sold encrypted phones that law enforcement officials could monitor has led to more than 800 arrests and the confiscation of drugs, weapons, cash and luxury cars, officials said on Tuesday.

The operation by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Australian and European police ensnared suspects in Australia, Asia, Europe, South America and the Middle East involved in the global narcotics trade, the officials said.

Millions of dollars in cash were seized in raids around the world, along with 30 tonnes of drugs including more than eight tonnes of cocaine.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the operation had “struck a heavy blow against organized crime – not just in this country, but … around the world”.

Operation Greenlight/Trojan Shield, conceived by Australian police and the FBI in 2018, was one of the biggest infiltrations and takeovers of a specialized encrypted network.

It began when U.S. officials paid a convicted drug trafficker to give them access to a smartphone that he had customized, on which he was installing ANOM, also styled An0m, a secure encrypted messaging app. The phones were then sold to organized crime networks through underworld distributors.

The FBI helped to infiltrate 12,000 devices into 300 criminal groups in more than 100 countries, Calvin Shivers of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division told reporters in The Hague.

COCAINE IN FRUIT

In a pattern repeated elsewhere, one Australian underworld figure began distributing phones containing the app to his associates, believing their communications were secure because the phones had been rebuilt to remove all capabilities, including voice and camera functions, apart from ANOM.

As a result, there was no attempt to conceal or code the details of the messages – which police were reading.

“It was there to be seen, including ‘we’ll have a speedboat meet you at this point’, ‘this is who will do this’ and so on,” Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw said.

“We have been in the back pockets of organized crime … All they talk about is drugs, violence, hits on each other, innocent people who are going to be murdered.”

The phones were such a hit that Italian mafiosi, Asian triads, biker gangs and transnational drug syndicates all began using them, providing the FBI and its partner forces around the world with a trove of 27 million messages.

Shivers said the FBI had been able to see photographs of “hundreds of tons of cocaine that were concealed in shipments of fruit”.

PRINTERS FOR GUN PARTS

Australian police said they had arrested 224 people, including members of outlawed motorcycle gangs, and disrupted 21 murder plots.

On Monday alone, they seized 104 firearms, including a military-grade sniper rifle, as well as almost A$45 million ($35 million) in cash, including A$7 million from a safe buried under a garden shed in a suburb of Sydney.

In Europe, there were 49 arrests in the Netherlands, 75 in Sweden and over 60 in Germany, where authorities seized hundreds of kilograms of drugs, more than 20 weapons and over 30 luxury cars and cash.

Finnish police not only detained almost 100 suspects and seized 500 kg of narcotics but also found a warehouse with 3-D printers used to manufacture gun parts.

The operation also revealed that gangs were being tipped off about police actions, which prompted “numerous high-level public corruption cases in several countries,” according to an affidavit from an FBI agent.

Kershaw said the Australian underworld figure, who had absconded, had “essentially set up his own colleagues” by distributing the phones, and was now a marked man.

“The sooner he hands himself in, the better for him and his family.” ($1 = 1.2893 Australian dollars)

(Additional reporting by Joseph Menn, Tom Allard, Jonathan Barrett, Essi Lehto, Riham Alkousaa and Caroline Copley; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Stephen Coates and Kevin Liffey)