North Korea says nuclear talks at risk if U.S.-South Korea exercises go ahead

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stand at the demarcation line in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – The United States looks set to break a promise not to hold military exercises with South Korea, putting talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons at risk, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

The United States’ pattern of “unilaterally reneging on its commitments” is leading Pyongyang to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the ministry said in a pair of statements released through state news agency KCNA.

U.S. President Donald Trump revitalized efforts to persuade the North to give up its nuclear weapons last month when he arranged a spur-of-the-moment meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on the border between the two Koreas.

Trump said they had agreed to resume so-called working-level talks, stalled since their second summit in February collapsed. The negotiations are expected in coming weeks.

But a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman cast doubt on that, saying the United States and South Korea were pressing ahead with exercises called Dong Maeng this summer, which he called a “rehearsal of war”.

“We will formulate our decision on the opening of the DPRK-U.S. working-level talks, while keeping watch over the U.S. move hereafter,” the spokesman said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The exercises are expected in August.

North Korea has for years denounced military exercises between the United States and South Korea, but in recent months has increased its criticism as talks with Washington and Seoul stalled.

“It is crystal clear that it is an actual drill and a rehearsal of war aimed at militarily occupying our Republic by surprise attack,” the North Korean spokesman said in a separate statement, adding that Trump had reaffirmed at last month’s meeting with Kim that the exercises would be halted.

Trump, in his first meeting with Kim in Singapore in June last year, said he would stop exercises after the two leaders agreed to work towards the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and to improve ties.

While the main annual South Korean-U.S. exercises have been stopped, they still hold smaller drills.

“Readiness remains the number one priority for USFK,” said Jacqueline Leeker, a spokeswoman for U.S. Forces Korea (USFK). “As a matter of standard operating procedure, and in order to preserve space for diplomacy to work, we do not discuss any planned training or exercises publicly.”

She said U.S. and South Korean troops continued to train together but had adjusted the size, scope, number and timing of exercises in order to “harmonize” training programs with diplomatic efforts.

An official at South Korea’s ministry of defense said it did not have immediate comment, but Seoul officials have previously said the drills are defensive in nature.

Since the Singapore summit, North Korea has not tested any nuclear weapons or intercontinental ballistic missiles, though it tested new short-range missiles in May.

The United States’ decision to forge ahead with drills less than a month after Trump and Kim last met is “clearly a breach” of the two leaders’ agreements made in Singapore last year, and is an “an undisguised pressure” on North Korea, the foreign ministry spokesman said.

“With the U.S. unilaterally reneging on its commitments, we are gradually losing our justifications to follow through on the commitments we made with the U.S. as well,” he said.

A North Korean nuclear envoy who steered the talks ahead of the failed February summit is alive, a South Korean lawmaker said on Tuesday, contradicting a South Korean news report that he had been executed.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin. Additional reporting by Josh Smith.; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

U.S., Japan, India and Philippines challenge Beijing with naval drills in the South China Sea

Vessels from the U.S. Navy, Indian Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Philippine Navy sail in formation at sea, in this recent taken handout photo released by Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force on May 9, 2019. Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force/Handout via REUTERS

TOKYO (Reuters) – In a fresh show of naval force in the contested South China Sea, a U.S. guided missile destroyer conducted drills with a Japanese aircraft carrier, two Indian naval ships and a Philippine patrol vessel in the waterway claimed by China, the U.S. Navy said on Thursday.

While similar exercises have been held in the South China Sea in the past, the combined display by four countries represents a fresh challenge to Beijing as U.S. President Donald Trump threatens to hike tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.

“Professional engagements with our allies, partners and friends in the region are opportunities to build upon our existing, strong relationships,” Commander Andrew J. Klug, the captain of the U.S. destroyer, the USS William P. Lawrence, said in a statement.

Japan sent one of its two big aircraft carriers, the Izumo, while India deployed a destroyer, the INS Kolkata, and a tanker, the INS Shakti.

The week of joint drills, which ended Wednesday, comes after two other U.S. warships sailed near islands in the region claimed by China on Monday, prompting a protest from Beijing, which said the action infringed its sovereignty.

The U.S. Navy says it conducts such freedom of navigation operations in international waters around the world, even in seas claimed by its allies, without political considerations.

China claims almost all of the strategic South China Sea with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam pushing competing claims to parts of the maritime region. The United States, Japan and India do not have any territorial claims there.

In a separate challenge to Beijing in Asian waters, the USS William P. Lawrence and another U.S. destroyer sailed through the Taiwan Strait in April separating Taiwan, which Beijing views as a rogue province, from the Chinese mainland.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Michael Perry)

Iran naval drills underway amid tensions with U.S.

A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during the Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria July 14, 2015. To match Analysis USA-ELECTION/IRAN

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States believes Iran has started carrying out naval exercises in the Gulf, apparently moving up the timing of annual drills amid heightened tensions with Washington, U.S. officials told Reuters on Thursday.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said possibly more than 100 vessels were involved in the drills, including small boats. A second official expected the drill could be wrapped up this week.

Iran has been furious over U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of an international nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Tehran. Senior Iranian officials have warned the country would not easily yield to a renewed U.S. campaign to strangle Iran’s vital oil exports.

The U.S. military’s Central Command on Wednesday confirmed it has seen an increase in Iranian naval activity, including in the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway for oil shipments that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have threatened to block.

“We are monitoring it closely, and will continue to work with our partners to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in international waterways,” said Navy Captain Bill Urban, the chief spokesman at Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East.

Central Command did not update its guidance on Thursday.

A third official said the Iranian naval operations did not appear to be affecting commercial maritime activity.

U.S. officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the drills appeared designed to send a message to Washington, which is intensifying its economic and diplomatic pressure on Tehran but so far stopping short of using the U.S. military to more aggressively counter Iran and its proxies.

But Iran did not appear interested in drawing attention to them. Iranian authorities have yet to comment on them and several officials contacted by Reuters declined to comment.

Trump’s policies are already putting significant pressure on the Iranian economy, although U.S. intelligence suggests they may ultimately rally Iranians against the United States and strengthen Iran’s hardline rulers, officials say.

Iran’s currency plumbed new depths this week ahead of Aug. 7, when Washington is due to reimpose a first lot of sanctions following Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal.

Protests have broken out in Iran since the beginning of the year over high prices, water shortage, power cuts and alleged corruption.

On Tuesday, hundreds of people rallied in cities including Isfahan, Karaj, Shiraz and Ahvaz to protest high inflation caused in part by the weak rial.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington; additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Ankara; Editing by James Dalgleish)

After China’s massive drill, USS Theodore Roosevelt patrols disputed South China Sea

A busy day on the flight deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt while transiting the South China Sea April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Karen Lema

By Karen Lema

ABOARD THE USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, South China Sea (Reuters) – In a span of 20 minutes, 20 F-18 fighter jets took off and landed on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, in a powerful display of military precision and efficiency.

The nuclear-powered warship, leading a carrier strike group, was conducting what the U.S. military called routine training in the disputed South China Sea on Tuesday, headed for a port call in the Philippines, a defence treaty ally.

The United States is not alone in carrying out naval patrols in the strategic waterway, where Chinese, Japanese and some Southeast Asian navies operate, possibly increasing tensions and risking accidents at sea.

“We have seen Chinese ships around us,” Rear Admiral Steve Koehler, the strike group commander, told a small group of reporters on board the three-decade-old carrier.

“They are one of the navies that operate in the South China Sea but I would tell you that we have seen nothing but professional work out of the ships we have encountered.”

Navies in the western Pacific, including China and nine Southeast Asian countries, have been working on a code of unexpected encounters (CUES) at sea to avoid conflict.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt’s presence in the South China Sea comes days after China’s massive air and naval drills in the area, in what some analysts described as an unusually large display of Beijing’s growing naval might.

China’s growing military presence in the waters has fueled concern in the West about Beijing’s end game.

The United States has criticized China’s apparent militarization of manmade islands and carried out regular air and naval patrols to assert its right to freedom of navigation in stretches of a sea China claims largely as its own.

“This transit in the South China Sea is nothing new in our planning cycle or in a reaction to that. It is probably by happenstance that all that is happening at the same time,” said Koehler, who gave a tour of the carrier to Philippine military officials and watched flight operations aboard the 100,000-tonne warship.

An F18 fighter takes off from the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt while transiting the South China Sea April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Karen Lema

An F18 fighter takes off from the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt while transiting the South China Sea April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Karen Lema

FUNCTION OF LAW

“All of the operations that we do in and around the South China Sea or any of the bodies of water we operate in, there is a function of international law and that is ultimately what we want to recognize,” Koehler said.

Tension between the United States and China over trade and territory under U.S. President Donald Trump has been stepped up of late, with fear in the region that the South China Sea, vital to global trade, could one day become a battleground between the two rival powers.

Philippine ties with China have meanwhile warmed under President Rodrigo Duterte, who has put aside disputes with Beijing and wants it to play a key role in building and funding urgently needed infrastructure, from highways and ports to railways and power plants.

China has long objected to U.S. military operations off its coasts, even in areas Washington insists are free to international passage.

“They (China) certainly have the right to exercise off their coast like we do, nor are they necessarily in charge of our transit cycle, but our deployment’s been planned,” Koehler said.

As the crew in color-coded uniforms raced to service dozens of aircraft taking off and landing, “handlers” in the flight deck control made sure the deck had enough room for jets to maneuver and refuel with the help of a “Ouija board”.

The board has all the models of each aircraft, which are marked with squadron name, model, make, and number of personnel. At any given moment, the flight deck is home to dozens of aircraft and helicopters.

“It is a showcase of the capability of the U.S. armed forces,” Philippine army chief Rolando Bautista said of the demonstration.

“Since Americans are our friends in one way or another, they can help us deter any threat.”

(Editing by Martin Petty and Nick Macfie)

South Korea, U.S. launch aerial drills amid North Korean warnings of nuclear war

The South Korean army's K-55 self-propelled artillery vehicles take part in a military exercise near the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea, November 29, 2017.

By Christine Kim and Philip Wen

SEOUL/BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States and South Korea went ahead with large-scale joint aerial drills on Monday, a move North Korea had said would push the Korean peninsula to “the brink of nuclear war”, ignoring calls from Russia and China to call them off.

The drills come a week after North Korea said it had tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States as part of a weapons program that it has conducted in defiance of international sanctions and condemnation.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said it was “regrettable” that all parties had not “grasped the window of opportunity” presented by two months of relative calm before the North’s most recent test.

China and Russia had proposed that the United States and South Korea stop major military exercises in exchange for North Korea halting its weapons programs. Beijing formally calls the idea the “dual suspension” proposal.

The annual U.S.-South Korean drill, called Vigilant Ace, will run until Friday, with six F-22 Raptor stealth fighters to be deployed among the more than 230 aircraft taking part.

North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country called U.S. President Donald Trump “insane” on Sunday and said the drills would “push the already acute situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war”.

F-35 fighters will also join the drills, which will include the largest number of 5th generation fighters ever to have taken part, according to a South Korea-based U.S. Air Force spokesman.

Around 12,000 U.S. service members, including from the Marines and Navy, will join South Korean troops. Aircraft taking part will be flown from eight U.S. and South Korean military installations.

South Korean media reports said B-1B Lancer bombers could join the exercise this week. The U.S. Air Force spokesman could not confirm the reports.

Trump said last week that additional major sanctions would be imposed on North Korea after Pyongyang’s intercontinental ballistic missile test.

Earlier last month, Trump put North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that allows the United States to impose more sanctions.

Russia has accused the United States of trying to provoke North Korean leader Kim Jong Un into “flying off the handle” over his missile program to hand Washington a pretext to destroy his country.

Speaking at a news briefing in Beijing, Wang said China consistently opposed any behavior that elevated tensions.

“And measures that don’t abide by or are outside the UN Security Council resolutions lack basis in international law and damage the rights of United Nations members,” Wang said when asked about the prospect of further U.S. sanctions against North Korea.

China’s Air Force said on Monday that its surveillance aircraft had in recent days conducted drills in the Yellow Sea and East China Sea to “improve combat-readiness and safeguard the country’s strategic interests”.

The aircraft took a flight path not previously flown to regions they had never previously operated in, and coordinated with fighter jets, alert aircraft and guided missile forces, spokesman Shen Jinke said, according to a post on the Air Force’s official microblog.

The joint exercises between South Korea and United States are designed to enhance readiness and operational capability and to ensure peace and security on the Korean peninsula, the U.S. military had said before the drills began.

The North’s KCNA state news agency, citing a foreign ministry spokesman, said on Saturday the Trump administration was “begging for nuclear war by staging an extremely dangerous nuclear gamble on the Korean peninsula”.

North Korea regularly uses its state media to threaten the United States and its allies.

North Korea has tested dozens of ballistic missiles and conducted its sixth and largest nuclear bomb test in September, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

It has said its weapons programs are a necessary defense against U.S. plans to invade. The United States, which has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, denies any such intention.

 

 

(Reporting by Christine Kim in SEOUL and Philip Wen in BEIJING; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie)

 

Nervous Japanese hold drill in case North Korea fires missiles over them

Nervous Japanese hold drill in case North Korea fires missiles over them

By Kwiyeon Ha

KOTOURA, Japan (Reuters) – Residents of a town on the Japanese coast held evacuation drills on Saturday to prepare for any launch of North Korean missiles toward the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, that would fly over their homes.

As sirens blared from speakers in the town of Kotoura, children playing soccer outside ran to take shelter in a school, along with their parents and their team coach.

“I’ve been concerned every day that something might fall or a missile could fall in an unexpected place due to North Korea’s missile capabilities,” said the coach, Akira Hamakawa, 38.

North Korea’s rapid progress in developing nuclear weapons and missiles has fueled a surge in tension across the region.

U.S. President Donald Trump warned North Korea this month it would face “fire and fury” if it threatened the United States.

The North responded by threatening to fire missiles toward the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam. Any such missiles would have to fly over western Japan.

While North Korea later said it was holding off firing toward Guam, tension remains high and annual joint military exercises by the United States and South Korea beginning on Monday are likely to enrage Pyongyang.

Nearly 130 people took part in the drill in Kotoura, which has a population of 18,000, a town official said.

For 10 minutes, people ducked down covering their heads with their arms. Many of those taking part said they were worried.

North Korea has in the past threatened to attack Japan, a staunch U.S. ally and host to U.S. military bases.

Japan is the only country in the world to be attacked with nuclear weapons.

Authorities are publishing notices in newspapers, on television and online, advising people to take shelter in robust buildings and to keep away from windows should missiles land.

Evacuation drills, however, have only been held in remote towns such as Kotoura.

A North Korean missile could reach Japan in about 10 minutes.

“A lot of people participated in the drill with a sense of emergency,” said Yosuke Suenaga, the cabinet counselor of situation response and crisis management.

(Reporting by Kwiyeon Ha; Writing by Tim Kelly and Junko Fujita; Editing by Robert Birsel)

China says aircraft carrier testing weapons in South China Sea drills

Chinese aircraft carrier in South China Sea

BEIJING (Reuters) – A group of Chinese warships led by its sole aircraft carrier is testing weapons and equipment in exercises this week in the South China Sea that are going to plan, China’s foreign ministry said Wednesday.

Exercises by the ships, in particular the aircraft carrier Liaoning, since last month have unnerved China’s neighbors, especially at a time of heightened strain with self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own, and given long-running territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

China says the Soviet-built Liaoning and the other ships conduct routine exercises that comply with international law.

“The Liaoning aircraft carrier group in the South China Sea is carrying out scientific research and training, in accordance with plans,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing.

“The purpose is to test the performance of weapons and equipment,” he said.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy said on its official microblog this week that the aircraft carrier conducted drills in the South China Sea with its fighter jets and helicopters.

U.S. warships have also been conducting what they call “freedom of navigation” patrols through the South China Sea over the past year as concern grows about Chinese construction of air strips and docks on disputed reefs and islands.

The group of warships sailed through waters south of Japan and then rounded east and south of Taiwan late last month on their way to the south China province of Hainan.

Taiwan’s defence minister warned at the time that “the threat of our enemies is growing day by day”.

Taiwan media have reported that the Liaoning could sail north up the median line of the Taiwan Strait, the narrow body of water separating Taiwan and China, on its way to its home port of Qingdao.

Taiwan’s defence ministry said the talk about the timing and northward route of the Liaoning was speculation, and it would make preparations based on the situation and “maintain its grasp of the movements” of the ship.

Business relations between mainland China and Taiwan have grown significantly over the past decade but tension has increased since the island elected a president from an independence-leaning party last year.

China distrusts President Tsai Ing-wen and has stepped up pressure on her following a protocol-breaking phone call between her and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump last month.

Beijing suspects Tsai wants to push for the island’s formal independence, a red line for the mainland, which has never renounced the use of force to bring what it deems a renegade province under its control.

Tsai says she wants to maintain peace with China.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Additional reporting by J.R. Wu in Taipei)

North Korea’s Kim guides special operations drill targeting South

Combat Drills in North Korea

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guided a special operations drill targeting the South, the North’s media reported on Sunday, as rival South Korea remained on alert for any attempt by the North to take advantage of political turmoil in the South.

The North’s KCNA state news agency report did not say when North Korean forces conducted the combat exercise, nor did it mention the South Korean parliament’s vote on Friday to impeach its president, Park Geun-hye.

Pictures in a Sunday report on the exercise in the North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed what appeared to be a mockup of South Korea’s presidential Blue House as a target.

Park will remain in the Blue House, though her powers have been suspended and assumed by the South’s prime minister while the Constitutional Court weighs parliament’s impeachment vote.

South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn has urged a high state of military alert in case of any provocation by North Korea, including possible cyber attacks.

“We are ready to retaliate if North Korea makes any provocations and we condemn its malicious threat,” a South Korean military official told Reuters.

Tension on the divided Korean peninsula has been high this year after two North Korean nuclear tests and an unprecedented flurry of ballistic missile tests.

The North’s tests have brought tighter U.N. Security Council sanctions but no indication North Korea and its young leader Kim are willing to compromise on its nuclear and missile programmes.

The Rodong Sinmun pictures included one of Kim observing the exercise through binoculars.

“Watching the brave service personnel independently and pro-actively perform their combat duty destroying specified targets of the enemy, he said with a broad smile on his face: ‘Well done, the enemy troops will have no space to hide themselves, far from taking any counteraction’,” KCNA cited Kim saying.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park and Yun Hwan Chae; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Robert Birsel)

China, U.S. look past tensions with joint relief drill

Liu Xiaowu (C), army commander of the Chinese southern military region, and General Robert Brown (2nd L), commanding general of the U.S. Army Pacific, attend a session as the Chinese and U.S. armed forces hold joint humanitarian relief drills in Kunming, Yunnan province, China

By Ben Blanchard

KUNMING, China, Nov 18 (Reuters) – China and the United States wrapped up a three day humanitarian relief military drill on Friday, looking past simmering tensions over the disputed
South China Sea and the deployment of an advanced U.S. anti-missile system in South Korea.

The exercises, held in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming, come a month after a U.S. navy destroyer sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea, prompting fury in Beijing which called the moved illegal and provocative.

That patrol, the latest by Washington to challenge Chinese claims in the strategic waterway, capped a tense year for military-to-military ties between the world’s two largest economies, which are also at odds over the U.S. decision to base Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system battery system in South Korea to defend against North Korea.

China, neighboring North Korea, worries the system’s radar will be able to track its own military capabilities.

New uncertainty looms with the shock election of Donald Trump as U.S. president earlier this month, a man who lambasted China on the campaign trail and has suggested Japan and South Korea be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

But it was all smiles and friendship as Chinese and U.S. soldiers simulated digging out bodies from an earthquake-destroyed building and rescuing people from an overturned boat in a reservoir.

Liu Xiaowu, army commander of the Chinese southern military region, and General Robert Brown, commanding general of the U.S. Army Pacific, chatted amiably as they oversaw the last day of
exercises.

“Very smart, very good,” Brown said, as Chinese officers explained how they were using new technology, including drones, in the drill.

Jeremy Reynolds, a U.S. army captain based in Hawaii, told Reuters the exercise was a unique opportunity for the two to work together.

“The execution of the exchange went very well between the Chinese and the American forces. We were able to communicate very well through interpreters. There were no major issues. The
Chinese did a very good job planning their portions of the exercise and it led to very smooth operations in a very good overall product,” he said, standing on a pontoon bridge.

“These operations do help to create a mutual understanding between our two militaries.”

This is the fourth time China and the United States have conducted such drills since they began in 2013, as the two try to set aside mutual suspicion from the bottom up, rather than just relying on contacts at a more senior level.

The exercise involved 134 military personnel from China and 89 from the United States, using helicopters, pontoon bridges and engineering equipment.

They also conducted tabletop exercises focusing on sharing information and joint decision-making, field maneuvers focusing on evacuation of earthquake victims and search and rescue.

“We had very happy cooperation with the United States. I was really happy,” said Chinese army doctor Zhao Yao.

“This was the first time I’d met the U.S. military. The exchange with them has really helped my English.”

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

China to carry out more military drills in South China Sea

China's military on patrol

BEIJING (Reuters) – China will carry out military drills in the South China Sea all day on Thursday, the country’s maritime safety administration said on Wednesday, ordering all other shipping to stay away.

China routinely holds drills in the disputed waterway, and the latest exercises come less than a week after a U.S. navy destroyer sailed near the Paracel Islands, prompting a warning from Chinese warships to leave the area.

The maritime administration gave coordinates for an area south of the Chinese island province of Hainan and northwest of the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, but controlled by China.

The brief statement gave no other details, apart from prohibiting other ships from entering the area.

China’s Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

China has a runway on Woody Island, its largest presence on the Paracels, and has placed surface-to-air missiles there, according to U.S. officials.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all have rival claims in the South China Sea, but Beijing’s is the largest. It argues it can do what it wants on the islands it claims as they have been Chinese since ancient times.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)