North Korea rebuffs U.S. offer of December talks, urges halt in military drills

North Korea rebuffs U.S. offer of December talks, urges halt in military drills
By Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea said on Thursday it had turned down a U.S. offer for fresh talks, saying it was not interested in more talks merely aimed at “appeasing us” ahead of a year-end deadline Pyongyang has set for Washington to show more flexibility in the negotiations.

Kim Myong Gil, the North’s nuclear negotiator, said in a report carried by state media that Stephen Biegun, his U.S. counterpart who jointly led last month’s failed denuclearization talks in Stockholm, had offered through a third country to meet again.

Kim and Biegun met last month in the Swedish capital for the first time since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed in June to re-open negotiations that have been stalled since a failed summit in Vietnam in February.

But the Stockholm meeting fell apart, with Kim Myong Gil saying the U.S. side had failed to present a new approach.

“If the negotiated solution of issues is possible, we are ready to meet with the U.S. at any place and any time,” Kim Myong Gil said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

But he called Biegun’s proposal a “sinister aim of appeasing us in a bid to pass with ease” Pyongyang’s year-end deadline. “We have no willingness to have such negotiations.”

North Korea has been seeking a lifting of punishing sanctions, but the United States has insisted Kim Jong Un must dismantle his nuclear weapons program first.

JOINT DRILLS

The North Korean statement came after General Mark Milley, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, reaffirmed that the United States was ready to use the “full range” of its capabilities to defend South Korea from any attack.

Senior U.S. defense officials are gathering in Seoul for annual meetings as the two countries face intensifying threats from North Korea to stop joint military drills.

The United States is also seeking a greater financial contribution from South Korea for hosting American troops, while urging Seoul to revoke its decision to scrap an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan known as GSOMIA, which Washington worries would undermine trilateral cooperation.

Milley met his South Korean counterpart General Park Han-ki for the annual Military Committee Meeting (MCM) on Thursday.

Both sides discussed ways to maintain solid defense posture and a planned transfer of wartime operational control to South Korea, a joint statement said, even as they have scaled back joint exercises to expedite negotiations with North Korea.

Milley reiterated the “continued commitment to providing extended deterrence”, the statement said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper was arriving in Seoul later on Thursday, ahead of a meeting with South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo for the annual Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) on Friday.

Esper said on Wednesday he was open to changes in U.S. military activity in South Korea if it helped diplomats trying to jump-start stalled talks with North Korea.

Kim Yong Chol, a senior North Korean official who led negotiations in the run-up to the Vietnam summit, said late on Thursday that he hoped Esper meant to completely halt the joint drills.

Kim Yong Chol, a senior North Korean official who led negotiations in the run-up to the Vietnam summit, said late on Thursday that Esper meant to completely halt the joint drills.

“I assess his comment reflected Trump’s thinking and was part of the U.S. side’s positive efforts to revive the momentum for talks,” he said in a statement carried by KCNA.

“But if … the hostile provocation against us is carried out, we won’t help but responding with shocking punishment that the United States can’t afford.”

Pyongyang has decried the U.S.-South Korea exercises as hostile, even in the current reduced form. On Wednesday, it threatened to retaliate if the allies go ahead with scheduled drills in a rare statement from the State Affairs Commission, a top governing body chaired by leader Kim Jong Un.

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at South Korea’s Sejong Institute think-tank, said the North’s statement appeared to be aimed at justifying future North Korean military actions.

Milley has hinted at raising the troop cost-sharing and Japan issues, though the joint statement did not address them directly.

Trump’s insistence Seoul take on a greater share of the cost of the 28,500-strong U.S. military presence as deterrence against North Korea has rattled South Korea. It could also set a precedent for upcoming U.S. negotiations on defense cost-sharing with other allies.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Alex Richardson and Frances Kerry)

North Korea warns of retaliation against U.S-South Korea military drills

North Korea warns of retaliation against U.S-South Korea military drills
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea threatened on Wednesday to retaliate if the United States goes ahead with scheduled military drills with South Korea, ramping up pressure on Washington to change course as a year-end North Korean deadline for U.S. flexibility approaches.

The statement came even though Washington said last week that the joint aerial exercise planned for next month would be reduced in scope from previous drills.

“It is self-defense rights” to retaliate against any move which threatens its sovereignty and security, according to a statement from the State Affairs Commission, without elaborating.

It is rare for the commission, the supreme governing body chaired by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, to release a statement.

Last week, a senior North Korean diplomat also blamed the U.S. joint aerial drill for “throwing cold water” over talks with Washington. Pyongyang opposes U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises, viewing them as a rehearsal for invasion.

In its latest statement, Pyongyang said it had taken measures to calm Washington’s concerns but that the United States had failed to reciprocate, leaving it with a “feeling of betrayal.”

Asked to comment on the North Korea statement, the U.S. State Department made no reference to the military exercises, but a spokeswoman referred to an agreement reached between Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump at their first summit in Singapore in June 2018.

“President Trump remains committed to making progress toward the Singapore commitments of transformed relations, building lasting peace, and complete denuclearization,” she said.

Immediately following his first meeting with Kim, Trump made a surprise announcement that the United States would suspend military drills with South Korea. Since then, major exercises have been halted or scaled back.

Kim in April gave the United States a year-end deadline to show more flexibility in stalled denuclearization talks.

This statement followed the collapse of his second summit with Trump in Hanoi in February, and has raised concerns that North Korea could return to nuclear bomb and long-range missile testing suspended since 2017.

North Korea has tested the limits of engagement with a string of short-range missile launches, and analysts say it appears to have been emboldened to toughen its approach by the impeachment inquiry into Trump in Washington.

Senior Democratic and Republican lawmakers presented dueling narratives on Wednesday as the congressional impeachment inquiry threatening Trump’s presidency entered a crucial new phase with the first televised public hearing.

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in Seoul and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Gareth Jones and Jonathan Oatis)

China warns of more action after military drills near Taiwan

FILE PHOTO - China's aircraft carrier Liaoning (C) takes part in a military drill of Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in the western Pacific Ocean, April 18, 2018. Picture taken April 18, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

By Ben Blanchard and Jess Macy Yu

BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) – A series of Chinese drills near Taiwan were designed to send a clear message to the island and China will take further steps if Taiwan independence forces persist in doing as they please, Beijing said on Wednesday, as Taiwan denounced threats of force.

Over the past year or so, China has ramped up military drills around democratic Taiwan, including flying bombers and other military aircraft around the self-ruled island. Last week China drilled in the sensitive Taiwan Strait.

China claims Taiwan as its sacred territory, and its hostility towards the island has grown since the 2016 election as president of Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

China has been issuing increasingly strident calls for Taiwan to toe the line, even as Tsai has pledged to maintain the status quo and keep the peace.

Speaking at a regular news briefing, Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said the message the People’s Liberation Army was sending with its exercises was “extremely clear”.

“We have the resolute will, full confidence and sufficient ability to foil any form of Taiwan independence separatist plots and moves and to defend the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Ma said.

“If Taiwan independence forces continue to do as they please, we will take further steps,” he added, without giving details.

The military’s drills were aimed at protecting peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the interests of people on both sides of it, Ma said.

In Taipei, the government’s China policy-making Mainland Affairs Council said the people of Taiwan could not accept China’s military pressure and threats which it said had damaged peace in the Taiwan Strait.

“The mainland side should not attribute the consequences of misjudgment to Taiwan. This is an extremely irresponsible act,” it added.

The Republic of China is a sovereign state, the council said, using Taiwan’s formal name, and will brook no slander or criticism from China.

“We sternly warn the other side, do not create incidents again. Only by abandoning armed intimidation, facing up to the reality of the separate control on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, and having pragmatic communication and dialogue can the differences be resolved.”

Amid the growing tension with China, Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Tuesday it will simulate repelling an invading force, emergency repairs of a major air base and using civilian-operated drones as part of military exercises starting next week.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)

North Korea warns against U.S.-South Korea military drills after Olympics

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho departs after addressing the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 23, 2017.

By Christine Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has warned that if the United States goes ahead with delayed military exercises with South Korea after the Winter Olympics it will not “sit idle”, the North’s foreign minister said in a letter to the United Nations.

North Korea has not tested a missile since late November 2017 and entered into inter-Korean dialogue in January, the first talks in two years, which have eased tensions after a year of escalating rhetoric between the Pyongyang and Washington.

Whenever joint military exercises took place “the peace and security of the Korean peninsula were gravely threatened and the inter-Korean mistrust and confrontation reached the top, thus creating great difficulties and obstacles ahead of hard-won dialogues,” North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said in the letter published by the official North Korean news agency.

“We will make every effort to improve inter-Korean relations in future, too, but never sit idle with regard to sinister act of throwing a wet blanket over our efforts.”

The United States and South Korea have agreed to push back a routine early-year joint military drill until after the South holds the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and Paralympics. The Games begin next week and run until March 18.

In the letter, Ri said the United States was misleading public opinion by claiming its pressure campaign, including “their harshest sanctions,” had brought about the inter-Korean talks, when the “dramatic turning point” was entirely thanks to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

In a commentary on Friday, North Korea’s state media said Washington was attempting to create a “stage of confrontation” at the Olympics by saying that inter-Korean talks and positive results that had stemmed from them could “disappear” after the Games.

Asked to comment, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, Mike Cavey, said: “The United States and our allies and partners in the region have long conducted routine exercises to maintain readiness. These exercises ensure we are trained for combined joint operations.”

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has warned that all options are on the table, including military ones, to resolve the crisis over North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons capable of hitting the United States.

While it has repeatedly said it prefers a diplomatic solution, Trump has exchanged threats with Kim and U.S. officials have said Trump and his advisers have discussed a preventative “bloody nose” strike on North Korea, alarming experts who warn that this could trigger catastrophic retaliation, especially on South Korea.

U.S. officials have said the debate on military action has lost some momentum as a result of the intra-Korean talks, which Trump has called a “good thing” and credited to his tough stance.

Joseph Yun, the U.S. special envoy on North Korea, said on Thursday he did not think the administration was close to triggering military action.

The White House said on Friday that Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke by telephone and discussed an expanded missile defense system and other efforts to boost Japan’s defenses amid the tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program.

Trump also spoke to South Korean President Moon Jae-in about human rights in North Korea and trade between the United States and South Korea, the White House said.

North Korea also criticized U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s pending visit to the Olympics, accusing Washington of halting improvements in inter-Korean relations.

Last month, a White House official said Pence planned to use his attendance to try to counter Kim Jong Un’s efforts to “hijack” the games with a propaganda campaign.

North Korea has agreed with South Korea to send a 230-strong cheering squad to the Winter Olympics, as well as an orchestra and taekwondo performance team.

A joint cultural performance planned in a North Korean mountain resort was called off this week by Pyongyang, which blamed South Korean media for encouraging “insulting” public sentiment regarding the North.

Twenty-two North Korean athletes will compete in the Olympics, including 12 who will play in a unified women’s ice hockey team. The other 10, including a figure skating pair, arrived in South Korea on Thursday.

(Reporting by Christine Kim; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and James Dalgleish)

Taiwan president says does not exclude possibility of China attack

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during the end-of-year news conference in Taipei, Taiwan December 29, 2017.

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said that she does not exclude the possibility of China attacking the self-ruled island, amid heightened tensions between the two sides including an increasing number of Chinese military drills near Taiwan.

Beijing has taken an increasingly hostile stance toward Taiwan, which it considers a breakaway province, since the election two years ago of Tsai of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

China suspects Tsai wants to push for formal independence, a red line for Communist Party leaders in Beijing, though she has said she wants to maintain the status quo and is committed to ensuring peace.

In recent months, China has stepped up military drills around Taiwan, alarming Taipei. China says the exercises are routine, but that it will not tolerate any attempt by the island to declare independence.

“No one can exclude this possibility. We will need to see whether their policymakers are reasonable policymakers or not,” Tsai said in an interview on Taiwan television broadcast late on Monday, when asked whether China could attack Taiwan.

“When you consider it (Taiwan-China relationship) from a regional perspective, any reasonable policymaker will have to very carefully deliberate as to whether launching war is an option,” Tsai said.

“When our government faces resistance and pressure from China, we will find our method to resist this. This is very important,” she added.

“In terms of China circulating around Taiwan or carrying out other military activities, our military is carefully following every action and movement in the scope of its monitoring,” Tsai said. “Our military is very confident to face these situations.”

China considers proudly democratic Taiwan to be its sacred territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Chinese control.

Taiwan and China have also traded accusations this month about China’s opening of new civilian aviation routes close to Taiwan-controlled islands in the Taiwan Strait.

Although China has cut off a formal dialogue mechanism with Taiwan, Tsai acknowledged that both sides currently have a method for communications to avoid misunderstanding.

Taiwan has been pressing for the United States, its main source of arms, to provide more advanced equipment, but has also been trying to bolster its own weapons programs, to avoid what Tsai termed “certain political difficulties” that come with buying weapons overseas in the teeth of Chinese opposition.

Tsai said she believed one day Taiwan would be able to produce its own submarines, an item Taipei has long pressed for to face China’s navy.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tsai’s remarks.

(Reporting by Jess Macy Yu; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie)

South Korea says delay in military drills aimed only at ensuring peaceful Olympics

South Korean and U.S. Marines take part in a winter military drill in Pyeongchang, South Korea, December 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean officials said on Wednesday a proposed delay in military drills with the United States was aimed at ensuring a peaceful 2018 Winter Olympics, not ending the North Korean missile crisis, as relations with China suffered new setbacks.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is seeking to soothe relations with North Korea, which is pursuing nuclear and missile programmes in defiance of U.N. sanctions, and with China, the North’s lone major ally, before the Games begin in South Korea in February.

China, which hosted years of on-again-off-again six-party talks to try to end the North Korea standoff, resumed some blocks on group tours to South Korea, industry sources said, and rebuked Seoul for firing warning shots at Chinese fishing boats

On Tuesday, Moon, who visited China last week, said he had proposed postponing major military drills with the United States until after the Games, a move his office said was designed to reassure athletes and spectators.

“This is confined to our efforts to host a peaceful Olympics,” an official from the presidential Blue House said. “We are only talking about the exercises which are supposed to take place during the Olympics and Paralympics.”

North Korea sees the regular joint exercises as preparation for war, while China is still angry about the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system, commonly known as THAAD, by South Korea, whose powerful radar it fears could see deep inside its territory.

The South argues it needs THAAD to guard against the threat posed by North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy South Korea, Japan and the United States.

For a graphic on North Korea’s missile launches, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2j2S5T3

The proposed delay in drills was discussed during a summit last week between Moon and Chinese President Xi Jinping, after the proposal had already been submitted to the Americans, the Blue House official said.

China and Russia have proposed a “freeze for freeze” arrangement under which North Korea would stop its nuclear and missile tests in exchange for a halt to the exercises. However, the official denied the proposed delay had anything to do with the freeze idea.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Ottawa on Tuesday he was unaware of any plans to “alter longstanding and scheduled and regular military exercises”.

North Korea has stepped up its missile and nuclear tests at an unprecedented rate this year, and any new provocation from the North would “inevitably have an impact” on the exercises, the Blue House official said.

“It is a display of the president’s strong message that North Korea must not conduct any provocation (during the Olympics),” the official told reporters.

South Korean and U.S. Marines take part in a winter military drill in Pyeongchang, South Korea, December 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

South Korean and U.S. Marines take part in a winter military drill in Pyeongchang, South Korea, December 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

“BIOLOGICAL EXPERIMENTS”

Japan’s Asahi newspaper reported on Wednesday, citing an unidentified person connected to South Korean intelligence, that North Korea was conducting biological experiments to test the possibility of loading anthrax-laden warheads on its intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The Asahi report said the U.S. government was aware of the tests, which were meant to ascertain whether the anthrax bacteria could survive the high temperatures that occur during warheads’ re-entry from space.

Reuters was unable to verify the report independently.

In a statement released by state media, North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called reports it was developing biological weapons “nonsense” designed to provoke nuclear war.

The United States has given China a draft resolution for tougher U.N. sanctions on North Korea and is hoping for a quick vote on it by the U.N. Security Council, a Western diplomat said on Tuesday, however Beijing has yet to sign on.

When asked about the U.S. resolution at a press briefing on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying would only say that China always takes a responsible and constructive attitude towards Security Council talks on North Korea.

The United States has also called on the Security Council to blacklist 10 ships for circumventing sanctions on North Korea. Hua said China had received the proposal from the United States.

WARNING SHOTS

China has resumed at least some restrictions on group tours into the South, South Korea’s inbound travel agency said. The restrictions were first in place last year as part of China’s retaliation over THAAD deployment.

“I was told from my boss this morning that our Chinese partners (based in Beijing and Shandong) said they won’t send group tourists to South Korea as of January,” the official from Naeil Tour Agency told Reuters by phone.

One source in China said the reason for reinstating the ban was to rein in overly aggressive tour operators who had been rolling out package deals to South Korea too quickly in the eyes of authorities.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua told reporters she had not heard of a tourism ban, but she reiterated that Moon’s visit to Beijing was successful and that China has an open attitude towards exchanges and cooperation in all areas.

Beijing has never officially confirmed restrictions on tourism.

Three representatives at Beijing travel agencies told Reuters that they were not currently organising group tours to South Korea. One confirmed that the tourism administration had issued the notice, while a third said: “At the moment we have no group trips to South Korea.”

A travel agency in the northern province of Shandong also said it could not organise group trips. Three others said they could, but with restrictions such as on the number of people.

South Korea’s coast guard said on Wednesday it had fired around 250 warning shots on Tuesday to chase away a fleet of 44 Chinese boats fortified with iron bars and steel mesh that were fishing illegally in South Korean waters.

“The Chinese fishing boats sought to swarm around and collide with our patrol ship, ignoring the broadcast warnings,” the coast guard said in a statement.

China, which has in the past lodged diplomatic protests to South Korea over the use of force by its coast guard, expressed “serious concern” about the latest clash.

(For a graphic on rocket science, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2t6WEPL)

(Reporting by Dahee Kim, Hyonhee Shin, Heekyong Yang and Yuna Park in SEOUL, Tim Kelly in TOKYO, Adam Jourdan in SHANGHAI, and Pei Li, Gao Liangping and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

B-1B bomber joins U.S.-South Korea drills as tensions escalate

B-1B bomber joins U.S.-South Korea drills as tensions escalate

By Christine Kim and Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – A U.S. B-1B bomber on Wednesday joined large-scale U.S.-South Korean military exercises that North Korea has denounced as pushing the peninsula to the brink of nuclear war, as tension mounts between the North and the United States.

The bomber flew from the Pacific U.S.-administered territory of Guam and joined U.S. F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters in the annual exercises, which run until Friday.

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.

Asked about the bomber’s flight, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing in Beijing: “We hope relevant parties can maintain restraint and not do anything to add tensions on the Korean peninsula.”

North Korea regularly threatens to destroy South Korea, the United States and Japan. Its official KCNA state news agency said at the weekend that U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration was “begging for nuclear war” by staging the drills.

It also labeled Trump, who has threatened to destroy North Korea if the United States is threatened, “insane”.

KCNA said on Tuesday that the exercises in which the bomber took part are “simulating an all-out war”, including drills to “strike the state leadership and nuclear and ballistic rocket bases, air fields, naval bases and other major objects…”

U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Sunday urged the Pentagon to start moving U.S. military dependants, such as spouses and children, out of South Korea, saying conflict with North Korea was getting close.

The U.S.-South Korea drills coincide with a rare visit to the isolated North by U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Pak Myong Guk met Feltman on Wednesday in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, and discussed bilateral cooperation and other issues of mutual interest, KCNA said.

Feltman, a former senior U.S. State Department official, is the highest-level U.N. official to visit North Korea since 2012. The State Department said on Tuesday he was not carrying any message from Washington.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in will visit China next Wednesday for a summit with his counterpart Xi Jinping, Seoul’s presidential Blue House said. North Korea’s increasing nuclear and missile capability would top the agenda, it said.

The military exercises, called “Vigilant Ace”, are designed to enhance joint readiness and operational capability of U.S. extended deterrence, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

North Korea has vehemently criticized the drills since the weekend, saying the exercise precipitates U.S. and South Korean “self-destruction”.

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. China is North Korea’s lone major ally and fears widespread instability on its border.

Russia also has communication channels open with North Korea and is ready to exert its influence, the RIA news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov as saying on Tuesday.

North Korea has tested dozens of ballistic missiles, two of which flew over Japan, and conducted its sixth and largest nuclear bomb test in September.

It says 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 and Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the UNITED NATIONS, Arshad Mohammed and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON, Vladimir Soldatkin in MOSCOW, and Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Taiwan to boost defense spending, U.S. concerned over possible military imbalance

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, (3rd L), on transit enroute to Pacific island allies, stands with delegates and park service members at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S. October 28, 2017.

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan will increase future defense spending by two percent each year, President Tsai Ing-wen said during a visit to Hawaii where the United States expressed concern over a possible military imbalance in the Taiwan Straits, Taiwan media reported.

In the event that Taiwan purchases arms from a foreign military, the island’s defense spending could increase as much as three percent each year, and could possibly increase further using a special budget if “significant purchase cases” are made, Tsai said in remarks carried by official media on Monday.

Tsai made the comments in response to U.S. concerns about a possible military imbalance in the Taiwan Strait expressed by Ambassador James Moriarty during a meeting. Tsai did not elaborate on when the increased defense spending would start.

Tsai’s comments were reflected by National Security Council deputy secretary-general Tsai Ming-yen, who recounted to official media the conversation between Tsai and Moriarty, who is chairman of the U.S. Mission in Taiwan, about expanding Taiwan’s national defense policy.

Moriarty had expressed concern about China’s double-digit growth in defense investments in the last few years, and that Taiwan would need to address a possible military imbalance over the Taiwan Strait, deputy secretary-general Tsai recounted.

President Tsai in turn replied Taiwan would develop a comprehensive plan in accordance with strategic needs, short-term needs, and long-term plans, to create defense forces on the island that would have “reliable combat effectiveness”.

Tsai visited Hawaii at the weekend on her way to three of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies in the Pacific, despite China, which considers Taiwan a wayward province, calling on the United States to stop the trip.

Her trip comes about a week before U.S. President Donald Trump visits Asia.

China has increased pressure on Taiwan since Tsai took office last year, suspecting she wants to push for formal independence. China has conducted more military drills around Taiwan and peeled away its few remaining diplomatic allies.

Tsai described Taiwan-U.S. relations as being “unprecedentedly friendly” in comments released by Taiwan’s presidential office on Monday.

“We are happy to see U.S. promises of peace and stability for the Asia-Pacific region, and from meetings with the United States understand the necessity to increase investment in defense,” it quoted her as saying.

The United States and Taiwan have not had formal diplomatic relations since Washington established ties with Beijing in 1979, but the United States is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.

Taiwan is well armed with mostly U.S.-made weapons but has been pushing for sales of more advanced equipment, such as fighter jets, to deal with what Taipei sees as a growing threat from China and its own rapidly modernizing armed forces.

China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control. It regularly calls Taiwan the most sensitive and important issue between it and the United States and has been upset by U.S. moves to expand military exchanges with Taiwan and continued U.S. arms sales to the island.

Tsai’s stopover in Hawaii included a tour of a Pearl Harbor memorial, a banquet with the overseas Taiwan community, and joint speeches with Moriarty, the chairman of the U.S. Mission in Taiwan, also known as the American Institute in Taiwan.

It was her second U.S. visit this year. In January, Tsai stopped in Houston and San Francisco on her way to and from Latin America.

Tsai moves on to visit the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, and the Solomon Islands from Monday during a week-long trip and will stop over in the U.S. territory of Guam on her way back to Taiwan.

 

(Reporting by Jess Macy Yu; Editing by Ben Blanchard and Michael Perry)

 

China, Southeast Asia aim to build trust with sea drills, Singapore says

China, Southeast Asia aim to build trust with sea drills, Singapore says

By Manuel Mogato

CLARK, Philippines (Reuters) – China and Southeast Asian navies aim to hold an inaugural joint maritime exercise next year, Singapore’s defense minister said on Tuesday, as they try to build trust amid conflicting claims over the South China Sea.

China claims almost the entire strategic waters through which about $3 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims, with tensions exacerbated by Beijing’s island-building and Washington’s increasing freedom of navigation patrols.

“Singapore supports it,” Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen told reporters when asked about China’s offer to hold maritime exercises. “We will push it … for the very reason that all ASEAN and China want that. If you exercise, you at least build understanding and trust.”

The exercises were discussed at a meeting between China and Singapore on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defense Ministers’ Meeting at the former U.S. air force base at Clark, north of the capital Manila.

“We’ll work out the details. See the logistics… and find a suitable area where ASEAN and China navies can exercise together,” Ng said.

Singapore and China have not always seen eye to eye in recent months. Singaporean troops have trained in self-ruled Taiwan, an island China claims as its own, which had been an irritant in ties.

Last November, Chinese-controlled Hong Kong impounded nine Singaporean armored military vehicles being shipped home from Taiwan, inflaming tension. Hong Kong later released the vehicles.

Ng said Singapore also had a proposal to “reduce risk of actual conflict” by agreeing to a new code of unexpected encounters in the air after ASEAN adopted a code to avoid sea encounters.

ASEAN and its eight regional partners, the United States, Russia, China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand, had agreed to set up a “direct communications link” among them to ease tension.

Ng said the United States and Japan also welcomed the idea of exercises.

“Secretary (of Defense Jim) Mattis welcomed the exercises together with ASEAN countries,” he said.

Ng also hoped for the early conclusion of a code of conduct in the South China Sea after a framework agreement was reached this year to reduce conflicts and misunderstanding.

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Nick Macfie)

U.S. Navy carrier drills with Japanese navy amid North Korean tension

USS Ronald Reagan (rear), a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered supercarrier, sails side-by-side with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force's Hyuga-class helicopter destroyer Ise (DDH-182) during their joint military drill in the sea off Japan, in this photo released taken by Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force on September 14, 2017 and released on September 22, 2017. Picture taken September 14, 2017. Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force/HANDOUT via REUTERS

TOKYO (Reuters) – The U.S. Navy carrier Ronald Reagan is conducting drills with Japanese warships in seas south of the Korean peninsula, Japan’s military said on Friday, in a show of naval power as Pyongyang threatens further nuclear and missile tests.

The Reagan strike group will conduct a separate drill with the South Korean Navy in October, the defense ministry said in a statement distributed to South Korean lawmakers on Monday.

The 100,000-ton Reagan, which is based in Japan, and its escort ships have been holding drills with Japanese navy vessels since Sept 11 in waters south and west of Japan’s main islands, the Japan Maritime Self Defence Force said in a statement.

That exercise with the three Japanese warships, including two destroyers and one of the country’s two biggest helicopter carriers, the Ise, will run until Sept 28, it added.

The U.S. and regional allies are responding with military drills, including bomber and jet fighter flights near the Korean peninsula, as Pyongyang pursues its nuclear and missile programs, with an apparent hydrogen bomb test and two ballistic missile firings over Japan in recent weeks.

North Korea on Friday said it might test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean after U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to destroy the country.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kubo in TOKYO; Additional reporting by Christine Kim in SEOUL; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)