US sends carriers to South China Sea during Chinese drills

The USS Ronald Reagan, above, has maintained a regular presence in the disputed South China Sea. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 04 July 2020

US sends carriers to South China Sea during Chinese drills

  • China and the United States have accused each other of stoking tension in the strategic waterway
  • US carriers have long carried out exercises in the Western Pacific, including in the South China Sea

Two US aircraft carriers were conducting exercises in the disputed South China Sea on Saturday, the US navy said, as China also carried out military drills that have been criticized by the Pentagon and neighboring states.
China and the United States have accused each other of stoking tension in the strategic waterway at a time of strained relations over everything from the new coronavirus to trade to Hong Kong.
The USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan were carrying out operations and exercises in the South China Sea “to support a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the navy said in a statement.
It did not say exactly where the exercises were being conducted in the South China Sea, which extends for some 1,500 kilometers and 90 percent of which is claimed by China despite the protests of its neighbors.
“The purpose is to show an unambiguous signal to our partners and allies that we are committed to regional security and stability,” Rear Admiral George M. Wikoff was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the exercises.
Wikoff, commander of the strike group led by the Ronald Reagan, said the exercises were not a response to those being conducted by China, which the Pentagon criticized this week as “counter-productive to efforts at easing tensions and maintaining stability.”
China dismissed the US criticism of its drills on Friday and suggested the United States was to blame for increasing tensions.
US carriers have long carried out exercises in the Western Pacific, including in the South China Sea, according to the US navy. At one point recently, the United States had three carriers in the region.
China announced last week it had scheduled five days of drills starting July 1 near the Paracel Islands, which are claimed by both Vietnam and China.
Vietnam and the Philippines have also criticized the planned Chinese drills, warning they could create tension in the region and impact Beijing’s relationship with its neighbors.
The United States accuses China of trying to intimidate Asian neighbors who might want to exploit its extensive oil and gas reserves. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of the South China Sea, through which about $3 trillion of trade passes each year.
The US statement said the naval exercises gave commanders the flexibility and capabilities “that only the US Navy can command.”


Europe battles to contain virus second wave as global cases top 30 million

Updated 18 September 2020

Europe battles to contain virus second wave as global cases top 30 million

  • The British PM said there was “no question” that his country was “now seeing a second wave coming in”
  • Worldwide the respiratory disease has killed nearly 947,000 people since the outbreak emerged in China

MADRID: A host of European countries imposed new local restrictions on Friday to reduce spiralling new cases of coronavirus as they seek to avoid the example of Israel which enforced a second nationwide shutdown.
City authorities in Madrid announced a partial lockdown on nearly a million people, the British government unveiled new measures limiting social contact in several regions, while Ireland banned indoor dining at restaurants and pubs in Dublin.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was “no question” that his country was “now seeing a second wave coming in” as he toured the site of a new vaccine center.
“We are seeing it in France, in Spain, across Europe — it has been absolutely, I’m afraid, inevitable we were going to see it in this country,” he added.
In France, where new daily cases hit a fresh record of 13,000 on Friday, the government is struggling to create enough testing capacity as new hotspots emerge daily.
The city of Nice on the Riviera banned groups of more than 10 people meeting on its beach, in parks or public gardens.
Worldwide the respiratory disease has killed nearly 947,000 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP, while more than 30.2 million cases have been registered.
“We’re adding about 1.8 to two million cases per week to the global case count, and an average somewhere between 40,000 to 50,000 deaths,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told a virtual news conference.
“Thankfully that is not rising exponentially. This is a hugely high figure to be settling at. That is not where we want to be.”
In Madrid, one of the worst affected areas in Europe during the first wave of Covid-19 in March and April, medics warned that hospitals were getting close to capacity again.
“Intensive care units are overwhelmed with Covid patients,” Santiago Usoz, an accident and emergency medic at the October 12 hospital, told AFP.
A partial lockdown was announced for residents of several areas in densely populated, low-income neighborhoods in the south of the capital which will come into force on Monday.
People will only be allowed to leave their zone to go to work, seek medical care or take their children to school, while bars and restaurants will have to reduce their capacity by 50 percent, the regional government of Madrid said.
Rules preventing people from socialising with anyone from outside their household were imposed in northeast England on Friday, putting more than two million people under new restrictions.
These will be extended to other parts of northwest, northern and central England from Tuesday.
“We’re prepared to do what it takes both to protect lives and to protect livelihoods,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC television on Friday.
Music legend Van Morrison made his frustration known on Friday, saying he had recorded three “protest songs” called “Born To Be Free,” “As I Walked Out” and “No More Lockdown.”
Israel has become the first major country to impose another national shutdown which began on Friday, hours before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, and wil last for three weeks.
The measures, under which people will be limited to within 500 meters of their home, will also hit other key religious holidays including Yom Kippur.
“The economy is in freefall, people are losing their jobs, they’re depressed,” said 60-year-old Yael, one of hundreds who protested in Tel Aviv late on Thursday.
“And all this for what? For nothing!“
Meanwhile, most of a group of more than a thousand Orthodox Jewish pilgrims who had camped along the border between Ukraine and Belarus left on Friday after being refused entry due to coronavirus rules.
Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews head to the central Ukrainian city of Uman every Jewish New Year to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nahman, the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.
In the United States, US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden continued to trade barbs over the handling of the pandemic.
Trump has expressed confidence that a viable Covid-19 vaccine would be ready by October, directly contradicting a top administration health expert
Elsewhere, new details emerged about a wedding in rural Maine in August which became a so-called “superspreader” event that left seven people dead and 177 infected.
The nuptials at a church and hotel near the picturesque town of Millinocket were attended by 65 people, breaking the official limit of 50 allowed at a gathering.