News Briefs – January 11, 2019

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Taiwan announces new-look military drills to counter China

Taiwan’s military has announced a series of newly designed large-scale military drills for this year in response to China’s continuing threat to use force to gain control over the island.
While Taiwan’s armed forces regularly hold such exercises, the official Central News Agency quoted Defense Ministry planning chief Maj. Gen. Yeh Kuo-hui as saying this year’s drills are “being drafted based on newly adopted tactics for defending against a possible Chinese invasion.”
China claims sovereignty over U.S. ally Taiwan, which split from the mainland amid civil war in 1949.
Chinese President Xi Jinping renewed the threat of force in his Jan. 2 message to the island, saying China reserved that right if necessary to counter interference by external forces and what he called an extremely small number of Taiwanese separatists. AP
 

China officer says island fortification driven by threats

A Chinese naval officer says Beijing may further fortify man-made islands in the South China Sea depending on threats faced by the country.
Navy academy researcher Senior Capt. Zhang Junshe repeated China’s stance that it has the legal right to take whatever measures it deems appropriate on the islands in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety.
Pentagon officials have long said that China has failed to fulfill a 2015 pledge by President Xi Jinping not to expand development in the area, where it has built seven islands by piling sand and cement on coral reefs, equipping some with airfields.
China says the development primarily serves civilian purposes.
Five other governments have territorial claims that overlap with China’s in the strategically vital waterway. AP
 

Turkey adamant on tough stance on Syrian Kurdish fighters

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says Turkey will not refrain from military action to protect its borders from what he describes as threats posed by Syrian Kurdish fighters.
The minister spoke on Jan. 9, a day after Turkey rejected U.S. national security adviser John Bolton’s demands for assurances that Ankara would protect U.S.-allies Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria before American troops pull out from the region.
Turkey’s rebuff amplified a rift between Ankara and Washington and raised new questions about how the United States would protect fighters who are U.S. allies in the war against the Islamic State group.
Turkey regards the Kurdish fighters as terrorists.
Cavusoglu told Turkey’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee the U.S. was “struggling to withdraw” from Syria because it was too far engaged with the militia group. AP
 

Search launched after French mirage fighter jet disappears

A French fighter jet carrying two pilots disappeared from radar screens while flying in a snowstorm near the Swiss border Jan. 9, prompting an extensive search across a rugged, mountainous area.
The Mirage 2000D was on a low-altitude training flight when radars last detected its location between France’s Doubs and Jura regions, according to a French air force spokeswoman who wasn’t authorized to be publicly named.
Air Force spokesman Col. Cyrille Duvivier said no distress signal was sent from the jet, which happens automatically when pilots are ejected. The daylong search located “debris,” but he would not say if it came from the missing aircraft.
“We’re searching for the (plane) wreck,” Duvivier said during a news conference.
The weather would have meant the pilots “didn’t have a view of the ground,” but they and the plane were equipped for such a situation, he said.
He said French authorities were hopeful they would find the pilots alive.
The jet took off soon after 11 a.m. from the Nancy-Ochey air base in northeast France. The search was launched immediately after it went missing, officials said.
Mountain rescue teams, firefighters, police, military units and local residents joined the search, according to the regional administrations of Doubs and Jura. Visibility was extremely low due to heavy fog and snow. AP
 

Airbus deliveries up, sales down after challenging year

Airbus delivered more planes than ever to airlines around the world last year, but orders for new aircraft slumped.
In a statement Jan. 9, the company said it handed over 800 planes to customers in 2018. That was up from 718 a year earlier, and just behind the 806 delivered by rival Boeing in 2018.
However, Airbus said it sold 747 aircraft last year, down from 1,109 the year before — and well below the 893 Boeing planes sold in 2018.
Most Airbus deliveries and orders were for single-aisle planes, especially its workhorse A320 family, instead of more lucrative wide-body jets.
The head of Airbus’ commercial division Guillaume Faury acknowledged “significant operational challenges” in 2018, without elaborating.
Airbus went through a management overhaul last year and is facing multiple corruption investigations. AP