News Briefs – January 21, 2019


Taiwan holds live-fire exercises following China threats

Taiwan is holding live-fire military exercises following extended threats against the island by China.
Artillery and assault helicopters fired at targets off the west coast city of Taichung on Jan. 17, while Mirage fighter jets took off amid rainy conditions from the air base at Hsinchu to the north.
The drills are Taiwan’s first since Chinese President Xi Jinping on Jan. 2 reasserted Beijing’s willingness to use military force to bring self-ruling Taiwan under Chinese control.
The drills also follow a new Pentagon report laying out U.S. concerns about China’s growing military might, underscoring worries about a possible attack against Taiwan.
Taiwan’s independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen has made national defense a priority and has refused China’s demand that she recognize Taiwan as a part of China. AP

Vladimir Putin gets lavish welcome on visit to ally Serbia

Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Serbia in a show of support for the Balkan country’s populist leader and his pro-Moscow policies.
Putin landed at Belgrade airport Jan. 17 after his presidential plane was escorted over Serbian airspace by MiG-29 fighter jets he recently donated to Serbia.
Serbia has maintained close links with the traditional Slavic ally even as the country formally seeks European Union membership. Belgrade has refused to join Western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine and has pledged to stay out of NATO.
The relations have recently been further boosted after Putin stepped up efforts to restore Moscow’s influence in the former communist countries of Eastern Europe.
Putin’s visit comes as thousands have held weekly demonstrations against Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic because of what they see as autocratic rule. AP

Macron: The French military will remain involved in Syria

French President Emmanuel Macron says France will remain militarily involved in Syria this year regardless of the U.S. intention to withdraw its troops from the country.
In his New Year speech to the armed forces in Toulouse, in southern France, Macron said Thursday President Donald Trump’s decision “must not make us deviate from our goal: eradicating Daesh.” He used the Arabic acronym to refer to the Islamic State group.
He added: “Any hasty decision to withdraw would be a mistake.”
France has been involved in Syria since 2015, mostly through airstrikes, as a member of the international coalition fighting IS.
Macron also expressed support for French troops fighting extremism in Africa and protecting France against terrorism at home.
He reiterated his ambition to establish a European military force for rapid intervention in case of conflict. AP

Russian fighter jets collide over Sea of Japan; crews eject

Two Russian fighter jets have collided in midair in the Far East, the Defense Ministry said Jan. 18.
The Russian military said in a statement that two Su-34 jets were performing training flights when they came into contact about 22 miles from the shore in the Sea of Japan.
Both crews ejected from their aircraft, and one pilot has been located on an inflatable raft in the sea as he was flashing the emergency light. The Russian military said strong winds are hampering the rescue operation but they expect to reach the pilot soon.
It was not immediately clear where the other pilots were, and there was no immediate information about the fate of the jets.
The military said the fighter jets were not carrying missiles. AP

Top U.S. Navy officer urges China to avoid confrontations

The U.S. Navy’s top officer says he urged China to follow international rules at sea to avoid confrontations and insisted that ships should be able to pass safely though disputed areas of the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait.
Chief of U.S. Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told reporters Jan. 18 that China should not see U.S. naval operations in the area as a threat.
Richardson, who held meetings in China earlier this week, said he stressed to Chinese officials that communication channels are useful in de-escalating tensions.
He said U.S. Navy ships will continue to operate freely in international waters, including the possibility of an aircraft carrier navigating through the Taiwan Strait.
A new Pentagon report saying China’s growing military capabilities could pose a threat to Taiwan has angered Beijing. AP

Iran denies allegations of spying on German army

Iran has dismissed allegations by German prosecutors that an army employee was spying for Tehran.
The semi-official ISNA news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi as saying that “enemies” were aiming to “sour relations” between Iran and Europe.
He appeared to be referring to the United States and Israel, which have pressed European nations to withdraw from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Germany’s federal prosecutor’s office said recently that a 50-year-old German-Afghan dual citizen was detained in the western Rhineland region. The German Defense Ministry confirmed the allegations but declined to give any further details.
German news site Spiegel Online reported that the suspect spied on the army for years and had access to highly classified material, including on German missions in Afghanistan. AP