News Briefs – July 8, 2020

China criticizes U.S. joint carrier drills in South China Sea

China on July 6 accused the U.S. of flexing its military muscles in the South China Sea by conducting joint exercises with two U.S. aircraft carrier groups in the strategic waterway.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the exercises were performed “totally out of ulterior motives” and undermined stability in the area.
“Against such a backdrop, the U.S. deliberately dispatched massive forces to conduct large-scale military exercises in the relevant waters of the South China Sea to flex its military muscle,” Zhao said at a daily briefing.
The U.S. Navy said over the weekend that the USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan along with their accompanying vessels and aircraft conducted exercises “designed to maximize air defense capabilities, and extend the reach of long-range precision maritime strikes from carrier-based aircraft in a rapidly evolving area of operations.”
China claims almost all of the South China Sea and routinely objects to any action by the U.S. military in the region. Five other governments claim all or part of the sea, through which approximately $5 trillion in goods are shipped every year.
China has sought to shore up its claim to the sea by building military bases on coral atolls, leading the U.S. to sail warships through the region in what it calls freedom of operation missions. Washington does not officially take a stand on the rival territorial claims in the region, but is closely allied with several of the claimants and insists that the waters and the airspace above be free to all countries. AP

Russia still to decide whether to stay in overflight treaty

Russia is keeping all options open following the U.S. decision to withdraw from an international treaty allowing observation flights over military facilities, a top Russian diplomat said July 6.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said after a video call with senior diplomats from other participating countries in the Open Skies Treaty that Russia will see what happens next and analyze various considerations before determining whether to stay in the agreement.
In May, U.S. President Donald Trump announced Washington’s intention to pull out of the Open Skies Treaty, arguing that Russian violations made it untenable for the United States to remain a party. Russia denied breaching the pact, which came into force in 2002, and the European Union has urged the U.S. to reconsider.
The treaty was intended to build trust between Russia and the West by allowing the accord’s more than three dozen signatories to conduct reconnaissance flights over each other’s territories to collect information about military forces and activities.
Moscow has argued that the U.S. withdrawal will erode global security by making it more difficult for governments to interpret the intentions of other nations, particularly amid Russia-West tensions after the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014.
Ryabkov said after the July 6 call that Washington’s decision to pull out of the Open Skies Treaty appears final.
“We will see what happens next and weigh the circumstances linked to the developing situation with regard to our security interests and the need to contribute to the strengthening of European security,” the Interfax news agency quoted the Russian minister as saying. “In this situation, we can’t exclude anything. All options are on the table.” AP

Germany spent over $1B to cover costs linked to US troops

The German government has paid more than $1 billion over the past decade to cover costs related to the stationing of U.S. troops in Germany, according to the finance ministry in Berlin.
The ministry provided the figures in reply to a query from opposition Left Party lawmaker Brigitte Freihold. The reply was obtained July 6 by The Associated Press, and was first reported by German news agency dpa.
The German government paid a total of 982.4 million euros ($1.1 billion) between 2010 and 2019, according to the finance ministry. Of that, 648.5 million euros went into construction work.
Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump said that he is ordering a major reduction in troop strength in Germany, from around 34,500 personnel down to 25,000.
Germany is a hub for U.S. operations in the Middle East and Africa.
Germany wasn’t notified of the move, which came after Trump branded the NATO ally “delinquent” for failing to pay enough for its own defense, by not meeting a goal set in 2014 for members to halt budget cuts and move toward spending at least 2 percent of gross national product on defense by 2024. Trump has stressed that the German economy benefits from spending by the U.S. troops based there.
According to NATO figures, Germany is spending about 1.38 percent of GDP on its defense budget. Berlin aims to hit 1.5 percent by 2024 and insists that this level of spending allows it to meet NATO’s defense planning goals. The U.S. — at around 3.4 percent of GDP -spends more on defense than all 29 other allies combined. AP

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