News Briefs – July 31, 2020

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Chinese long-range bombers join drills over South China Sea

China said July 30 that long-range bombers were among the aircraft that took part in recent aerial drills over the South China Sea amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing over the strategic waterway.
The exercises included nighttime takeoffs and landings and simulated long-range attacks, Defense Ministry spokesperson Ren Guoqiang said. Among the planes were H-6G and H-6K bombers, upgraded versions of planes long in use with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and the People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force, Ren said.
He said the exercises had been previously scheduled and were aimed at boosting pilot abilities to operate under all natural conditions. It wasn’t clear whether live bombs were used.
Ren’s statement appeared to distance the drills from recent accusations exchanged between the sides over China’s claim to virtually all of the South China Sea, which it has buttressed in recent years by building man-made islands equipped with runways.
The U.S. this month for the first time rejected China’s claims outright, prompting Beijing to accuse it of seeking to create discord between China and its neighbors. Five other governments also exercise claims in the South China Sea, through which around $5 trillion in trade is transported annually.
Previously, U.S. policy had been to insist that maritime disputes between China and its smaller neighbors be resolved peacefully through U.N.-backed arbitration. But in a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. now regards virtually all Chinese maritime claims outside its internationally recognized waters to be illegitimate. The shift does not involve disputes over land features that are above sea level, which are considered to be “territorial” in nature.
“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” Pompeo said.
In other comments Thursday, Ren criticized stepped-up military cooperation between the U.S. and Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy that China claims as its territory, to be brought under its control by force if necessary. Washington and Taipei have no formal diplomatic ties but the U.S. is the island’s key provider of defensive arms and is legally obligated to treat threats to the island as matters of grave concern.
“The U.S. must realize that China is destined to unify (with Taiwan), and China is destined to realize its great rejuvenation,” Ren said. AP
 

Belarus accuses Russian contractors of plotting terror acts

Belarusian authorities have opened a criminal case against more than 30 Russian private military contractors detained earlier this week, on the charges of plotting terrorist acts, Security Council secretary Andrei Ravkov said July 30.
The Belarusian State Security Committee, still known by its Soviet-era name KGB, said July 29 it detained 32 contractors from private Russian military firm Wagner outside Minsk, the country’s capital. One more person was reportedly detained in the south of the country. The detained were accused of planning to destabilize Belarus ahead of the presidential election.
President Alexander Lukashenko is seeking a sixth term in the Aug. 9 election amid opposition protests fueled by public fatigue with his rule and a painful economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. He has accused Russian forces of interfering with the upcoming vote. Moscow has denied any involvement.
The move brought political tensions between Russia and Belarus to a new high. The leader of Belarus accused Russia of harboring “dirty intentions” July 29 and instructed his officials to ask Russia for an official explanation.
“It’s necessary to immediately ask the relevant Russian structures to explain what’s going on,” Lukashenko said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed on July 30 that 33 Russian citizens were detained in Belarus and said that Moscow is hoping to get more information about the incident.
Wagner — a private military company linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman who was indicted in the United States for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — has allegedly deployed hundreds of military contractors to eastern Ukraine, Syria and Libya.
Peskov said July 30 he is not aware of any private military companies in Russia, adding that “there is no such thing as a private military company in Russian law.” AP
 

Five French fighter jets delivered to India

The first batch of five French-made Rafale fighter jets arrived at an Indian air force base July 29, Indian officials said, as the country seeks to modernize its military amid security challenges with Pakistan and China.
The planes landed at the airbase in Ambala in Haryana state amid tight security. Police and soldiers closed roads leading to the base, banned photography and enforced restrictions on gatherings of more than four people, police officer Abhishek Jorwal said.
“The birds have landed safely in Ambala,” Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted. “If anyone should be worried about or critical about this new capability … it should be those who want to threaten our territorial integrity.”
Indian and Chinese soldiers are locked in a tense stand-off along their disputed border in Ladakh region, while Indian troops regularly clash with Pakistani soldiers along their de facto frontier in disputed Kashmir, which is also claimed by Pakistan.
The fighter jets are part of a $8.78 billion deal signed with France in 2016. They are to be formally inducted in the Indian air force by mid-August.
India has become the world’s biggest arms importer as it modernizes its military. India’s defense ministry on July 2 approved the purchase of 21 Russian MiG-29 and 12 Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter aircraft costing $2.43 billion to replace obsolete Soviet-era weapons. AP
 

Northrop Grumman issues second quarter report

Northrop Grumman on July 30 reported second-quarter earnings of $1 billion.
The Falls Church, Va.,-based company said it had profit of $6.01 per share.
The results beat Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of seven analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of $5.36 per share.
The defense contractor posted revenue of $8.88 billion in the period, which also beat Street forecasts. Five analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $8.59 billion.
Northrop Grumman expects full-year earnings in the range of $22 to $22.40 per share, with revenue in the range of $35.3 billion to $35.6 billion.
Northrop Grumman shares have declined slightly more than 8 percent since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has increased roughly 1 percent. The stock has dropped 11 percent in the last 12 months. AP
 

Airbus plane deliveries halved as airlines scrounge for cash

European plane maker Airbus saw its deliveries halve during the first six months of the year as travel collapsed during the pandemic and airlines scrounged for cash.
The company, based in France, said July 30 that its deliveries fell almost 50 percent to 196, with revenue sliding almost 40 percent to 18.9 billion euros.
It said it was further scaling back production of its A350 long-haul jet, from six a month to five, after trimming from nine a month in April.
“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our financials is now very visible,” said Chief Executive Officer Guillaume Faury.
The company announced in June that it would cut 15,000 jobs, mostly in France and Germany. It expects air travel to recover to pre-pandemic levels sometime between 2023 and 2025. The airline industry association warned this week that that recovery is threatened by an increase in virus contagions in key markets like the United States.
Airbus posted a loss of 1.9 billion euros ($2.2 billion) for the first half of the year, compared with a profit of 1.2 billion euros a year earlier. AP
 
 
 

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