News Briefs – August 28, 2020

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U.S. moves against Chinese officials over South China Sea

The Trump administration said Aug. 26 it is imposing sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for Beijing’s military build-up in the South China Sea. The move is the latest salvo in the U.S. pressure campaign against China that has picked up steam ahead of November’s presidential election over a variety of contentious issues.
The State Department announced it had hit an unspecified number of Chinese officials and business executives responsible for the militarization of disputed South China Sea areas with travel bans. Immediate family members of those targeted may also be barred from travel to the United States, the department said.
At the same time, the Commerce Department said it had added 24 state-owned Chinese enterprises, including subsidiaries of the China Communications Construction Company, to its commercial blacklist for their roles in constructing artificial islands through dredging operations and other activities that cause major environmental damage and infringe on other nations’ claims.
In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the travel ban would apply to Chinese individuals “responsible for, or complicit in, either the large-scale reclamation, construction, or militarization of disputed outposts in the South China Sea, or (China’s) use of coercion against Southeast Asian claimants to inhibit their access to offshore resources.”
Last month, Pompeo accused China of “bullying” and announced that the U.S, would not recognize nearly all of China’s maritime claims to areas in the South China Sea that are contested by its smaller neighbors, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Beijing’s claims to these areas have been accompanied by increased military and commercial activities.
The Chinese government cannot be allowed to use the China Communications Construction Company or other state-owned businesses “as weapons to impose an expansionist agenda,” Pompeo said.
“The United States will act until we see Beijing discontinue its coercive behavior in the South China Sea, and we will continue to stand with allies and partners in resisting this destabilizing activity.” AP
 

U.S. says airstrike kills 6 al-Shabab in Somalia after ambush

The United States military says it killed six al-Shabab extremists with an airstrike in Somalia after the al Qaeda-linked group attacked Somali forces while U.S. forces were nearby.
The U.S. Africa Command statement said the Aug. 24 airstrike was carried out near Darasalam village in southern Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region after al-Shabab fighters attacked from a building in the area. The statement said three al-Shabab fighters were wounded.
No U.S. forces were killed or wounded, the statement said, dismissing an al-Shabab claim of U.S. casualties. Somalia’s government in a separate statement said the U.S. forces were there to advise and assist local ones.
Al-Shabab remains the most active Islamic extremist group in Africa, and the U.S. under President Donald Trump has increased the number of airstrikes against it. The U.S. Africa Command calls the group a “danger to Africa and the United States.”
In January, al-Shabab killed a U.S. service member and two U.S. contractors in an attack on a military airstrip in neighboring Kenya. It was al-Shabab’s first attack against U.S. forces in that country, and the group quickly shared online images of masked fighters standing next to blazing aircraft.
The U.S. military has since stepped up its warnings about al-Shabab’s increasingly sophisticated use of propaganda. AP
 

China protests alleged U.S. spy plane incursion during drills

China is protesting the alleged incursion of a U.S. Air Force U-2 spy plane into a no-fly zone imposed during live-fire military exercises in the country’s north.
In a statement issued late Aug. 25, the Ministry of National Defense said the action had “seriously interfered in normal exercise activities” and “severely incurred the risk of misjudgment and even of bringing about an unintended air-sea incident.”
“This was a naked act of provocation,” the ministry said, quoting spokesperson Wu Qian. China has lodged a stern protest and demanded the U.S. cease such actions, Wu said.
The statement did not give details on the time and place of the drills, but the information matches exercises the Maritime Safety Administration said started Aug. 24 and would run through Sept. 30 over the Bohai Gulf east of Beijing.
Relations between the U.S. and China have sunk to their lowest in decades amid disputes over myriad issues including trade, technology, Taiwan and the South China Sea.
The high-altitude U-2 reconnaissance planes were flown over China, the former Soviet Union and other countries in the Communist bloc during the Cold War and upgraded versions continue to support U.S. missions. AP
 

European flight safety agency to start 737 Max test flights

Europe’s flight safety authority said Aug. 27 it had scheduled the first flight tests for the Boeing 737 Max, which has been grounded worldwide after two deadly crashes revealed design issues with the jet.
The European Aviation Safety Agency said in a statement that it has been working with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which began its own recertification test flights in June, on scheduling its own tests.
“While Boeing still has some final actions to close off, EASA judges the overall maturity of the re-design process is now sufficient to proceed to flight tests,” the agency said. “These are a prerequisite for the European agency to approve the aircraft’s new design.”
EASA said the hope is to return the plane to service as soon as possible, but only once the agency is convinced it is safe.
Airlines began using the Max in 2017. There were nearly 400 in service when the planes were grounded after a 2018 crash in Indonesia and a 2019 crash in Ethiopia. Investigators have pointed to the role played by flight-control software called MCAS that pushed the noses of the planes down based on faulty sensor readings.
Earlier this month, the FAA outlined a list of design changes required before it would lift its order grounding the aircraft.
The EASA flight tests will take place in Vancouver, Canada, in the week starting Sept. 7, EASA said.
The week before, simulator tests will be run at London’s Gatwick airport. AP
 
 
 

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