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Monday, July 20, 2020

What's going on in the World Today 200720



U.S. Denounces China’s Claims to South China Sea as Unlawful

Nick Wadhams July 13, 2020

The Trump administration rejected China’s expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea, reversing a previous policy of not taking sides in such disputes and escalating tensions with Beijing on yet another front.

The move aligns the U.S. with a 2016 ruling by a United Nations tribunal that found China’s claims to waters also contested by the Philippines were unlawful. It’s meant to push back against what the U.S. sees as an intensifying Chinese campaign to dominate the resource-rich South China Sea and smaller nations in the region.

“We are making clear: Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them,” Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a statement Monday.

In the past, the U.S. largely limited itself to calling for ensuring “freedom of navigation” in the contested waterway, which is critical for global trade routes, while stopping short of taking a position on specific claims. China has proceeded nonetheless, engaging in a years-long campaign to build bases and other outposts on shoals, reefs and rock outcroppings as a way of deepening its claims.

China on Tuesday said the U.S. statement “neglected the history and facts” around issues concerning the South China Sea.

“The U.S., out of its selfish agenda, is doing all it can to stir up trouble in the South China Sea and drive a wedge between regional countries and China, aiming to disrupt China’s and ASEAN countries’ efforts to maintain peace and stability,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing in Beijing, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations...

21 injured after an explosion and fire on a naval ship in San Diego
Explosion aboard US Navy ship leaves several injured
(CNN) — Twenty-one people were injured after an explosion and fire on board a ship at the US Naval Base in San Diego, US Navy officials said.

"Seventeen Sailors and four civilians are being treated for non-life threatening injuries at a local hospital," the US Navy said in a statement.

The sailors on the USS Bonhomme Richard had "minor injuries" from the fire and were taken to a hospital, Lt. Cmdr. Patricia Kreuzberger told CNN earlier Sunday.

The sailors are in stable condition, Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck told journalists Sunday evening.

All of the crew is off the ship and accounted for, according to a tweet from the US Pacific Fleet Naval Surface Forces Sunday afternoon.
Firefighters battled a three-alarm fire on the ship Sunday morning, SDFD's Mónica Muñoz said. Several different agencies worked to fight the blaze...

US military sees 60 percent jump in coronavirus cases in first few weeks of July

The US military has seen a spike in Covid-19 cases in recent weeks, with the number of confirmed cases in July growing by about 4,000, a jump of about 60%, according to Defense Department statistics. The number of positive cases jumped by some 1,700 alone since Wednesday, prompting a return to more restrictive policies at several military installations, according to one defense official. There are currently 10,554 cases of coronavirus in the military, including forces in the US and overseas, according to Pentagon officials. There have been 18,016 cases since the Pentagon started keeping track...

U.S. Naval Update Map: July 16, 2020


The Naval Update Map shows the approximate current locations of U.S. Carrier Strike Groups (CSGs) and Amphibious Ready Groups (ARGs), based on available open-source information. No classified or operationally sensitive information is included in this weekly update. CSGs and ARGs are the keys to U.S. dominance over the world's oceans. A CSG is centered on an aircraft carrier and includes significant offensive strike capability. An ARG is centered on three amphibious warfare ships, with a Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked....

The Naval Update Map shows the approximate current locations of U.S. Carrier Strike Groups (CSGs) and Amphibious Ready Groups (ARGs), based on available open-source information. No classified or operationally sensitive information is included in this weekly update. CSGs and ARGs are the keys to U.S. dominance over the world's oceans. A CSG is centered on an aircraft carrier and includes significant offensive strike capability. An ARG is centered on three amphibious warfare ships, with a Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked...


Tensions Reignite Between Ethiopia and Egypt Over Nile Dam

New images captured in the last week by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellite suggest that Ethiopia may have started filling its massive Nile River dam, as tensions over the project continue. Ethiopia denied the assertion but maintains the country’s position that it is still on track to begin the multi-year process of filling the dam later this month. The images set off a flurry of speculation, with Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan deadlocked in talks over the dam's future. The $4.5 billion dam has been under construction for nine years, and once operational, will be the largest hydroelectric power plant on the African continent, capable of producing 6.4 gigawatts of power. But the project has generated opposition from fellow Nile River countries Egypt and Sudan who fear it will affect their access to fresh water...


India, Australia: New Delhi to Invite Canberra to Join Malabar Naval Exercise

Jul 10, 2020 | 21:38 GMT

India is set to invite Australia to join the annual Malabar naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal later this year after New Delhi first consults with the United States and Japan, the Hindustan Times reported July 10....

What Happened: India is set to invite Australia to join the annual Malabar naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal later this year after New Delhi first consults with the United States and Japan, the Hindustan Times reported July 10. Australia’s defense department indicated that it would most likely accept India’s invitation in order to advance the collective interests of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (also known as the Quad), which consists of India, Australia, Japan and the United States.

Why It Matters: India’s planned invitation and Australia’s likely acceptance would signal ever-deepening cooperation between members of the Quad, and would mark the first joint military exercise involving all members since 2007. Naval exercises are certain to upset China, which views the Quad as a containment strategy to its own interests in the Indo-Pacific region, and is likely to further stir up tensions between it and the other Quad members.

Background: The Quad was formed in 2007 as an informal strategic forum between its four members in the Indo-Pacific region. China voiced opposition the last time all four members participated in this joint exercise in 2007, and until now, pressure from Beijing has played a key role in preventing the exercises from occurring again.


A New Aircraft Carrier Is Headed to the South China Sea Next Year (Not From China or U.S.)

The Royal Navy’s brand new £3 billion aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will be deployed to the Far East to take part in military drills with the U.S. Navy and Japan. According to reports from the British media the carrier, known as “Big Lizzie,” will visit the Far East during a grand maiden voyage and will carry out joint military exercises.

The sailors shouldn't need to brush up on their Asian language skills just yet however. The deployment to the Far East won't come until the ship makes its maiden voyage next year.

However, when it does occur it will be notable as the Royal Navy hasn't had a permanent military or naval presence "East of Suez" since the early days of the Cold War. While the Royal Navy once had bases around the world thanks to the fact that the "sun never set on the British Empire," those days are long in the past and that sun has truly set. The Falklands War in 1982 was the only recent exception where the Royal Navy operated far from its home waters or near London’s few remaining colonial outposts.

On its Far East deployment HMS Queen Elizabeth will be accompanied by other warships including two Type 45 destroyers and two frigates, while the carrier's air wing will include two squadrons of F-35B Lightning II jets.

As The National Interest previously reported, the new carrier is able to carry up to thirty-six naval short-takeoff and vertical landing variants of the U.S. F-35 Stealth fighter. At 65,000 tons, the gas-turbine carrier is smaller than the U.S. Navy's 100,000-ton Ford­-class nuclear-powered carriers but the Royal Navy warship is more highly automated. It has a crew of about 800 sailors, not counting the carrier's air wing, compared with 2,600 for the U.S. carriers...




Taliban kill 11 in assault on Afghan intelligence compound

Afghan security personnel inspect the site of a car bomb blast on an intelligence compound in Aybak, northern Afghanistan, Monday, July 13, 2020. - Copyright AP Photo
Taliban insurgents launched a complex attack on an intelligence compound in northern Afghanistan on Monday that began with a suicide bombing and killed at least 11 intelligence agency personnel, officials said.

The attack took place in Aybak, the capital of the Samangan province. Sediq Azizi, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said another 63 people were wounded in the attack and the ensuing clashes.

A suicide bomber struck the compound, followed by two insurgents who opened fire. Both were killed in the gunbattle, Azizi said. The blast from the initial bombing could be heard kilometres away and damaged several nearby buildings.


China on highest flood alert as 38m people evacuated

Early torrential rains raise fears that Three Gorges Dam might overflow

SHANGHAI -- Despite reassurances by the government, residents along China's rivers are increasingly worried that the mitigation capabilities of the Three Gorges Dam might fail after heavy rains lashed parts of the country.

Some 141 people are already missing or dead, and nearly 38 million people have been evacuated since alerts were triggered in June about the flooding of 433 rivers nationwide, the country's flood control authorities said on Monday.

President Xi Jinping is making the "greatest effort" in rescue and prevention directives, Xinhua state news agency reported Sunday. Xi was particularly concerned that the Yangtze River and Poyang Lake -- the country's longest river and biggest lake -- had risen above warning levels...


A Call for Unity May Protect Iran's President From Impeachment, but Not His Officials

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's appeal to parliament against efforts to impeach President Hassan Rouhani will slow, but not stop, legislators' action against Rouhani's administration in its final year. In a July 12 address to parliament, Khamenei urged unity among
Iran's leaders and voiced his support for Rouhani carrying out the remainder of his second term, which ends in 2021. The movement to impeach Rouhani and officials in his administration, which has been building since Iran's new parliament took office in late May, has accelerated over the last week. On July 5, 130 members of parliament signed a motion to question the president, marking a critical step toward impeachment. Khamenei said that the ongoing confrontation would only harm public opinion and thus government stability...

Iran to Bolster Syria Air Defenses, Counter US Pressure

Iran has said it will strengthen Syria’s air defenses as part of a bilateral military deal aiming to “fight terrorism” and counter American pressure. Key US ally Israel, Iran’s arch-enemy, has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of a civil war there in 2011, including against Iranian forces. Iran, one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad‘s main allies in the conflict, has always denied sending forces to fight in Syria, saying it only has military advisors there. Under the latest deal, “we will strengthen Syria’s air defense systems in order to improve military cooperation between the two countries,” Iranian state TV quoted armed forces chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri as saying. The deal will “further enhance our will... to confront pressures by America,” he added...

Burning Ships in Iran Add to String of Dozens of Explosions and Fires

Iranian officials say that some of the explosions at factories and military facilities, and some forest fires, may have been sabotage but blamed weather and accidents for the others.

By Farnaz FassihiJuly 15, 2020
Firefighters combatting a blaze at a shipyard in the Iranian city of Bushehr on Wednesday, as seen on Iranian state TV.
A large fire broke out at a shipyard in the southern Iranian port city of Bushehr on Wednesday, burning seven ships and sending plumes of black smoke billowing above the city skyline, according to videos and Iranian media reports.

The fire followed dozens of recent fires and explosions across Iran’s forests, factories and military and nuclear facilities in the past three months that have rattled ordinary Iranians. Iranian officials have said that some of the episodes may have been acts of sabotage but blamed weather, accidents and equipment malfunctions for the others.

On Tuesday an aluminum factory in the industrial city of Lamard, in Fars Province, caught fire. On Sunday, a fire broke out at petrochemical plant in Khuzestan Province.

An explosion at the country’s top nuclear facility in Natanz two weeks ago damaged the structure where centrifuges were assembled and has been attributed to Israeli sabotage.

There have also been explosions at two power plants, a chlorine gas leak at a chemical plant and an explosion at a missile production factory at a military complex in Tehran.

Some Iranian officials have said privately that they suspect that at least some of the fires and explosions were part of an American and Israeli military campaign against Iran, but no official has publicly said whether any of the incidents are linked or blamed any country or group for them...
Smoke rising from the port of Bushehr, Iran, on Wednesday, in a photo released by the state-run WANA News Agency.

Iran-backed militia says PM's actions could bring escalation

A powerful Iran-backed militia said Wednesday there would be “escalation” if Iraq's prime minister continues to clamp down on armed groups, as tensions spiked following the killing of a prominent analyst, pitting the state against rogue elements. Hostilities have flared as Iraq reels from the assassination of Hisham al-Hashimi, 47, who was gunned down by unknown assailants on motorbikes outside his Baghdad home Monday. He had received death threats from the Islamic State group and Iran-backed militia groups. Al-Hashimi's killers are still unknown but many point to the timing of the assassination, coming just two weeks after a raid on the headquarters of the Kataib Hezbollah militia south of Baghdad...






How Russia Built a Channel to the Taliban, Once an Enemy

During one of the most violent stretches of fighting in northern Afghanistan, as the Taliban scored victories that had eluded them since the beginning of the conflict, the top American commander went public with a suspicion that had nagged for years: Russia was aiding the insurgents. In diplomatic circles in Kabul around the time of that accusation, in 2017, there were murmurs that the Russian assistance had included night-vision goggles and armor-piercing ammunition. But Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander, offered no definitive evidence.... In the maze of corruption, cash and foreign hands in Afghanistan, it was no easy task to pin down who was doing what.... The recent revelation of an American intelligence assessment that Russia had provided the Taliban with bounties to attack U.S. and coalition troops stunned political leaders in Washington and added a potent dose of Cold War-style skulduggery to deliberations over Afghanistan’s future. Both Russia and the Taliban have rejected the assertion...


IMF: Mideast loses $270B oil income amid virus, recession

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The Middle East’s energy producers are expected to earn $270 billion less in oil revenue compared to last year as the region’s economic heavyweight, Saudi Arabia, sinks deeper into recession amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to the International Monetary Fund’s outlook released Monday.

The international lender expects an overall economic contraction of 7.3% in Mideast oil exporting countries this year due to hits from the coronavirus outbreak and oil market turmoil. The contraction is 2% greater than the IMF’s initial projections in mid-April.

“We are in a year like no other and therefore developments are very fast and coping with them is challenging for everyone,” Jihad Azour, director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia department, told The Associated Press.

The IMF had projected in April that Saudi Arabia’s economy would contract by about 2.3% this year. It has since revised that figure downward, saying the kingdom stands to see economic growth shrink by 6.8% before climbing to around 3% growth next year...

Saudi-led alliance in Yemen says explosive boats destroyed in Red Sea

The Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi group in Yemen destroyed two explosive-laden boats in the Red Sea on Thursday, its spokesman said. The two remotely controlled boats belonged to Houthi forces and were threatening navigation, his statement carried on Saudi state news agency SPA said. They were destroyed 6 km (3.7 miles) south of the Yemeni port of Salif in the early hours of Thursday morning, he said...


To Protect Democracy, Protect the Internet

The voluntary efforts of tech companies aren’t enough. The U.S. government needs to regulate social media platforms and make election interference illegal.

T.S. AllenJuly 14, 2020, 4:05 PM

Social media is now part of the foundational infrastructure of democracy. It has become the main way politicians connect to voters and a​ major news source​. By connecting people worldwide, social media has also made it easier than ever before for authoritarian regimes to connect to voters outside their borders and manipulate democracies. Social media companies have made great strides in blocking authoritarian propaganda, but ultimately their voluntary efforts are not enough.

In order to ensure the future of democratic governance worldwide, the U.S. government must take proactive steps to regulate social media and prevent foreign election interference efforts, which currently take advantage of weak U.S. laws. As long as the world’s elections are increasingly mediated by U.S. social media companies, Washington must recognize that it has a unique responsibility to digitally protect them...

Secret Service Creates Cyber Fraud Task Forces

Traditional financial crime and cyberattacks are converging, requiring new skills and approaches to the problem, officials said. The U.S. Secret Service has created the Cyber Fraud Task Forces (CFTFs), aimed at preventing, detecting and mitigating complex cyber-enabled financial crime – including making arrests and convictions. The CFTF is the result of a formal merging of two of the Secret Service’s existing units into a single unified network. The Electronic Crimes Task Forces (ECTFs) and the Financial Crimes Task Forces (FCTFs), the division said in a recent media statement. The driver for the move is the fact that online cybercrime and financial fraud have converged to the point that it’s impossible to address one without including the other, it said...





Cutting Chinese Suppliers from Government Supply Chains Will Cost Billions Every Year

Implementation of a rule barring federal agencies from entering into contracts with entities that use equipment from a selection of Chinese telecommunications and surveillance companies is expected to cost the government $11 billion in year one, and just over $2 billion each subsequent year, according to an action set to publish in the Federal Register Tuesday. The Federal Register action details an interim rule from the Department of Defense, the General Services Administration and NASA to implement the second part of section 889 of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act of 2019. Starting Aug. 13., contracting officers will include provisions in their solicitations that prohibit contractors from using the covered equipment and require bidders to state whether they do. Agency leaders can issue waivers in the case of emergencies, or other conditions, under the interim rule...

Public Campaign ... to Remove Three-Hour Antisemitic Speech by Louis Farrakhan From YouTube

A public campaign has been launched to persuade YouTube to remove a video of the notoriously antisemitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s July 4 address, in which he referred to Jews as “Satan” who should have their brains knocked out by the “stone of truth.” Farrakhan’s three-hour rant, titled “The Criterion,” was streamed live on YouTube and has so far garnered over 850,000 views. In the speech, Farrakhan called the head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Jonathan Greenblatt, “Satan.”

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies agreed Wednesday to lower their current crude oil production cut level to 7.7 million barrels per day (bpd) starting in August, from the existing 9.7 million bpd.

The group known as OPEC+ has been curbing their crude oil output by a total of 9.7 million bpd from May 1 through July 31 in order to mitigate the adverse impact of the novel coronavirus on global oil demand.

With overall oil consumption rising around the world and global oil market approaching a rebalance, the 23-member group has agreed to curb its current production cut level by 2 million bpd starting Aug. 1...

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