Monday, February 27, 2017

BUDGETS_ White House reportedly will propose boosting defense spending



White House reportedly will propose boosting defense spending

Published February 27, 2017 Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The White House will propose boosting defense spending and slashing funding for longtime Republican targets like the Environmental Protection Agency in a set of marching orders to agencies as it prepares its budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

President Donald Trump's proposal for the 2018 budget year, which will be sent to agencies Monday, won't make significant changes to Social Security or Medicare, according to an administration official.

The official, as well as Capitol Hill aides, confirmed details of the upcoming blueprint on the condition of anonymity to discuss nonpublic information and a sensitive process.

Trump's first major fiscal marker will land in the agencies one day before his first address to a joint session of Congress. For Trump, the primetime speech is an opportunity to refocus his young presidency on the core economic issues that were a centerpiece of his White House run.

The Pentagon is due for a huge boost, as Trump promised during the campaign. But many nondefense agencies and foreign aid programs are facing cuts, including at the State Department. The specific numbers aren't final and agencies will have a chance to argue against the cuts as part of a longstanding tradition at the budget office.

Trump is expected to release his final budget proposal in mid-March.

The president previewed a boost in military spending during a speech Friday to conservative activists, pledging "one of the greatest build-ups in American history."

"We will be substantially upgrading all of our military, all of our military, offensive, defensive, everything, bigger and better and stronger than ever before," he said.

In an interview with Fox News Channel's "Sunday Morning Futures," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said cuts to Social Security and Medicare would not be part of the administration's first budget. Trump's priority is passing legislation to reduce middle-class and corporate taxes, he said.

As a candidate, Trump promised to leave major entitlements untouched, breaking with some Republican leaders who believe the costly programs need to be reformed.

The White House budget office issued a statement confirming that an interim budget submission will be released in mid-March but declining to comment on an "internal discussion."

"The president and his Cabinet are working collaboratively to create a budget that keeps the president's promises to secure the country and restore fiscal sanity to how we spend American taxpayers' money," said Office of Management and Budget spokesman John Czwartacki.

Czwartacki said that the March submission would only address agency operating budgets funded by Congress and that proposals on tax reform and so-called mandatory programs — they include food stamps, student loans, health programs and farm subsidies — will be released later.

The March release is also expected to include an immediate infusion of cash for the Pentagon that's expected to register about $20 billion or so and contain the first wave of funding for Trump's promised border wall and other initiatives like hiring immigration agents.

By increasing defense and leaving Medicare and Social Security untouched, the Trump final budget plan is sure to project sizable deficits. In the campaign Trump promised huge tax cuts but top GOP leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin don't want this year's tax reform drive to add to the budget deficit.



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Sunday, February 26, 2017

WORLD_ Beijing has set itself up for failure if Donald Trump acts on the South China Sea, experts say



Beijing has set itself up for failure if Donald Trump acts on the South China Sea, experts say

February 13, 201710:27am

China’s quest to dominate the South China Sea may be more fragile than it once thought, an expert has argued.

Gavin Fernando 

AS WE speak, politicians and strategists are grappling with the prospect of a war between the United States and China.

Tensions have flared between the two nations since the election of Donald Trump, with the disputed South China Sea, threats of a trade war and relations with Taiwan all contributing to speculation of an impending conflict.

A US ex-marine and defence expert now claims the Trump administration will effectively foil China’s territorial ambitions.

He points out a massive “miscalculation” in Beijing’s set-up in the disputed region, arguing that — combined with the Trump administration’s aggression — will ultimately thwart China’s claims to the region.

As Mr Trump’s administration continues to provoke the Chinese government, other experts have gone as far as to suggest it could be the onset of World War III.


Grant Newsham, a former US Marine Officer and senior research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, says Beijing has backed itself into a box.

Writing in the Asia Times, he says China underestimated the extent to which the new White House administration will go to stop it, and that their geographical set-up in the disputed region will work against them.

Chinese military planners have placed great control on a chain of islands running from the Kuril Islands, near Russia, down to Borneo and the northern part of the Philippines.

This is referred to as the “First Island Chain”, seen as Beijing’s primary defence line against interventionist forces. The “Island Chain”, pictured below, is the area China seeks to defend from outside forces.

China has been building up its military power within this “chain”. Source: Asia TimesSource:Supplied

The idea is to seal off enemy forces from within this arc, and block them from being able to combat China’s territorial aims.

“China’s strength inside the First Island Chain may not be the strategic advantage it seems,” said Newsham.

“Regional geography is an unchanging variable and not in China’s favor in this case as it leaves open the possibility that if push comes to shove the US and its partners could hem Chinese forces inside the First Island Chain.

And, if necessary, make life exceedingly difficult for Chinese forces operating inside the chain.” He says there are very few access and exit points through the chain, which can be covered and blocked using a combination of weapons.

He also says there’s nothing to stop weapons from the US and its allies from reaching “well inside” the First Island Chain, which would effectively render Beijing powerless.

“President Xi and his immediate predecessors perhaps didn’t think through the geography angle as much as they might have,” says Newsham.

“For a scheme ultimately dependent on American acquiescence, Donald Trump’s election threw a wrench into the works.”

China’s military strength within the South China Sea isn’t as great as it thinks it is, Newsham says.Source:AFP

In other words, China’s plans were only going to work so long as the US kept out and let them quietly get on with expanding their aims.

And judging by remarks from Mr Tillerson, Mr Spicer and Mr Trump himself, that no longer seems to be the case.

“China needs to decide if potentially taking on the full might of the United States — to include serious economic costs (which the US is capable of inflicting) — is worth the effort and the drain on resources of continuing its drive to dominate East Asia and international waters and ocean territory of other nations,” concludes Newsham.

But whether the Trump administration will actually act on its threats and go after China remains the key question.


In the lead-up to the November election, Mr Trump made very little reference to the South China Sea.

It was understood he wanted to retreat America from the world stage, and the implication was he would focus his attention on domestic rather than global policy.

But fast-forward to the week before Donald Trump’s inauguration last month, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was voicing a tough stance against China’s territorial aims in the disputed sea region.

He hinted at blockading the country’s access to its artificial islands, with the purpose of forcing Beijing to roll back and ultimately abandon them.

The United States must “send a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops”, he said, adding that Beijing’s “access to the those islands is not going to be allowed”.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer reiterated Mr Tillerson’s threat after the inauguration.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has previously warned China that the US will not take their territorial aims lightly.Source:AFP

Earlier this week, it emerged that Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon warned China and the US will go to war within the next decade.

In March last year, Mr Bannon predicted during a radio show hosted by his far-right website Breitbart that the two countries would engage in war “in five to 10 years”.

“There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “They’re taking their sandbars and making basically stationary aircraft carriers and putting missiles on those. They come here to the United States in front of our face — and you understand how important face is — and say it’s an ancient territorial sea.”

The Chinese government has since downplayed the prospect of a blowout.

Meeting with Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop this week, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi addressed the prediction with a subtle dig, saying that any “sober-minded politician” would understand neither side would engage in war.

Photo: In a meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi played down the Trump administration's threats.Source:AFP

He dismissed Mr Bannon’s words, saying “irrational statements” had often been made about US-Sino relations over the past 40 years.

According to an American defence expert, Beijing has made an epic mistake in underestimating how far the US would go to stop them.

And now, he says, the country will be shivering in its boots.


Since Mr Bannon’s remarks of an imminent war emerged this week, speculation rose that this could be the beginning of World War III.

In an article called “Backing Into World War III”, posted on Foreign Policy, diplomacy commentator Robert Kagan said it’s inevitable the world will “slide into brutal anarchy” as Beijing continues its spat with Washington.

“Early signs suggest that the new administration is more likely to hasten us toward crisis than slow or reverse these trends.

“The further accommodation of Russia can only embolden Vladimir Putin, and the tough talk with China will likely lead Beijing to test the new administration’s resolve militarily.”

Photo: It’s too soon to rule out the idea that Donald Trump is just bluffing on China.Source:AFP

But not everybody thinks a global war of this magnitude is inevitable.

Macquarie University Security Studies analyst Dr Adam Lockyer told the impression of the Trump administration muscling up to Beijing didn’t necessarily mean action would be taken.

They’re saying so many provocative things on so many different fronts — domestically and internationally,” he said. “So it’s difficult to see where Trump is going to invest his diminishing political capital.

“If he’s going to assert freedom of the seas in the South China Sea, this will absorb political capital and a significant amount of White House attention.

“It could just be a case of him bolstering his image rather than assertive policy.”

The White House asserting power in the South China Sea would likely be counter-productive, he said, at least in terms of regional allies.

“If the US has the naval strength to go into the region and blow up China’s artificial islands, there’s not much China can do about it,” he said. “But that’s going to put the entire region off-side.

“While some countries may feel quietly relieved, it won’t endear the US with the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and even Australia — we’re deeply concerned about the process, because it would cement the US as a revisionist power.”

Dr Lockyer, who just published a new book on the subject called Australia’s Defence Strategy: Evaluating Alternatives for a Contested Asia, stressed that a war between the two powers is the last thing Australia would want, given our crucial trading ties with both countries.

That said, it’s highly unlikely a theoretical conflict would be comparable with World War I or II.

“For that kind of conflict to happen, someone would need to put troops down on the ground somewhere,” he explained.

“The Chinese aren’t going to bait the US and vice versa. This would be a war fought in the air and fought at sea — it wouldn’t last for six years. It would heat up and then picker out.”

Photo: A conflict between the US and China would have disastrous consequences for Australia, experts warn.Source:News Corp Australia

Still, we would have to get involved. But the circumstances in which it began could have a dramatic impact on how much we invested ourselves in it.

“If it’s seen that the US had been the aggressor, that Trump’s administration had played its hand recklessly and they were the primary cause... we’d still back the US, but when the dust settles Australia might reconsider its options,” said Dr Lockyer.

“Even if it was Trump’s fault, we’d still take part, but we wouldn’t go all in.”

For comparison’s sake, he said if things had spiralled out of control between China and Former President Obama, there might be a different outcome — especially if Mr Obama was seeing it through every step of the way, and attempting to negotiate.

“Trump’s administration is more reckless, and Australia would be more hesitant to get involved there.”

Last week, former head of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) Sir Angus Houston said China’s presence in the disputed region was permanent.

“In my view it is too late to stop the China program in the South China Sea,” said Sir Angus at a conference in Canberra. “What is important now is to ensure freedom of navigation and the right of innocent passage.

“I have seen the imagery (and) what you see is infrastructure going in, and it is not going to be too much longer before it is fully developed.

“All of this development will enable China to dominate the South China Sea and extend its permanent military presence further south in proximity to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.”



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MILITARY_ Australia-Indonesia restore full military ties


Australia-Indonesia restore full military ties

on February 26, 2017, 3:48 pm

Australia-Indonesia restore full military ties

Sydney (AFP) - Australia and Indonesia announced the full restoration of military ties Sunday as the countries' leaders held talks following a brief spat over teaching material deemed offensive to Jakarta.

Indonesia had reported the suspension of all military cooperation with Australia from December before clarifying that only language training had been put on hold.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said after two hours of talks that he and Indonesian President Joko Widodo had "agreed to the full restoration of defence and training activities".

On his first visit as head of state to Australia, Widodo told reporters the two neighbours had also agreed to seal a major economic partnership deal.

"We are both committed to concluding a high quality bilateral free trade agreement, the Indonesia-Australia comprehensive economic partnership, by the end of this year," Turnbull told reporters.

But there were few details on the deal.

The military row between the neighbours erupted after a visiting Indonesian officer raised concerns about the material at a language training facility in Perth.

Indonesia's military chief General Gatot Nurmantyo said it involved "unethical stuff" which "discredits Indonesia and its military, even the nation's ideology".

He said it concerned East Timor -- which seceded from Indonesia after a bloody occupation -- and the nation's founding philosophy "Pancasila", all deeply sensitive topics in Jakarata.

But leaders of both Australia and Indonesia publicly insisted ties were strong before Security Minister Wiranto clarified last month that the military had temporarily suspended cooperation only in language training.

Indonesian and Australian forces cooperate on a range of issues from border protection to counter-terrorism.

On the economic front, Widodo called for the elimination of trade barriers on exports of Indonesian palm oil and paper to Australia, a key ally whose relationship with Jakarta has been repeatedly strained in recent years.

Ties between the neighbours have often been rocky with Jakarta's execution of Australian drug smugglers and Canberra's policy of turning migrant boats back to Indonesia, but they improved after Turnbull took office in 2015.



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