Today's D Brief: Taiwan Strait close call; Ukraine advancing?; Fighting resumes in Sudan; Sonic boom over DC; And a bit more.
A Chinese navy ship sailed dangerously close to a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Taiwan Strait this weekend, in what U.S. military officials called an “unsafe maritime interaction.” The American guided missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon was exercising with a Canadian navy frigate, which had a Canadian news crew on board filming during the encounter on Saturday. Watch that video package from Ottawa’s Global News, here; or see a 30-second clip from the U.S. Navy, here.
What happened: The American and Canadian ships were conducting “a routine south-to-north” transit of the strait, “where high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply,” when the developments unfolded, according to a statement from the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command. The Chinese vessel advanced quickly beside the Chung-Hoon, then crossed in front of the U.S. ship at a distance of about 150 yards. After the Chung-Hoon slowed to avoid the collision, the Chinese vessel crossed the U.S. ship’s bow again at a distance of about 2,000 yards.
The encounter occurred on the same day Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin spoke at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue defense conference in Singapore. In that speech, Austin said the U.S. is “committed to ensuring that every country can fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows. And every country, large or small, must remain free to conduct lawful maritime activities.”
SecDef Austin: “We won’t be deterred by dangerous operational behavior at sea or in international airspace,” the defense secretary said, and added the U.S. “will support our allies and partners as they defend themselves against coercion and bullying.” He continued, “We do not seek conflict or confrontation; but we will not flinch in the face of bullying or coercion.”
Austin’s Chinese counterpart Gen. Li Shangfu told Shangri-La the U.S. was provoking China, and “deceiving and exploiting” nations in the Pacific region (AP). He also said Beijing “must prevent attempts that try to use those freedom of navigation [patrols], that innocent passage, to exercise hegemony of navigation.”
China’s Li also advised the U.S. to seek “common ground and common interests to grow bilateral ties” with China. If no common ground is found, he warned, “severe conflict or confrontation between China and the U.S.” could result and it would be “an unbearable disaster for the world,” he told the audience in Singapore (Reuters).
By the way: Germany said Sunday that it will send two naval vessels to the South China Sea next year. Reuters reports Berlin did something similar in 2021, which at the time marked an almost two-decade break with precedent. According to Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, the two ships called up for that 2024 deployment—a frigate and a supply ship—“are dedicated to the protection of the rules-based international order that we all signed up to and which we all should benefit from, be it in the Mediterranean, in the Bay of Bengal or in the South China Sea.”
ICYMI: Li’s team refused a meeting with Austin at Shangri-la, due at least partly to 2018 U.S. sanctions on Li for his role in helping China acquire Russian Su-35 aircraft and S-400 air defense system components. (The sanctions prevent Li from visiting the U.S., e.g.; but they do not forbid interactions abroad.) Instead on Friday, the two military leaders exchanged “brief smiles and handshakes” at a dinner, Reuters reported separately from Singapore.
Worth noting: Li did make time for his German counterpart, Minister Pistorious; and the two “openly addressed critical points,” according to Berlin’s Defense Ministry.
Nearly two dozen top intelligence chiefs from around the world also met secretly in Singapore this weekend. The U.S. was represented by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines. “Given the range of countries involved, it is not a festival of tradecraft, but rather a way of promoting a deeper understanding of intentions and bottom lines,” one unnamed source told Reuters. In case you were curious, Russian representatives were not present.
After Shangri-la, Austin visited his Indian counterpart in New Delhi on Monday. While there, Austin and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh discussed “a new Roadmap for U.S.-India Defense Industrial Cooperation, which will fast-track technology cooperation and co-production in areas such as air combat and land mobility systems; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; munitions; and the undersea domain,” according to Austin’s press team.
Background: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Washington, D.C., in about two weeks. In the meantime, “India is looking to buy 18 armed high-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. for an estimated $1.5 billion to $2 billion,” the Associated Press reported Monday from New Delhi. What’s potentially more, “Indian media reports said a joint production and manufacture of combat aircraft engines, infantry combat vehicles, howitzers and their precision ordnance were discussed last month in Washington at a meeting of the U.S.-India Defense Policy Group.” Read more, here.
- “China’s Maritime Claims Are Pushing Its Neighbors Closer to the U.S.,” the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday in a nearly five-minute long video;
- “Despite a Handshake, a ‘Thaw’ in U.S.-China Relations Seems Far From Reach,” via the New York Times, reporting Thursday;
- “Taiwan war would be ‘devastating,’ warns US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as he criticizes China at Shangri-La security summit,” CNN reported Saturday;
- “China’s war chest: how Beijing has rearranged the diplomatic pieces ahead of a potential conflict,” the Guardian reported Sunday;
- And “US must 'stand strong' in face of 'unbelievable aggression from China’,” Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, told ABC News on Sunday.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1968, Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
Ukrainian forces are reportedly advancing near the contested city of Bakhmut in a development Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin called a “disgrace” since his troops withdrew from the city just last week. The New York Times reports U.S. military satellites have picked up a spike in likely artillery fire and missile launches along Ukrainian positions.
Russia’s military claims it just destroyed 16 tanks and 21 armored vehicles in an alleged Ukrainian offensive across five locations in southern Donetsk, which is in occupied eastern Ukraine. The Associated Press noted that Russia said the battle supposedly occurred early Sunday, but that Moscow’s account—featuring purported video from the scene—was delivered “in an unusual overnight video” on Monday. Neither Reuters nor AP could verify the Russian claims.
For what it’s worth, Ukraine’s president says his military is ready for the long-anticipated counteroffensive to retake occupied territory. He said as much in an interview published Sunday by the Wall Street Journal. More, here.
- “Ukraine’s counter-offensive appears to have begun,” the Economist reported Monday;
- “In Russian Schools, It’s Recite Your ABC’s and ‘Love Your Army’,” the New York Times reported Saturday;
- And “Wagner detains Russian officer over 'drunk' attack,” the BBC reported Monday.
Meanwhile in NE Africa, fighting resumed in Sudan after the latest ceasefire expired. About 40 people were reportedly killed in North Darfur state after the end of a ceasefire between Sudan's army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. Talks to extend the deal, which was brokered by Saudi Arabia and the United States, broke down on Friday. Reuters has a bit more, here.
And lastly: A rare sonic boom was heard across the Washington capital region Sunday afternoon, prompting a flurry of frightened and puzzled messages on neighborhood-alert apps like Ring and Nextdoor, and on Twitter.
Military officials at Northern Command later said an F-16 fighter jet was responsible after it was “authorized to travel at supersonic speeds” while responding to “an unresponsive Cessna 560 Citation V aircraft” as it flew over Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia around 3 p.m. ET. The F-16 “also used flares—which may have been visible to the public—in an attempt to draw attention from the pilot,” NORTHCOM said in a statement, and noted, “Flares burn out quickly and completely and there is no danger to the people on the ground when dispensed.”
The unresponsive Cessna bizjet eventually crashed near Virginia’s George Washington National Forest after the U.S. military made multiple attempts to contact the pilot. The New York Times reported the plane was owned by 75-year-old Florida businessman John Rumpel, who said “his daughter, a 2-year-old granddaughter, her nanny and the pilot were aboard the flight” after a weekend visit to North Carolina. It’s still unclear what exactly happened to apparently render everyone on board unconscious; but that can be the outcome after a gradual but catastrophic depressurization mid-flight.
For the record, “The range of the Cessna 560 is very roughly similar to its flight track, adding to the likely possibility that it crashed after running out of fuel,” The Drive reported Sunday along with the flight path, and noted, “Cessna 560s often operate via a single pilot.” The Associated Press has the latest, reporting Monday morning, here.
NEXT STORY: Army Seeks Bomb-Carrying Drones Like Ukraine’s