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19 Mar 20. Afghan forces ramp up defence options as Taliban attacks continue. Afghanistan said on Thursday it was ordering its forces to switch to an “active defence posture” as the Taliban continued to attack even after the militant group signed a deal with the United States.
“The Taliban continued high level of violence despite the peace agreement,” acting defence minister Asadullah Kalid said in a video statement.
“An active defence posture will reduce the restrictions on ANDSF (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces) and it will allow them to carry out operations against the Taliban plotting attacks against ANDSF,” he added. Afghan government forces had previously been able to fight back only when under direct attack.
The United States in February signed a deal with the Taliban aimed at paving the way for them to negotiate with the Afghan government, including an agreement on withdrawing foreign troops.
The Taliban say they have held back from attacking international forces since then but have continued to attack Afghan forces, with U.S. and Afghan officials calling for a reduction in violence.
Kalid also proposed a full ceasefire with the Taliban “to help the fight against the coronavirus”.
The Taliban did not immediately respond to a request for comment. On Wednesday, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, also called on both sides to speed up progress on a key sticking point – the release of thousands of Taliban prisoners. He said the global outbreak of coronavirus added impetus to move quickly.
Afghanistan currently has 22 confirmed cases and there are fears it could increase and swamp the country’s vulnerable healthcare system as thousands return each day from Iran, one of the worst-affected nations globally.
The Taliban have said they are alarmed at the virus and have asked to work with international organisation to prevent its spread. The government says it still has reports of the militants attacking health workers, which the group has denied. (Source: Reuters)
17 Mar 20. RAAF supports Fiji’s contribution to global peacekeeping operations. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has supported Fiji Military Forces’ contribution to global peacekeeping operations.
Earlier this month, the RAAF conducted two sustainment missions that involved transporting Fijian peacekeepers to the Middle East.
Under the sustainment missions, a total of 78 Fijian peacekeepers were transported from Nadi in Fiji to Iraq on a C-17A Globemaster III tactical transport aircraft.
Australia Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said: “Australia and Fiji have a strong shared history of cooperation in support of domestic, regional and global operations.
“Fiji’s recent contribution of 54 personnel to Australia’s response to the bushfire emergency was a welcome and powerful example of the importance of maintaining close ties between our nations.”
Fijian forces are currently on a rotational deployment to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).
The country has been supporting global peacekeeping operations for the past 42 years.
Later this year, Fiji Military Forces and the Australian defence will be involved in performing several other activities.
Reynolds added: “Australia is working with Fiji to increase our shared capability and strengthen people-to-people relationships through the Pacific Step-up.
“We remain committed to our engagement with Fiji through partnered projects such as the Blackrock Camp redevelopment and the design of the Maritime Essential Services Centre in Suva.
“Earlier this month, I attended the official handover of the newest Guardian-class Patrol Boat to Fiji, highlighting the success of the Pacific Maritime Security Program and the longevity of our relationships in the region.” (Source: airforce-technology.com)
20 Mar 20. What does the future hold for the Quad? The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue among the US, Japan, India, and Australia (the Quad) has returned to prominence after an eight-year hiatus. Senior foreign ministry officials from the Quad nations have met bi-monthly, the grouping has also convened at the ministerial level and formed the basis for a tabletop exercise, but what does the future look like for the Quad?
Patrick Gerard Buchan and Benjamin Rimland of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies have released a briefing looking at the past, present and future of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.
As part of this brief, the CSIS Alliances and American Leadership Program performed an informal “temperature taking” survey of policy elites in the Quad nations to gauge possible steps forward. The survey results inform several achievable policy proposals to help continue the momentum of the Quad in the years to come.
The foundations of the Quad can be found in the response of the four nations, Australia, India, Japan, and the US, to the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. The four nations created the “tsunami core group” to become a new network in the face of an emerging challenge, bringing together the four nations best equipped to swiftly mobilise tsunami aid. Although the aid and recovery effort was eventually wound down, this grouping became the impetus for the nations to collaborate as a whole in addressing regional issues.
It wasn’t until 2006 when the template gained a further ideological component, this came when Abe Shinzo proposed an “arc of freedom and prosperity”. He envisioned a network of states linked to Japanese diplomatic efforts to promote freedom and the rule of law. Then-foreign minister Aso Taro also paid significant attention to the democratic, free-market nature of the future Quad.
The bounds of the Quad grouping began when Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh announced in a joint statement that both countries were eager to begin a dialogue with other “like-minded countries in the Asia-Pacific region” to address themes of “mutual interest”. This was joined by interest from then US vice president Dick Chaney after consulting prime minister John Howard. Howard and Indian foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee soon travelled to Tokyo to reaffirm the momentum for the dialogue group. Aso and Abe’s respective April visits to India and Washington sealed the deal for the first quadrilateral meeting.
The first meeting was convened parallel to the ASEAN Regional Forum, when the informal grouping met to discuss areas of common interest to the dialogue partners, including disaster relief. Late September saw the only military exercise associated with the first Quad, an enlarged version of the US-India Malabar series. This exercise, the second Malabar of 2007, featured the four navies, together with the Singaporean navy, exercising in the Bay of Bengal.
Although the grouping was now co-operating further, a lack of a clear objective led to it begging to loose focus.
“Signs of the grouping’s fragility had been clear for months. Outside the dialogue, China had intensified a campaign against the Quad, filing official demarches with each of the four countries. The Republic of Korea, America’s major Pacific ally not affiliated with the Quad, had also expressed its hesitation about the grouping and was unwilling to be forced to choose between the United States, its security ally, and China, its growing economic partner,” write Buchan and Rimland in their brief.
“The lack of specificity about the Quad’s purpose and objectives gave critics room to seize on the most radical speculation: that the Quad would soon turn into an Asian NATO or otherwise evolve into a security alliance. Mounting Chinese pressure lead (sic) to reticence among Australia, India, and the United States to formalise the dialogue. Indeed, officials of the four countries soon began to distance the dialogue from any sort of security concerns.”
Australia decided that the Quad did not suit its strategic outlook and announced that it would not seek to participate in the Quad dialogue in January 2008 and as such the Quad in its first iteration broke apart due to a lack of consensus of the issues facing the region.
The development of so-called “mini-lateral” networks continued among the Quad nations despite the break up of the Quad’s first iteration and provided momentum for the establishment of Quad 2.0. In particular, India and Japan emerged as the critical components of two different trilateral relationships, one involving Japan, India and the US, and another involving Japan, India and Australia.
The interests of the nations also began to become more aligned as Chinese coercion increased within the region around 2015.
India found itself on the receiving end of direct military coercion by China, India also found itself blocked from membership in the nuclear suppliers group by China.
“Australia witnessed its relationship with China change dramatically from the halcyon days under former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd,” Buchan and Rimland wrote.
“… Japan also saw a significant uptick in coercive Chinese behavior in the time between Quad 1.0 and 2.0. With the nationalisation of the Senkaku islands in 2012, Japan saw vastly increased ‘gray-zone’ coercive behavior by China Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels…
“Chinese ships and aircraft began to pass through the Miyako strait on their way to the western Pacific, a fact that underlined that the Chinese military viewed Japan’s south-western islands as a barrier to open ocean access.”
With the stage set by increased lateral relationship building and a further strategic alignment, The momentum came to a head in October 2017 with then-secretary of state Rex Tillerson and Japanese Foreign Minister Kono Taro proposing a resumption of the quadrilateral dialogue format.
During the Manila ASEAN Summit representatives from the four countries met to discuss a wide variety of issues, including the denuclearisation of North Korea, support for the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” concept, and the promotion of a rules-based system in the Indo-Pacific region.
In the nearly two years since the initial meeting of the revived Quad in November 2017, the meetings have continued at the “senior official” level on a biennial basis. The most recent meeting as of this writing, in November 2019, marked the resumption of senior official-level meetings after the first ministerial-level meeting in September 2019.
As with Quad 1.0, China has officially protested Quad 2.0 claiming it’s a veiled attempt at containment. Editorials in state-run Chinese media have regularly lambasted the grouping as a threat to not simply China’s own ascent to power but also traditional diplomatic touchstones such as ASEAN centrality; further criticism can also be readily found attacking the Quad nations for insufficient care regarding the infrastructure needs of south-east Asian nations.
Mission and purpose ambiguity has diluted many of the criticisms aimed at the Quad, as well as the fact that no official working groups stem from the quad, with other major co-ordination done on the bilateral or trilateral level.
With the Quad on considerably firmer ground than before, the question of the group’s trajectory comes into focus. To obtain a better idea of the group’s possible trajectory, the CSIS Alliances and American Leadership Program surveyed a small number of strategic elites in each of the four nations.
Their methodology states:
“The chief motivation for this research project was to take an informal survey of the opinions of ‘strategic elites’ on the present status and possible future direction of the Quad. The research team identified 20 strategic elites from each of the four Quad nations who would serve as respondents. We emphasise that the small size of the survey, and the relative informality of its design, means that the project does not represent broad-based popular opinion but rather ‘takes the temperature’ of select policymakers and thinkers in each nation.
“In undertaking this project, the research team created a Google survey with eight total questions. Respondents were asked to answer four questions by selecting from one (strongly oppose) to five (strongly support); the other four questions asked respondents to briefly enter a qualitative response describing their reaction to the question asked.”
Below are the findings for each question:
- Question 1: To what extent would you support a standing annual meeting of the heads of government of the four Quad partners (including regular ministerial level sessions)?
“Respondents were generally in favor of a standing annual meeting of the heads of government of the four Quad partners with regular ministerial-level sessions to supplement the head of government meetings. Nearly 80 per cent of the Indian and Japanese strategic elites, 100 per cent of the US strategic elites, and 100 per cent of the Australian strategic elites surveyed responded positively to the idea of an annual heads of government meeting.
“While the logistics of organising a standalone summit among the heads of government of the four nations may be difficult, the result demonstrates a willingness among some strategic elites of the four nations to accept a more vocal Chinese criticism for the sake of tighter policy co-ordination.”
- Question 2: To what extent would you support the creation of a permanent Quad secretariat, with chairmanship rotating every three years among the members?
“Unsurprisingly, reactions to the notional institutionalisation of the Quad were more mixed. Responses from strategic elites from all four nations were far more mixed than for Question 1. Given the significant diplomatic lift involved in establishing a new secretariat, some respondents were particularly skeptical. As one respondent wrote: ‘I don’t see this as a worthy effort, absent a significant shift in regional security perceptions (like a limited armed clash).’
“The mixed results on Quad institutionalisation dovetail with the fears noted in Huong Le Thu’s survey of south-east Asian attitudes toward the Quad, which reports a fear of dilution of already-existing institutions such as ASEAN and the EAS”.
- Question 3: To what extent would you support the creation of a standing military task force comprised of the four members under the direction of a joint command?
“There was a disparity between Indian and American strategic elites on this question. Given India’s continued reliance on non-US equipment for major weapons systems, as well as the continued influence of the non-aligned strategy in Indian strategic thinking, negative results from Indian respondents were predictable. As the most militarily integrated of the Quad nations, Australia, the United States, and Japan would undoubtedly serve as the backbone of any such task force – three powerful navies standing astride China’s important sea lanes. Skeptical strategic elites in our survey expressed concern that any such effort could ‘provoke China into more aggression,’ as one respondent put it.”
- Question 4: To what extent would you support the Quad undertaking a coordinating role in regional economic and developmental assistance, including loans, technical development, and human rights promotion throughout the Indo-Pacific?
“As a ‘softer’ initiative compared to the creation of a standing military task force or the standing up of a Quad secretariat, the research team was unsurprised to see greater support for a Quad role in co-ordinating economic development and human rights promotion policies in the Indo-Pacific. Just as with the military domain, Quad members already co-operate on joint infrastructure development projects in the Indo-Pacific region, such as a recently announced initiative among Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the United States to build out the electrical grid on Papua New Guinea.”
Buchan and Rimlands recommendations
Buchan and Rimland present Four recommendations from the survey findings:
- Establish working groups on defence and infrastructure – Fleshing out the Quad from a biennial meeting at the senior official-level will require an agenda and contacts among lower-level officials. The establishment of working group meetings will go far toward laying the groundwork of the recommendations that follow below.
- Develop an Indo-Pacific Infrastructure and Development Coordination working group – A working group on infrastructure stands out as the opportunity most ripe for Quad cooperation. Per the informal survey, strategic elites across the four nations noted that the Quad should play a role in “co-ordinating regional economic and developmental assistance”.
- Establish an Annual Head of Government meeting – The 2+2 working group format will be useful in laying the groundwork for an annual or biennial head of government meeting among the Quad nations. Given the already packed schedule of all of the heads of government, scheduling a further, separate summit meeting purely for the Quad would likely be impossible. Instead, adding a summit meeting on the margins of an annual summit like the East Asia Summit or the G-20 would be a more realistic means of accomplishing this goal.
- Pursue an annual meeting of joint operational commands and encouragement of exchanges – any Quad project involving the military will prompt concern in some members that the initiative is taking too sharp of an anti-China focus. But there is no need for a meeting of operational commands to concern itself simply with high-end warfighting. As the Quad’s origins in the Tsunami Core Group indicate, the provision of public goods is written into the group’s DNA. Strategic elites across the Quad nations have demonstrated interest in pursuing a Quad role in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR). Other contemporary work on a possible future role for the Quad further indicates that HA/DR could be a useful starting point to build out a military dialogue.
Moving forward and your thoughts
Despite the stuttering start of the initial rendering of the Quad group, it appears that Quad 2.0 after a decade of increased ties and the ongoing building of relationships as well as the context of Chinese coercion is tighter than ever. With the aid of further in-depth discussion and the implementations of the recommendations in the brief cited could ensure that a more cohesive focus moving forward may be achieved and and even tighter bond between the participating countries.
The brief from the CSIS concludes: “The true test will come when the parties in each nation that oversaw the restoration of the Quad fall out of power. Just as the Australian Labor party sank the first Quad, so too could a change in power from one government to another sink Quad 2.0. Developing the Quad further to maintain a joint message, with real-world outcomes that are clear to ally and adversary alike, will be crucial to maintaining the Quad as a pillar of stability in the Indo-Pacific region.” (Source: Defence Connect)
17 Mar 20. Germany to end anti-IS Tornado reconnaissance mission. Germany will end its Tornado reconnaissance flights against the so-called Islamic State (IS) on 31 March, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced on 11 March after the federal government extended the mandate of other German forces in Iraq. Four Luftwaffe Tornado reconnaissance aircraft have been operating from Al-Azraq in Jordan in support of the coalition since July 2017 after previously having conducted the mission from Incirlik, Turkey.
The German MoD said the reconnaissance mission would be taken over by Italy, which deployed Eurofighters to Al Mubarak in Kuwait early last year, taking over the reconnaissance mission from AMX aircraft in March 2019. The Eurofighters are fitted with the Reccelite II reconnaissance pod, complementing the Italian Predator unmanned aerial vehicles also deployed to Al Mubarak.
The Luftwaffe will continue to provide aerial refuelling to the anti-IS coalition. This mission has been conducted from Al-Azraq since July 2017 by a Luftwaffe Airbus A310 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), which was joined by an A400M air-to-air refuelling version in July 2019.
Germany is also providing an air surveillance radar giving an operational picture of the area. German support to coalition operations and training in Iraq will be expanded to include protected air transport. In addition, Germany will continue its training and mentoring mission in central Iraq and Kurdistan under Operation ‘Inherent Resolve’ and extend it to include the NATO Mission in Iraq (NMI). (Source: Jane’s)
17 Mar 20. Inquiry already poses questions for Pacific step-up. The Pacific step-up is perhaps one of the best-documented policy swings of recent years in Australia’s region, second only to the rise of China. A recent inquiry, commissioned into Australia’s defence relationship with Pacific nations, shows all is not in order.
Australia’s emergence from the throes of the Second World War as a middle power ensured the nation’s place in the region, and secured with it stability in the immediate region; however, as conflicts broke out in Vietnam and Korea, pressures to support American hegemony in broader Asia were brought to bear on Canberra.
The greater Pacific region, stretching west to include much of south-east Asia, includes countries that sit at the geopolitical crossroads of major shipping routes and trade bottlenecks. Not least on the minds of ‘Pacific pivot’ advocates, such as US ambassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse jnr, is the South China Sea and American interests in the region.
“We’ll be pushing Australia to expand its step-up from the Pacific islands region to south-east Asia and to look north as well,” said Culvahouse last week.
Funnily enough, Australia has made similar comments in the opposite direction – for example, when Defence Minister Linda Reynolds used her visit to the US late last year to push for more active involvement on their part.
Though the Pacific island nations are all too often ignored in Western political conversations, it is no great secret that DFAT and Australian academia have been courting them for several generations. Eleven strictly “Pacific island” nations – including Fiji, Tonga and Samoa – combine to a give a total of 2.3 million people scattered across 15 per cent of the globe’s surface; many of whom share close cultural or familial links to Australia and New Zealand. Official reports released by DFAT have even pictured the relationship in ambitiously glossy terms, referring to the area as “our Pacific family.”
Building on our sustained regional and bilateral engagement with the Pacific, Australia has long helped to promote economic prosperity through ambitious initiatives such as:
- the $2bn Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific (AIFFP);
- the Pacific Labour Mobility Scheme; and
- the Coral Sea Cable, which will deliver high-speed telecommunications to Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands by end-2019.
Though it may sound somewhat robotic, like all foreign aid, return on investment is really the yardstick against which these commitments are made. $2bn was not siphoned from the Treasury’s coffers to fund the AIFFP out of the goodness of our hearts. Though that most ambitiously-titled of Scott Morrison’s announcements, “Stepping up Australia’s engagement with our Pacific family”, referenced lofty ideals such as historical and cultural ties, the actual text release lays the reasons behind our investment in the region bare for all to see. “We have an abiding interest in the sovereignty, stability, security, and prosperity of the region,” it read.
The submissions for the inquiry into Australia’s Defence relationships with Pacific island nations closed yesterday, on Monday, 16 March. The terms of reference for the inquiry were as such:
- Current activities and outcomes undertaken by Defence in the south-west Pacific, including the relationship between Defence’s longstanding co-operation program and its step-up activities;
- How Australia’s Defence co-operation programs and Pacific step-up activities correspond to the needs, requests, and feedback from partner nations in the Pacific (including consultation with civil society, parliaments, and executive governments);
- Opportunities for closer co-ordination and collaboration between Defence and other government departments on Australian programs and activities across the south-west Pacific; and
- Opportunities for closer co-ordination and collaboration between other nations seeking to invest and engage in the south-west Pacific, including planning and execution of joint activities and preparation for HADR.
Though within its terms of reference, the government never addresses the ‘elephant in the room’ (return on investment). Several of the submissions received provide an interesting gauge into whether we are getting this.
Like most parliamentary inquiries, submissions were received from a broad range of voices. These included academic (e.g. Western Sydney’s Whitlam Institute, through to the Philippine embassy and prime contractor Northrop Grumman).
Though one might well expect these commentators to give rise to very different opinions on the matter of maritime security and aerial surveillance investment, submissions to the inquiry were actually relatively unanimous in their support for deepening our regional defence relationship. Adelaide University’s Joanne Wallis even suggested including Pacific island militaries under the auspices of regional collective defence agreements such as FRANZ or the Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group.
Northrop, on their part, joined voices with Air Affairs Australia and PAL Aerospace to call for a deepening of defence investment in the region. While you would be forgiven for thinking these companies would give somewhat biased suggestions in this regard, what they call for actually makes a lot of sense. The timely acquisition of expanded maritime ISR capabilities would not only allow Australia’s defence support to be more efficient, but also our disaster response. In the coming years, as the marine environment these countries inhabit is shaped by the effects of the climate crisis, the assistance of HADR capabilities to our “Pacific family” is likely to become an increasingly important role of the ADF.
Calls for increased efficiency in how that money is spent also ring particularly poignant, coming from the very companies who are looking to win contracts off of Defence. Rather than just advocating for an increase in logistics and aerial surveillance support to the Pacific islands as part of the step-up, Operation Solania, the Pacific Maritime Security Program and other maritime security activities, submissions went so far as to outline how this investment could be directed to “engage PICs [Pacific island countries] on the value of additional maritime aerial surveillance”. This would include, as Northrop Grumman duly outlines, an attempt to first refine our understanding of their capability requirements, before committing to throwing money at upgrading them.
Though there are many other interesting suggestions buried within pages and pages of submissions that deserve polemics in their own right – for example, the state of logistical information-sharing throughout the region – perhaps the defining characteristic of whether this inquiry is considered successful will be whether value for money is assessed thoroughly on Pacific defence support. Only time can tell whether this will be the case. (Source: Defence Connect)
16 Mar 20. Indian parliamentary defence committee concerned about defence outlay for FY 2020/21. India’s Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence has warned the federal government in New Delhi about what it regards as an inadequate defence outlay for fiscal year 2020/21 (FY 2020/21), arguing that the expected financial shortfall will adversely impact the military’s operational efficiency and delay its modernisation.
In a total of four reports tabled in parliament on 13 March, the committee warned the administration that the ongoing financial crunch could even lead to a deferment in payments for previously acquired materiel. The 31-member committee revealed that the annual capital outlay for the military’s modernisation, which includes acquiring new platforms and materiel as well as upgrading existing equipment, has declined some 35% since FY 2015/16. (Source: Jane’s)
15 Mar 20. US Amphibious Assault Vessel, Littoral Combat Ship Intrude South China Sea. US warships, regardless of their large displacement and advanced technologies, are actually “paper tigers” in the South China Sea, as China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has the overwhelming advantage there, military experts said on Saturday after the US once again sent naval vessels to the South China Sea days after Chinese armed forces expelled a US warship that illegally entered the waters.
The US amphibious assault ship America and littoral combat ship Gabrielle Giffords sailed together during operations in the South China Sea on Friday, the US Pacific Fleet said on its Twitter account on Saturday.
An amphibious assault ship, loaded with short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) fighter jets in addition to helicopters, is a type of large surface vessel with a flat flight deck, often seen and used as a small aircraft carrier, analysts said.
And, F-35B STOVL stealth fighter jets are seen taking off from the amphibious assault ship in a photo the US Pacific Fleet released with the tweet.
“Although it looks like the US amphibious assault ship is very powerful as it has a large displacement and can operate F-35Bs, but can it really land on an island or reef in the South China Sea? Can its F-35Bs actually fight anything? [No,] the PLA has full control over the South China Sea,” Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Saturday.
The same goes for the littoral combat ship: seemingly advanced, it is only lightly armored and is operating in a small group, Song said, noting that the US vessels could be easily outnumbered. The US operation on Friday came after the PLA aerial and naval forces expelled the US guided missile destroyer McCampbell, which trespassed into China’s territorial waters close to the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea, on Tuesday.
The US side is using “freedom of navigation” as an excuse to repeatedly enter the South China Sea to flex its muscles and cause trouble, which are acts of hegemony that violate international law threatening peace and stability in the region, PLA Southern Theater Command spokesperson Li Huamin said on Wednesday.
“[The US’ operation on Friday] is another typical ‘freedom of navigation’ operation by the US, but it is clearly pointed towards China, particularly China’s Nansha and Xisha islands in the South China Sea,” Song said.
The US is attempting to deny China’s sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea, showing military presence and supporting other countries in the region that are illegally occupying Chinese islands and reefs, Song said.
While China is talking with ASEAN members over the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, the US does not want to see the South China Sea become an area of peace and stability, instead it aspires to build the sea into an area of tension to contain China’s growth, Song said.
China has undisputed sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and nearby waters, and the Chinese military remains highly vigilant at all times. It will take any necessary measure to safeguard national sovereignty, peace and stability in the South China Sea, Li said after the trespassing incident involving the US.
“China will do its best to safeguard peace in the South China Sea, but if any country from outside the region is determined to stir up trouble, the Chinese military will not fear a fight,” Song said. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Global Times)
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