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SUPERPOWERS
Russia launches war games on NATO's eastern flank
By Max DELANY
Moscow (AFP) Sept 14, 2017


New Zealand MP denies spying for China
Wellington (AFP) Sept 13, 2017 - A New Zealand lawmaker received military and intelligence training in China, it emerged Wednesday, but he denied allegations of being a Beijing spy, saying he was the victim of a racist smear campaign.

China-born MP Jian Yang was the subject of an investigation by New Zealand's intelligence services over his links to an elite Chinese spy school, according to a joint investigation by the Financial Times (FT) and newsroom.co.nz.

The media organisations said Jian, who was elected to parliament in 2011, had not disclosed his background as a teacher at China's top linguistics academy for military intelligence officers.

New Zealand is a member of the "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing network, which also includes the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia.

The FT said no other Western nation was known to have a sitting MP with such extensive links to China's intelligence community.

The revelation "raises questions about Western preparedness to deal with China's increasingly aggressive efforts to influence foreign governments and spy on them," said the newspaper.

Jian condemned the "defamatory statements" and said he was a proud New Zealander who had been transparent about his background.

He also questioned the timing of the allegations ahead of a September 23 election, in which his ruling National Party is in a tight race to retain power.

"This is a smear campaign by nameless people who are out to damage me and the National Party 10 days from an election, just because I am Chinese," he said in a statement.

Prime Minister Bill English refused to comment on whether New Zealand intelligence services had investigated Jian.

But he said Jian had never tried to hide that he had had military and intelligence training in China, saying that it did not bring his loyalty to New Zealand into question.

"He's functioned appropriately as a member of parliament and there hasn't been a question about his loyalty to New Zealand," English told Radio NZ.

Following the reports, the National Party released a resume submitted by Yang in 2012 that listed the Chinese government institutions he had supposedly tried to keep secret.

A spokesman for China's ministry of foreign affairs said it did not usually comment on the internal affairs of other countries -- but stated "we are firmly opposed to false reports, groundless accusations and falsifications from some media".

Russia on Thursday began major joint military exercises with Belarus along the European Union's eastern flank -- a show of strength that has rattled nervous NATO members.

Named Zapad-2017 (West-2017), the manoeuvres, scheduled to last until September 20, are taking place on the territory of Moscow's closest ally Belarus, in Russia's European exclave of Kaliningrad and in its frontier Pskov and Leningrad regions.

Moscow says the drills will involve 12,700 troops, 70 aircraft, 250 tanks and 10 battleships testing their firepower against an imaginary foe close to borders with Poland and the Baltic States.

In a statement announcing the start of the exercises Russia's defence ministry insisted the manoeuvres are "of a strictly defensive nature and are not directed against any other state or group of countries."

But NATO claims Russia has kept it in the dark and seems to be massively underreporting the scale of the exercises, which some of the alliance's eastern members insist could see more than 100,000 servicemen take part.

The war games come with tensions between Russia and NATO at their highest since the Cold War due to the Kremlin's meddling in Ukraine and the US-led alliance bolstering its forces in eastern Europe.

Moscow has dismissed fears over the drills -- the latest in a series of annual exercises that rotate around the vast country -- as fuelled by the "myth about the so-called 'Russian threat'".

But for NATO allies, especially jittery members such as Poland and the Baltic States which only broke free from Moscow's grip 25 years ago, such reassurances have not dampened suspicion.

"We have seen before that military exercises have been used as a disguise for aggressive actions against neighbours," NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview with Russia's state-run RIA Novosti new agency released Thursday.

"We don't see an imminent threat against any NATO ally, but the best way for Russia to help to reduce tensions and to avoid or prevent misunderstandings, miscalculations, is to be transparent."

- 'Skillfully manipulates' -

Moscow has held a stream of exercises since ties with the West plunged in 2014 over Ukraine, with the military claiming some drills included nearly 100,000 troops.

Minsk has said the games will role play a conflict with a made-up rebel region backed by neighbouring European nations. Russia says they will simulate assaults by "extremist groups" trying to carry out "terrorist attacks".

Russian military expert Alexander Golts told AFP that Moscow "very skillfully manipulates the figures for such drills because it does not want to have to invite foreign observers".

"Russia at every drill is working on one and the same scenario -- how to deploy troops quickly," he said.

The Kremlin has vigorously defended its right to hold exercises and has long blamed the United States for ratcheting up tensions by expanding NATO up to its borders and holding its own provocative drills.

The Russian war games come as Ukraine on Monday launched annual joint military exercises with the US and a host of other NATO countries.

Meanwhile non-aligned Sweden has mobilised 19,000 soldiers for its biggest drills in 20 years which also include units from across Scandinavia and the US.

SUPERPOWERS
Juncker says 'wind is back in Europe's sails'
Strasbourg, France (AFP) Sept 13, 2017
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Wednesday that the "wind is back in Europe's sails" as he issued a rallying call a year after the shock of the Brexit vote. In his annual State of the Union speech, Juncker said the bloc had become more united following a series of crises including Britain's vote to leave, and insisted economic momentum was picking up. The former Lux ... read more

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