- China moves ahead with North Korea trade zone despite nuclear test
- Israel, Turkey row over Zionism deepens rift between ex-allies
- Pentagon says no additional cracks found in F-35 engines
Posted: 28 Feb 2013 08:44 PM PST
HONG KONG (Reuters) - China appears to be pressing ahead with plans to invest in a North Korean free trade zone in a sign that its recent nuclear test has not soured its economic ties with its only major ally.
While Beijing has not made clear whether the test would disrupt its investment plans for the Rason economic zone, an official at the zone's joint management office told Reuters that all previously announced Chinese projects for the zone remain on track, including a power line from China to ease acute electricity shortages there.
"All the people of the management office are still here working as usual... If there is any major impact (from the nuclear test), do you think we would still be here?" he said by phone from Rason, which lies near where North Korea, China and Russia converge. "All works are proceeding as planned."
There are about 60 Chinese and North Korean people working at the management office, and the number may grow with the launch of more projects, said the official, who declined to be identified as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
China and North Korea jointly set up the Rason management committee in October to handle the planning, construction and development of the zone, also known as Ranjin-Songbong, one of the country's highest profile economic projects.
North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February, drawing global condemnation and a stern warning from the United States that it was a threat and a provocation. Pyongyang's latest test, its third since 2006, prompted warnings from Washington and others that more sanctions would be imposed on the isolated state.
North Korea's isolated and small economy has few links with the outside world apart from China, its major trading partner and sole influential diplomatic ally. While Beijing appears to be exasperated with the isolated state's belligerent behaviour, it has stopped short of abandoning all support for Pyongyang.
"China has normal relations with North Korea. We will conduct normal trade and economic exchanges with North Korea," Hua Chunying, China's foreign ministry spokeswoman, said when asked whether China would continue to work with North Korea to develop its special economic zones after the nuclear test.
"At the same time, China opposes North Korea's nuclear test and its position on promoting denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is firm," Hua said at a daily news briefing on Thursday.
CEMENT AND POWER
Led by China's commerce ministry, Chinese firms, including State Grid Corp, Jilin Yatai (Group) and China Railway Construction Group and other state enterprises, have indicated interest in investing in power, building materials, transport and agriculture projects in the zone.
Yatai, a Shanghai-listed cement and coal producer, signed a framework agreement last year with the North Korean government to construct a 500,000-square-metre building materials industrial park, including a cement plant, in Rason.
State Grid finished the final review of the feasibility study of the 97.8-kilometre power line early this year, but has not started construction as it has not yet won all approvals, the official and a source close to the plan said.
The planned line would cut through a Siberian tiger natural reserve, and State Grid is awaiting a green light from China's National Development and Reform Commission and coordinating with various other authorities, the source told Reuters.
There is no timetable for the project as State Grid is unsure when it would receive government approvals, he added. State Grid was not immediately available for comment.
Jilin Yatai may delay its cement project in Rason -- which is critical to the construction of other projects such as the railway there -- due to "issues on the North Korean side," said an official at Yatai's securities office.
But the likely delay of the project was not related to the nuclear test, the official said by phone from Changchun, capital city of Northeast China's Jilin province, which borders North Korea. He declined further comment.
In a filing with the Shanghai bourse in August, Yatai said it planned to complete the construction of its first cement plant in North Korea by September this year only if there is sufficient power capacity available.
(Additional reporting by Michael Martina in BEIJING and SEOUL bureau; Editing by Bill Powell and Dean Yates)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 28 Feb 2013 05:57 PM PST
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's prime minister accused his Turkish counterpart on Thursday of making a "dark and false" statement by calling Zionism a crime against humanity - a comment likely to hit efforts to repair ties between the two former allies.
The Turkish premier's statement, made at a U.N. meeting in Vienna a day earlier, was also condemned by the head of Europe's main rabbinical group who called it a "hateful attack" on Jews.
"Just as with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it has become impossible not to see Islamophobia as a crime against humanity," Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said at the U.N. Alliance of Civilisations forum, according to Turkish media reports.
Ties between Israel and mostly Muslim Turkey have been frosty since 2010, when nine Turks were killed by Israeli commandos who stormed their ship carrying aid to Palestinians in Gaza, under a naval blockade.
In recent weeks, there has been a run of reports in the Turkish and Israeli press about efforts to repair relations, including a senior diplomatic meeting earlier this month in Rome and military equipment transfers.
The reports have not been confirmed by either government. No one was immediately available from Turkey's foreign ministry to comment on the new criticism from the rabbis or from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A statement from the Israeli premier's office said he "strongly condemns (Erdogan's) statement about Zionism and its comparison to Nazism."
The Zionist movement was the main force behind the establishment of the state of Israel.
"This is a dark and false pronouncement the likes of which we thought had passed into history," Netanyahu was quoted as saying.
Pinchas Goldschmidt, chief rabbi of Moscow and the head of the Conference of European Rabbis, said Erdogan's criticism of Zionism amounted to anti-Semitism.
"This is an ignorant and hateful attack on the Jewish people and against a movement with peace at its core, which relegates Prime Minster Erdogan to the level of (Iranian President) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and, to Soviet leaders who used anti-Zionism as a euphemism for anti-Semitism," Goldschmidt said in an emailed statement.
"The irony of these comments will not be lost on the families of those slaughtered during the Armenian genocide, a crime still not recognised by the Turkish government," he added.
The White House also condemned the remarks.
"We reject Prime Minister Erdogan's characterization of Zionism as a crime against humanity, which is offensive and wrong," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement.
"We encourage people of all faiths, cultures, and ideas to denounce hateful actions and to overcome the differences of our times," he said.
Armenians accuse Ottoman Turks of committing an orchestrated campaign of massacres against Christian Armenians during World War One.
Turkey, which was established as a republic after the Ottoman Empire collapsed, denies those killings were genocide and says both sides lost lives in internecine fighting during the chaos of war.
The Conference of European Rabbis is an umbrella group of 700 religious leaders in Europe, where an estimated 1.7 million Jewish people live. About 17,000 Jews live in Turkey, a country of 76 million people.
(Writing by Ori Lewis and Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul; additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Lisa Shumaker)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 28 Feb 2013 04:54 PM PST
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Wednesday that no additional cracks have been found on F-35 fighter engines during inspections begun after the February 19 incident that halted flights of the entire fighter fleet, and operation of the engines on the ground.
Kyra Hawn, spokeswoman for the F-35 program office, said officials were continuing to investigate a cracked engine blade found on a test plane at Edwards Air Force Base in California, with engineers at engine maker Pratt & Whitney due to break open the affected engine blade for further study on Wednesday.
Pratt, a unit of United Technologies Corp, supplies the engine for the single-engine, single-seat fighter plane, which is built by Lockheed Martin Corp.
The Pentagon announced the grounding of all F-35 warplanes on Friday after an inspection revealed a crack on a turbine blade in the jet engine of an F-35 being tested at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
It was the second engine-related grounding in two months of the $396 billion (261 billion pounds) F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon's largest weapons program. The Marines Corps version of the plane was grounded for nearly a month starting in mid-January because of a faulty hose in the engine.
Hawn said inspections were under way of the engines on all 51 F-35 jets in the Pentagon's inventory, as well as additional engines that are spares or on planes being assembled by Lockheed at its Fort Worth, Texas, plant.
None of the engines inspected thus far had shown similar cracks to the one found on the Florida test plane, she said.
She said non-destructive testing of the cracked turbine blade had been completed, including microscopic tests and X-rays, with additional "destructive" testing scheduled for Wednesday, including a test in which the blade will be "fractured" open for closer examination of the surface.
She said the Pentagon would announce further details when the engineering investigation was complete.
Sources familiar with the investigation told Reuters on Tuesday that Pratt & Whitney is 99 percent sure the problem with the turbine problem that grounded the Pentagon's F-35 fleet was not caused by high-cycle fatigue, which could force a costly design change.
Pratt officials have also largely ruled out a manufacturing defect, according to two sources briefed on the investigation, who said the company was recommending the resumption of ground operations of the engine as early as Wednesday, and a return to flight operations later this week.
Tests completed on Tuesday supported that view, pointing to a "creep structure rupture" caused by the fact that the engine on that particular test plane had been run particularly hard at hot temperatures since it was used for after-burner testing, said the two sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly.
Current engines would not reach the same "hot time" for years, Pratt engineers have said, which would allow the Pentagon to impose incremental limits on engine use and monitor them for possible component replacement, one of the sources said.
"Basically this engine was run for an extraordinary amount of time at very high power in a short period of time," said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Pratt had no comment on the state of the investigation.
The top uniformed officers in the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are due to meet on Thursday for a long-scheduled meeting about the F-35, but they are slated to discuss bigger issues such as when the services can start using the new warplanes for military operations, according to a defence official familiar with the meeting. The services must provide estimated dates for "initial operating capability" to Congress by June 1.
The service chiefs would also discuss a new Pentagon drive to use competition to reduce the staggering cost of operating and maintaining the new jets, a sum now forecast at over $1 trillion over the next decades, the source said.
Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, who runs the F-35 program for the Pentagon, slammed Pratt and Lockheed during an air show in Australia earlier on Wednesday, accusing the companies of trying to "squeeze every nickel" out of the U.S. government and failing to see the long-term benefits of the project.
Hawn said a separate incident involving temperature control equipment built by Honeywell International Inc has been deemed a "minor test discovery, with no impact to safety of flight or operations.
(Corrects to show that test plane was at Edwards Air Force base in California, not Eglin, in paragraph 2)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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