The commander in charge of the U.S. military’s nuclear arsenal has warned that increasing China’s nuclear stockpile is “next” on Beijing’s “to-do list.”
Speaking Monday to reporters at the Pentagon, U.S. Strategic Command chief Adm. Charles Richard said that while the United States has “no margin” of error left to start recapitalizing its nuclear force, China has a proven record of steadily building its military. He cited the example of how Beijing has built more than 250 ships for the country’s newly established coast guard in just the past seven years.
“When China sets its mind to something, they are very impressive in their ability to go accomplish it,” Richard said. “Their strategic forces are next on their to do list, right, and I'm trying to posture us for the threat that we're going to face, not the one that we have today.”
The U.S. can deliver a nuclear strike by sea, air and land through submarines, aircraft and intercontinental ballistic missiles, a capability often referred to as the nuclear triad.
Earlier this month, a Pentagon report raised concern about China’s pursuit of a nuclear triad while predicting that Beijing will “at least double” the size of its nuclear warhead stockpile over the next decade. There was no response from the Chinese government.
According to the Pentagon’s annual “China Military Power” report to Congress, which was released September 1, in the past 15 years the Chinese navy has constructed 12 nuclear submarines, six of which provide China’s first “credible, sea-based nuclear deterrent.” By the mid-2020s it will likely build a new, guided-missile nuclear attack submarine that could provide a secret land-attack option if equipped with land-attack cruise missiles.
“I get apprehensive that we are not fully conscious as a nation of the threats that we face. China now has the capability … to directly threaten our homeland from a ballistic missile submarine. That's a pretty watershed moment,” Richard said Monday.
China lacks the ability to launch nuclear weapons from the air, but the Pentagon report said the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) publicly revealed the H-6N bomber as its first nuclear capable air-to-air refueling bomber late last year.
The report disclosed that the number of Chinese nuclear warheads is currently estimated to be slightly more than 200 and includes those that can be fitted to ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States. It was the first time the Pentagon has stated a specific number of Chinese warheads.
The Federation of American Scientists says an estimated 3,800 warheads are in active status in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The number would still dwarf the Chinese arsenal.
Turkey Accused of Coronavirus Cover-Up as Cases Rise
Doctors and local politicians in Turkey are voicing concerns that the government is downplaying the scale of the resurgent coronavirus outbreak. The latest official figures suggest there are around 1,700 new infections and around 60 deaths every day across the country – but doctors say the numbers don’t add up. As Henry Ridgwell reports, opposition politicians accuse the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of a cover-up.
Camera: Memet Aksakal and Henry Ridgwell Produced by: Marcus Harton
Biden Counters Trump With COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Plan of His Own
Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden on Wednesday called for an outside board of scientists, not President Donald Trump, to determine whether any vaccine for the coronavirus is safe and effective.
“I trust vaccines. I trust scientists. But I don't trust Donald Trump. And at this moment, the American people can't either,” the former vice president said in Wilmington, Delaware.
Speaking in a downtown theater to a group of journalists, Biden introduced his own vaccine distribution plan, which outlines when Americans should expect to get a vaccine once it is available, offers guidelines for who should have priority for vaccination, explains mechanisms for shipping and storing the vaccine, and details responsibility in the process at every level of government.
“Scientific breakthroughs don’t care about calendars any more than the virus does,” Biden said. “They certainly don’t adhere to election cycles. And their timing, their approval, and the distribution should never, ever be distorted by political considerations.”
Speaking to reporters later in the day in the White House press briefing room, Trump said his election challenger should not be rolling out a plan for distribution of a vaccine developed under his presidency.
"We came up with that vaccine. It'll be announced very soon," said the president, predicting that the first COVID-19 vaccine could be ready next month and saying the U.S. government is poised to distribute at least 100 million doses by the end of the year.
Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield, however, told U.S. senators earlier Wednesday that a vaccine could be generally available to the American public in the second or third quarter of next year with those most at risk, such as the elderly and those with preexisting health conditions, along with health care workers to be prioritized for vaccination.
Trump made clear at his afternoon news conference he did not like Redfield expressing a more cautious timeline.
“I think he made a mistake when he said that. That's just incorrect information," Trump told reporters. “Under no circumstance will it be as late as the doctor said.”
At a town hall event in Philadelphia Tuesday night organized by ABC News, Trump suggested that “a herd mentality” could make the coronavirus disappear without a vaccine.
That was an apparent reference to herd immunity, which is the theory that a virus can be eradicated after a high percentage of the population is infected, thus limiting its ability to spread.
Vanderbilt University Professor William Schaffner, a specialist in infectious diseases, told VOA that the only way to achieve herd immunity without a vaccine “is that the virus does it all by itself.
“Then the virus has to infect many, many people and make many, many people sick, put them in the hospital, and we would have many deaths of people of all ages, children, young adults, and of course, many older people and people with chronic illnesses,” he said. “No, we wouldn't want that.”
UN Chief: COVID-19 Pandemic 'Out of Control' Antonio Guterres says the coronavirus is the chief global security threat in the world today, and he is calling for a future vaccine that’s affordable and available to all
On Wednesday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters that herd immunity has “never been a strategy” of the Trump administration.
“I will say that there are a number of individuals that would indicate that herd immunity — once we get the antibodies — and you're already in ways, I believe, seeing that in New York City, because you have a lower contagion rate, because they experienced such a high,” Meadows said. “But they lost so many lives, and so that is not something that the White House chose to employ.”
Meadows also noted “there are a number of people out there that believe that ultimately this doesn't get solved until we reach that herd immunity population. Even some of the more renowned doctors have suggested that could possibly be, indeed, the answer.”
Earlier Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Defense released the Trump administration’s strategy to deliver COVID-19 vaccine doses to the American people. But polls in the United State show the rapid tests of would-be vaccines on thousands of volunteers that are being conducted in several countries have left many Americans skeptical of whether any approved preventative will be safe.
In one Associated Press poll, one in five Americans said they would not get a coronavirus vaccine, and 31% said they were unsure whether they would. Of those who said they would not get vaccinated, the overwhelming majority said they were worried about safety.
Health officials say that to protect the United States from the coronavirus, about 70% either need to be vaccinated or have antibodies against the disease.
An estimated 196,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, with another 6.6 million infected, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking cases around the world. Both figures are the highest for any nation.
VOA's Patsy Widakuswara and Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report from Washington.
As Rich Nations Struggle, Africa’s Virus Response Is Praised
At a lecture to peers this month, John Nkengasong showed images that once dogged Africa, with a magazine cover declaring it "The Hopeless Continent." Then he quoted Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkrumah: "It is clear that we must find an African solution to our problems, and that this can only be found in African unity."
The coronavirus pandemic has fractured global relationships. But as director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nkengasong has helped to steer Africa's 54 countries into an alliance praised as responding better than some richer countries, including the United States.
A former U.S. CDC official, he modeled Africa's version after his ex-employer. Nkengasong is pained to see the U.S. agency struggle. In an interview with The Associated Press, he didn't name U.S President Donald Trump but cited "factors we all know."
While the U.S. nears 200,000 COVID-19 deaths and the world approaches 1 million, Africa's surge has been leveling off. Its 1.4 million confirmed cases are far from the horrors predicted. Antibody testing is expected to show many more infections, but most cases are asymptomatic. Just over 34,000 deaths are confirmed on the continent of 1.3 billion people.
"Africa is doing a lot of things right the rest of the world isn't," said Gayle Smith, a former administrator with the U.S. Agency for International Development. She's watched in astonishment as Washington looks inward instead of leading the world. But Africa "is a great story and one that needs to be told."
Nkengasong, whom the Gates Foundation honors Tuesday with its Global Goalkeeper Award as a "relentless proponent of global collaboration," is the continent's most visible narrator. The Cameroon-born virologist insists that Africa can stand up to COVID-19 if given a fighting chance.
Early modeling assumed "a large number of Africans would just die," Nkengasong said. The Africa CDC decided not to issue projections. "When I looked at the data and the assumptions, I wasn't convinced," he said.
Health experts point to Africa's youthful population as a factor in why COVID-19 hasn't taken a larger toll, along with swift lockdowns and the later arrival of the virus.
"Be patient," Nkengasong said. "There's a lot we still don't know."
He warns against complacency, saying a single case can spark a new surge.
As Africa's top public health official, leading an agency launched only three years ago, he plunged into the race for medical supplies and now a vaccine. At first, it was a shock.
"The collapse of global cooperation and a failure of international solidarity have shoved Africa out of the diagnostics market," Nkengasong wrote in the journal Nature in April. "If Africa loses, the world loses."
Supplies slowly improved, and African countries have conducted 13 million tests, enough to cover 1% of the continent's population. But the ideal is 13 million tests per month, Nkengasong said.
He and other African leaders are haunted by the memories of 12 million Africans dying during the decade it took for affordable HIV drugs to reach the continent. That must not happen again, he said.
This week, more world leaders than ever are gathering online for the biggest global endeavor since COVID-19 appeared, the United Nations General Assembly. If Nkengasong could address them, he would say this: "We should be very careful that history doesn't record us on the wrong side of it."
African leaders are expected to say much the same. "The COVID-19 pandemic has shown we have no option but to depend on each other," Ghana's president, Nana Akufo-Addo, told the gathering on Monday.
Nkengasong urges African countries not to wait for help and rejects the image of the continent holding a begging bowl. The money is there, he said.
Acting on that idea, Africa's public and private sectors created an online purchasing platform to focus their negotiating power, launched by the African Union to buy directly from manufacturers. Governments can browse and buy rapid testing kits, N95 masks and ventilators, some now manufactured in Africa in another campaign endorsed by heads of state.
Impressed, Caribbean countries have signed on.
"It's the only part of the world I'm aware of that actually built a supply chain," said Smith, the former USAID chief.
When the pandemic began, just two African countries could test for the coronavirus. Now all can. Nkengasong was struck by how much information "doesn't get translated" to member states, so the Africa CDC holds online training on everything from safely handling bodies to genomic surveillance.
"I look at Africa and I look at the U.S., and I'm more optimistic about Africa, to be honest, because of the leadership there and doing their best despite limited resources," said Sema Sgaier, director of the Surgo Foundation, which produced a COVID-19 vulnerability index for each region. She spoke even as Africa's cases were surging weeks ago.
With COVID-19 vaccines the next urgent issue, African countries held a conference to insist on equitable access and explore manufacturing to end their almost complete reliance on the outside world. They began securing the late-stage clinical trials that long have been held outside the continent, aiming to land 10 as soon as possible.
Nkengasong said Africa needs at least 1.5 billion vaccine doses, enough to cover 60% of the population for "herd immunity" with the two likely required doses. That will cost about $10 billion.
The World Health Organization says Africa should receive at least 220 million doses through an international effort to develop and distribute a vaccine known as COVAX.
That's welcome but not enough, Nkengasong said.
His next hurdle is how to deliver doses throughout the vast continent with the world's worst infrastructure. Less than half of Africa's countries have access to modern health care facilities, he said.
COVID-19's effects are "devastating" for Africa, from education to economies to the fight against other diseases. Nkengasong plans a major conference next year to press countries to significantly increase health spending ahead of the next pandemic.
"If we do not," he said, "something is terribly wrong with us."
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