Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Colombian president reiterates negative to allowing gold mining in the Andes mountains

Gustavo Petro in the Santander paramo February 3 2023

Gustavo Petro in the Santander paramo on February 3, 2023. (Image by Presidencia de Colombia, Instagram.

During a meeting with páramo communities in the north-central Santander department, Colombian President Gustavo Petro reiterated his negative to allowing large-scale gold mining in the Páramo de Santurbán, a protected area of the Andes mountains.

Petro’s words alluded to the Soto Norte project presented by the Sociedad Minera de Santander (Minesa), a company owned by the government of Abu Dhabi through its investment arm Mubadala Investment Company. The proposal was shelved in 2020 by Colombia’s National Authority of Environmental Licences (ANLA in Spanish), under the argument that there were too many unanswered questions in Soto Norte’s environmental impact assessment and follow-up documentation submitted by Minesa.

One of the main issues with the EIA was related to the possibility that the gigantic tunnels needed for the mine could affect the quality and amount of water flowing from the páramo to the city of Bucaramanga’s metropolitan aqueduct, which supplies fresh water to about 2 million people. 

This is because, if approved, the project would be surrounded by – although technically it would be outside of – a protected area covered with subalpine forests above the continuous tree line but below the permanent snow mark, where water is naturally stored during the rainy season and released during the dry season. 

“The issue is the flow of the water, not the border of the páramo,” Petro said. “It is irrelevant for the city of Bucaramanga if the large gold mine is established above or below the páramo’s border if the water is affected anyway.”

The town hall with the páramo communities took place following a January blockade carried out by Santander’s farmers and small business owners, who were protesting the possibility of displacement due to the new boundaries proposed by the legislative power in the Santurbán area when the $1.2 billion Soto Norte project was first presented.

After noting that when he was a senator he said that such an idea was a “trap,” Petro told the people gathered last Friday, adding that Santurbán and its water belong to them.

“After hearing from you that there is an ongoing displacement process, or the risk or threat of displacement of farmers in the area, people who have always lived there, it becomes clear to me that wherever big mining sets up shop, people end up displaced,” the president said. “I will not allow displacements in the Colombian páramos.”

China Now Has More ICBM Launchers Than the US, Lawmaker Confirms

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mo.) speaks during a meeting of the House Committee on Rules at the US Capitol in Washington on July 12, 2022. (Oliver Contreras/AFP via Getty Images)

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mo.) speaks during a meeting of the House Committee on Rules at the US Capitol in Washington on July 12, 2022. (Oliver Contreras/AFP via Getty Images) 

China’s communist regime now fields more long-range, nuclear-capable missile launchers than the United States, according to the testimony of the House Armed Services Committee.

Committee Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) acknowledged that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which rules China as a single-party state, had leapfrogged the United States in the number of its active intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launchers, during a hearing on the threat posed by the CCP to U.S. defense.

“The CCP is rapidly expanding its nuclear capability,” Rogers said. “They have doubled their number of warheads in two years. We estimated it would take them a decade to do that.”

“We also were just informed by the DoD [Department of Defense] that the CCP now has more ICBM launchers than the United States.”

The question of how quickly the CCP’s nuclear expansion and modernization is proceeding has beleaguered experts and lawmakers since a 2021 Pentagon report estimated that the regime could expand its arsenal to as many as 1,000 nuclear weapons by 2030.

That timeline was further truncated in December, when Adm. Charles Richard, then-commander of U.S. Strategic Command, issued a classified memo to Congress under the auspices of Section 1648 of Public Law 117-81.

That law requires that U.S. Strategic Command inform Congress if and when China surpasses the United States in the number of its active intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the number of its ICBM launchers, or the number of nuclear warheads equipped to its ICBMs.

At the time, the unclassified version of the memo did not specify which of these three categories China had surpassed the United States in.

In a new memo, dated Jan. 26, 2023, current U.S. Strategic Command leader Gen. Anthony Cotton, clarified that the CCP had surpassed the United States in the number of its ICBM launchers, but not in the number of its actual ICBMs nor the number of nuclear warheads equipped to them.

“The number of land-based fixed and mobile ICBM launchers in China exceeds the number of ICBM launchers in the United States,” Cotton said in the memo (pdf).

China on Track to Overtake US Nuclear Arsenal

It is difficult to estimate the scale of China’s nuclear expansion, as the regime co-locates its nuclear and conventional missiles together, making their silos virtually indistinguishable from one another.

Previously, the Pentagon’s 2022 China Military Power Report stated that the regime’s arsenal included approximately 300 ICBMs and launchers. It also estimated that China had surpassed 400 operational nuclear warheads.

The United States, meanwhile, can deploy up to 1,550 nuclear warheads under the terms of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty but only maintains 400 Minuteman III ICBMs, each of which can carry just one nuclear warhead.

As such, Cotton’s memo appears to suggest that the CCP currently has more than 400 ICBM launchers, but fewer than 400 ICBMs and fewer than 400 nuclear warheads equipped to its ICBMs.

Still, counting the regime’s equipped warheads can be a tricky endeavor unto itself, because the CCP uses multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) on many of its missiles.

Unlike the United States Minuteman III ICBMs, which each carry one nuclear warhead, the CCP’s MIRVs allow its missiles to carry multiple warheads, with some reports suggesting that the regime’s medium-range DF-17 missile could carry anywhere from three to 10 warheads.

Relatedly, a 2021 report (pdf) by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) found that the rapid expansion of the regime’s MIRVs had increased the number of nuclear warheads capable of striking the U.S. homeland.

“Due to increases in China’s arsenal of ICBM missiles, launchers assigned to its ICBM brigades, and MIRV technology, the number of warheads that can be mounted on ICBMs threatening the United States is expanding,” the report stated.

To that end, Rogers led his Republican colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee by calling on the Biden administration to begin its own nuclear expansion and modernization program.

“The head of U.S. Strategic Command has informed us that China has surpassed the U.S. in the number of ICBM launchers—this should serve as a wake-up call for the United States,” he said in a Feb. 7 press release. t

“It is not an understatement to say that the Chinese nuclear modernization program is advancing faster than most believed possible. We have no time to waste in adjusting our nuclear force posture to deter both Russia and China. This will have to mean higher numbers and new capabilities.”

During his testimony, Rogers noted that the CCP had nearly tripled its military spending over the last decade, and said that the United States would need to act swiftly to counter the threat, or else risk losing the opportunity altogether.

“China is the most challenging national security threat America has faced in 30 years,” Rogers said. “If we fail to acknowledge that and take immediate action to deter it, the next 30 years could be devastating to our nation.”

“We have to stop being naive about the threat we face from China. We no longer have the luxury of time.”

Copper’s fight for critical mineral status gets political push

Copper’s fight for critical mineral status gets political push 

Some of the biggest names in copper have found high-ranking political allies to support their efforts to get the wiring metal added to a list of minerals deemed critical to the US.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema, an Independent from Arizona, sent a letter with other lawmakers on Thursday urging Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to “revisit and reconsider the designation of copper as a critical mineral.” Signers included other senators whose home states are hubs of copper production and manufacturing, including Mark Kelly of Arizona, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Indiana’s Mike Braun, Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Mitt Romney of Utah.

“This should be a no-brainer,” Sinema said in an interview. “We have major gaps in both our ability to mine and process these minerals to ensure our energy security for the future, and the administration knows how important copper is to our domestic and national security.”

The letter warns of a “significant increase in the supply risk” of copper driven by economic and geopolitical events like the war in Ukraine.

“Given the enormous investment required, the time lag for new sources of supply, and projected demand, time is of the essence,” the letter said.

Separately, Representatives Brian Higgins, a Democrat of New York, and Robert Latta, a Republican of Ohio signed a Feb. 2 letter also calling on Haaland to immediately reconsider adding copper as a critical mineral.

The push adds to lobbying by the Copper Development Association to urge the US government to consider copper critical, joining a list of 50 other minerals already identified as vital by the government. The association’s members include some of the biggest copper producers including Rio Tinto Group, BHP Group and Freeport-McMoRan Inc., as well as fabricators such as Mueller Industries Inc.

The US critical minerals list is updated every three years and includes key battery metals needed for electric vehicle production such as nickel, lithium and zinc. The latest update, in 2022, did not include copper despite the lobbying efforts, though it did add nickel and zinc. The senators are calling on the White House to skip the usual three-year review and add copper to the list as soon as possible.

Some of the world’s largest miners and metals traders have warned that a massive shortfall will emerge for copper, holding back global growth and throwing international climate goals off course given their importance to electrifying economies.

(By Jacob Lorinc)

Expert Hints at Intelligence Chinese Spy Balloon Might Seek

Frank Gaffney, executive chairman at the Center for Security Policy and the co-author of the new report, “The CCP is at War with America," at CPAC on Aug. 6, 2022. (Otabius Williams/The Epoch Times)

Frank Gaffney, executive chairman at the Center for Security Policy and the co-author of the new report, “The CCP is at War with America," at CPAC on Aug. 6, 2022. (Otabius Williams/The Epoch Times) 

An expert has hinted at the intelligence that the CCP might have been seeking to gather by sending its spy balloon over to the United States last week.

Frank Gaffney, executive chairman at the Center for Security Policy, told NTD’s “China in Focus” program, The Epoch Times’ sister media outlet, that the CCP might have a keen interest in monitoring communications in those silos.

The Chinese balloon was first sighted above Montana, a state that houses intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos, earlier last week. A top Pentagon official said on Feb. 3 that the balloon flew at 60,000 feet (18,300 meters), had the ability to maneuver, and changed course at some point during its flight, although he didn’t specify when.

United States, China
A high-altitude balloon floats over Billings, Montana, on Feb. 1, 2023. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)

What spurs on the action of the communist regime, Gaffney said, could be “the level of alert status on those sorts of things that could be relevant to calculations about their own military ambitions, whether it’s with respect to Taiwan, or perhaps helping the Russians in Ukraine, which the Chinese are doing a lot of.”

The think tank head raised a question on whether the communist regime is doing the same thing in Taiwan, with an aim at “desensitizing us to behavior that we should be very concerned about.”

War Warning

Air Force Gen. Mike Minihan said that he anticipated fighting between China and the United States to break out by 2025, in a memo leaked in late January.

Minihan wrote to the leadership of its roughly 110,000 members, saying, “My gut tells me we will fight in 2025.”

Gaffney pointed to the general’s warning saying, the path of the Chinese spy balloon over the United States might be a premonition of a potential war between America and China.

“This episode with the balloon, I have the feeling, has been reinforcing that perception,” Gaffney said in an interview set to be aired on Feb 6.

He believed that the warning is very important as it would urge the Air Mobility Command to take “these orders to heart and do what they can to up their readiness to train more effectively, and to operate in a manner that will help contribute to deterrence of the Chinese Communist Party so this war does not actually take place.”

“And as importantly, I pray that other senior officers in our military will be deciding this is in fact necessary within their commands as well. And if that’s the case, then there’s a chance that the Chinese will be persuaded that they don’t actually think they can have their way with us, which I fear is what they’re thinking now,” he added.

Deter the CCP

The official laid out steps that concerned citizens can follow to deter the CCP.

Gaffney pointed to billion dollars of United States pensions, retirement, and investment funds pouring into the Chinese economy, which he said, “are helping build the weapons that the People’s Liberation Army is obtaining to kill our servicemen and women, and maybe the rest of us as well.”

Many state governments in the United States have invested their pension funds with BlackRock, the world’s largest investment manager. According to a 2021 report (pdf) from Consumers’ Research, Washington, Florida, and New York were the top three investors, investing $13.8 billion, $10.7 billion, and $9.8 billion, respectively,

The report also warns about BlackRock putting investors’ money in Chinese companies with ties to the Chinese military, such as China’s biggest chipmaker, SMIC.

Gaffney called for the American people to cut off the funds by going to the people managing their money and saying: “I don’t want my money in China.”

“If China does go to war against our country, [which] I think it’s a pretty certain bet, none of that money that we’ve put in China is coming back,” he said.

They could also urge their representatives to find out how much money had been “put into the CCP’s coffers through these investments and end it at once.”

The concerned representatives, he said, should make it clear to Wall Street that “there must be no more going that way and bringing back what has gone.”

Frank Fang contributed to this report.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Balloon With 3 Hypersonic Missiles Tested by China in 2018

China tested hypersonic glide vehicles dropped from a balloon in 2018, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. (Screenshot via Chinese social media)

China tested hypersonic glide vehicles dropped from a balloon in 2018, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. (Screenshot via Chinese social media)

Chinese state-owned television aired footage of a high-altitude balloon dropping hypersonic weapons in 2018.

The stunning footage displays a high-altitude balloon, not dissimilar from the one that traversed over the United States last week, carrying three hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) into high altitude and dropping them for testing.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported on the weapons test in September 2018. The footage has since been deleted from Chinese media, but photographs and short clips can still be found online.

In one post from 2018, a Twitter user shared footage from Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, which shows the balloon lifting the three HGVs from the ground.

HGVs are generally launched by rockets in a similar manner to traditional missiles. Upon reaching orbit, however, HGVs detach from the rocket and fly through the atmosphere using their own momentum.

Such weapons are much faster than other missiles while they are in low orbit, but become much slower upon hitting the dense air of the atmosphere as they have no jets to power them. The three HGVs dropped by the balloon in the footage appear to have been designed to test this phenomenon.

The balloon-dropped HGVs were part of an effort to develop precision warheads for hypersonic weapons, which would give the Chinese military an “unstoppable nuclear-capable weapon,” according to the South China Morning Post.

Balloons One Part of China’s War Preparations

Paul Crespo, president of the Center for American Defense Studies, said that the balloon which traversed U.S. airspace this week could “absolutely” be a dry run for an attack using a balloon-mounted weapon, but that hypersonic missiles would likely not be a first choice for China’s communist regime.

“While China has tested hypersonic missiles launched from balloons in the past, that isn’t a likely use for these airships,” Crespo told The Epoch Times in an email. “The biggest threat is sending one or more of these high altitude balloons over the U.S. with a small nuclear EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) device.”

Epoch Times Photo
Illustration of the payload containing three hypersonic glide vehicles tested by China in 2018. (Epoch Times)

“Detonated at extremely high altitude, they could knock out power and communications across the US, wreaking widespread havoc for a year or more without firing a shot on the ground.”

Though Crespo did not believe that balloon-dropped hypersonics would be the next big thing in a nuclear conflict, the HGVs dropped in the footage may well have contributed to the development of the hypersonic weapon system secretly tested by China in 2021.

That system, then-Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten said, appeared to be intended for a “first-use” nuclear strike against the United States.

“They look like a first-use weapon,” Hyten said.

“The pace [China is] moving and the trajectory that they’re on will surpass Russia and the United States if we don’t do something to change it.”

Communist China is not alone in developing novel ways to use high-altitude balloons as weapons of war.

The United States has researched and tested the use of such balloons for deploying swarms of explosive-laden suicide drones since at least 2018.

The Pentagon is also investing tens of millions of dollars into high-altitude balloons that it intends to use for surveillance and, notably, hopes to use to track the CCP’s hypersonic arsenal.

The Epoch Times has requested comment from the White House and Pentagon.