US says it will help Japan monitor ‘unprecedented’ Chinese incursion

US cybersecurity firm says Beijing hackers attacked Vatican networks Reuters BEIJING: Hackers linked to the Chinese government have infiltrated Vatican computer networks, including the Roman Catholic Church’s Hong Kong-based representative, a US firm that tracks state-backed cyberattacks said on Wednesday. It said the attacks began in May. The Vatican and Beijing were expected to engage in talks this year over the renewal of a landmark 2018 deal that stabilised relations between China and the Church. US cybersecurity firm Recorded Future said in the report that the attacks targeted the Vatican and the Catholic diocese of Hong Kong, including the head of the Hong Kong Study Mission, who is seen as Pope Francis’ de facto representative to China. The report said the targets included communications between the Hong Kong diocese and the Vatican and used similar tools and methods previously identified with Chinese state-backed hacking groups. China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. Beijing routinely denies it engages in any state-backed hacking attempts, and says it is a victim of such threats. A Vatican spokesperson had no immediate comment. The Hong Kong Study Mission did not respond to a request for comment. The reported hacking follows an extremely rare meeting between Beijing and the Vatican’s foreign minister in Germany earlier this year, marking the highest-level official encounter between the two sides in decades. Relations between the two have been improving and they have been expected to renew the provisional two-year deal on the operation of the Catholic Church in China this September. A Chinese delegation had been due to visit the Vatican as part of continuing talks but there was no indication if or when they would travel because of the coronavirus outbreak, a senior Vatican source has said. The source, who spoke to Reuters before the hacking report, said it was still not clear if the deal would be automatically extended because of the pandemic and for how long.


TOKYO: The US military will help Japan monitor “unprecedented” Chinese incursions around East China Sea islands controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing as Chinese boats prepare to begin fishing in nearby waters, the commander of US Forces Japan said on Wednesday.

“The US is 100% absolutely steadfast in its commitment to help the government of Japan with the situation,” Lieutenant-General Kevin Schneider said during an online press conference.

“They (Chinese ships) would go in and out a couple of times a month and now we are seeing them basically park and truly challenge Japan’s administration,” he added.

Schneider’s comments come as he and other senior US commanders criticise Beijing for pushing territorial claims in Asia amid the coronavirus pandemic and a sharp deterioration in relations between the US and China.

In the latest spat, Beijing this week closed down the US consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu after Washington shuttered China’s consulate in Houston, Texas.

China reacted within an hour to the comments from Schneider, who also described Beijing’s actions as “aggressive and malign”.

The foreign ministry said the islands were Chinese territory and called on “all parties to uphold stability in the region”.

The dispute over the East China Sea islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, has simmered for years.

Washington is neutral on the question of sovereignty but has pledged to help Japan defend them against attack.

Beijing will likely end a fishing ban in the East China Sea around Aug 15, allowing a large trawler fleet backed by a maritime militia, the Chinese coast guard and the Chinese navy to fish around the disputed islands, Schneider said.

Japan hosts the biggest concentration of US forces in Asia, including an aircraft carrier strike group, fighter squadrons and an amphibious force deployed in Okinawa.

There are about 50,000 military personnel and their families members in Japan.

Those troops are operating under restrictions, including curbs on travel and large gatherings following coronavirus outbreaks at some bases, including US Marine facilities in Okinawa, where many local residents are unhappy about the US military presence.

Schneider said there were 139 active coronavirus cases on Wednesday and in a statement with the Japanese government promised to publish a list of cases twice a week to reassure Japanese residents.