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China’s navy to join Thailand and Malaysia for training exercise as military seeks to build bridges with neighbours
China and the United States are competing in a new round of military diplomacy in Southeast Asia this week, as Beijing plays catch-up in an effort to build trust with its neighbours, analysts said.
A joint naval exercise to be held this weekend between China, Malaysia and Thailand in the Strait of Malacca follows US Defence Secretary James Mattis’s visit to Singapore and Vietnam, which started Monday.
China will send three destroyers and frigates, two shipborne helicopters, three Il-76 transport aircraft and a total of 692 servicemen to the nine-day exercise named Peace and Friendship 2018.
The drills start on Saturday and will be held off Port Dickson and Port Klang in Malaysia.
China’s defence ministry said the exercise was intended to demonstrate the common will of the armed forces of the three countries to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea region, strengthen practical exchanges and cooperation, and enhance their ability to jointly respond to various security threats.
“It does not target any country,” it added.
The drill will be held amid the increasing bitter competition between China and the United States, which has spilled over into a stand-off between the two countries’ navies in the disputed South China Sea.
Last month an American warship and a Chinese one came close to colliding in the waters near the Spratly Islands.
It is the second time China has taken part in a drill in the Malacca Strait, which links the Indian Ocean and the Pacific and is one of the world’s most important shipping lanes.
The exercise will follow US Secretary of Defence James Mattis’s visit to Vietnam and Singapore for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defence Ministers’ Meeting, which started on Monday.
Mattis will meet key leaders to reaffirm defence relationships and conduct bilateral and trilateral meetings with senior officials, the US embassy in Singapore said.
China claims a large area of the resource-rich sea, but other countries, including Malaysia, have their own competing claims.
Brunei, the Philippines, Vietnam and the self-ruled island of Taiwan also claim various parts of the South China Sea.
Military and diplomatic observers said the trilateral exercise was a way to show how Asean countries and China can work together on defence and security issues, especially in less sensitive areas.
“For Malaysia and Thailand it’s a way of showcasing confidence-building with China and also signals that they aren’t choosing sides in the Great Power rivalries in the South China Sea.
“Their intention will be to demonstrate the resolve to promote regional peace and stability with anyone who wishes to do so,” said Collin Koh, a maritime security specialist at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.
“China will likely see this as yet another showcase to prove that along with Asean countries it can safeguard peace and stability, and of course it may feed into the overall justifications China uses customarily to oppose external interference in the South China Sea.”
Zhang Jie, a South China Sea expert from Chinese Academy of Social Science said the drill could help China improve its military cooperation with Asean countries, which has long been a weak spot.
“Take into consideration that such a military exercise would have been prepared long ago.
“It would not necessarily be aimed at United States, but is more of a trust-building exercise between China and Asean countries,” said Zhang.
“A stable relationship between China and Asean is vital for China to push its Belt and Road Initiative further and empower China when competing against the US in the region,” Zhang added.
For the second straight day, the Seattle Seahawks practiced football in beautiful sunshine on the shores of Lake Washington. Football is back, training camp is well underway, and in true Seahawks…
Grab your controller. Study the attack combo. Hold up. Click-click-click. Swing wrist down.
I spent a few days trying to reach Chris Pratt-levels of raptor mastery. It took some patience and practice — but man, is it fun.
Mattel just may have the hottest tech toy of the year with Alpha Training Blue. The $250 dino toy will ship in time for the holidays, and you can preorder it now on Amazon. It’s an interactive velociraptor you train with a remote-control clicker, similar to Pratt’s character in the Jurassic World movies.
Now Playing:Watch this: This Jurassic World robot raptor is one clever girl
Built into its programming is a training game that requires you to master combos of clicking and moving your hand to level up your bond with Blue. But you can also switch to other modes. Blue will sometimes randomly animate and growl to act alive. She can guard your space to alert you when someone is near with motion sensors in her snout. She reacts to sound and petting on her nose and chin. And you can take complete control to move her like a puppet.
Seven servo motors inside offer precise movement of her neck, head and jaw. A joystick on the controller will control her mouth, shift her eyes left and right — it even manipulates how much her eyelids blink. (And yes, there’s plenty of that movie-quality raptor squawking, chirping and roaring fans want.)
A radio-controlled mode will send her zipping around hard floors, swinging her tail back and forth as her hips sway with each step. Wheels on the bottom of her feet keep movement smooth, making her sort of like a rollerblading dino.
It’s for ages 8 and up, and it’s flat out the coolest robot toy I’ve seen yet this year. It’s just fun to play with something so detailed and fluid.
Mattel spared no expense
Blue’s lead designer, Michael Kadile, said the two-year project resulted in the most complex toy Mattel has ever created. He’s also designed other highly detailed tech toys for Mattel, including 2017’s Ultimate Justice League Batmobile.
The hardest part of the raptor design? Getting her to walk with speed and grace. Other robot dinos on the market avoid this challenge by not having moving legs, instead opting to use wheels as feet. Raptor robots of the past would hobble on massive claws to keep balance. Nothing walks quite like Blue.
“The fact that the hip had to move in time with the feet, in time with the speed … that took a year and half for it to walk and be stable,” Kadile said. “And every animation had to be timed to getting it back in the right walking position so it didn’t faceplant.”
Trainers, uh, find a way
When Kadile began programming the training section of Blue, he was also in the middle of training his own puppy at home: Pico, an Alaskan Klee Kai. The experience of training his pup — the need to be exact with each command and gesture — shaped how he built the raptor’s training game.
The accelerometer inside the controller requires you to move your hand just the right way to execute the trick, combined with using a clicker button. A printed guide book helps with tips.
If you don’t do it right, the controller will buzz and flash a red light. Sometimes I would try a trick over and over again for 10 minutes until I got it right. A green light and multiple buzzes alerts you of success, eventually leveling up your friendship to unlock more abilities as you progress.
“What she does is train you to do the movements right,” Kadile said.
Just like any pet, you’ll need to give a treat with a job well done. Reward Blue with a pet on the nose or by throwing her food. Press down on the treat button, and her head will follow the “meat” in your hand as you move until you motion to toss it and release the button. Then watch her chomp away at the invisible snack. Raptor friendship achievement unlocked.
Some of these trick moves are not easy, but within an hour I got pretty far in the game. Blue and I are now best buds, yet I still struggle with a few tricks. I could use more practice on my technique.
“If I made it super easy I don’t think there would be anything rewarding about finishing it,” Kadile said. And he’s right. I didn’t find it so challenging that I wanted to quit, yet it wasn’t so easy that I was bored.
And let me just say how refreshing it is to not have to stare at a phone screen to operate it, like so many other tech toys today. It’s just you, Blue, and the clicker — which puts you in the moment and makes the playtime more engaging.
But if you do get bored with Blue and stuff her in a closet, she’ll forget her training over time. It’s a hidden feature to the beast. An internal clock is counting down time between play, and after a month you may have to do some work to get her back to where she was in her skills.
You never had control. That’s the illusion
Mattel also gave it another quirk: You can never train it to be 100 percent obedient. After all, as any fan knows, you can never truly control a raptor. There are moments she won’t respond the way you want or do the trick. It’s a brilliant twist to the design. Any user error or delay in response time isn’t a deal breaker — it becomes part of the make-believe of playing with a wild animal.
You can get about an hour of playtime out of it before it’ll need a recharge, but it seems to recharge fast, in under 30 minutes. If there’s any need for a software update, it can be done through a USB connection, with updates posted to Mattel’s website. It also means new capabilities and tricks could be enabled in time.
I don’t know what other tricks she can do to get much cooler. Unless it figures out how to open doors.
The Seattle Seahawks announced Monday that 13 training camp practices will be open for fans to attend at the VMAC in Renton beginning July 26 and ending Aug. 16.