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CNN NEWSROOM

Defense Chiefs from U.S. and China Meet in Singapore; CNN Obtains Rare Access inside Myanmar; Afghans Prepare for Long-Delayed Election; Democrats Try to Turn LGBT Energy into Votes; Duke and Duchess of Sussex in Australia; Sources: Turks Acted Swiftly To Khashoggi's Dissapearance; Gabbard: U.S. Should Reevaluate Saudi Relations; Trump Threatens To Send Military If Immigrants Reach The Border; Thousands Of Central American Migrants Head For U.S.; China Report's Slowest Quarterly GDP Growth In Years; E.U. Ready To Extend Brexit Transition. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired October 19, 2018 - 01:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:00:00] NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Trump Administration is still giving the benefit of the doubt to the Saudis but the U.S. President now admits it certainly looks like journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead. As a caravan of Central American migrants draws closer to the U.S., President Trump is threatening to seal the border and praising Mexico for its handling of the crisis. And power-play, U.S. bombers air through the South China Sea ahead of a key meeting between the U.S. and Chinese Defense Chiefs.

Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world I'm Nick Watt and this is CNN NEWSROOM.

We are learning stunning new details about the disappearance and possible murder of missing Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi and just how quickly Turkish authorities left into action. Sources say it only took a few hours on the day he disappeared for Turkish authorities to suspect Khashoggi had been killed. Even U.S. President Donald Trump now seems to accept the worst. When asked by reporters on Thursday if Khashoggi was dead, Mr. Trump responded it certainly looks that way to me.

Underscoring that grim assessment, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Thursday announced he is canceling his appearance at next week's high-profile investment conference in Riyadh. The move came just hours after his French British and Dutch counterparts also pulled out. And all this triggering a sell-off on Wall Street with the Dow closing down 327 points.

The Turkish response to Khashoggi's disappearance began about three and a half hours after he went inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. That's when his fiance who'd been waiting for an outside alerted and advisor to Turkish President that The Washington Post Columnist had apparently vanished. That one phone call set off a rapid chain of events. Here CNN's Nic Robertson. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: We're talking to multiple sources here in Turkey and other sources elsewhere. We've been able to develop that much more precise picture of how quickly authorities here were able to realize what had happened to Jamal Khashoggi to the point that the very evening but the day that he disappeared they were able to get the police at the airport and intelligence operatives at the airport to check out a private charter jet that was flying back to Saudi Arabia. Jamal Khashoggi's fiance was waiting outside the consulate.

After about three and a half hours she realized something was wrong, she called a senior advisor to President Erdogan. He then called a number of government officials including intelligence officials and as well called the Saudi ambassador in Ankara. The Saudi ambassador said he had no knowledge about what had happened to Jamal Khashoggi. So about 6 p.m. that afternoon the intelligence officials began to review their data from their recording material inside the consulate. This is recording material that the Turkish authorities have not yet publicly acknowledged that exists.

So the intelligence officials after screening that material and they get their hands on it around about 6:00 p.m. in the afternoon, within an hour or so they beginning to realize what has happened to Jamal Khashoggi that he was beaten, tortured, killed, and his body dismembered. They then contact the airport police and say that they're concerned that Jamal Khashoggi might be abducted. The police at the airport say that they've got seven Saudis there. The Turkish officials were later -- were later named people of interest, people they say we're on a hit squad that came to kill Jamal Khashoggi.

The police at the airport say they've screamed those seven Saudis who were waiting to get onto that private charter jet later that evening to fly back to Riyadh. They've screen them and screen their bags. They say there's nothing suspicious there.

Undercover intelligence operatives then go on that private charter jet. They're dressed as cleaners, there -- so they have a disguise. They search the aircraft find nothing untoward there. The aircraft and the seven passengers were able to take off later that day. What Turkish authorities weren't able to do was to search a plane that again a private charter jet that flew to Riyadh earlier in the day. And again that plane, one of -- one of two planes the Turkish officials say carried members of that hit squad enter into Turkey on that day to kill Jamal s Kishori and then left.

And so Turkish authorities able to act very, very swiftly and their information on what happened inside the consulate has remained consistent throughout that Jamal Khashoggi within an hour or so of going into the building was brutally tortured, killed, and his body dismembered. And the Turkish authorities now continue to look for his body. They were very fast off the mark that first night but where the whereabouts of his body remains a mystery. Nic Robertson, CNN Istanbul, Turkey.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[01:05:08] WATT: There are of course global ramifications to this apparent murder. Some touting the fallout is the greatest foreign policy challenge of Trump's presidency. Sources telling CNN that his advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner who is close with the Saudi Crown Prince is advising Trump to proceed slowly and cautiously citing seemingly crucial Saudi support in U.S. dealings with Iran and other issues.

Now, on Thursday, Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee tweeted about the president's mention of arms deals with Saudi Arabia as a reason precaution. She tweeted Trump's argument is if the U.S. doesn't sell weapons to the Saudis someone else will, that's like heroin dealer justifying his trade. Speaking with my colleague Jake Tapper earlier, Gabbard also said that Trump is acting like the U.S. is a corporation and he is a businessman without a conscience. She also had this to say about Saudi Arabia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: This should challenge us to look at the facts of Saudi Arabia's record beyond what has happened to this journalist. Things like Saudi Arabia being a theocratic dictatorship, Saudi Arabia being this number one exporter of the extreme Wahabi (INAUDIBLE) ideology that's fueling terrorist groups like ISIS and al- Qaeda to the tune of billions of dollars a year. Saudi Arabia waging -- continuing to wage the centuries-old sectarian war, the Sunni Shia war in which part of that war they are funding, financing, providing weapons and support to terrorist groups like al-Qaeda in places like Syria and also waging a genocidal war in Yemen.

So this should force this tougher conversation here and to be confronted with the fact that Saudi Arabia, in fact, is not our ally. Their interests do not align with ours.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATT: I'm joined now by Bob Baer. He's CNN Intelligence and Security Analyst and a former CIA operative. Bob, what do you think is on behind closed doors between the U.S. and the Saudis right now?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think the main thing that's happening as the Turks are providing more and more forensic information, they've clearly backed Trump into a corner. You can't claim this as a rogue operation. You can't claim that Khashoggi disappeared in Istanbul and I think he's dealing with the facts now. And they're looking for a way out.

This is a terrible dilemma simply because the Trump administration cannot break with Saudi Arabia or even Mohammed bin Salman in any major way simply because of oil, arms, and everything else and it's our -- frankly it's our only Arab ally with any weight behind it in the Middle East. And this -- there goes as Iran policy if he breaks with Saudi Arabia. So I know right now tonight the White House is desperately looking for

a way out and one consideration is easing Mohammed bin Salman out you know, you know, get him to abdicate from being Crown Prince.

Now, clearly this man is not going to walk away easily but the family has got to come together, get to the king and say this young man has got to go. I don't I don't see any other out.

WATT: Bob, I mean, we heard from sector state Mike Pompeo again today and he had this to say. You know, we ought to give them, the Saudis is a few more days to complete their investigation so that we too have a complete understanding of the facts. And he goes on to say you know, we have a long-standing relationship with the kingdom. They're an important partner. We need to be mindful of that as well.

Now, you and Pompeo were both in this kind of the same line of work. Would you be like Pompeo is sort of accepting that this Saudi investigation of themselves will actually yield any meaningful, truthful answers?

BAER: No, no way. I mean, I've watched Saudi Arabia from the inside and as a journalist and they just are not going to talk about internal affairs to us. They are not going to come clean with us. Pompeo has got to know by now. If there are disputes in the family or if Mohammed bin Salman, they find out that he gave the orders to dismember Khashoggi, they're just not going to -- they're not going to level with us especially Mohammed bin Salman. I think that Pompeo is just hoping they come up with the scapegoat for this man's murder, one that's believable and so far they're not. As far as I've heard he got nothing out of the Saudis when he went to Riyadh, nothing at all.

WATT: I mean, within the Trump Administration, the person who seems to be the most forceful in his words towards the Saudis is Mike Pence. What might the thinking be there that Pence is being the kind of more vocal striving one?

[01:10:08] BAER: Well, Pence understands that Mohammed bin Salman has got to go and he's looking for a way out as we speak. I mean, he's much more realistic. Foreign policy a lot has gravitated to Pence's office. This is over the last six months so I think you're going to see Pence as going to be a decisive vote on where we go next. But frankly, whether you're -- you detest Trump or you like him, he is in a horrible situation now.

I mean, again I keep on going back to oil. If Mohammed bin Salman should cut back a lifting oil by four or five million barrels, it will cause the world's economy to go into a tailspin. Let's be frank about it. It's the worst thing that could happen to the Trump administration is for Americans to pay four or five dollars for a gallon gasoline. They know it. You know, I hate the pun but they've got us over a barrel but what do you do?

We just -- we don't understand how the Saudi royal family works and we do not have many levers to make changes there. Even you have a despot in control of that country but I don't see his abdicating happening anytime soon. WATT: I mean, I wonder how this is going to play out, how you think

this is going to play out. I mean, is there going to be lots of hand- wringing and then eventually we all just move on the new cycle rolls on and in a few months this is all but forgotten?

BAER: That's up to Erdogan. If Erdogan releases the tapes and especially if there's video and it show some horrible situation. The Turks are pretty much controlling this and they're doing a wonderful job of roasting Mohammed bin Salman and Trump on this. They really have them in a corner and it's up to Erdogan. And it's -- maybe order one it's going to cut a deal with the Saudis. Everybody is talking about that or with the (INAUDIBLE).

You know you lift the embargo, you -- money exchanges hands, the Turks backtracks, well maybe it didn't happen this way. There's any number of scenarios. Frankly, I don't trust the Turks or the Saudis and we are on the sidelines which is the situation we really don't want to be in where the country is important, Saudi Arabia.

I mean, I have no time for its culture or its export or its connections to 9/11 but on the other hand if the country is destabilized were in trouble and I just do not see Mohammed bin Salman spending the next 60 years on the throne of Saudi Arabia however long he lives and not have another catastrophe occur or completely destabilize the kingdom. I just don't see a happy ending to his ascending of the throne.

WATT: Bob Baer, thank you as always for your insight and your time.

BAER: Thank you.

WATT: A caravan of migrants is approaching the U.S. border with Mexico and President Trump is warning that he will shut the border down if Mexico can't stop that flow of desperate people. Right now thousands of men women and children are traveling through Central America. They're hoping to apply for humanitarian visas in Mexico that will let them through and maybe into the U.S. but the Trump administration is telling Mexico to stop the migrants before they get to the U.S.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is meeting with leaders in Mexico City Friday to drive that message home. Earlier Pompeo welcomed Mexico's decision to get help from the U.N. refugee agency to process the migrants. President Trump, meanwhile, is blaming the whole thing on the Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As you know, I'm willing to send the military to defend our southern border if necessary. All caused because of the illegal immigration onslaught brought by the Democrats because they refuse to acknowledge or to change the laws. They like it. They also figure everybody coming in is going to vote Democrat.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WATT: CNN Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein joins me now from Los Angeles. Ron, we just heard the president there at a rally in Montana tonight and also there was, of course, a Twitter flurry today as well and he was using words like assault on our country, criminals in all caps, drugs in all caps, drugs pouring in and onslaught. Is it any coincidence that he's using this language with less than three weeks before the crucial Midterm Elections here in the States?

[01:14:43] RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. You hit the nail right on the head. I mean, it is striking. One of these most striking about this election season is that after 2016 when Republicans were uneasy with the way that the president talked about immigration, we should remember when he announced his candidacy he talks about Mexicans as rapists and murderers, that the party has moved by and large I think to a remarkable extent, we are seeing candidates. Anyway, his language ads about immigration and undocumented immigrants as you know, as a threat, that become common in Republican races all over the country. It hasn't really shown to have a lot of bite.

So far, I mean, last year in 2017, the Virginia and the Virginia governor's race which was the first big test of the Trump era, the Republican candidate basically put all of their chips on.

Is warning people about MS-13 at -- you know, Central American gang. And it didn't -- it didn't produce what they hope. In fact, they produce a backlash in many white-collar suburbs. But there's no question that Republicans in this midterm election are relying on this theme far more than in 2016, as a reflection of how much the party is being pulled. Almost like -- you know, finally magnet. But toward this vision -- listen that the president has espoused.

WATT: Now, as the other interesting news on this topic out of Washington today was this apparent fight in the West Wing between national security advisor John Bolton and chief of staff John Kelly over immigration.

Apparently, voices were raised, people were worried that one or both of them was going to resign. I mean, Sarah Sanders, the White House spokesperson came back and said, "Well, we are passionate about solving the issue of illegal immigration." The argument was about immigration. "We are not angry at one another.

However, we are furious at the failure of congressional Democrats to help us address this growing crisis. What does this fight in the West Wing tell us about the mood in there right now?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, they're both hardliners in immigration. You know, General Kelly I think was that many Democrats and immigration experts, when did -- when he came into the administration, thought he was going to be a restraining influence. He really hasn't been.

I mean, he takes a very hard line on these issues as well. I think the point of the dispute was this idea of the president of cutting off foreign aid to countries that he feel is not -- are not sufficiently cracking down on undocumented immigration. And I think, General Kelly, through his experience in the Southern Command was making the point -- the correct point that -- you know, we don't do this totally out of charity or out of a favor. We do it because we believe it contributes this ability -- this being providing aid. Contributes stability -- contributes the stability in the region, and that -- and that revoking it in many ways would be cutting off our nose despite our face.

So, I mean, he is -- he is someone who -- you know has a temper. But on the general thrust of -- you know, pursuing a hard line, it's not really clear there is another side in this administration.

WATT: Yet, Ron, while I got you, I just want to ask you about the language in one other Trump tweet from today. Again, it was about immigration, he's talking about Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, and he calls them, countries which seem to have almost no control over their population.

I mean, a country that has control over their population to not let that population out. I mean, that country ruled by a despot. What does it tell us about Trump, that he apparently sees things through that prism?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, it's fascinating. Look, it's very clear. I mean, and it has been clear for -- you know, not only the two years of the presidency but really for the entire campaign that he has a lot of respect for authoritarian leaders. And he kind of -- you know, and he kind of admires their ability to mold their entire society, to control the levers of power, to limit dissent just tonight after this horrific -- you know, apparent murder of a journalist, he was praising in Montana, a Montana candidate who physically threw a reporter to the floor when he asked him a question that he didn't like, and he said that it probably helped him.

And so, you know, that is -- I mean, there is that kind of authoritarian envy in a lot of what he -- what he does and says. It is also worth remembering that -- I think that we talked about immigration, we could talk about the press, we could talk about Democrats.

The key to the Trump electoral strategy which is on display is to constantly mobilize his base by telling they -- telling them they are under threat by people who don't look like them, whether they're Guatemala refugees or undocumented immigrants, or coastal elites, or any of these.

And that he is the one who can defend it, and the only way they can defend themselves is to come out and vote, and that is the key. There has to be a threat in enemy. That he is the last line of defense against.

And certainly, immigration was today but there will be others between now and the election 2-1/2 weeks from now.

WATT: Ron, joining us from Los Angeles. Thanks very much for your insights. BROWNSTEIN: Thanks for having me.

WATT: Next, the Chinese economy could be showing symptoms of the U.S. trade war. What new GDP figures say about the country's growth? Coming up.

And it's not just the multinationals in London who are nervous about Brexit. Smaller companies, deep in leaf country have their own concerns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:21:48] WATT: It looks like the world's second-largest economy might be feeling the impacts of the U.S. trade war. China, says its GDP grew 6.5 percent this quarter. Now, many countries would envy that number, but it's China's weakest quarterly growth since the aftermath of the global financial crisis back in 2009.

This time last year, China was reporting 6.8 percent. Here is how Asian markets are doing after that news. Nikkei down, yes, next level flat.

For more, I am joined now live from Los Angeles by Ryan Patel. He's a global business analyst. Ryan, is this the result of the Trump led tariff laden trade war?

RYAN PATEL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Not all of it. You know, not yet, at least. So, you're going to start seeing this maybe next year. But this is a part of quite a few things. We obviously knew that sales from different sectors are going to affect this. Not just for the infrastructure spending, obviously the debt had been a big, big concern for the Chinese government. I'm trying to get that down that's actually helped slow the growth to that perspective.

But what's interesting behind this is you will now start to feel the exporting and business from this trade piece now of where are they going to get this -- you know, get this manufacturing power behind it?

WATT: I mean, is there also an issue with domestic demand? I mean, this isn't just about exports.

PATEL: Yes. And it's -- and it is, right? I mean, although it was one cause of thought that came out it was retail sales happened to be actually 9.2 percent compared early to it was a little bit above but what was -- what was kind of in the numbers a little bit was automotive sales -- automotive sales were down.

You had -- you know, investment, kind of they're looking for more investment, and create more liquidity in the currency as well. So, that's part of the reason why the GDP is a concern for China. They want to make sure it continued to be -- there is investments in spending still going through.

WATT: I mean, will they take this in their stride or are they genuinely concerned? PATEL: You know, I actually think that they are fully aware that this is a situation that they need to get a hold of. I mean, concern -- I think any like you said, anybody would want six percent GDP growth.

But for them, they have bigger plans from the 2020 plan, 2025 plan of infrastructure spending. Their focus of not being subtle with this situation. And then -- and I think, with them looking for policy measures, and I think the Central Bank came out for China trying to calm the nerves.

That's why you saw the market in China and the Asian markets isn't actually as red as you think it should be. They're not overly reacting to it. But I think the calmness is still kind of there.

WATT: And I mean, this is not the beginning of a gradual dreadful decline for the Chinese.

PATEL: No, I mean it's, it's, it's, very -- I mean, listen, what's the worst it's going to happen to get to six percent next year? I mean, that's still good. I get not in terms of the overall perspective where they want to be. So, it's not like it's going to drop to 2 to 1 percent.

But it's not a situation with the country their size being the number two player that they want. So, it will be very interesting to see even last month that the trade surplus between the U.S. and China obviously increased. So, let's see what leverage now becomes between the U.S. and China when it comes to trade war now.

[01:25:03] WATT: Ryan from Los Angeles. Thank you very much for your time. Meanwhile, in Europe, the Brexit timetable may be slipping on Thursday. The European Union said it was ready to extend the transition period to 28 months.

The original plan called for just 21 starting as soon as the U.K. leaves the E.U. in March. British Prime Minister Theresa May, says she hopes an extension will not be needed.

It's not just major multinationals in London who are concerned about a no deal on Brexit. Smaller companies, many located deep in leaf country are paralyzed by the uncertainty, as well. Here is CNN's Nina dos Santos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN EUROPE EDITOR: The Brexit wave gearing up to hit businesses in this coastal English town hard.

PETER PHILLIPS, FOUNDER, UNICORN TRAINING, BOURNEMOUTH UNITED KINGDOM: The biggest problem Brexit at the moment is we have no idea what it is. It could be anything on this very wide spectrum.

SANTOS: Peter Phillips is the CEO of a company that develops online corporate training programs in Bournemouth. A place that voted to leave the E.U. by 55 to 45percent. Get the sense that anecdotally, people change their minds. PHILLIPS: Almost everybody including the Brexiteers agree that every option on the table now is worse than staying where we are. But it doesn't seem to necessarily change people's minds.

SANTOS: Businesses like his have rejuvenated the town in recent years. Transforming it rise sleepy seaside city to a vibrant London alternative. It's now home to dozens of digital startups, design firms, and a JPMorgan office that employs more than 4,000 people.

PHILLIPS: It is a financial services hub, and it's a high-tech hub with lots and lots of small businesses. And I think, both of those two sectors are going to be adversely affected behind Brexit.

SANTOS: As British Prime Minister Theresa May comes back from Brussels without a Brexit solution, some businesses here are considering leaving the U.K. before the U.K. leaves the E.U.

DUNCAN MCWILLIAM, FOUNDER, OUTPOST VFX: My employees want to know what's going on. For that in the next year, they want to know if they're safe here.

SANTOS: Outpost VFX works on some of Hollywood's biggest blockbusters. The visual effect staff that employs 70 people and plans to add another 30 more staff, at least. But this May's final Brexit deal fails to grant them freedom of movement, it will be Barcelona, the company expands in, not Bournemouth.

MCWILLIAM: 33 percent of my workforce and the UK's VFX workforce is made up of E.U. citizens. Anything that slows down the employment of a moveable workforce is a massive problem to make.

SANTOS: And so, with Brexit edging closer, and no deal in sight, small enterprises in Bournemouth and beyond are visualizing their future across the channel. Nina dos Santos, CNN, Bournemouth.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: Tensions between China and the U.S. have been capturing the world attention. When we return, how a key meeting just hours ago played out between the defense Chiefs from both countries. Stay with us.

Plus, thousands of Rohingya have been living in dire refugee camps in Myanmar. They were told they'd only be there for a few weeks that was back in 2012. Our Matt Rivers got rare access to speak to them. Their stories when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:30:50] NICK WATT, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Nick Watt and the headlines this hour.

Sources tell CNN that Turkish authorities reacted within hours to the disappearance of Saudi journal Jamal Khashoggi and quickly suspected that he'd been killed. Even the U.S. president now seems to accept that likelihood when asked on Thursday if dead, Donald Trump replied "It certainly looks that way to me."

The U.S. president is threatening to send military troops to the border with Mexico if a caravan of Central American migrants tries to cross into the U.S. Thousands of men, women and children are headed for the border but the Trump administration hopes Mexico will stop them before they get there.

And it looks like the world's second largest economy is feeling a little bit of the impact to the U.S. trade war. China says its GDP grew 6.5 percent this quarter. Last year China reported 6.8 percent growth. It's China's weakest quarterly growth since 2009.

And now to Singapore where U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has gotten together with his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe. Reportedly trying to ease tensions between Washington and Beijing, the pair met on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations forum just hours ago. The Chinese government requested the meeting according to U.S. Defense sources and both sides spent significant time discussing the South China Sea according to those same sources.

Earlier this month, Secretary Mattis called off a trip to Beijing to meet with Minister Wei amid rising tensions on multiple fronts between both countries. This is what Mattis said just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think that as we have noted earlier, we want a constructive relationship between the United States and China. We do not want to test this. We want a constructive relationship and we'll continue to cooperate wherever we can

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATT: Let's bring in Carl Schuster. He's a visiting assistant professor of history at Hawaii Pacific University. He also has more than 30 years of professional experience in the U.S. Navy specializing in intelligence.

So Carl -- if you can just talk us through what we've seen this week. We've seen a grip-and-grin meeting between the Defense Ministers but we've also seen, you know, two U.S. B-52s flying over the South China Sea. The U.S. claims it's a routine mission. Is it?

CARL SCHUSTER, HAWAII PACIFIC UNIVERSITY: It is in a way. We have to transit through that airspace to get to Diego Garcia and do our deployments in the Indian Ocean. The B-52 movements are part of our -- what we're trying to develop as a continuous presence in areas. And so both sides have a position to defend under international law.

Under international law you only have the right to defend. So when we fly through that space which China claims is their territorial airspace, we do not recognize that claim. So we fly through treating it as international airspace. They warn us against it which they have to. They stop warning us against it -- that constitutes a tacit acceptance of our transiting through their airspace which weakens their claim to it as a territorial airspace. They'll do the same thing with ships passing through there.

And so we meet our side of that obligation by saying we're transiting through what we claim as international airspace And when we pass through the South China Sea with a ship we tell them we're doing passage through international waters to basically say we don't recognize these waters as entirely yours. We'll only recognize the 12 mile limit.

WATT: Yes. I mean is this all just posturing or is there a real chance that this could degenerate into something more serious there in the South China Sea?

SCHUSTER: Well, there's always a possibility of miscalculation. For example, the buffer drills as we call them that occurred on Sunday, a little over a week ago. You know, a miscalculation when you're doing that sort of aggressive maneuvering can lead to a collision, damage, loss of life.

[01:35:04] And so there's the chance, in that case, of damage and miscalculation. In terms of an open conflict or outbreak of war, the odds are very much against it. Both militaries are very professional. Both militaries are simply exercising what they're political leadership has directed them to do.

In the case of the B-52, it's a combatant aircraft so they'll warn them but they won't do any dangerous maneuvers around it because it is a combat aircraft. The same might not be said of a reconnaissance aircraft. It depends on how much pressure they want to put on us.

They have done dangerous maneuvers around our reconnaissance aircraft in the international air space off the coast of China. And so it's a matter of political guidance to the military leaders and then the military execution of that critical guidance.

So there is a growing risk, if you will, or a greater risk than there was five years ago but still it's not a great risk.

WATT: Carl Schuster joining us from Hawaii. Thanks a lot for your time.

SCHUSTER: You're welcome -- sir. Thank you.

WATT: Now -- more than 700,000 Rohingya have escaped Myanmar since August of last year fleeing a military operation that the U.N. described as genocide.

CNN's Matt Rivers and his team received rare access by Myanmar's government to meet with some of the Rohingya Muslims still living in Rakhine state. The tour apparently an attempt by Myanmar to convince the world that they didn't commit genocide despite the mounting evidence collected by the U.N. and others.

Matt joins us now from Beijing with more on this special report -- Matt.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nick -- basically, you're exactly right. The Myanmar government trying to change the narrative here and one of the places that they took us to in Rakhine State was a place that Rohingya Muslims are already living in camps that they've been in since 2012.

And as you're about to see, the conditions in these camps are horrible and when Rohingya Muslims that actually fled the violence last year looked at the potential or the possibility of coming back, they looked at camps that already exist as a sort of bellwether for what their future might hold. It's part of the reason they don't want to return.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RIVERS: Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in 2017, after violence the U.N. calls a genocide. But when Myanmar's government tells the refugees to come back, this place is the possible future many are afraid of.

This is a refugee camp well south of where the killing happened. These people are Rohingya, too, a Muslim minority.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like an open prison. Even in prison the prisoners they know how long they have to be there in the prison.

RIVERS: We obscured this man's identity so he could speak openly. He and other Rohingya came here in 2012 when violence broke out in Rakhine and were told they'd be sent home in two to three weeks. It's been six years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long shall we have to be here? We don't know.

RIVERS: In the camps there's no jobs, no education, no healthcare. They live in bamboo huts with no electricity, looming over stagnant water.

The conditions here are visibly terrible and yet there are more than 100,000 people in camps like this throughout this area. They were never supposed to be here this long. The Burmese government has said that they plan to shut down these camps amongst growing international pressure and yet so far there are no concrete signs that they're doing so in a responsible way.

The stateless Rohingya are widely despised by dominant ethnic Buddhist groups and aren't recognized as citizens by the government. So as Myanmar's government makes familiar promise to the refugees in Bangladesh to come back, live in a temporary camp and then go home, people don't believe it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I will tell them not to come back now. It's not the right time to come back.

RIVERS: There's clear mistrust in a government that says credible claims of mass killing, torture and rape last year aren't true. We're given an armed escort by local police everywhere we go. They say it's for our protection and that is partly true. But it's also true that these guys are here to make sure that we don't go anywhere they don't want us to.

But even then, it's not hard to see why Rohingya don't want to be in a place where no one should be forced to live.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RIVERS: And Nick, so when you're thinking about, ok what did the Rohingya take into consideration when deciding whether or not to return, they certainly look at camps like that. You can't blame them for not wanting to live there.

But they also look at their own security. They still fear a lot of the security forces that would actually help facilitate their return because they were the people accused of carrying out that genocide in the first place.

And there's also issues of citizenship. Despite living in Myanmar for decades, for generations the Rohingya are still not given citizenship and the rights to go with it inside that country. So for all of those reasons and more, it's unlikely that you're going to see those hundreds of thousands of refugees return anytime soon.

[01:40:03] WATT: Extraordinary reporting. Thanks a lot -- Matt.

Next, an important but controversial U.S. ally has been killed in Afghanistan. What we know about the death of Kandahar's police chief coming up.

Also ahead the politics of pride -- Democrats hope energy from the LGBT community translate into votes during the U.S. midterms elections that are coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WATT: One of the most powerful and controversial figures in Afghanistan has been killed in Kandahar. The police chief of Kandahar Province seen here was killed by a gunman. He had just met with a top U.S. commander when the attack began. The U.S. says that commander was not hurt and the assailant was killed by American forces.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility but the police chief had many enemies. Last year the U.N. said he should have been prosecuted over allegations of torture. He was accused of extrajudicial killings and human rights abuse. The attack comes as Afghans prepare for a long- delayed parliamentary election this weekend.

And CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has more on the vote, but a warning -- this report contains some disturbing images.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Elections in Afghanistan, decorative but the worst kind of good news. This flurry of campaign posters, proof that the country is still technically a democracy albeit one where voting carries deadly risks.

But it's also a time when violence spikes as insurgents try to disrupt a process that's at best (INAUDIBLE) and has already been delayed three years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want the election to be held on time. And it is the responsibility of the government to remove all security concerns and provide the ground for people to vote in the elections.

WALSH: Startlingly on Thursday, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan General Scott Miller narrowly escaped uninjured when an Afghan gunman shot dead the southern region Kandahar's top police and intelligence official right by him in a maximum security (AUDIO GAP).

Two Americans -- coalition members (AUDIO GAP) and the remarkable security.

The toll ahead of the vote mounts as the Helmand's candidate for parliament Jabbar Qahraman was killed with three others Wednesday by a bomb in his campaign office.

[01:44:57] So Afghans weigh death tolls not polling in debating whether to vote. Even though there are many younger candidates hoping to bring change this time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am one of those who is very optimistic about the upcoming election because there are many candidates who are well educated, have great ideas, new thoughts and good policies.

WALSH: Nearly a third vote of the 7,000 polling stations have been closed for safety and some are in towns where there are more registered voters than actual residents.

The Taliban have, for the first time, specifically warned teachers, pupils and voters to stay away from the schools used as polling booths. Afghanistan's parliament (AUDIO GAP) accused of corruption have limited (AUDIO GAP).

But as political horse-trading underpin the national unity government that's technically in charge but really overshadowed by President Ashraf Ghani. And unless this vote goes really well, few believe next year's key presidential vote will carry authority.

The last thing the U.S. needs, now the Taliban control more territory since their arrival, record numbers of Afghan soldiers and civilians are dying and there are near record numbers of U.S. bombs being dropped.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will win.

WALSH: The U.S. strategy is to show military strength but find a peace deal. Elections like these determine what sort of Afghanistan it might eventually leave behind and whether 17 years of war is worth it. Nick Paton Walsh, CNN -- London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: One of those closely-watched races during the U.S. midterm election is in Texas where a Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke is trying to oust Republican Senator Ted Cruz.

During a CNN Townhall O'Rourke doubled down on his claim that if he's elected to the Senate, he will vote to impeach President Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BETO O'ROURKE (D), TEXAS SENATE CANDIDATE: I would (AUDIO GAP) impeachment to an indictment. There is enough there to proceed with a trial for a full vetting of the facts and to make the best informed decision in the interest of this country and our future.

As you know, under the constitution as a member of the Senate it's a far different bar.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATT: Ted Cruz has tried to paint O'Rourke's position on impeachment as outside the mainstream. Cruz declined CNN's repeated invitations to appear at that event.

With the midterms fast approaching activists from both parties are trying to motivate supporters to turn out at the polls. And some of the most reliable votes for Democrats come from the LGBT community as long as they show up for an off-year election.

CNN's Robyn Curnow reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Pride parade is fun, loud and a protest of sorts. And this one in Atlanta made a big political statement.

(AUDIO GAP) reception for Democrat Stacey Abrams. She's running for governor of Georgia and no other major party candidate like her has joined in the parade before.

Also here are more than a dozen other local politicians. The LGBT community is becoming an ever important voting bloc for Democrats even as some people there voted for Donald Trump. Like Denise Nyborg on her honeymoon from Kentucky with her wife who we met before the parade began.

DENISE NYBORG, DEMOCRAT WHO VOTED FOR TRUMP IN 2016: I did vote for you. I don't regret my vote. I think that it was kind of a toss-up between the two because I'm typically Democrat.

CURNOW: And she plans on voting for Democrats this year.

NYBORG: I disagree a lot with the way he is running the country.

CURNOW: We were invited to a fund raiser for the largest LGBT rights group in the U.S. where activists, volunteers and voters gather to watch the parade.

FANCY BROWN: As a black gay man, I think that it's very important that we have a political presence at Pride to not only show our voting power as an LGBTQ community but also form a coalition with other marginalized communities.

CURNOW: Even here, a small group of anti-gay protesters gathered to berate the parade goers and despite recent gains in gay rights, many people we talked to said equality was still a top election priority.

TIFFANY HILL, DEMOCRATIC VOTER: We do need to have equality (INAUDIBLE) rights, gender, all of this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Equality for LGBT people. The LGBT community, especially the transgender community; people are really focused on these midterms. These midterms seem like the most important midterm that we've had in my lifetime.

KRISTA HILTON, DEMOCRATIC VOTER: The community -- it's nice to see the energy and everyone kind of getting up and getting energized and motivated, I guess.

There's a competition (ph) here at the parade hoping that all of this energy translate into votes. Such a high-stakes election coming up, many people here are already motivated to do much more.

[01:50:04] CHAD GRIFFIN: Are you ready to make some history?

CROWD: Yes.

CURNOW: Chad Griffin is one of the most high-profile gay activists in America. Volunteers were going to knock on doors (AUDIO GAP) tickets.

GRIFFIN: Around the (AUDIO GAP) 10 million eligible LGBTQ (AUDIO GAP). When we turn out, we win elections. Often times in the off year elections, there's a debt (ph) in turnout with LGBTQ voters, with voters of color, with women voters. We're working hard to make sure that's not the case this year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to physically, actively do something.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. So next time --

CURNOW: Opposition to Donald Trump and the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh have these two volunteering for the first time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we put you down as a strong (INAUDIBLE). Is that correct?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You may.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.

CURNOW: Despite a sense of Democratic momentum on the streets --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what makes it all worthwhile.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know, right.

CURNOW: Races are tightening.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think my biggest fear is that the energy and the position that I feel maybe isn't felt around the country and are going to not be the blue wave that we're hoping for. That's going to be very demoralizing.

CURNOW: But not all feel that way. Many in the gay community are approaching this election with (AUDIO GAP) mission.

Robyn Curnow, CNN -- Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: And next up, Prince Harry is in Australia for a royal tour and he's scaling great heights on behalf of one of his favorite foundations.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WATT: Britain's Prince Harry is in Australia championing some of his favorite causes. Just last hour he climbed Australia's Sydney Harbour Bridge. At the top he raised the flag for the Invictus Games -- the kind of Olympic style tournament that he started for military personnel wounded in action. The competition opens on Saturday in Sydney.

Before the great climb, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex spent time with surfers on Bondi Beach for an event to raise awareness of mental health issues.

The royal couple is in Australia as part of a 16-day tour of Australasia and the South Pacific.

Now Hannah Sinclair from our Australian affiliate SBS joins me now from Sydney. Hannah -- talk me through this bridge situation. We've been watching the live pictures hoping he wasn't going to fall off. All well?

HANNAH SINCLAIR, SBS REPORTER: It's certainly a long way up - Prince Harry taking the royal tour to new heights today. And what a day here in Sydney, the sun has come out for him to do this extraordinary exercise.

Meghan wasn't with him on this official engagement but he was joined by our Prime Minister Scott Morrison and some of the Invictus Games participants who will be competing in coming days.

That Invictus Games flag now flying across Sydney Harbor. Prince Harry on the way up did have a wave for the cameras. He was chatting to those participants but he obviously knows very well this is a cause very close to his heart. And what magnificent scenes being beamed across the world.

They weren't actually in the official bridge climb get up. They were able to wear their Invictus Games T-shirt. Prince Harry even with his sunnies on; it's pretty hot here today in Sydney. And the weather's certainly come out for the royals.

WATT: And Hannah -- I mean I wonder how the whole trip has been going. I mean the pictures I've seen -- I saw some video the other of a very cute little boy hugging them both and grabbing Harry's beard. I mean the whole point of this trip is a PR exercise. And it seems to be going pretty well -- all these things are like Harry and Meghan.

SINCLAIR: The crowd that is coming out, they absolutely adore these two. And there's been so many opportunities for people to catch a glimpse of Prince Harry and Meghan. They've been receiving baby gifts aplenty since that big announcement that kicked off this tour that Meghan is expecting. And so many people have been coming out just to wish the couple well.

That little boy -- there's just so many special moments so far this week. There's still quite a long way to go on this tour so that little boy in Dubbo certainly stole some hearts. He liked to grab Harry's beard. Santa Clause is one of his favorite people and so he was immediately attracted to the Prince.

And a lot of people have been noting how Prince Harry and Meghan just seemed so at ease with young children. This morning at Bondi Beach, I met a young -- a grandmother whose grandchild met both Meghan and Prince Harry and they gave him a teddy bear.

And it's not something that they think that the granddaughter will necessarily remember but it's certainly -- some photos that they can share with them a little bit later on.

They've certainly brought crowds with them everywhere they've gone. This morning at Bondi there were thousands of people up against the barricades. They can't get to everyone but a lot of the official events have actually been running a little over time because they have been stopping and being so generous with their time. They're certainly loving being here in Australia.

And Prince even remarked the other that he couldn't think of a better place to announce their exciting news that the couple are expecting.

WATT: And Hannah -- Meghan is obviously fairly new to this. How is she doing? Quickly give us marks out of 10.

SINCLAIR: I have to say it's about an 11 out of 10 from people that I've spoken to. She just has so much time for everyone. And you know, some people may have said overnight that it appears like she's acting but this is a job and she's performing it extremely well. And you can't do this job unless you're being genuine. From all appearances it seems that she genuinely, really is enjoying this role, is embracing it. And people -- everyone that we've spoken to, yes, they say Prince Harry was great but it's Meghan that they all really want to see this time around. They've all been trying to snap selfies and they really came to shake her hand --

WATT: Hannah Sinclair joining us from Sydney.

Thank you so much for your time.

Thank you all for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Nick Watt.

Another hour of news is coming up next with Natalie Allen and George Howell.

You're watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:00:10] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: New evidence from the day Jamal Khashoggi disappeared.