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U.S., U.K. To Help Australia Build Nuclear-Powered Submarines; Taliban To U.N.: Recognize Islamic Emirate, Lift Sanctions; Pakistani Prime Minister Says He Has Not Spoken With U.S. President; Spacex Sends First All-Civilian Crew Into Orbit. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired September 16, 2021 - 00:00   ET



JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm John Vause. Ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM.

The birth of AUKUS, a new Australia, U.K. and U.S. defense alliance delivering a fleet of nuclear-powered subs to Australia, while sending a clear message to China.

It seems reports of his death were greatly exaggerated. The Taliban Deputy Prime Minister appears on television to deny he's fallen victim to internal divisions.

And this one's for the geeks and the nerds who never had the right stuff or the billionaire big balance, but always dreamed of one day traveling into space.

The United States, United Kingdom and Australia have announced a new trilateral security agreement, which will put Australia on a path to building a fleet of 12 nuclear-powered submarines with American and British technology.

The U.S. has only shared nuclear propulsion technology once before, and that was with Britain in 1958. And while there's been no specific mention of China, the agreement is clearly aimed at trying to counter Beijing's rising military strength and technological advantage.

Notably, the new Australian submarines will not be nuclear armed.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, we're taking another historic step to deepen and formalize cooperation among all three of our nations, because we all recognize that the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term.

SCOTT MORRISON, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: A partnership where our technology, our scientists, our industry, our defense forces are all working together to deliver a safer and more secure region that ultimately benefits all.

BORIS JOHNSON, U.K. PRIME MINISTER: The first task of this partnership will be to help Australia acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. Emphasizing of course that the submarines in question will be powered by nuclear reactors, not armed with nuclear weapons.


VAUSE: CNN's Kristie Lu Stout joins us now live from Hong Kong with more. AUKUS it's a -- it's a very difficult, I guess, very memorable, I guess name for this alliance. But already, there is a reaction we're hearing from China and it's pretty much what you'd expect.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, China has reacted angrily to this new security pact between the U.S., U.K. and Australia saying that the three countries should "Shake off their Cold War mentality".

Now, on Wednesday, the three countries announces joint security partnership for the Indo-Pacific region which would allow the three countries to work together in terms of cyber, in terms of advanced technology like A.I. and quantum computing, and also, to help Australia acquire a nuclear power submarine.

U.S. President Joe Biden and the other leaders involved went out of their way to emphasize that this is not a nuclear armed submarine but a nuclear-powered submarine, but nonetheless, will be conventionally armed.

The U.S. President Joe Biden has said that the aim of this is to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region in the long term, but the Chinese, they see -- otherwise, they see this as being a deeply provocative move.

Let's bring up a statement for you. It's from a spokesperson of China's Embassy in Washington, D.C. And Liu Pengyu says this "that countries should not build exclusionary blocks targeting or harming the interests of third parties. In particular, they should shake off their Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice."

And John, this is the latest step by the U.S. and its allies to counter the rising power, military and technological power of China.

We know that next week, the U.S. will host an in-person summit of the Quad. This is the security alliance involving the U.S. as well as Japan, Australia and India widely seen as a counterpoint to China in the region.

This also follows these recent visits by U.S. leaders, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who recently engaged allies here in the region like Singapore and Vietnam.

But make no mistake about it, analysts are saying that this moment, the announcement of this new security block is a very significant moment in the timeline of U.S.-China relations as well security in the region. Take a listen to this.


MALCOLM DAVIS, SENIOR ANALYST, AUSTRALIAN STRATEGIC POLICY INSTITUTE: I think it's very significant. If you look at the withdrawal of the U.S. and its allies from Afghanistan, the justification for doing that, or at least one of the main justifications was a need to focus on the Indo-Pacific region. And of course, everyone understands that's about China.

It's clearly setting down markers, it's setting down the case that the U.S. won't stand by and allow China to assert dominance over the region at the expense of the region's security and freedoms and liberties.


STOUT: Now, as tensions rise, U.S. and China at the top level are still talking as you remember last week, you had that phone call between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, a 90-minute call, the first time that they talked directly to one another in about seven months.


STOUT: U.S. officials say that it was frank, it was candid, but they also said that there was no mention of this new security pact. Back to you, John.

VAUSE: Kristie, thank you. Kristie Lu Stout live for us there in Hong Kong.

Professor Simon Jackman leads the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney and he is with us now from the Harbour City. Simon, thank you for taking the time.


VAUSE: OK, here's a little more from the U.S. President about the purpose of this security alliance, here he is.


BIDEN: This is about investing in our greatest source of strength, our alliances and updating them to better meet the threats of today and tomorrow.

It's about connecting America's existing allies and partners in new ways and amplifying our ability to collaborate, recognizing there is no regional divide separating the interests of our Atlantic and Pacific partners.


VAUSE: What he really meant to say is, it's all about China, because this defense deal is about a whole lot more than nuclear propulsion, right?

JACKMAN: Yes, it's a -- it's a great point to bring up the other aspects of this deal, John. Here in Australia today, very much focused on this huge announcement for Australia. What it means for Australian, the ability to sustain a sophisticated technology and build sophisticated technology like nuclear submarines.

But in the short term, the deal also puts on the table cooperation on quantum computing. Artificial intelligence is bringing forward some aspirations Australia's had about long-range missile capabilities. It's about underseas, autonomous vehicles as well. There's a whole bunch of other technologies and the development sharing of them between the U.K., Australia and the United States that are in this deal as well.

And you're right, John, it's all about one thing. And that's about this race for the 21st century that Joe Biden has talked about, that's got those frontier technologies, the nuclear submarines for Australia, key development for Australia.

But I'm looking as much as that ensemble of future technologies that the three countries have put a big stake in the ground saying we're going to develop these jointly because that's, I think, ultimately, what the strategic balance will turn on who gets those technologies first and can deploy them in meaningful ways.

VAUSE: And that's the benefits if you like, which Australia gets from this deal. But there are also some potential costs that come with it as well.

China is by far Australia's biggest trading partner. I think about a third of its exports are done to China. And China in the past has not been hesitant about using its economic might to punish countries which don't fall in line.

One of the possibilities that, you know, the next thing out of all this deal is China imposing some kind of economic punishment on Australia.

JACKMAN: Well, the truth is that China's already been doing that to Australia. I think, if anything, it's been a little counterproductive, John, it's hardened Australian resolve. I think it's my -- Australians realize, there is a great game afoot. And it's close to Australian homeland. This is not the Middle East. This is happening in our own backyard. And China is prepared to mete out punishment to people that don't want to toe the line in the short term for the time being, that's hardened Australian resolve.

While at the same time, I think the upside has been that the iron ore price has stayed very high. That's the one export from Australia, China hasn't been able to wean itself off.

So, to some extent, while there are some commodities coming out of Australia that have been subject to economic coercion, if you like, from China response to Australia muscling up on national security matters. As long as iron ore in Australia remains the preferred supplier of iron ore, that's cushioning to some extent Australia, from Chinese economic coercion. It won't always be that way. And I think sort of life gets harder in the medium term.

And I think that's as much as what these investments are about, John, that I think Australian strategic planners are looking forward on both sides of politics, by the way and looking down the road, and saying 10 years, 15, 20 years out, life is probably harder than it -- than it looks today. And investing in these technologies and partnerships is prudent.

VAUSE: Australia doesn't actually have a shipyard right now capable of building and maintaining a nuclear-powered vessel. But I guess it's a matter of time and money and once it's there, would you expect that facility to actually -- you know, to be used by the U.S. Navy for maintenance, and that in turn would increase U.S. presence in the region?

JACKMAN: Yes, absolutely, John. And I think when you look at the timeline of this procurement program, right, we're talking 2014 before Australia could plausibly put a boat in the water under this program.

In the meantime, I think what you're quite likely to see is all that training. How you take one of these things like it is a -- like, such a qualitative step up in what's being asked of the Australian Navy, for instance, to manage nuclear-powered vessels.


JACKMAN: I think the first thing we'll see is the ability. Can we -- can we host one in port? Can we do a replenishment? And I look to the Western Australia, in particular, HMS Starling out there in Western Australia. As we'll start to see, I think, U.S. nuclear-powered submarines coming in and Australian engineers and our Navy starting to cut their teeth on what it means actually to have one of these under your care.

And I think we'll start to see those sorts of things perhaps long before Australia puts its own Australian flag nuclear-powered submarine in the water.

VAUSE: Times are changing, sign of the time. Simon Jackman, thank you so much. Appreciate you being with us, Sir.

JACKMAN: Thank you, John.

VAUSE: Take care.

Well, the Taliban are calling on the United Nations to recognize the Islamic Emirate, remove their leaders from a blacklist and end all sanctions.

The militants promised U.N. humanitarian aid efforts will "proceed normally and without delay". This comes as the Taliban tries to quell rumors of internal divisions.

The Acting Deputy Prime Minister appeared on television Wednesday, denying rumors he'd been injured in a dispute at the presidential palace last week. While Abdul Ghani Baradar also denied there are divisions between the diplomatic and military factions of the Taliban.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MULLAH ABDUL GHANI BARADAR, AFGHAN ACTING DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Praise be to God I'm fitting well, and with regards to media claiming that we have internal disagreements, that is not true at all.

Praise be to God, we have a lot of kindness and mercy amongst us, such that might not even exist in a family.


VAUSE: Let's bring in Anna Coren, she's following these developments live for us in Hong Kong. This is a tough place for the U.N. and I guess a lot of countries, the Taliban can't be trusted. But yet, denying government recognition sort of denies humanitarian aid. And that harms the people who need the assistance the most. So, how do they thread this needle?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a tough one, John. I mean, there is no government in the world that has recognized this Taliban government -- shadow government that it calls itself.

For the U.N., I don't see how they are going to be able to recognize this government, either. Yes, they need to get aid into the country. Yes, they need to feed, you know, a population that is on the brink of starvation. This is what we have heard from the U.N., from the World Food Programme, that 14 million people are facing starvation, that this is a country that is going to run out of food by the end of this month.

So, we know the country is on the brink of collapse. And yet, rather than allow this humanitarian aid to come into the country to allow people to distribute it to those who desperately need it, the Taliban, you know, playing these games, saying that you need to recognize us.

I mean, they've written to the U.N. giving them assurances that aid workers can can operate freely, that women within these aid organizations can also operate freely.

But from what we have seen to date, John, I mean, it's all a sham. The new Taliban is the old Taliban, they are hardline. Baradar might get up in front of the cameras and say that they're all unified. That is complete nonsense. We know that there are factions, you know, deep factions within the Taliban, deep divisions within the Taliban.

Hence, it took, you know, as many weeks as what it did for the Taliban to form a government. I mean, what I'm hearing from the ground from a human rights activist yesterday, John, this is somebody who has a U.S. passport, who could leave the country, could have left but is protecting, you know, dozens of women and children who are in her care.

The Taliban came to her house in the middle of the night, 13 of them, wanting to kick them all out of their homes. She had to explain this is where we live, you cannot take this place.

But there are hundreds, if not thousands of Taliban members who have descended on Kabul, they don't have homes. You know, they have to be fed as well. And they are going to residents' homes, offices, and occupying them. This is what we are hearing firsthand from people who are experiencing this.

So, it's all good and well for Taliban who say we are legitimate, that you need to recognize us. But they haven't been an inclusive government as the way that they promised they would be. Instead it's 33 men, you know, these mullahs, mainly Pashtun, no ethnic minorities, certainly no women.

The only roles that women can have in Afghanistan right now is to be a doctor or to work in the airport and search specifically women as they go through airport security. They are the only two jobs that women can do in Afghanistan.

So, until the Taliban decide to include women, into their government, allow women to return to work, improve their human rights. I don't see how any government in the world is going to recognize this Taliban government, John.

VAUSE: Like I said, difficult position. A lot of people (INAUDIBLE) you know, relying on that humanitarian assistance. And it won't come until there is that some kind of recognition.


But Anna, thank you. Anna Coren live for us in Hong Kong.

In neighboring Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan says the best path to instability in Afghanistan is to engage with the Taliban.

He sat down with CNN for his first interview with an international news organization since the Taliban took control in Kabul.

Imran Khan has been critical of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. And he told CNN's Becky Anderson he's not spoken directly or had any form of communication with the U.S. president.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: You haven't spoken to the President of the United States since the collapse of the country to the Taliban, correct?


ANDERSON: He hasn't called you since coming into office, correct?

KHAN: He's a busy man.

ANDERSON: Pakistan is a major non-NATO ally. And yet, no call between you and the U.S. president. Do you see this as punishment for supporting the Taliban while they were killing U.S. troops?

KHAN: Well, you have to ask him why he's too busy to call. ANDERSON: The fact is Washington it seems just can't trust Pakistan. There are calls by lawmakers to reassess the relationship with Islamabad now, to reassess its status as a major non-NATO ally.

This was the exchange during the U.S. Secretary of State's congressional testimony on Afghanistan on Monday.

REP. BILL KEATING (D-MA): We used to always hear diplomatically that we have a complicated relationship with Afghanistan -- I mean, with Pakistan. I would say it's often complicitous.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I think you're very right to point at the role that Pakistan has played throughout the past 20 years and even before. And it is one that has involved hedging its bets constantly about the future of Afghanistan. It's one that's involved harboring members of the Taliban, including the Haqqanis.

ANDERSON: Is that true? And what's your response?

KHAN: They are ignorant. I was listening to them. I have never heard such ignorance. They are absolutely clueless number one about what happened in Afghanistan. They were all in a state of shock.

The state of Pakistan was under attack for being an ally of the U.S. we were now supposed to take on also the Afghan-Taliban.

ANDERSON: How would you qualify the U.S.-Pakistan relationship today? And what sort of relationship do you want to see with the U.S.?

KHAN: Unfortunately, you know, our relationship during this whole -- the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan was a terrible relationship. What I would like a relationship with the U.S. is now, like, the U.S. has a relationship with India. You know, and not one-dimensional relationship where they're paying us to fight. We want a normal relationship.


VAUSE: Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan there speaking with CNN's Becky Anderson.

We will take a short break. When we come back, Afghan women living in fear of a return to a repressive past under the Taliban, now many living in hiding.

Plus, the world's first all tourist spaceflight now in orbit. We'll discuss this historic launch means for the future of space tourism.



VAUSE: And that was a giant leap forward for space tourism. The first all-civilian crew in orbit around the Earth. There is no trained astronaut onboard that rocket for this three-day long mission.

CNN's Kristin Fisher has more now reporting in from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.


KRISTIN FISHER, SPACE & DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a spectacular and successful nighttime launch from the Kennedy Space Center. And what makes this Inspiration4 mission so extraordinary is just how ordinary the crew is. None of them are professional astronauts, and yet, they're going to be orbiting the Earth for the next three days before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean.

On board, a 29-year-old pediatric cancer survivor and physician's assistant at St. Jude's Children's Hospital.

There's also Dr. Sian Proctor who applied to be an astronaut back in 2009, came this close, didn't quite make the cut, she was devastated. Now, she gets to achieve her lifelong dream.

There's also Chris Sembroski, who was watching a Super Bowl commercial for this mission. He entered a sweepstakes. His friend got the golden ticket but gave it to him. That's how he ended up on board.

And finally, the commander Jared Isaacman, a billionaire businessman, an entrepreneur, a pilot, and he's really the brainchild for this mission.

He went to SpaceX back in October about something totally different. Mentioned in a passing comment, hey, if you ever want to send me into space, I'd be game. And now, here he is in orbit, less than a year later.

JARED ISAACMAN, "INPIRATION4" CREW MEMBER: I wouldn't say pressure. Because pressure would mean like I'm nervous about the outcome here. I think that responsibility is really the word, right? And that this is a big responsibility and we have to execute really well and get this right so that the door can stay open for all the other missions to follow.

FISHER: Jared Isaacman talks a lot about opening up space travel to everyone and democratizing space and that's really central to SpaceX's founding mission, which is to make humanity multiplanetary, to colonize Mars.

And so, in order to do that, you have to prove that your everyday person is capable of dealing with the rigors of orbital spaceflight and that is exactly what the Inspiration4 crew is going to spend the next several days doing.

At the Kennedy Space Center, Kristin Fisher, CNN.


VAUSE: CNN's Aerospace Analyst Miles O'Brien is with us now from Charlotte, North Carolina. Welcome back. Good to see you, Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AEROSPACE ANALYST: Good to see you, Jonathan. VAUSE: OK, so for the first time ever, it's hard to overstate this because you have private citizens on a privately-owned rocket built by a private company, not a trained astronaut inside. Virtually no NASA involvement and right now, they're orbiting the planet.

So, is this the moment? Will this mission be looked upon as the real beginning when access to space was democratized for everyone?

O'BRIEN: Yes, it's been quite an amazing summer hasn't it, John? We've watched Virgin Galactic and then we watched Blue Origin with their brief suborbital five or six-minute tastes of the edge of space.

And now, here we see Elon Musk and SpaceX, see them and raise them by 16-fold, by putting a spacecraft in orbit with all-civilians. Nobody there is trained in any particularly special way and it lays bare the secret that, you know, these are fully autonomous vehicles that do not require the best and brightest white scarf pilots in the world.

A lot of astronauts don't like that story getting out but there it is. We can all go now, John, so let's sign up.

VAUSE: Yes, take me with you. Right now, they're in this fully automated capsule, right? It's called Resilience. It's about as big as sort of an oversized SUV.

You know, there is no astronaut. I keep saying this. There's no one who's actually specifically trained on board. So, God forbid, what happens if something goes wrong? Or they need to stay in orbit longer than the three days? What do they do? You know, what's their other backup contingencies here?

O'BRIEN: Yes, I mean, you definitely want to have somebody on board who knows a little bit about medical procedures and we do have that. One of them is a physician's assistant that helps to have her on board.


O'BRIEN: But basically, if something bad happens, they'll -- in an automated way return to Earth as quickly as possible. All they have to do is get themselves in the right spacesuit and strap themselves in.

So, this really does -- you know, we've talked a lot about the price of getting to space, a lot of it also is how difficult it is to train people to get there. And this proves it doesn't require years and years of training in order to be there.

So, that's an important piece in this whole big picture about allowing many more hundreds of people, thousands of people to have this experience as opposed to the 500 who've been to space in the 60 years since we've been flying there.

VAUSE: And just talk to me about what happens on reentry because it's not like they just land at the Kennedy Space Center like the old shovels used to, right? O'BRIEN: No, this is -- this is kind of retro. It's back to the future

kind of thing. They -- it's a splashdown. It will -- they'll probably be in the Atlantic Ocean.

And if all goes well, and they'll be fished out of the water by SpaceX vessel. And, you know, that's not like landing with the wings and wheels, like we did with the shuttle for so many years. But there's a huge penalty in carrying those wings and wheels to space where you don't need them. It's a lot of weight, it's a lot of complexity.

And as fun as it is to land on the runway, it comes to the big penalty. So, the idea that SpaceX has approached, takes you back to the original capsule days, where you didn't attempt to make it aerodynamically capable but rather just a spacecraft.

And in many respects, it's safer, believe it or not.

VAUSE: Well, this day should not pass, I guess, without mentioning Christa McAuliffe, the schoolteacher who would have been the first civilian in space, but she died in space shuttle Challenger explosion. Hard to believe that was almost 40 years ago. And it was that -- sort of at that moment when civilians in space, which was a NASA program was put on hold. It's taken this long to get back to that point.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it was a huge setback. And at that time, there was a lot of misunderstandings and a lot of statements about the safety of the shuttle, which weren't entirely accurate. (INAUDIBLE) NASA was not being fully honest about the shuttle. And it's the riskiness of the shuttle, and it was ignoring problems with the system itself.

And there was tremendous pressure to put Christa McAuliffe on to the shuttle. She was -- you know, they were launching on the morning of the State of the Union speech. And Ronald Reagan, of course, was going to make a big deal out of all of that.

So, there was all kinds of pressures that were involved in it. It became as much as anything a bureaucratic and political event.

The fact that SpaceX is doing this purely as a civilian enterprise outside of that realm is good, because there's less of that kind of overarching political pressure to launch when maybe it's not such a good idea.

VAUSE: Yes, Miles, great to have you with us. It's really appreciated. Miles O'Brien there giving us some insight and some history. We appreciate it.

O'BRIEN: You're welcome, John.

VAUSE: Well, still to come, Japan is responding to North Korea's latest missile launches. But the Defense Minister says Pyongyang is not the biggest threat facing this country, a CNN exclusive in just a moment.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Welcome back, everyone. I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.


We're learning new details about North Korea's latest ballistic missile watches. Pyongyang's state-run news agency says the tests were for a new railway-born missile regiment, deployed for the first time on Wednesday. And the reports claim the projectiles accurately struck their target 800 kilometers away in the waters off the Korean Peninsula.

Japanese defense officials told public broadcaster NHK the missiles fell inside Japan's exclusive economic zone. And Japan's prime minister has called the missile launches outrageous and a threat to peace and security within the region.

But there are those within Japan's government who believe there is an even bigger menace in North Korea. Right now to Tokyo and CNN's Blake Essig.

And what are the details, Blake?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, John, look, it's been a busy week for Japan's defense minister, Nobuo Kishi. North and South Korea each tested new missiles. Taiwan conducted military drills. And a Chinese submarine was spotted near Japan's southern islands.

Now, while all this was happening, I had the chance to sit down with the minister of defense to talk about security challenges facing Japan and the Indo-Pacific. It is one of the most volatile regions on the planet.


ESSIG (voice-over): for years, North Korean missiles have posed a serious threat to Japan's national security. That threat hasn't gone away.

Recently, North Korea has test fired several missiles, including long- range cruise missiles capable of striking almost any potential target in Japan.

And even more concerning, ballistic missiles that on Wednesday fell into the waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula. Well, Japan's defense minister, Nobuo Kishi, says the ongoing hostility from North Korea is a big challenge. He says it is in Japan's biggest security concern.

(on camera): As Japan's minister of defense, what threat keeps you up at right?

NOBUO KISHI, JAPANESE DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator): China has been regularly challenging Japan's territorial integrity. These actions are making it a fait accompli. In response to such moves, we have to demonstrate our will to protect the lives of Japanese citizens, as well as their livelihoods and their territory. ESSIG (voice-over: The inherent part of Japanese territory Minister

Kishi is referring to is located here in the East China Sea about 1,900 kilometers from Tokyo. It's this uninhabited island chain known as the Senkaku in Japan, and Diaoyu in China, that's seemingly a red line for Kishi and one that could serve as Asia's next military flash point.

(on camera): What is Japan doing to contain China and stop them from changing the so-called status quo in the east, in the South China Sea, specifically in the waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands?

KISHI (through translator): The Senkaku Islands are an integral part of Japanese sovereign territory, both according to international law and looking historically. There is no territorial dispute relating to the Senkaku Islands between Japan and other countries.

With regards to the Chinese coast guard vessels approaching our territory, Japanese coast guard must respond first and show that the government of Japan is determined to defend our territory with a greater number of Japanese coast guard vessels than that of China.

ESSIG (voice-over): And according to Minister Kishi, that's exactly what Japan is doing in an effort to maintain peace and stability in the region.

To put that into perspective, over the past five years, compared to the previous five, a report by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute shows Japan has increased its major arms imports by 124 percent.

And Kishi recently laid out plans to deploy troops and missiles on Ishigaki, as well as other southern islands, as tensions grow between Beijing and Taipei along the Taiwan Strait.

KISHI (through translator): Taiwan is located at the nexus of the east and South China Seas, and it is geopolitically and strategically important. That's why Taiwan's peace and stability is not just important for this region, but to the international community as a whole.


With regard to Japan's energy lifeline, more than 90 percent of the energy Japan uses is important through the sea around Taiwan. So it's important to maintain the maritime order, and have free and open Indo- Pacific.

ESSIG (on camera): How committed is Japan to the defense of Taiwan versus China?

KISHI (through translator): Japan is not directly committed to the defense of Taiwan. However, we think it is very important to have stability on the Taiwan Strait.

ESSIG: You said that Japan is not directly committed to defending Taiwan. What is the difference between directly and indirectly? KISHI (through translator): Because we are close geographically, what

could happen in Taiwan would likely be an issue for Japan, in which case, Japan would need to respond accordingly.

ESSIG: A military situation Kishi admits has been shifting in favor of Beijing in recent years, one that he plans to keep a close eye on while still hopeful for a peaceful resolution.


ESSIG: Now, throughout my interview with the minister of defense, we talked about several other topics, including the United States' recent withdrawal from Afghanistan.

I asked if he felt that America could be trusted and live up to its word to defend allies like Japan. And he told me that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, that they did so with the understanding that the Afghan government had the will to administer the country. And obviously, it was not the case.

He said that Japan, on the other hand, has been committed to defending itself against various security challenges and has all the confidence in the world that the U.S. would come to Japan's aid, if called upon -- John.

VAUSE: Blake, thank you. Blake Essig there, live in Tokyo. Appreciate it.

Up next, living in fear in Afghanistan. CNN sits down with a human rights activist who protested against the Taliban and is now in hiding.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I'm not afraid of death, but I wish when they find me, they kill me quickly. If they torture me first, then they will kill me without any honor. Everyone wants to die with dignity.



VAUSE: For the past few weeks, women across Afghanistan have shown incredible courage to protest in public against Taliban rule. Many were already living in fear, and now some are in hiding, as well.

CNN's Nic Robertson has details, reporting from Kabul.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): In happier times, Taranom Seyedi saved children from abuse. Paved for it with profits from a construction company she built. Now, she is in hiding from the Taliban, in fear for her life.


SEYEDI (through translator): They are trying to threaten us and execute us secretly, as they did to many of my female friends.

ROBERTSON: Her crime, in the Taliban's eyes, protests, taking to the streets two weeks ago, demanding equal rights. She was beaten and bruised.

Ever since, Taliban death threats have stalked her. So much fear she now hopes, if death comes, it's fast.

SEYEDI (through translator): I am not afraid of death, but I wish when they find me, they kill me quickly. If the torture me first, then they will kill me without any honor. Everyone wants to die with dignity.

ROBERTSON: Before the Taliban, she was well-known. Popular, ra n for parliament, might have been elected if not for endemic corruption. She hoped her high profile might save her; now has no idea what to do.

SEYEDI (through translator): How long can I be brave? How long do we have to fight? In fact, fight with whom? With whom to talk? With whom to discuss? We are in darkness with no way to get to a brighter future.

VAUSE: Across the country, many more women like Seyedi hide in fear of the Taliban. They share older news social media posts that they say show arbitrary abuse that are both hard to verify, and the Taliban deny.

For now, they are the only way the women can protest their plight.

MAHBOUBA SERAJ, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Everything is at stake right now. Because -- because we are actually facing a situation that we are so disliked by a group of people who are actually running this country. They can't even look at us.

ROBERTSON: Mahbouba Seraj is Afghanistan's highest profile women's rights activist. She returned from the U.S. when the Taliban were ousted two decades ago. She won't leave again, she says, will stay here to defend women, get the world's attention.

SERAJ: They're going to make problems. They're going to raise their voices. They're going to start -- you know, they can -- the world is becoming a very small place now.

ROBERTSON (on camera): But these are brutal guys who have guns who have turned them on crowds.

SERAJ: That's true. But for how long? Are they going to be killing everybody? Is that what they want to do?

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Seyedi is facing an agonizing choice. She is the breadwinner, her parents -- brother's family and the abused children she rescued depend on her.

SEYEDI (through translator): They need me, so I need to be strong, and that's really hard.

ROBERTSON: But to stay is to risk death.

SEYEDI (through translator): We tried a lot to have a better Afghanistan, to have a better life, to have a better future. In fact, me and my friends didn't expect that one day, we will be forced to leave our own country. But they took everything from us.

ROBERTSON: What happens now, she says, depends on her calls for help to the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and others. If she does leave, Seyedi vows to fight on.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Kabul, Afghanistan.


VAUSE: I'm John Vause, thanks for watching. I'll see you back here in about 15 minutes. In the meantime, WORLD SPORT is next.