Tag Archives: china

COVID-19: Political pressure blocking vaccine deal – Taiwan Gov’t.

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Taiwan has survived the pandemic largely unscathed — with fewer than 940 confirmed cases and nine deaths so far — by closing its borders early, imposing strict quarantine measures and rolling out effective tracing.

An attempt by Taiwan to secure five million doses of coronavirus vaccine failed at the last minute because of “political pressure”, Taipei’s health minister said Wednesday, raising fears China could be creating roadblocks for the inoculation drive.

Health minister Chen Shih-chung revealed during a radio interview that a crucial deal to acquire the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine had failed “at the final step” of negotiations with BioNTech.

“I was worried about interference from external forces all along and there were many possibilities. I was worried about political pressure. We believed there was political pressure,” he said.

“The deal fell through… because someone doesn’t want Taiwan to be too happy.”

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German firm BioNTech has struck a deal with the Shanghai-based Fosun Pharmaceutical Group to bring the vaccine to China.

When asked if Beijing might be blocking the deal, Chen replied “this could be a possibility but we can’t confirm it. We are still communicating with” the company.

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“It’s very rare to stop the process before swapping the contracts,” Chen said, adding BioNTech called off the December deal citing “different internal opinions” and “international vaccine distributions”.

Fosun and BioNTech did not return requests for comment.

The pandemic has highlighted the diplomatic and economic isolation China forces on Taiwan’s 23 million citizens.

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Beijing sees self-ruled democratic Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

It has dramatically stepped up its pressure campaign since President Tsai Ing-wen was elected in 2016, poaching seven of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies and blocking Taipei from global bodies including the World Health Organization (WHO).

Taiwan has survived the pandemic largely unscathed — with fewer than 940 confirmed cases and nine deaths so far — by closing its borders early, imposing strict quarantine measures and rolling out effective tracing.

But it has struggled to locate adequate vaccine supplies and only recently announced a supply of five million doses by American pharmaceutical giant Moderna and 200,000 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine via COVAX.

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An analyst said Beijing has previously used the pandemic to pressure Taiwan.

“China’s continued weaponisation and politicisation of people’s health — which should be apolitical — should not come as a surprise, especially given everything that has been going on with the WHO,” tweeted Jessica Drun, a Taiwan-China expert at the Project 2049 think-tank.

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#Newsworthy

China bans BBC World News.

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China is accused of compelling Uighurs to parrot Communist propaganda and renounce Islam, of forcibly sterilising women and imposing a regime of forced labour.

China’s broadcasting regulator has banned BBC World News, accusing it of flouting guidelines over a hard-hitting report on Beijing’s treatment of the country’s Uighur minority.

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The decision came just days after Britain’s own regulator revoked the licence of Chinese broadcaster CGTN for breaking UK law on state-backed ownership, and provoked angry accusations of censorship from London.

Thursday’s move will do little to improve relations between the two countries, which have been increasingly strained by China’s introduction of a security law in Britain’s former colony, Hong Kong.

London’s decision to offer millions of Hong Kongers a pathway to British citizenship has only further infuriated Beijing, which has accused Britain of behaving with a “colonial mentality”.

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London has also angered Beijing by banning Chinese telecoms group Huawei from involvement in its 5G network after the United States raised spying fears.

In an overnight statement, Beijing’s National Radio and Television Administration said BBC World News reports about China were found to “seriously violate” broadcast guidelines.

That includes “the requirement that news should be truthful and fair” and not “harm China’s national interests”.

The administrator “does not permit the BBC to continue broadcasting in China, and does not accept its new annual application for broadcast”, it added.

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‘Informed citizenry’
The BBC said it was “disappointed” with the move, which applies to mainland China, where the channel is already censored and restricted to international hotels.

“The BBC is the world’s most trusted international news broadcaster and reports on stories from around the world fairly, impartially and without fear or favour,” a BBC spokeswoman said.

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UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the ban “an unacceptable curtailing of media freedom”.

“China has some of the most severe restrictions on media and internet freedoms across the globe, and this latest step will only damage China’s reputation in the eyes of the world,” he added.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price denounced the BBC ban and called on China to allow an “informed citizenry” that can freely exchange ideas.

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“We call on the PRC and other nations with authoritarian controls over their population to allow their full access to the internet and media,” Price told reporters, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

On Friday, public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) — an independent but government-funded service based in the former British territory — also announced it would “suspend the relay of BBC World Service and BBC News Weekly”.

British lawmaker Tom Tugendhat, a hawk on UK-China ties, criticised Beijing’s move as “both regrettable and entirely unsurprising”.

“While this is a largely symbolic tit-for-tat retaliatory move, the deteriorating environment for journalism in China is a concern for us all,” he told AFP.

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Witness testimony
Besides its reporting on Xinjiang, the BBC has also aired a hard-hitting documentary accusing China of covering up the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic around the city of Wuhan in late 2019.

It published its report detailing harrowing accounts of torture and sexual violence against Uighur women in Chinese camps in Xinjiang on February 3.

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The lengthy investigation based on witness testimonies reported claims of systematic rape, sexual abuse and torture of female detainees by police and guards in the western region.

The area is home to the mainly Muslim Uighur minority and has seen a sweeping security crackdown by Chinese forces in recent years.

Rights groups believe at least one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims are incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang.

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The Chinese foreign ministry has dismissed the BBC investigation as “false”.

Britain’s government said it showed “clearly evil acts”, and there was strong condemnation from the US State Department.

But London has resisted pressure to follow the current and former US administrations and call the treatment of the Uighurs “genocide”.

China is accused of compelling Uighurs to parrot Communist propaganda and renounce Islam, of forcibly sterilising women and imposing a regime of forced labour.

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After initially denying the camps existed, China’s government acknowledged them, saying they were vocational training centres aimed at combating Islamic extremism.

China last week said British regulator Ofcom’s decision to pull CGTN from the airwaves was based on “ideological prejudice and political reasons”.

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#Newsworthy

China’s population on ‘edge of reduction’ as births fall further.

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The data also comes after the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in the global economy, with many families nervous about job security.

China’s number of registered births in 2020 dropped by nearly a third from the total births reported the year before, in the latest sign that relaxations in the country’s strict family planning policy are failing to spark a baby boom.

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After decades of a “one-child policy”, Beijing changed the rules in 2016 to allow families to have two children as fears grew about China’s fast-ageing population and shrinking workforce.

Figures from the Public Security Ministry released Monday showed there were 10.04 million registered births in 2020, which is 15 percent down from the figure of registered births reported early last year for 2019.

In the same month, the official statistics bureau reported a higher figure of 14.65 million babies born in 2019 — more than 30 percent above the latest birth data reported this week.

The data also points to a fourth consecutive year birth numbers declined.

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The number of registered births is typically lower than the actual number of births later announced in China, as not all parents register their children immediately.

The gender balance was 52.7 percent boys and 47.3 percent girls, according to the data.

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One user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform noted the birth figure was “lower than the number of people taking the college entrance examination”, adding that ageing was going to become more serious in decades to come.

Another called the low rate “the biggest crisis the Chinese nation is facing”.

China introduced the one-child policy in the late 1970s in a dramatic effort to slow rapid population growth, before reversing it in 2016.

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But the change has not yet resulted in a baby boom, with empowered Chinese women often delaying or avoiding childbirth and young couples blaming rising costs and insufficient policy support for families.

“If the whole society regards childbearing as a pain, then there is a problem in this society,” cautioned another on Weibo.

The data also comes after the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in the global economy, with many families nervous about job security.

In November, China started a once-a-decade census, with much of the attention on whether it indicates any population bump from the relaxation of family planning rules.

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Demographic experts have estimated it could take 15 years for the two-child policy to have any noticeable effect on population numbers. Chinese retirees, meanwhile, are expected to number 300 million by 2025.

Chinese state media in December quoted civil affairs minister Li Jiheng as saying the country’s fertility rate has “dropped dangerously”, well below the population replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman.

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#Newsworthy

WHO-China’s COVID origin probe ‘unsuccessful’ – New step taken!

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In France, a row is brewing over restrictions on cultural institutions, with one local mayor allowing museums to reopen despite a nationwide ban.

A much-anticipated inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic wrapped up its mission in China on Tuesday with no breakthrough discovery, as investigators ruled out a theory that Covid-19 came from a lab but failed to identify which animal may have passed it to humans.

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While the coronavirus likely jumped to humans from animals, it is still unclear which species first transmitted it, said Liang Wannian, who headed up the Chinese contingent of an inquiry carried out jointly with World Health Organization (WHO) experts.

The WHO mission — which China repeatedly delayed — was dogged by fears of a whitewash, with the US demanding a “robust” probe into the origins of the pandemic in late 2019, and China firing back with a warning not to “politicise” the investigation.

During the closely monitored mission — which included a visit to a propaganda exhibition celebrating China’s recovery — reporters were largely kept at arms’ length from the experts.

Liang, supported by WHO expert Ben Embarek, said there was “no indication” the sickness was circulating in Wuhan before December 2019 when the first official cases were recorded.

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Embarek, who said identifying the virus’ pathway from animals to humans remains a “work in progress”, also scotched a controversial theory that the virus had leaked from a lab, calling it “extremely unlikely”.

‘Martyrdom’ of health workers
As investigators have struggled to pinpoint the origins of a virus that has now killed more than 2.3 million people, governments are continuing to grapple with its daily consequences.

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Vaccination campaigns are gaining pace worldwide, with Iran the latest country to begin its rollout of Russia’s Sputnik V jab.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said the vaccination was being carried out in “memory of the martyrdom of health workers”, as medics at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini hospital received the first shots.

Peter Ben Embarek (3rd-R) and Marion Koopmans (2nd-R) attend a press conference to wrap up a visit by an international team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) in the city of Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province on February 9, 2021. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP)

Iran is also expected to receive 4.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines under the Covax scheme, which intends to ensure jabs are distributed across the world and not hoarded by richer nations.

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The AstraZeneca vaccine makes up the bulk of initial Covax deliveries to some 145 countries but it suffered a setback in recent days with a trial showing it only offers minimal protection against the coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa.

The results forced South Africa to delay the start of its vaccinations, but the WHO insisted Monday that the AstraZeneca shot remained vital to the global fight against Covid-19.

Richard Hatchett, head of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), said it was “vastly too early to be dismissing this vaccine”.

“It is absolutely crucial to use the tools that we have as effectively as we possibly can,” he told a WHO press briefing.

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AstraZeneca has stood by its vaccine, and said researchers are working on an updated version that can be effective against the new variants. WHO authorisation for the shot is expected next week.

‘Let’s get used to it’
Despite the vaccine rollouts, life is far from back to normal for most people.

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The pandemic and associated restrictions have crushed entire sectors of the global economy, laid waste to sports and cultural calendars and confined hundreds of millions to their homes.

In France, a row is brewing over restrictions on cultural institutions, with one local mayor allowing museums to reopen despite a nationwide ban.

“There is a virus and it will be with us for a long time,” said Louis Aliot, the far-right mayor of the southern city of Perpignan. “Let’s get used to it and start by trying things out.”

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As the pain of shutdowns has bitten hard, governments have turned to other measures to try to facilitate reopening — mass testing campaigns and quarantines for travellers are still prominent tools.

Britain is the latest country to order international travellers to undergo several tests while under quarantine.

But the surest sign that the world is far from back to normal comes from Tokyo, where organisers of this summer’s Olympic Games have issued a 33-page booklet of rules on social distancing.

Athletes’ time in Japan will be minimised to reduce the risk of infection and those staying at the Olympic Village will be expected to “avoid unnecessary forms of physical contact”.

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Despite this, organisers told AFP on Tuesday that they still plan to hand out roughly 150,000 free condoms to athletes.

“If you have been to the Games before, we know this experience will be different in a number of ways,” the guidebook warns, adding that breaching the rules could result in expulsion.

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#Newsworthy

Huawei CEO speaks on open policy hopes from Biden’s Gov’t.

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Huawei also is building an alternative operating system after the US barred it from using Google’s Android.

The CEO and founder of Chinese telecom giant Huawei called Tuesday for a reset with the United States under President Joe Biden, after the firm was battered by sanctions imposed by Donald Trump’s administration.

In his first appearance before journalists in a year, Ren Zhengfei said his “confidence in Huawei’s ability to survive has grown” despite its travails across much of the western world where it is maligned as a potential security threat.

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The comments come as the firm struggles under rules that have effectively banned US firms from selling it technology such as semiconductors and other critical components, citing national security concerns.

Insisting that Huawei remained strong and ready to buy from US companies, Ren called on the Biden White House for a “mutually beneficial” change of tack that could restore its access to the goods.

Continuing to do so, he warned, would hurt US suppliers.

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“We hope the new US administration would have an open policy for the benefit of American firms and the economic development of the United States,” said Ren, 76.

“We still hope that we can buy large volumes of American materials, components and equipment so that we can all benefit from China’s growth.”

Ren was speaking during a visit to the city of Taiyuan in China’s northern coal belt to open a laboratory for technologies that automate coal production to boost safety in a notoriously dangerous industry.

Founded by Ren in 1987, Huawei largely flew under the global radar for decades as it became the world’s largest maker of telecoms equipment and a top mobile phone producer.

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That changed under Trump, who targeted the firm as part of an intensifying China-US trade and technology standoff.

Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei speaks during a press briefing in Taiyuan, in China’s northern Shanxi province on February 9, 2021. (Photo by JESSICA YANG / AFP)

Trump from 2018 imposed escalating sanctions to cut off Huawei’s access to components and bar it from the US market, while he also successfully pressured allies to shun the firm’s gear in their telecoms systems.

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The former president raised fears that China’s government could potentially use “back doors” in Huawei gear for espionage, which the company strenuously denies.

The US campaign is hurting Huawei. Once a top-three smartphone supplier along with Samsung and Apple, its shipments plummeted more than 40 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to industry tracker IDC, as the supply-chain disruptions curbed production.

It fell to number five in the world in smartphones in the quarter — behind Chinese rivals Xiaomi and Oppo.

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Diversification
With China’s huge domestic market, Huawei will likely survive but not without major changes, said Nicole Peng, analyst with Canalys.

“They will not go away. I believe they will come back, but need to rethink the business model,” she said.

To this end, Huawei in November spun off budget smartphone line Honor to free that brand’s access to needed components.

But Ren insisted Tuesday it would hold on to its main premium phone brands.

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“We have decided we absolutely will not sell off our consumer devices, our smartphone business,” he said.

Despite his apparent overture to the White House, Ren admitted it would be “extremely difficult” for Biden to lift the sanctions.

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There is pressure in Washington to stay firm on China, and Biden’s commerce secretary nominee Gina Raimondo has pledged to “protect” America from potential Chinese threats, including Huawei.

Huawei is fast diversifying to encompass enterprise and cloud computing, Internet-Of-Things devices and networks, and other business segments related to the advent of 5G networks, an area of Huawei strength.

“We have more means to overcome the difficulties (we face),” Ren said.

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Huawei also is building an alternative operating system after the US barred it from using Google’s Android.

But Ren appeared to shoot down recent reports that Huawei is seeking self-sufficiency in semiconductors — long an Achilles Heel for China — either by acquiring stakes in chip companies or setting up its own plant.

“Huawei won’t be investing in this ourselves,” he said.

Ren also has had to deal with the December 2018 arrest of his daughter, Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, on a US warrant during a Vancouver stopover.

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Meng, 48, faces fraud and conspiracy charges in the United States over alleged Huawei violations of US sanctions against Iran, and separate charges of theft of trade secrets.

Her trial will begin in earnest in March, after two years of legal skirmishing. She could ultimately be extradited to the United States.

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#Newsworthy

Court denies top Media personnel, Jimmy Lai bail.

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But the national security legislation was penned directly by Beijing and looks set to trump any other legislation in the event of a dispute.

Hong Kong’s top court on Tuesday ordered pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai to stay behind bars as it sided with prosecutors in the first legal test of Beijing’s sweeping new national security law.

The landmark case cements the dramatic changes the security law has begun making to semi-autonomous Hong Kong’s common law traditions as Beijing seeks to snuff out dissent in the restless financial hub.

Lai, the 73-year-old owner of pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily, is one of some 100 activists arrested under the law since it was enacted in June, and the highest-profile figure to be placed in pre-trial custody.

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He has been charged with “colluding with foreign forces” — one of the new security crimes — for allegedly calling for sanctions against Hong Kong and China.

The security law is the most pronounced shift in Hong Kong’s relationship with China since it was handed back by Britain in 1997.

It criminalised a host of political views and toppled the legal firewall between the two territories.

Written in Beijing and imposed by fiat, it allows mainland security agents to operate openly in the city for the first time, and even grants China jurisdiction in some cases.

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Tuesday’s ruling by the Court of Final Appeal centred around bail.

Presumption of bail for non-violent crimes is a hallmark of Hong Kong’s legal system.

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But the national security law removes that presumption and says judges have to be sure a defendant “will not continue to commit acts endangering national security”.

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai (R) is escorted into a Hong Kong Correctional Services van outside the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong on February 1, 2021, after being ordered to remain in jail while judges consider his fresh bail application, the first major legal challenge to a sweeping national security law Beijing imposed on the city last year. (Photo by STR / AFP)

Lai was detained in December and released on bail for about a week after a lower court granted him HK$10 million (US$1.3 million) bail together with a stringent list of requirements, including house arrest, no interviews and no social media posts.

But he was put back behind bars after the prosecution sought to challenge those bail conditions.

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‘Stringent threshold’
On Tuesday, a panel of five senior judges ruled in favour of the prosecution and said that the lower court judge had erred in granting Lai bail.

The security law, the judges wrote, “creates such a specific exception to the general rule in favour of the grant of bail and imports a stringent threshold requirement for bail applications”.

The judges said Lai could make a fresh bail application in the lower courts which would have to take into account their directions.

Legal analysts were closely watching the case for an indication of whether Hong Kong’s judiciary will serve — or even can serve — as any kind of constitutional brake against Beijing’s security law.

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The judiciary can only interpret laws, which are usually passed by Hong Kong’s semi-elected legislature.

During challenges to new legislation, judges balance the wording of the law against common law traditions and core liberties that are enshrined in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution and its Bill of Rights.

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But the national security legislation was penned directly by Beijing and looks set to trump any other legislation in the event of a dispute.

Bail is not the only area where legal precedents are changing under the security law.

On Monday, AFP revealed authorities have opted not to use a jury for the first national security trial, according to a legal source with direct knowledge, citing security concerns for jury members.

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Asked about that decision on Tuesday, Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam replied: “I will not comment on individual cases which are now under the judicial process.”

Challenging the security law in court may be tricky.

In Hong Kong’s complex constitutional hierarchy, the ultimate arbiter of the laws is Beijing’s Standing Committee, which has shown an increased willingness in recent years to wade into legal arguments and make pronouncements.

China’s state media have already declared Lai guilty and made clear authorities expect Hong Kong’s judges to side with Beijing on national security.

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In a tweet, China’s state-run Global Times hailed Tuesday’s Lai ruling, describing him as a “major secessionist”.

Senior Chinese officials have recently backed calls to “reform” Hong Kong’s judiciary, something opponents fear signals support for a more mainland-style legal system that answers to the Communist Party and where convictions are all but guaranteed.

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#Newsworthy

Kidnapped Chinese workers freed.

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Kidnapping for ransom which used to be common in Nigeria’s oil-producing south, has lately spread to the other parts of the country.

Nigerian police said on Tuesday they had freed three Chinese workers kidnapped last week from a gold-mining site in southwestern Osun state.

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The Chinese were abducted and their police escort killed on February 1 following a dispute with local labourers at the mining site at the Atakumosa area of the state.

“We have rescued the three Chinese expatriates. They were freed on Sunday,” state police spokeswoman Yemisi Opalola told AFP.

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She said the foreigners who took ill while in captivity, were being given medical care.

She said that no arrests had been made.

It was not immediately clear if a ransom was paid for their release.

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Kidnapping for ransom which used to be common in Nigeria’s oil-producing south, has lately spread to the other parts of the country.

The victims are usually released after a ransom is paid although police rarely confirm if money changed hands.

Chinese firms are working in Nigeria on multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects that include mining, railways, airports and roads.

Their workers have been repeatedly targeted by kidnap gangs.

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Last July, four Chinese workers were abducted from a quarry site in southern Cross River state while their police guard was killed.

They were released one month later.

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#Newsworthy

Not enemy, Joe Biden foresees ‘grave rivalry’ with China.

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Trump had chosen open confrontation and verbal attacks, without serious tangible results for the enormous US trade deficit with China.

President Joe Biden anticipates the US rivalry with China will take the form of “extreme competition” rather than conflict between the two world powers.

Biden said in an excerpt of a CBS interview aired Sunday that he has not spoken with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping since he became US president.

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“He’s very tough. He doesn’t have — and I don’t mean it as a criticism, just the reality — he doesn’t have a democratic, small D, bone in his body,” Biden said.

US President Joe Biden makes his way to his vehicle in the snow, after attending Mass at Saint Joseph on the Brandywine Church in Wilmington, Delaware on February 7, 2021. – President Joe Biden anticipates the US rivalry with China will take the form of “extreme competition” rather than conflict between the two world powers.<br />Biden said in a CBS interview aired Sunday that he has not spoken with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping since he became US president. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

“I’ve said to him all along, that we need not have a conflict. But there’s going to be extreme competition,” Biden said.

“I’m not going to do it the way (Donald) Trump did. We’re going to focus on international rules of the road.”

China is considered in Washington as the United States’ number one strategic adversary, and the primary challenge on the world stage.

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Trump had chosen open confrontation and verbal attacks, without serious tangible results for the enormous US trade deficit with China.

Biden has systematically dismantled many of the more controversial measures of the Trump era, while at the same time signaling that the United States will closely look out for its own interests.

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#Newsworthy

Saudi Arabia intercepts armed drone, says it’s from Yemen.

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The Saudi-led military coalition “intercepted and destroyed an armed drone,” said spokesman Turki al-Maliki in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

Saudi Arabia intercepted an armed drone launched towards the kingdom by Yemen’s Huthis, state media said Sunday, a day after the US moved to delist the rebels as a terrorist group.

The Saudi-led military coalition “intercepted and destroyed an armed drone,” said spokesman Turki al-Maliki in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

“It was launched systematically and deliberately by the terrorist Huthi militia to target civilians and civilian objects in the south of the region.”

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The incident was not immediately claimed by the Iran-backed Huthis.

The US State Department on Friday said it had formally notified Congress of its intention to revoke a terrorist designation against the rebels, which had been announced at the end of the administration of former president Donald Trump.

The delisting move came a day after US President Joe Biden announced an end to US support for Saudi-led offensive operations in Yemen.

Humanitarian groups were deeply opposed to the designation, saying it jeopardised their operations in a country where the majority of people rely on aid, and that they have no choice but to deal with the Huthis, who control much of the north.

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Saudi Arabia, which entered the Yemen conflict in 2015 to bolster the internationally recognised government, has repeatedly been targeted with cross-border attacks.

Last month, it said it had intercepted and destroyed a “hostile air target” heading towards the capital Riyadh.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: China approves second domestic vaccine.

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China has been racing to develop homegrown jabs and aims to vaccinate 50 million people before the start of the Lunar New Year in mid-February.

China’s drug authorities have given “conditional” approval for a second Covid-19 vaccine, Sinovac’s CoronaVac jab, the pharmaceutical company said Saturday.

The vaccine has already been rolled out to key groups at higher risk of exposure to coronavirus but Saturday’s approval allows for its use on the general public.

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A conditional approval helps hustle emergency drugs to market in cases when clinical trials are yet to meet normal standards but indicate therapies will work.

The approval comes after multiple domestic and overseas trials of the vaccine in countries including Brazil and Turkey, although “efficacy and safety results need to be further confirmed”, Sinovac said in a statement.

Fellow Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinopharm received a similar conditional green light in December to put its vaccine on the market.

Sinovac said trials in Brazil had shown around 50 percent efficacy in preventing infection and 80 percent efficacy in preventing cases requiring medical intervention.

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“The results show that the vaccine has good safety and immunogenic effect on people of all age groups,” Sinovac said Saturday.

Meanwhile, Sinopharm said in December that its vaccine had a 79.34 percent efficacy rate, lower than rival jabs developed in the West by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — with 95 and 94 percent rates respectively.

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China has been racing to develop homegrown jabs and aims to vaccinate 50 million people before the start of the Lunar New Year in mid-February.

The holiday normally spurs a travel rush with hundreds of millions traversing the country — though authorities are encouraging people to stay home this year through a mixture of restrictions and incentives.

As China ramps up its vaccine campaign, authorities have repeatedly assured the public of the jab’s safety and efficacy, despite not releasing any detailed clinical trial data.

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At the same time, Beijing has been promoting its vaccines abroad in what analysts have called “vaccine diplomacy” to earn goodwill after facing criticism for its early handling of the outbreak.

China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday said it planned to provide 10 million vaccine doses to the WHO-backed international vaccine distribution programme Covax.

Beijing has also pledged to share the vaccine at a fair cost — a potential boost for poorer Asian countries who are otherwise reliant on limited distribution offered by the Covax scheme.

Countries including Senegal, Indonesia, and Hungary have procured millions of vaccine doses from Chinese pharmaceutical firms.

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But take-up has been slower abroad for Chinese vaccines compared to jabs from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, as little information has been published about the safety or efficacy of Chinese vaccines.

Chinese vaccine makers also have chequered reputations, after major scandals at home involving expired or poor quality products.

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#Newsworthy

Just in: 3 Chinese employees ‘kidnapped’ in Nigeria mine conflict.

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Chinese firms are working in Nigeria on multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects that include mining, railways, airports and roads.

Three Chinese employees have been abducted and their police escort killed following a dispute with local labourers at a gold-mining site in southwest Nigeria, police said Thursday.

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The incident which happened at the Atakumosa area of Osun state on Monday was under investigation, state police spokeswoman Yemisi Opalola told AFP.

“The three Chinese nationals were abducted following a dispute with local labourers at the site,” Opalola said, adding that the police guard attached to the foreigners was killed in the incident.

Kidnapping for ransom which used to be common in Nigeria’s oil-producing south, has lately spread to the other parts of the country.

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The victims are usually released after a ransom is paid although police rarely confirm if money changed hands.

Opalola could not immediately say if the labourers were responsible for the Chinese kidnapping, but added that an investigation had been launched.

“We have also deployed our operatives to the surrounding bushes with a view to securing the release of the Chinese.”

Chinese firms are working in Nigeria on multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects that include mining, railways, airports and roads.

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Their workers have been repeatedly targeted by kidnap gangs for ransom.

Last July, four Chinese workers were abducted from a quarry site in southern Cross River state while their police guard was killed. They were freed after a month in captivity.

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#Newsworthy

Another deadly virus, dangerous than COVID-19 may root from China.

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The first cases of Nipah virus infection were identified in 1998, when an outbreak led to 105 deaths.

Areport by the Access to Medicine Foundation (ATMF) has revealed an outbreak of a more fatalistic virus than the coronavirus could be imminent even as pharmaceutical companies tend to neglect its threat while currently focusing COVID-19.

Jayasree K Iyer, executive director of the Netherlands-based Foundation points out that the Nipah virus, with a fatality rate of up to 75 percent, could be the next pandemic.

“Nipah virus is another emerging infectious disease that causes great concern. Nipah could blow any moment. The next pandemic could be a drug-resistant infection,” She said to NoRM‘s known Media.

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While there is no current outbreak of the virus, in 2018, an outbreak in southern India killed 17 people.

The virus, though rare, is spread by fruit bats and can cause flu-like symptoms and brain damage.

The report by ATMF monitors 20 major drug companies and places the Nipah Virus as one one of 10 infectious diseases classified by the WHO as the greatest public health risks.

In January, Moderna announced that it is creating new vaccines in new development programs.

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The development programs announced were vaccines to fight against the seasonal flu, HIV and the Nipah virus.

This development program is dependent on the company’s clinical successes against its infectious disease vaccines.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: China pledges vaccines to 13 developing Countries

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38 more developing countries in need of the vaccines would receive China’s vaccine aid at a later stage.

China will continue to provide COVID-19 vaccines to other countries, especially the developing ones, in a timely manner within its capacity and contribute to the building of a community of health for all, official said.

The Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, disclosed this on Monday at a daily news briefing in Beijing.

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Wang said China had donated COVID-19 vaccines to Pakistan on Monday, saying that the first shipment of China’s vaccine aid to other countries.

Reiterating China’s commitment to making its COVID-19 vaccines a global public good once developed and put into use, Wang said China will contribute to achieving the accessibility and affordability of vaccines in developing countries.

“We act on our words.’’

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Besides Pakistan, China is also providing vaccine aid to 13 developing countries, including Brunei, Nepal, the Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Palestine, Belarus, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea.

He said that 38 more developing countries in need of the vaccines would receive China’s vaccine aid at a later stage.

“We are also participating actively in the WHO-led COVAX initiative to provide vaccines to developing countries,” the spokesperson added.

China has supported its companies in conducting joint research and production of vaccines with foreign partners and already exported Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines to countries including the UAE, Morocco, Indonesia, Turkey, Brazil, and Chile, Wang noted.

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Besides, China also supported relevant companies in exporting vaccines to countries that were in urgent need, recognised Chinese vaccines, and authorised the emergency use of Chinese vaccines in their countries, Wang said.

He added that China expected the international community to make joint efforts in promoting the equitable distribution and use of vaccines and ensure the availability and affordability of vaccines in developing countries.

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#Newsworthy

China to seize recognition of UK-issued BN(O) passports for Hong Kongers

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On Thursday Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam played down the threat of a mass exodus.

China on Friday said it will “no longer recognise” the British National (Overseas) passport for Hong Kongers, as Britain prepares to offer millions of former colonial subjects a way to escape Beijing’s crackdown on dissent.

From Sunday, those with a BN(O) passport and their dependents will be able to apply online for a visa allowing them to live and work in the United Kingdom.

After five years they can then apply for citizenship.

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The new immigration scheme is a response to Beijing’s decision to impose a sweeping national security law on the city last year to snuff out huge and often violent democracy protests.

Britain accused China of tearing up its promise ahead of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover that the financial hub would maintain key liberties and autonomy for 50 years. It argues it has a moral duty to protect its former subjects.

But on Friday Beijing hit back ahead of the upcoming change.

“From January 31, China will no longer recognise the so-called BN(O) passport as a travel document and ID document, and reserves the right to take further actions,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.

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It is unclear what China’s declaration means in practical terms.

But it sets the stage for further confrontation with London, and the threat of further action suggests Beijing may be preparing more restrictions for BN(O) holders down the line.

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‘Strong message’
Hong Kong’s government late Friday said the change meant the BN(O) passport now “cannot be used for immigration clearance and will not be recognised as any form of proof of identity in Hong Kong”.

However, few people use BN(O) passports in such a way.

Hong Kongers use their own Hong Kong passport or ID card to leave the city.

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To enter mainland China, they need to use their “home return” travel permit.

The only time they might use a BN(O) passport is on arrival into Britain or another country that recognises the document.

Willie Lam, an expert at Hong Kong’s Centre for China Studies, said the move was largely symbolic.

“It’s a strong message sent to the UK and other countries not to interfere in Hong Kong affairs, but in practical terms, I don’t think people would be intimidated into not applying,” he told AFP.

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“There seems to be no way that the Hong Kong or Beijing authorities can find out who might or might not apply for the BN(O) passport because the British consulate would not reveal their identity,” he added.

Offer open to millions
How many Hong Kongers will take up the offer remains to be seen, especially as the coronavirus pandemic restricts global flights and mires much of the world, including Britain, in a painful economic malaise.

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But a BN(O) passport is available to a huge number of people — about 70 percent of Hong Kong’s total population of 7.5 million.

Applications for BN(O) passports have skyrocketed more than 300 percent since the national security law was imposed last July, with 733,000 registered holders as of mid-January.

Britain predicts up to 154,000 Hong Kongers could arrive over the next year and as many as 322,000 over five years, bringing an estimated “net benefit” of up to £2.9 billion ($4 billion) with them.

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“I just don’t see how 2.9 million Hong Kong people would love to go to the United Kingdom,” she told Bloomberg, using the figure for the number of people eligible for BN(O) status that does not include their dependents.

“The important thing is for us to tell the people of Hong Kong that Hong Kong’s future is bright,” she added.

The BN(O) passport was a compromise with authoritarian China ahead of Hong Kong’s handover.

Many Hong Kongers wanted British citizenship, something Beijing balked at.

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So Britain instead allowed anyone born before 1997 to stay in Britain for six months at a time, but with no working or settling rights.

Now it has become one of the few ways out for Hong Kongers hoping to start a new life overseas, as authorities conduct mass arrests against democracy supporters and move to purge the restless city of dissenting views.

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#Newsworthy

Bigamy scandal: China executes former banker in bribes case.

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Rights group Amnesty International estimates the country is the top executioner globally, with thousands executed and sentenced to death each year.

China on Friday executed a former top banker accused of taking $260 million worth of bribes, other forms of corruption and bigamy, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

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Lai Xiaomin, the former chairman of Huarong — one of China’s largest state-controlled asset management firms — was put to death by a court in the northern city of Tianjin, CCTV said.

“The amount of bribes received by Lai Xiaomin was extremely large, the crime’s circumstances were particularly serious and the social impact was particularly severe,” CCTV quoted the Chinese Supreme People’s Court as saying, which reviewed and approved the execution order.

The report did not specify how Lai was executed but said he was allowed to meet with close relatives before his death.

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Chinese courts have a conviction rate of over 99 percent, and it is extremely rare for a death sentence to be overturned. The number of executions carried out annually is considered a state secret.

Lai was convicted and sentenced earlier this month. The Tianjin court ruled that he had shown “extreme malicious intent” and abused his position to obtain the vast sum.

He was also found guilty of bigamy after living with a woman “as man and wife for long periods” outside of his marriage and fathering illegitimate children.

Lai was alleged to have used his position to embezzle more than 25 million yuan ($3.8 million) in public funds between 2009 and 2018.

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His downfall began in April 2018 as investigators removed him from his job and stripped him of his Communist Party position.

Several high-profile party officials and entrepreneurs have spectacularly fallen from grace in recent years as part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption purge.

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#Newsworthy

China President, Xi warns against ‘new cold war’

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Under Trump, tensions simmered between the US and China, the world’s top two economies, on issues ranging from trade and technology to Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the coronavirus.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned global leaders against starting a “new Cold War” and urged unity in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

“To build small cliques or start a new Cold War, to reject, threaten or intimidate others … will only push the world into division,” said Xi at an all-virtual Davos forum on Monday.

The words appeared to be aimed at US President Joe Biden’s plans to revitalise global alliances to counter China’s growing influence. Biden, busy handling several urgent domestic crises, did not participate at Davos and tasked US climate envoy John Kerry with representing Washington.

In a swipe at moves targeting China launched by the previous US administration under Donald Trump, Xi said confrontation “will always end up harming every nation’s interests and sacrificing people’s welfare”.

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Xi, making his first appearance at the forum since his vigorous defence of free trade and globalisation in an address in Davos in 2017, advocated multilateralism as the way out of current challenges in a roughly 25-minute speech.

“We should build an open world economy … discard discriminatory and exclusionary standards, rules and systems, and take down barriers to trade, investment and technological exchanges,” he said.

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The G20 – an international forum grouping 19 of the biggest developed and emerging economies, plus the European Union – should be strengthened as the “main forum for global economic governance” and the world should “engage in closer macroeconomic policy coordination”, Xi added.

The international community should be governed in accordance with rules and consensus reached by all countries, instead of by one or several issuing orders, he said, without naming the countries.

The Chinese leader also reaffirmed Beijing’s ambitious climate pledges to slash carbon emissions by 65 per cent by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 – both significant commitments as China emits a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases.

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“Meeting these targets will require tremendous hard work from China. But we believe that when the interests of the entire humanity are at stake, China must step forward, take action and get the job done,” he said.

Economic growth
China saw its GDP increase 2.3 percent last year, according to official data – the lowest growth rate since 1976 – but it is nonetheless expected to be the only major economy to have expanded in the pandemic-ravaged year.

Its economy is forecast to grow by 7.9 per cent in 2021, according to the International Monetary Fund – trimmed down from initial predictions by a harsh geopolitical climate, global economic downturn and risks from a messy technological decoupling from the US.

It also overtook the US as the world’s biggest recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2020, according to a UN report released on Sunday.

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However, despite having controlled the pandemic within its border, and kickstarting the economy, the Chinese government has been accused of mishandling the initial coronavirus outbreak and covering up information.

A World Health Organization expert team is currently conducting a long-delayed probe into the origins of the virus, which was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

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#Newsworthy

United States proves strong support ‘for taiwan’ as China sends warplanes.

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Ambassador Kelly Craft accompanied the tweet with a photo of herself in the UN General Assembly Hall, where the island is banned.

Chinese air force planes including 12 fighter jets entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone for a second day as tensions rise near the island just days into US President Joe Biden’s new administration.

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After eight Chinese bomber planes and four fighter jets flew into Taiwan’s defence zone on Saturday in the South China Sea, a further 15 flew into the same air space on Sunday.

Taiwan’s defence ministry said China sent six J-10 fighters, four J-16s, two SU-30s, a Y-8 reconnaissance aircraft and two Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft.

Taiwan’s air force was sent up to respond, it added.

“Airborne alert sorties had been tasked, radio warnings issued and air defence missile systems deployed to monitor the activity,” the ministry said.

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China has yet to comment. It has previously said such actions are aimed at defending the country’s sovereignty and designed to act as a warning against “collusion” between the United States and Taiwan.

China views democratically ruled Taiwan as its own territory, and has in the past few months increased military activity near the island.

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But China’s activities over the weekend mark a ratcheting up with fighters and bombers being dispatched rather than reconnaissance aircraft as had generally been the case in recent weeks.

The US Department of State on Saturday said it “notes with concern the pattern of [China’s] ongoing attempts to intimidate its neighbours, including Taiwan”.

“We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives,” spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

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Washington will continue to deepen ties with Taiwan and ensure its defence from Chinese threats while supporting a peaceful resolution of issues between the sides, the statement said.

“Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region,” it added.

The latest Chinese overflight came on the heels of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, emphasising the island’s enduring position in the panoply of divisive issues between the sides that also include human rights, trade disputes and, most recently, questions about China’s initial response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden’s administration has shown little sign of reducing pressure on China over such issues, although it is seen as favouring a return to more civil dialogue.

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Taiwan’s foreign ministry expressed its thanks for the show of US support on Sunday, adding it would work closely with the Biden administration to strengthen their partnership.

Lo Chih-cheng, a senior legislator for Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party who sits on parliament’s foreign affairs and defence committee, also told Reuters news agency that China was trying to deter the new US government from backing the island.

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“It’s sending a message to the Biden administration,” he said.

Taiwan and China separated amid civil war in 1949 and China says it is determined to bring the island under its control, by force if necessary.

The US switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 but is legally required to ensure Taiwan can defend itself and the self-governing democratic island enjoys strong bipartisan support in Washington.

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Emily Horne, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, also reaffirmed the US’s commitment to Taiwan after the island’s de facto ambassador in Washington, Hsiao Bi-khim, attended Biden’s swearing-in on Wednesday.

In a final swipe at China, the Trump administration’s outgoing UN ambassador tweeted that it was time for the world to oppose China’s efforts to exclude and isolate Taiwan, drawing sharp criticism from Beijing.

She carried a handbag with a stuffed Taiwan bear sticking out of the top, a gift from Taiwan’s representative in New York, Ambassador James Lee.

Tsai has sought to bolster the island’s defences with the purchase of billions of dollars in US weapons, including upgraded F-16 fighter jets, armed drones, rocket systems and Harpoon missiles capable of hitting ships and land targets.

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She has also boosted support for Taiwan’s indigenous arms industry, including launching a programme to build new submarines to counter China’s ever-growing naval capabilities.

China’s increased threats come as economic and political enticements bear little fruit, leading it to stage war games and dispatch fighter jets and reconnaissance planes on an almost daily basis towards the island of 24 million people, which lies 160km (100 miles) off China’s southeast coast across the Taiwan Strait.

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#Newsworthy

India reopens ‘Ladakh’ lake bothering China.

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A video shot by an Indian soldier and shared on social media showed soldiers from both nations engaged in fistfights and stone-pelting at the LAC.

Even as the standoff between Indian and Chinese armies continues in the Himalayan region of Ladakh for eight months now, the local administration’s decision to reopen the Pangong Tso lake for tourism has come as a glimmer of hope for the local residents.


Border War: India blames China

China-India Border War: Indian Soldier Killed.

China, India agrees to withdraw troops from border.


On Sunday, the administration of the newly-created federal territory of Ladakh opened the world’s highest saltwater lake, almost a year after it was closed for tourists due to COVID-19 restrictions followed by the military standoff along the disputed border between the two Asian giants.

Both sides accuse each other of intruding across the loosely-demarcated de facto border, known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC), with Pangong Tso, located 14,000 feet (4,270 metres) above sea level in Ladakh, being one of the flashpoints.

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The standoff began in May last year after a scuffle broke out between Indian and Chinese troops at the lake, resulting in 11 soldiers being injured on both sides.

Ladakh Lake Bothering China reopened. (Noble Reporters Media, Olamide)

The military standoff intensified a month later when 20 Indian soldiers and an undisclosed number of Chinese troops were killed in hand-to-hand combat on June 15, 2020 – the worst clashes between the two forces in decades.

The LAC dividing the two nuclear-armed nations passes through the landlocked 135km (84 miles) long, boomerang-shaped lake, which is 6km (3.7 miles) wide at its broadest point. One-third of the lake falls under the Indian territory while the remaining area is under Chinese control.
The western end of Pangong Tso lies 54km (33 miles) southeast of Leh, the main city in Ladakh region.

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Welcome move, say locals
“The majestic Pangong Lake has been reopened for tourists starting January 10. So, get inner line permit (ILP) and visit this spellbinding lake,” the local administration said in its announcement on Sunday.

The move has revived hopes among the locals of a good upcoming tourism season in the Himalayan region.

“It’s a really good news because the Pangong Lake is one of the most visited places for tourists in Ladakh. It will definitely help the local tourism industry,” Kochak Stanzin, an elected councillor from the region, told NoRM‘s known Media

Stanzin, who represents Ladakh’s Chushul constituency where the Pangong Lake is located, said 60 percent of Leh’s population depends on tourism. He invited the tourists to visit the frozen lake before winter ends.

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Though tourism was hit globally due to the coronavirus pandemic, its impact was felt harder in Ladakh where tourism season is squeezed to just a few months, mostly from April to mid-October, due to the freezing winters in the region.

Delex Namgyal, a travel and tour operator in Leh, told NoRM‘s known Media over the telephone that the timing of the reopening of the lake for tourists could not have been better since January and February are the months when bookings for the summer season begin.

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“The timing is good. It will give a positive message that Ladakh is opening up for tourists,” said Namgyal, adding that almost 80 percent of Indian tourists arriving in Leh visit the lake.

India reopens ‘Ladakh’ lake neighboring China. (Noble Reporters Media, Olamide)

While just a few thousand tourists visit Ladakh during winters, Namgyal said that number can go up to more than 250,000 during summers.

Tsewang Yangjor, a hotelier in Leh, told Al Jazeera 2020 was a “disastrous year” for the local tourism industry and they are “happy that things are improving and the lake has been opened for the tourists”.

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“I think the situation [along China border] might be normal now and that is why they have decided to give permit [to visit the lake],” he said.

India-China tensions
But the situation along the LAC is far from normal, with both sides deploying a large number of troops along the Himalayan frontier. Several rounds of military and diplomatic talks between the two nations have failed to end the standoff.

The decision to reopen the Pangong Tso lake came a day before India handed back a Chinese soldier apprehended along the southern bank of the lake after he transgressed into the Indian side.

India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Tuesday said relations with China have been “profoundly disturbed” after last year’s deadly border clash.

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China and India fought a war in 1962 and continue to be engaged in several disputes along the 3,488km-long (2,167 miles) frontier they share. Yet, the two countries have remained focused on expanding commercial relationships despite the tensions.

Though happy with the Ladakh administration’s decision to reopen the lake situated along the tense India-China border, tour operator Namgyal has a word of caution: “The standoff can still have a negative impact [on tourism] if the situation worsens.”

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#Newsworthy

“Hodgepodge of lies” – China slams United States

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The world’s two biggest economies have traded blows over the coronavirus pandemic, trade and technology competition, espionage, human rights and media freedoms under US President Donald Trump’s tenure.

Beijing on Friday lashed out at a claim by the US intelligence chief that China is the “greatest threat to democracy and freedom worldwide”, calling it a “hodgepodge of lies”.

The war of words comes as relations between the two superpowers have spiralled to their lowest point in decades and as Washington unveiled travel restrictions for members of the Chinese Communist Party.

US Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece on Thursday that Chinese spies were using economic pressure to influence or undermine US legislators.

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“The People’s Republic of China poses the greatest threat to America today, and the greatest threat to democracy and freedom worldwide since World War II,” he wrote.

Beijing hit back angrily on Friday.

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“[Ratcliffe] only continues to repeat lies and rumours to slander and discredit China, and wantonly play up the Chinese threat,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

“I think this is yet another hodgepodge of lies that the US government has been cooking up lately.”

Hua also accused the US of being “engaged in a Cold War mindset, advocating major power competition, and wantonly expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal”.

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The US has repeatedly stressed that China is a grave threat to national security and Western democratic values, while China has accused the US of seeking to contain its rise through unlawful means.

Under the new US travel rules, visas issued to party members and their immediate family will remain valid for just one month, and for a single entry.

Previously some visas were issued that permitted unlimited entries and could remain valid for as long as 10 years.

The United States shut down the Chinese consulate in Houston in July, calling it a centre of espionage and harassment of Chinese nationals in the US.

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In retaliation, Beijing ordered the US to vacate its consulate in Chengdu.

Hua on Friday called for the United States to “stop damaging US-China relations and US-China mutual trust and cooperation”.

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#Newsworthy

Just in: 53 jailed amid deadly explosion in China

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The explosion, sparked by a fire in Tianjiayi’s fertiliser factory, flattened the surrounding industrial park, blew out windows and dented metal garage doors of buildings as far as four kilometres (2.5 miles) from the site.

A Chinese court jailed 53 people on Monday after convicting them on charges including bribery and negligence over a massive chemical factory explosion in eastern China last year that killed 78 people.

The blast in Jiangsu province in March 2019 was one of the worst industrial accidents in the country in recent years and led to the closure of the plant.

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Executives and employees of Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical company received sentences ranging from 18 months to twenty years in prison, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

A handful of local officials also received jail terms.

The court in Jiangsu’s Yancheng city found that the company knowingly produced and stored hazardous chemicals and waste material despite “storage venues that did not meet safety requirements”.

It also found that six local government agencies — including the city’s environmental protection authorities — had falsified documents in order to hide the risk posed by Tianjiayi’s activities, with some officials accepting bribes.

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Deadly industrial accidents are common in China, where safety regulations are often poorly enforced.

In 2015, massive chemical blasts in the northern port city of Tianjin killed at least 165 people.

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#Newsworthy…

US Election: Xi Jinping congratulates Joe Biden

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Xi’s message came more than two weeks after several other major countries had congratulated Biden.

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday congratulated Joe Biden on his US election victory, state media reported.

In his telegram, Xi said both countries should “stick to no conflict or confrontation, mutual respect, (and) the spirit of win-win cooperation” in order to promote the “noble cause” of world peace and development.

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US-China relations have hit historic lows in recent months, as the two superpowers have traded barbs over a variety of issues including the trade war, espionage allegations, human rights, media freedoms and tech rivalry.

Both countries have repeatedly attacked each other’s handling of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, with Washington blaming China’s lack of transparency during the initial outbreak in Wuhan late last year.

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Xi added that the “healthy and stable development of US-China relations accords with the fundamental interests of both peoples”.

Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan also sent a congratulatory message to Kamala Harris on her election as US vice president, Xinhua news agency reported.

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Beijing had previously offered low-key congratulations to Biden and Harris on November 13, well after several major countries had congratulated the president-elect on his victory after days of turmoil and anticipation as votes in key states were finalised.

“We understand the US election results will be confirmed based on US law and procedure,”said foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin during a routine briefing at the time.

Chinese media’s response to Biden’s victory since the result was confirmed earlier this month has been similarly muted.

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#Newsworthy

US Election: Rivalry with China to still persist irrespective who wins.

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Once again, a tough approach to China is central to Trump’s bid for office with the US set to go the polls on November 3.

In April 2017, US President Donald Trump entertained his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, his luxury golf resort in Florida.

On his way to the White House, China had been one of Trump’s favourite targets.

“We are going to have a very, very great relationship,” the businessman-turned-politician said after the meeting.

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A few months later, Xi feted Trump with a state dinner in Beijing’s Forbidden City, the first foreign leader to be given such an honour.

The two events marked the peak of a relationship that has come undone amid intensifying disputes over trade, technology, maritime claims, human rights and the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus that was first identified in China late last year has spread across the globe and the United States is now the world’s worst-affected country.

“It’s probably the worst relationship that they have had since the two established diplomatic relations,” said Adam Ni, Director of the China Policy Centre, an Australian think-tank based in Canberra. “The situation is quite bleak.”

Tensions in US-China ties will likely continue whether Trump or Biden wins [File: Brendan Smialowski/AFP]

The growing rivalry between the world’s two biggest powers has been felt across the Asia-Pacific, among the US’s traditional allies as well as smaller powers that have for years tried to balance support from the American superpower, alongside deepening ties with China.

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“It’s not competition any more,” said Thomas Daniel, a senior analyst at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia, referring to the US-China dynamic. “It’s turning more and more adversarial. It’s complicating things for us in Southeast Asia especially for those states that want the US to be constructively engaged in the region.”
Absence felt

Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, was feted on regular trips to the Asia Pacific and a regular guest at meetings of key regional groupings.

His signature Asian strategy – the pivot – was designed to nurture ties across the region but also to pursue engagement with China and cooperation on key issues.

Trump, in contrast, has been notable by his absence, and his disdain for the multilateralism that leaders in Asian capitals view as vital to the region’s long-term peace and stability. After attending the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2017, he has not been to the event since.

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He has flirted with authoritarian leaders such as North Korea’s Kim Jong Un while – touting “America First” – playing hardball with allies such as South Korea in demanding they “pay their way” for the cost of stationing thousands of US troops in the country.

And despite his hardening approach to China, Trump appears to have retained some admiration for Xi.

According to his former National Security Adviser John Bolton, during a meeting in Tokyo last year, Trump asked Xi for his help in the US election. Trump has denied the allegation.

US President Donald Trump has appeared to have a soft spot for authoritarian leaders like Kim Jong Un and adopted a highly transactional approach to policy-making, confounding allies and partners in the wider Asia-Pacific [File: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

Such capricious and transactional decision-making has only added to the confusion about the US commitment to a region it insists is of strategic importance.

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But there is also increasing concern about China, which has sought to expand its influence through initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative and escalated activities in disputed areas such as the South China Sea, which it claims entirely as its own.

Beijing now occupies remote reefs and outcrops where it has built military installations and deployed the Coast Guard and maritime militias in support of its fishing fleets, unsettling the littoral states that also claim the parts of the sea closest to their shores.

Toughened response
The Trump administration has shown a greater willingness to respond to such actions.

The US Navy conducted 24 freedom of navigation journeys through the South China Sea between May 2017 and July 2020. That same month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said China’s claims in the sea were “unlawful”, further hardening the US approach.

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“You won’t see them cheering on too loudly from the side lines, but there are some who have misgivings about what China is doing, especially in regard to issues such as the South China Sea or along the border with India,” said Joseph Liow, Research Adviser at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

Some have welcomed the US’s more muscular response to China’s claims in the South China Sea where it had conducted more frequent right of navigation operations [Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jason Tarleton/U.S. Navy via AP Photo]

“But at the same time these states do not want to jeopardise relations with China because the economic relations they have are broader and deeper and they don’t want to compromise this relationship.”

The Trump administration has also responded more boldly to developments in Xinjiang – where the UN estimates about one million Uighurs are being held in camps that China describes as vocational skills training centres necessary to fight ‘extremism’ – and Hong Kong, where Beijing imposed a sweeping National Security Law in June after nearly a year of anti-government protests.

In both cases, the US has imposed targeted sanctions and in Hong Kong withdrawn the special financial status the territory once enjoyed.

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An anonymous Japanese government official wrote in the journal The American Interest in April, that Trump’s more assertive response was preferable to Obama’s strategy of trying to engage China.

“For countries on the receiving end of Chinese coercion, a tougher US line on China is more important than any other aspect of US policy,” the diplomat wrote. “Asian elites – in Taipei, Manila, Hanoi, New Delhi – increasingly calculate that Trump’s unpredictable and transactional approach is a lesser evil compared to the danger of the United States going back to cajoling China to be a ‘responsible stakeholder’.”

Taiwan, claimed by China as its own, has been the target of increasingly assertive behaviour by Beijing since Tsai Ing-wen was first elected president in 2016 (Trump was also the first US president to accept a congratulatory call from a Taiwanese leader).

US President Donald Trump hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan to a lavish dinner at his Mar-a-Lago resort in April 2017 [File: Carlos Barria/Reuters]

The US, which is bound by law to support Taiwan even as it maintains formal ties with Beijing, has been selling advanced weaponry to the island and encouraging Taipei to modernise its military, as China steps up air and sea activity across the straits.

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“It is true that during President Trump’s first term, US-Taiwan relations have improved quickly,” Chieh-Ting Yeh, Vice Chairman of the Global Taiwan Institute told NRM‘s known Media, noting the improvement also reflected Tsai’s “principled but measured approach to diplomacy” and “most importantly the increasing aggressiveness of the Chinese Communist Party”.

Rare consensus
Yeh stressed the US approach to Taiwan also had broad support across Washington.

“US-Taiwan relations are not determined simply by the whim of President Trump,” he said.

Analysts note the approach to China is one of the few areas of agreement in domestic politics.

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“Getting tough on China has become a source of rare bipartisan consensus in a polarised political climate,” wrote Hui Feng, a senior research fellow at Australia’s Griffith University, observed in an academic website, The Conversation. “In fact, even if Trump loses the election to Democratic challenger Joe Biden, a fundamental U-turn in US-China relations is still unlikely.”

Vice President Joe Biden has met Xi Jinping several times. Analysts say while Biden’s tactics might change, the tougher US strategy towards China would remain if he took the White House given its broad bipartisan support [File:Mike Theiler/Reuters]

Biden, a former vice president under Obama who met Xi several times when he was in government, has said that under his administration the US would lead by the “power of its example” rather than the “example of its power”.

But while he has recruited many former Obama officials to his team, he has also promised a more robust approach to China. He has even referred to Xi as a “thug”.

“No-one thinks it will Obama 2.0,” Liow said. “There is a steady and escalating drumbeat in pushing back on China, but they will want to work with China on a number of issues such as health and climate change where there is a convergence of interests.”

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A Biden administration is expected to return the US to the international organisations abandoned by Trump and rejoin the Paris Climate agreement.

Analysts also expect the US under Biden to invest more in its relationship with like-minded democracies including Australia, Japan and South Korea. In the latter, Biden’s campaign has accused Trump of treating alliances like “protection rackets” in his attempt to get more money out of Seoul.

“If Biden wins, expect the Blue House to breathe a sigh of relief,” wrote Linde Desmaele, a researcher at the KF-VUB Korea Chair affiliated with the International Security Cluster of the Institute for European Studies of Vrije Universiteit Brussel, in a recent policy brief.

In November 2017, US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump joined the Chinese president and his wife for a state dinner in the Forbidden City. Ties have deteriorated sharply since [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Whoever does emerge the victor in Tuesday’s poll, it is unlikely that the relationship between the two global giants can return to what it was.
The US has changed. And so has China. In the Asia-Pacific diplomats are preparing for four more challenging years.


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