Tag Archives: asia

COVID-19: India launches world’s largest vaccination drive.

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The sheer scale has its obstacles. For instance, India plans to rely heavily on a digital platform to track the shipment and delivery of vaccines.

India launched one of the world’s largest coronavirus vaccination drives on Saturday as the coronavirus pandemic spread at a record pace and global COVID-19 deaths surged past two million.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who addressed healthcare workers through video conferencing, will not immediately take the vaccine himself as India is initially prioritising nurses, doctors and others on the front line.

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“We are launching the world’s biggest vaccination drive and it shows the world our capability,” Modi said in his address. He implored citizens to keep their guard up and not to believe any “rumours about the safety of the vaccines”.

“Please do not start being careless once you get vaccinated, do not take off your mask or forget social distancing,” said Modi.

But public health experts point out the internet remains patchy in large parts of the country, and some remote villages are entirely unconnected.

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For workers who have pulled India’s battered healthcare system through the pandemic, the shots offered confidence that life can start returning to normal. Many burst with pride.

“I am excited that I am among the first to get the vaccine,” Gita Devi, a nurse, said as she lifted her left sleeve to receive the shot.

“I am happy to get an India-made vaccine and that we do not have to depend on others for it,” said Devi, who has treated patients throughout the pandemic in a hospital in Lucknow, capital of Uttar Pradesh state in India’s heartland.

India gave the nod for emergency use of two vaccines: one developed by Oxford University and UK-based drug-maker AstraZeneca, and another by Indian company Bharat Biotech on January 4. Cargo planes flew 16.5 million shots to different Indian cities last week.

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Health experts worry the regulatory shortcut taken to approve the Bharat Biotech vaccine without waiting for concrete data that would show its efficacy in preventing illness from the coronavirus could amplify vaccine hesitancy.

At least one state health minister has opposed its use.

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India’s health ministry has bristled at the criticism and said the vaccines are safe, but maintains that health workers will have no choice in deciding which one they get.

According to Dr SP Kalantri – director of a rural hospital in Maharashtra, India’s worst-hit state – such an approach was worrying because he said regulatory approval was hasty and not backed by science.

“In a hurry to be populist, the government [is] taking decisions that might not be in the best interest of the common man,” Kalantri said.

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Against the backdrop of the rising global COVID-19 death toll – it topped two million on Friday – the clock is ticking to vaccinate as many people as possible. But the campaign has been uneven.

India is second to the United States with 10.5 million confirmed cases, and ranks third in the number of deaths, behind the US and Brazil, with 152,000.

More than 35 million doses of various COVID-19 vaccines have been administered around the world, according to the University of Oxford.

While the majority of COVID-19 vaccine doses have already been snapped up by wealthy countries, COVAX – a UN-backed project to supply shots to developing parts of the world – has found itself short of vaccine, money and logistical help.

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As a result, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist warned it is highly unlikely that herd immunity – which would require at least 70 percent of the globe to be vaccinated – will be achieved this year.

As the disaster has demonstrated, it is not enough to snuff out the virus in a few places, experts say.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Japan tighten Border restrictions.

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The emergency declaration will last until February 7 for all regions covered.

Japan expanded a coronavirus state of emergency on Wednesday to seven more regions — including Osaka and Kyoto — and also tightened border restrictions as infections surge nationwide.

The expansion means that from Thursday, 11 of the country’s 47 prefectures will be under the state of emergency — accounting for about 60 percent of its GDP.

While the country’s outbreak remains comparatively small, with around 4,100 deaths overall, there has been a sharp spike in cases this winter and medics say hospitals are under heavy strain in the worst-affected areas.

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“We continue to see a serious situation,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, adding that the measures were “indispensable”.

“We must overcome this challenge that we face.”

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The month-long state of emergency was implemented in the greater Tokyo area last week.

People walk at Shinagawa station in Tokyo on January 13, 2021 as the country expanded the Covid-19 coronavirus state of emergency to seven more regions and tightened border restrictions. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)

It asks restaurants and bars to close by 8 pm, with residents urged to avoid unnecessary outings and working from home strongly encouraged.

Although — unlike most places in the world — the law does not currently allow authorities to enforce these requests, the government is planning legislation to fine businesses that do not comply.

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The areas affected range from central Aichi, an industrial and commercial hub, to Fukuoka in the southwest, and Osaka, which has reported record new cases in recent days along with neighbouring Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures.

Suga also announced Wednesday that the government would further tighten entry restrictions, which already bar the entry of almost all foreign visitors.

It will now suspend a programme allowing business visits from 11 countries and regions, he said, all but ending the entry of foreigners who are not existing residents.

Late Wednesday, the government also said it would tighten quarantine rules, threatening to name and shame Japanese citizens who violate the measure, and warning it could revoke the residency of foreign nationals who do the same and deport them.

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The measures come just over six months before the virus-postponed Tokyo Olympics are due to open.

Suga has insisted he is committed to holding the Games this summer, despite polls showing widespread public opposition.

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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

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

India, Kashmir clash; 6 killed.

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The clash was the deadliest since April when nine suspected militants and three soldiers were killed in two separate incidents in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Three Indian soldiers and three suspected rebels were killed in fighting near the de facto Kashmir border with Pakistan, the army said Sunday, in the deadliest clash to hit the contested region in months.

The fighting began early Sunday after soldiers detected “suspicious” movements in the northern forested Machil area near a military fence that marks the de facto border known as the Line of Control (LoC), Colonel Rajesh Kalia said.

One Indian border guard and one suspected militant were killed in an initial exchange of gunfire, before more troops were “rushed to the area”, he said in a statement.

Two more soldiers and two more suspected rebels were later killed while two other injured troops were taken to hospital, Kalia added.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since independence in 1947 and there have been regular exchanges of gunfire and mortars across the LoC.

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The flare-ups have increased since August last year when India’s Hindu-nationalist government revoked the restive region’s semi-autonomous status.

Tensions have remained high since then and there has also been growing anger over a measure allowing outsiders to buy land in the disputed territory.

Many Kashmiris have accused the government of seeking to water down the local population in India’s only Muslim-majority territory.

Last week, Islamabad said it would grant provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan — a mountainous territory bordering China and Afghanistan in Pakistan-administered Kashmir that India also claims — a move that angered New Delhi.

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The nuclear rivals have fought two wars over Kashmir. Rebels groups have also waged an insurgency against Indian soldiers for more than three decades over their demands for independence or a merger of the entire territory with Pakistan.

The fighting has killed tens of thousands of people — mostly civilians.

New Delhi accuses Pakistan of arming and training rebel groups to launch attacks on Indian forces, a charge Islamabad denies.


#Newsworthy…

Pakistan van fire: 15 Casualties.

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At least 15 people were killed when a passenger van travelling in southern Pakistan crashed and caught fire, officials said Sunday.

The van was carrying passengers from Karachi to Hyderabad city when it struck an object and careered off the road late Saturday.

“The death toll in the unfortunate accident has reached 15,” Owais Shah, the transport minister of Sindh province, told AFP.

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Five other people were injured, three of them critically, he said.

Most of the bodies were burned beyond recognition, said Faisal Edhi, head of the non-profit Edhi Foundation which runs the morgue the bodies were taken to.

Investigators were looking to see if a natural gas cylinder aboard the bus had contributed to the inferno.

Such incidents occur frequently on Pakistan’s roads, where speeding, dilapidated vehicles, and badly maintained roads all contribute to the accident rate.


#Newsworthy…

China debt to be added to key global bonds index.

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Chinese government debt is set to be included on a key global bonds index, which could see tens of billions of dollars of foreign investment in the country’s increasingly internationalised financial markets.

The move by FTSE Russell comes as trading in China becomes an increasingly controversial move in Washington as relations between the superpowers grow increasingly fraught.

But analysts said the attraction of higher yields — the yield on 10-year Chinese government bonds is 2.4 percentage points higher than US Treasuries — and a relatively stable currency have made the country an attractive prospect for investors.

Inclusion in the World Government Bond index, which could begin next October if approved, means CGBs will be a must-have asset for investment giants such as pension funds desperate for good returns as the global bond market is battered by the virus pandemic.

Pan Gongsheng, deputy governor at the central People’s Bank of China said international investments in the Chinese market had grown more than 40 percent over the past three years, with 2.8 trillion yuan ($410 billion) of Chinese bonds currently held by international investors.

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Goldman Sachs said inclusion could see up to $140 billion floods into the debt market.

AxiCorp strategist Stephen Innes said the move was “big news” which would open up China’s bond market to “a broader band of passive investors”.

This photo taken on September 24, 2020 shows workers setting up national flags along a street ahead of the upcoming National Day in Ningbo in China’s eastern Zhejiang province. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT

FTSE Russell, which is owned by the London Stock Exchange, decided against including Chinese debt in the index last year owing to several worries such as liquidity and the settlement of transactions, but it said the concerns had been addressed.

In the statement its CEO Waqas Samad said authorities had “worked hard to enhance the infrastructure of their government bond market”.

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Jason Pang of JP Morgan Asset Management said that while foreign ownership of CGBs had risen to around nine percent from two percent in recent years, it is still well below the 15-30 percent seen in other Asian markets.

But he added: “It is increasingly clear that China bonds’ globalisation is simply a matter of time, further accelerated by increasingly accessible hedging options that enable investors to manage risk.

“Over the past 20 years, China’s bond market has grown more than sixtyfold to nearly $14 trillion.”

The Chinese economy has largely bounced back after a virus-induced sharp economic shock seen earlier in the year, with most people back to work after the government brought the disease largely under control through lockdowns and mass testing.


#Newsworthy…

Breaking: Thousands infected with ‘Brucellosis’ after China lab leaks.

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Thousands of people in northwest China have tested positive for a bacterial disease after a leak from a state-owned biopharmaceutical plant making animal vaccines last year.

Health officials in Lanzhou city said 3,245 people had contracted brucellosis, a disease often caused by close contact with infected animals or animal products that can bring about fevers, joint pain and headaches.

Another 1,401 people tested as an early positive for the disease, and health authorities said there was no evidence of person-to-person transmission so far.

Chinese authorities found a biopharmaceutical plant had used expired disinfectant in its production of Brucella vaccines for animals between July and August last year — meaning the bacteria was not eradicated in its factory exhaust.

Contaminated gas from the China Animal Husbandry Lanzhou Biopharmaceutical Factory in Lanzhou formed aerosols containing the bacteria, and this was then carried by wind to the Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute, infecting nearly 200 people there as of December last year.

More than 20 students and faculty members of Lanzhou University, some of whom had been to the institute, subsequently tested positive as well, according to Xinhua news agency.

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Lanzhou’s health commission said Friday that sheep, cattle and pigs were most commonly involved in the spread of the bacteria.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, person-to-person transmission of brucellosis is “extremely rare” but some symptoms may reoccur or never go away.

These include recurrent fevers, chronic fatigue, swelling of the heart or arthritis.

The factory — which apologised earlier this year — has had its brucellosis vaccine production licence revoked, Lanzhou authorities said.

Compensation for patients would start in batches from October, according to local authorities.


#Newsworthy…

China, India agrees to withdraw troops from border.

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In joint statement, Wang Yi and S Jaishankar say current situation in border areas not in the interest of either side.

The foreign ministries of China and India agreed in a joint statement on Friday that their troops must quickly disengage from a months-long standoff at their long-disputed Himalayan border.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar met on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation foreign ministers’ meeting in Moscow to try and end the dispute, the most serious in decades at the undemarcated border.

“The two Foreign Ministers agreed that the current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side. They agreed therefore that the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions,” the statement said.

Separately, China’s foreign ministry said it would maintain communications with India through diplomatic and military channels and commit to “restoring peace and tranquillity” in the disputed border area.

China and India have agreed to quickly disengage from a standoff at the countries’ disputed border in the Himalayas [File: Manish Swarup/AP Photo]

Elaborating on the Moscow meeting, China said Wang had told Jaishankar that the “imperative is to immediately stop provocations such as firing and other dangerous actions that violate the commitments made by the two sides”.

All personnel and equipment that have trespassed at the border must be moved and frontier troops on both sides “must quickly disengage” in order to de-escalate the situation, Wang added.

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“This deal is significant but on the other hand I am still cautious. Let’s wait and see what transpires in the next few weeks and months. That will be the crucial test,” said Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University in Bloomington, the United States.

This deal is significant but on the other hand I am still cautious. Let’s wait and see what transpires in the next few weeks and months.
SUMIT GANGULY, A PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE AT INDIANA UNIVERSITY

“I think both sides have considerable reasons to de-escalate,” he told Noble Reporters Media‘s known Media.

“In the case of India, the economy has cratered in the wake of the COVID crisis and the shambolic handling thereof. And consequently India can ill afford to devote significant resources to the military at this particular juncture,” he said.

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“The Chinese did not want it to become a major distraction as their economy is finally recovering, and they are focused on the November elections in the US.”

Speaking on the five-point agreement between the two countries, Ganguly said they would probably involve withdrawing troops from eyeball-to-eyeball contact with one another.

“They would involve reducing certain kinds of actual deployment of artillery and other weaponry along particular band of territory.”

‘State of puffing’
The Global Times, a tabloid controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, took a more strident tone in an editorial published ahead of the two ministers’ meeting.

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“The Chinese side must be fully prepared to take military action when diplomatic engagement fails, and its front-line troops must be able to respond to emergencies, and be ready to fight at any time,” the paper said.

It accused India of holding a grudge over the 1962 conflict, and described the country as in “an unprecedented state of puffing”.

Wang and Jaishanka’s meeting took place after a border clash earlier this week when each accused the other of firing in the air during a confrontation on their border in the western Himalayas, a violation of long-held protocols on the use of firearms on the sensitive frontier.

The Chinese ministry said the two countries reached a five-point consensus on reducing tension in the area including the need to abide by existing agreements to ensure peace.


#Newsworthy….

Border War: China, India blames each other.

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Beijing accuses New Delhi of ‘severe military provocation’ but India denies its soldiers crossed the disputed border.

China and India have accused each other of firing shots on their flashpoint Himalayan border in a further escalation of military tension between the nuclear-armed Asian rivals.

The relationship between the two countries has deteriorated since a hand-to-hand combat clash in the Ladakh region on June 15 in which 20 Indian troops were killed.

Experts fear the latest incident will intensify a months-long standoff between the Asian giants that erupted in late April.

Beijing’s defence ministry accused India of “severe military provocation”, saying soldiers crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the western border region on Monday and “opened fire to threaten the Chinese border defence patrol officers”.

“According to the Chinese side, Chinese troops approached the India side for negotiations, and then they say some Indian troops fired at the Chinese side,”

“As a result, China’s military said it was forced to take countermeasures – although we don’t know what those countermeasures were, or if there were any casualties,” she added.

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India denies transgression
New Delhi was swift to give its own account, accusing Chinese border forces of “blatantly violating agreements” and firing “a few rounds in the air” to intimidate their Indian rivals.

“It is the PLA that has been blatantly violating agreements and carrying out aggressive manoeuvres,” the Indian army said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Despite the grave provocation, (our) own troops exercised great restraint and behaved in a mature and responsible manner,” the statement said.

Reporting from New Delhi NRM said that, according to India, “China’s army was trying to close in on one of India’s positions – and that when they [China] were dissuaded by their own troops, they fired in the air”.

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The countries fought a brief border war in 1962 but, officially, no shots have been fired in the area since 1975 when four Indian troops were killed in an ambush.

A spokesperson for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) gave no specifics and did not report casualties, calling on India to investigate the incident.

India has deployed thousands of soldiers following deadly border clashes in June [File: Danish Ismail/Reuters]

China’s western military command said the incursion occurred on Monday along the southern shore of Pangong Tso Lake in the area known in Chinese as Shenpaoshan. On the Indian side, the area is known as Chushul, where the two countries’ local military commanders have held several rounds of talks to defuse the tense standoff.

Zhang Shuili, spokesperson for the Western Theater Command of the PLA, said India had violated agreements reached by the two countries and warned their actions could “easily cause misunderstandings and misjudgements”.

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China’s foreign ministry said Indian troops had illegally crossed the LAC and had been the first to fire shots. “This is a serious military provocation,” spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily news conference in Beijing on Tuesday.

Late last month, India said its soldiers had thwarted the Chinese military’s moves “to change the status quo”, also on the southern shore of Pangong Lake, in violation of a consensus reached in past efforts to settle the standoff. In turn, China also accused Indian troops of crossing established lines of control.

Both sides have sent tens of thousands of troops to the disputed Himalayan border, which sits at an altitude of more than 4,000 metres (13,500 feet).

China said the incursion occurred on Monday along the southern coast of Pangong Lake in the area known in Chinese as Shenpaoshan [File: Manish Swarup/AP Photo]

Their troops have had several showdowns since the June 15 clash. China has also acknowledged it has had casualties but not given figures.

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Detailed border protocols in place for peaceful disengagement seem to have broken down since the June clash. India’s military has also reportedly changed its rules of engagement, allowing troops to carry guns.

Military commanders and diplomats have held several rounds of talks since July to reduce tension, but have made little progress to calm the border tensions.

Last week, defence ministers from the two countries spoke in Moscow on the sidelines of an international meeting – with both sides later releasing rival statements accusing each other of inflaming the showdown.

And earlier this week, an Indian minister said New Delhi had alerted China to allegations five men had been abducted by the PLA close to the disputed border in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh


#Newsworthy

COVID-19: India becomes second most hit country in World.

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Indian health ministry reports another daily record of 90,802 COVID-19 cases raising total to over 27 million worldwide.

  • India’s health ministry reported another daily record of 90,802 cases on Monday, bringing the total to over 4.2 million and overtaking Brazil to become the second-hardest-hit country.
  • COVID-19 cases are rising in 22 of the states in the US, according to a Reuters analysis, as the country celebrates its end-of-summer Labor Day weekend.
  • The world’s coronavirus cases have hit 27 million, more than 18 million people have recovered and more than 882,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
  • At least 200 UN staff have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Syria, according to a leaked document, as the organisation steps up efforts to contain the spread of the disease in the war-torn country.

#Newsworthy…

Dozens arrested in Hong Kong’s protest. [China]

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Hundreds take to the streets to demonstrate against the postponement of legislative election and the new security law.

More than 30 people have been arrested by Hong Kong police as riot officers swoop in on pro-democracy protesters – opposed to the postponement of the local legislative election – with rounds of pepper balls.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets on Sunday in the Asian financial hub to demonstrate against a new national security law imposed by China and the postponement of the legislative poll.

Sunday was meant to be voting day for the city’s partially elected legislature, one of the few instances where Hong Kong voters get to cast ballots.

But Chief Executive Carrie Lam on July 31 postponed the election for one year, citing a surge in novel coronavirus cases. Critics say her government worried the opposition would gain seats if voting was held as scheduled.

The poll would have been the former British colony’s first official vote since Beijing imposed the new security legislation in late June, which critics say aims to quash dissent in the city.

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Anti-government protests have been held in Hong Kong almost every weekend since June 2019. They erupted over opposition to a proposed extradition law and spread to include demands for greater democracy and criticism of Beijing’s efforts to tighten control over the city.

Police fire pepper balls
Thousands of police were stationed around the bustling Kowloon Peninsula on Sunday as marchers waved placards and chanted popular anti-government slogans such as, “liberate Hong Kong”.

One woman was arrested during a protest in the Kowloon district of Yau Ma Tei on charges of assault and spreading pro-independence slogans, the police department said on its Facebook page. It said such slogans are illegal under the newly enacted National Security Act.

Police fired pepper balls at protesters in Kowloon’s Mong Kong neighbourhood, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported.

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Some 30 other people were arrested on suspicion of illegal assembly and two were arrested for disorderly conduct, police said.

In the Jordan neighbourhood, protesters raised a banner criticising the election delay, the Post said. It put the number of arrests at 33.

“I want my right to vote,” activist Leung Kwok-hung, popularly known as Long Hair, was quoted as saying. The newspaper said Leung was later arrested.

Reporting from the city, Noble Reporters Media said many people were also carrying out individual acts of defiance across the city, carrying banners or chanting slogans, to protest the new law.

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“These acts are remarkable because these individuals are doing that in the face of the sweeping national security law, which makes chants like that, saying things like that illegal,” he said.

“The demonstration was also an unconventional one as people tried hard to blend in with regular shoppers in the heart of the city, and occasionally chanted slogans or make the hand sign of the opposition.”

Limited gatherings
Anti-government demonstrations have declined this year mainly because of limits on group gatherings and the security law that punishes actions China sees as subversive, secessionist, “terrorist” or colluding with foreign forces.

Hong Kong police arrested several well-known pro-democracy activists during the demonstration [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Hong Kong has reported about 4,800 coronavirus cases since January, far lower than in other large cities around the world. The number of new daily infections has fallen substantially from triple digits in July to single digits currently.

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While street protests have largely lost momentum, anti-government and anti-Beijing sentiment persists, with China’s offer of mass coronavirus testing for Hong Kong residents prompting calls for a boycott amid public distrust.

Gatherings are currently limited to two people. Police have cited such restrictions in rejecting applications for protests in recent months, effectively preventing demonstrations.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a guarantee of autonomy but critics say the new law undermines that promise and puts the territory on a more authoritarian path.

Supporters of the new security law say it will bring more stability after a year of often-violent anti-government and anti-China unrest and it plugs loopholes in national security left by the city’s inability to fulfil a constitutional requirement to pass such laws on its own.


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: Tension rise in India as cases top 4 million.

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With record surge in daily infections, India is set to overtake Brazil as the second worst-hit nation in the world.

India became the third country to cross four million coronavirus cases on Saturday, also setting a new global record for a daily surge in infections and closing in on Brazil’s total as the second-highest in the world.

The 86,432 cases added in the past 24 hours pushed India’s total to 4,023,179.

Brazil has confirmed 4,091,801 infections while the United States has 6,200,186 people infected, according to Johns Hopkins University.

India’s health ministry on Saturday also reported 1,089 deaths for a total of 69,561.

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Initially, the virus ravaged India’s sprawling and often densely populated cities. It has since stretched to almost every state in India, spreading through villages and smaller cities where access to healthcare is crippled.

With a population of nearly 1.4 billion people, India’s massive caseload does not surprise experts. The country’s delayed response to the virus forced the government to implement a harsh lockdown in late March. For more than two months, the economy remained shuttered, buying time for the underfunded healthcare system to prepare for the worst.

But with the economic cost of the restrictions rising, authorities saw no choice but to reopen activities.

Most of India’s cases are in western Maharashtra state and the four southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka.

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‘Worst is yet to come’
In rural Maharashtra, the worst-affected state with 863,062 cases and 25,964 deaths, doctors said measures like wearing masks and washing hands had now largely been abandoned.

“There is a behavioural fatigue now setting in,” said Dr SP Kalantri, the director of a hospital in the village of Sevagram.

He said the past few weeks had driven home the point that the virus had moved from India’s cities to its villages.

“The worst is yet to come,” said Kalantri. “There is no light at the end of the tunnel.”

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Even as testing in India has increased to more than a million a day, a growing reliance on screening for antigens or viral proteins is creating more problems.

These tests are cheaper and yield faster results but are not as accurate. The danger is that the tests may falsely clear many who are infected with COVID-19.

In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state with a limited healthcare system, the situation is already grim. With a total 253,175 cases and 3,762 deaths, the heartland state is staring at an inevitable surge and with a shortage of hospital beds and other health infrastructure.

Sujata Prakash, a nurse in the state’s capital, Lucknow, has recently tested positive for the coronavirus. But the hospital ward where she worked diligently refused her admission because there were no empty beds. She waited for more than 24 hours outside the surgical ward, sitting on patients’ chairs, before she was allotted one.

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“The government can shower flower petals on the hospitals in the name of corona warriors, but can’t the administration provide a bed when the same warrior needs one?” said Prakash’s husband, Vivek Kumar.

Others have not been so lucky.

When journalist Amrit Mohan Dubey fell sick this week, his friends called the local administration for an ambulance. It arrived two hours late and by the time Dubey was taken to hospital, he died.

“Had the ambulance reached in time, we could have saved Amrit,” said Zafar Irshad, a colleague of the journalist.


#Newsworthy…

Facebook must walk the talk on Myanmar – By Priya Pillai.

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The social media giant should disclose any information it has relating to crimes against the Rohingya in Myanmar.

Last month, Facebook moved to block a bid by The Gambia in a US court, in which it sought disclosure of posts and communications by members of Myanmar’s military and police. This legal step is related to a case brought by The Gambia before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in which it has accused Myanmar of genocide against its Rohingya Muslim minority.

The social media giant urged the US District Court for the District of Columbia to reject the “extraordinarily broad” request, saying it would violate a US law that bars electronic communication services from disclosing users’ communications.

In a consequent public statement, Facebook confirmed that it would not comply with The Gambia’s demand, but claimed to be cooperating with the United Nations Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) – an investigative body established to collect and analyse evidence of serious international crimes committed in Myanmar.

A few days later, however, this was refuted by the IIMM head Nicholas Koumjian. Koumjian explained that while Facebook has indeed been in talks with the IIMM for a year, it had failed to share “highly relevant” material that could be “probative of serious international crimes” with the investigators. Again, a few days after this, there were reports – confirmed by the IIMM – that Facebook has shared the first data set that only “partially complies” with requests from the IIMM.

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Facebook has stated that it supports “action against international crimes” by working with the appropriate authorities. However, this series of actions on the part of Facebook may lead to the opposite conclusion, and rather than supporting The Gambia’s legal efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice, is obstructing a case relating to genocide.

In August 2017, the Myanmar military launched a so-called “clearance operation” in Rakhine State, home to Rohingya and other ethnic minorities. Over several weeks, soldiers committed atrocities in the region, killing thousands, committing mass rapes, burning villages to the ground, and driving more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Since then, it has been established that Facebook was used as a medium for the dissemination of hate speech as a precursor to these atrocities. In September 2018, in a report on the situation in Myanmar, the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar highlighted the role Facebook played in creating an enabling environment in the country for the commission of atrocities.

Around the time of the release of the report, Facebook suspended several Myanmar military accounts, including that of the head of the army, and subsequently commissioned a human rights impact assessment into its Myanmar operations. The latter was quite tepid, and the former, a case of too little, too late.

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In November 2019, The Gambia filed an application at the ICJ, claiming that a conflict exists between it and Myanmar regarding the interpretation and application of the Genocide Convention, based on how Myanmar was treating the Rohingya population, which The Gambia claimed rose to the level of genocidal acts.

This was a legally unprecedented move – the first instance where a case was filed by a state not directly affected by the international crimes alleged. Nevertheless, The Gambia obtained an initial positive ruling this January from the court – a ruling relating to protective measures, which includes directions to Myanmar to cease and desist from certain actions that would violate the Genocide Convention, and to provide the court with regular updates on its compliance with the order.

However, The Gambia needs to take many more steps and overcome several hurdles to bring the case to a successful conclusion. One of these steps is to obtain more evidence that demonstrates the Myanmar military’s “genocidal intent” against the Rohingya. One likely repository of such evidence is Facebook.

Knowing that there is a trove of information accessible only to Facebook, which may shed light on various aspects of the international crimes alleged, in June 2020, The Gambia initiated legal proceedings in the US, to compel the company to hand over information that would be of assistance for the case before the international court.

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The request, made in accordance with a US federal statute, was opposed by Facebook because it violates a US law that “protects billions of global internet users from violations of their right to privacy and freedom of expression”.

However, the provisions of the law invoked – Stored Communications Act, 18 USC 2702(a) – do not seem to be a complete bar to sharing the information. As argued by The Gambia in response to the opposition by Facebook in court, the act aims to protect the privacy of private individuals in the US and not the unlawful acts of state actors such as the Myanmar government. Moreover, it would not apply to information already removed from the system – which is much of what is being requested – given the prior removal for violating Facebook’s own terms and conditions.

The optics of not supporting the disclosure of evidence that may assist in establishing the crime of genocide are truly terrible. As bad, is the obfuscation that seems to accompany this position. Facebook, a company that has built its entire business model on monetising user data, is likely aware of this.

August marked the third anniversary of the mass exodus and atrocities committed against the Rohingya – a time for reflection – and a time to act in support of the survivors, in their quest for accountability and justice. Facebook must walk the talk now.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect NRM’s editorial stance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Priya Pillai

Priya Pillai is an international lawyer, and head of the Asia Justice Coalition secretariat.

Tweet: @Pillaipriy


#Newsworthy…

New Report: China Plans Huge Investment in Next Generation Chips.

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Facing pressure from the US, China wants to develop its own chip-making technology, sources tell Bloomberg.


China is planning a sweeping set of new government policies to develop its domestic semiconductor industry and counter Trump administration restrictions, conferring the same kind of priority on the effort it accorded to building its atomic capability, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Beijing is preparing broad support for so-called third-generation semiconductors for the five years through 2025, said the people, asking not to be identified discussing government deliberations. A suite of measures to bolster research, education and financing for the industry has been added to a draft of the country’s 14th five-year plan, which will be presented to the country’s top leaders in October, the people said.

China’s top leaders will gather next month to lay out their economic strategy for the next half decade, including efforts to ramp up domestic consumption and make critical technology at home. President Xi Jinping has pledged an estimated $1.4 trillion through 2025 for technologies ranging from wireless networks to artificial intelligence. Semiconductors are fundamental to virtually every component of China’s technology ambitions — and an increasingly aggressive Trump administration threatens to cut off their supply from abroad.

“The Chinese leadership realizes that semiconductors underpin all advanced technologies, and that it can no longer dependably rely on American supplies,” said Dan Wang, technology analyst at research firm Gavekal Dragonomics. “In the face of stricter U.S. restrictions on chip access, China’s response can only be to keep pushing its own industry to develop.”

Shares in several major Chinese chipmakers gained. Shanghai Fudan Microelectronics Group Co. finished 4.3% higher in Hong Kong. On mainland bourses, Will Semiconductor Ltd. — the second most valuable listed Chinese chip firm — rose almost 10%. Xiamen Changelight Co. closed 14% up while Focus Lightings Tech Co. jumped 5.6%.

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The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which is responsible for drafting the tech-related goals, did not reply to a request for comment.

China imports more than $300 billion worth of integrated circuits each year and its semiconductor developers rely on U.S.-made chip design tools and patents, as well as critical manufacturing technologies from U.S. allies. But deteriorating ties between Beijing and Washington have made it increasingly difficult for Chinese companies to source components and chipmaking technologies from overseas.

The U.S. government has blacklisted dozens of China’s tech companies so they can’t buy American parts, and slapped bans on ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok and Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat. In the case of technology giant Huawei Technologies Co., the Trump administration sanctioned the company and pressed allies to ban the company’s equipment from their telecom networks.

Chinese firms such as Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp, whose chips are seen here, Will Semiconductor Ltd and National Silicon Industry Group Co could benefit from the government’s new push [File; Qilai Shen/Bloomberg]

This month, Huawei, the country’s largest handset maker, will even lose access to chips from the likes of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. under new American regulations that prohibit suppliers anywhere in the world from working with the company if those suppliers use American equipment. The tighter rules have raised the urgency of building domestic alternatives in Beijing.

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Third-generation semiconductors are mainly chipsets made of materials such as silicon carbide and gallium nitride. They can operate at high frequency and in higher power and temperature environments, and are widely used in fifth-generation radio frequency chips, military-grade radars and electric vehicles.

Since no single country now dominates the fledgling, third-generation technology, China’s gamble is its corporations can compete if they accelerate research into the field now. Global leaders such as U.S.-based CREE Inc. and Japan’s Sumitomo Electric Industries Ltd. are just beginning to grow this business, while Chinese tech giants such as Sanan Optoelectronics Co. Ltd. and state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corp. have made inroads on third-generation chipsets.

The country’s other chipmakers, which include Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp., Will Semiconductor Ltd. and National Silicon Industry Group Co., may benefit more broadly from the state support.

“This is a sector about to see explosive growth,” Alan Zhou, managing partner of Fujian-based chip investment fund An Xin Capital Co., told an industry forum last week. Because of China’s increasing demand and investment, this is an area that could create a “world-class Chinese chip giant.”


#Newsworthy…

Storyline: Warships join fight to put out oil tanker inferno off Sri Lanka

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New Diamond, travelling from Kuwait to Paradip, is carrying cargo of 270,000 tonnes of crude and 1,700 tonnes of diesel.


A new fire broke out on a supertanker carrying about two million barrels of oil in the Indian Ocean off Sri Lanka’s eastern coast as Russian and Indian warships joined the battle to put out the blaze.

The New Diamond, travelling from Kuwait to the Indian port of Paradip with a cargo of 270,000 tonnes of crude and 1,700 tonnes of diesel, issued a distress call on Thursday, navy spokesman Captain Indika de Silva said.

The vessel had a crew of 18 Filipinos and five Greeks. One crew member was missing, another was injured, and the rest were rescued from the Panama-flagged vessel, according to the navy.

“An Indian coastguard vessel and one of our ships are now in the process of dousing the flames that have spread to the deck of the tanker’s service area,” de Silva told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media)

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There was no immediate danger of a leak from the stricken vessel, he added, which was 60km (38 miles) from the coastal town of Sangamankandi Point.

Photographs taken by Sri Lanka’s air force showed extensive damage to the tanker’s funnel, and thick black smoke and flames coming from the bridge, which is just behind the cargo area.

Two Russian warships, which were at Sri Lanka’s southern port of Hambantota to take on food and water, were now headed to the New Diamond’s location to help with the rescue.

India was sending three navy vessels and two more coastguard vessels in addition to providing aerial reconnaissance.

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De Silva said rescuers were trying to prevent the fire from spreading to the cargo area and ensuring there was no leak.

Sri Lanka’s Marine Protection Authority said it would take measures to prevent any possible oil leak.

Such a spill could cause an “environmental disaster” Ashok Sharma, managing director of shipbroker BRS Baxi in Singapore, told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media)

Thursday’s incident happened just over a month after a state of “environmental emergency” was triggered by the spill of about 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil from a Japanese bulk carrier, MV Wakashio, when it ran aground on a reef in Mauritius.


#Newsworthy…