EU: Time to open up to COVID-19 vaccinated tourists

EU: Time to open up to COVID-19 vaccinated tourists

Oktoberfest canceled again, despite move to open up

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In this March 30, 2021, file photo, German federal police officers check passengers arriving from Palma de Mallorca for a negative coronavirus test as they arrive at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. The European Commission proposed Thursday, April 29, 2021, … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Monday, May 3, 2021

The European Commission proposed Monday to open member countries to vaccinated tourists from the U.S. and other places by early summer while including an “emergency brake” in case the COVID-19 picture suddenly worsens from aggressive variants.

Many European nations rely on tourists from the U.S. and other places to support their economies, and the 27-nation coalition had been working on ways to improve movement within the bloc. Monday’s announcement was a way to demonstrate the EU’s splendor will be open to countries elsewhere as vaccines reach arms.

“This reflects the latest scientific advice showing that vaccination considerably helps to break the transmission chain,” the commission said.

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A person would be considered fully vaccinated 14 days after receiving the last recommended dose of a vaccine that’s received market-authorization in the EU. Children of vaccinated persons would be admitted with a negative test.

The plan, which will be debated this week, also envisions making it easier for unvaccinated persons to visit by raising the threshold for what’s considered unacceptable transmission in their home countries. For instance, Chinese tourists might not be immunized with an EU-approved vaccine, but they could still enter if their country keeps a lid on transmission.

Individual EU members can still require a negative test from travelers, though Monday’s proposals were designed to reinstitute nonessential trips instead of banning tourists and other travelers outright.

“Time to revive Flag of European Union tourism industry & for cross-border friendships to rekindle — safely,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted. “We propose to welcome again vaccinated visitors & those from countries with a good health situation.”

Like other places, the EU issued lockdowns, canceled big events and limited travel throughout the yearlong pandemic.

Even as the commission looked at ways to open up on Monday, the state of Bavaria said it had to cancel Oktobertfest, known locally as “Wiesn,” for a second year instead of welcoming revelers from Sept. 18 to Oct. 3 as planned.

“The risk is simply too great that people could be infected with the coronavirus here,” Munich’s Lord Mayor Dieter Reiter said. “I know how hard this is not only for the visitors, but also how much it affects all those who work at the Wiesn and now have to do without income once again — from the waiters and waitresses to the stall operators, showmen and innkeepers. But the Wiesn can only exist completely or not at all.”

The festival involves crowds of beer drinkers gathered around tables in a party atmosphere. Yet more broadly, the EU signaled Monday it wants to get tourists back onto its street and picturesque beaches.

Parts of Southern Europe are particularly dependent on travelers to keep their struggling economies afloat.

Europe is working on a vaccine passport, or Digital Green Certificate, to facilitate the proposal.

“Until the Digital Green Certificate is operational, Member States should be able to accept certificates from non-EU countries based on national law, taking into account the ability to verify the authenticity, validity and integrity of the certificate and whether it contains all relevant data,” the commission said.

The commission said it is worried about dangerous mutation in the virus, so they proposed a fallback plan to tighten things again as necessary.

“The emergence of coronavirus variants of concern calls for continued vigilance,” it said. “Therefore as counter-balance, the commission proposes a new ‘emergency brake’ mechanism, to be coordinated at EU level and which would limit the risk of such variants entering the EU.”

The threat of variants from elsewhere is the main threat to countries seeing progress due to vaccination. That’s why the U.S. and other places banned travel from India as it sees an unprecedented surge that may be fueled by variants.

Australia recently took things to an extreme, saying as of Monday even its citizens could not enter from India. The decision outraged Indian-Australians and others who said it was without precedent.

Biden pledges to aid India amid COVID-19 surge, share 60 million vaccine doses worldwide

Biden pledges to aid India amid COVID surge, share 60 million vaccine doses worldwide

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In this March 11, 2021, file photo President Joe Biden holds up a card with his daily schedule and the daily deaths from COVID-19 as he speaks about the COVID-19 pandemic during a prime-time address from the East Room of … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Updated: 4:36 p.m. on
Monday, April 26, 2021

President Biden on Monday pledged to share up to 60 million unused doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine globally and called Prime Minister Narendra Modi to offer “steadfast support” as India battles a coronavirus surge that is spiraling into a major catastrophe.

Mr. Biden used the Modi call to detail material support the U.S. is sending, including much-needed oxygen supplies, therapeutic drugs and raw materials that will support vaccine production at the Serum Institute of India.

“Prime Minister Modi expressed appreciation for the strong cooperation between both countries. The two leaders resolved that the United States and India will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the effort to protect our citizens and the health of our communities,” the White House said in a description of the call.

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Senior administration officials characterized the aid package as a way to repay India after it offered assistance during America’s struggles with the virus last year.

India has a relatively young population and avoided the worst of the COVID-19 crisis earlier in the pandemic. Now, rampant transmission is setting global records for cases — 350,000 per day — and forcing cremation centers to run around the clock. Shortfalls in oxygen supplies and accidental leaks caused some patients to suffocate, adding to families’ desperation.

Experts say the picture on the ground is worse than what’s been reported.

“Many more cases and deaths aren’t being tracked or reported. The health system has collapsed in many parts of India, without access to oxygen, critical medicines, or hospital beds,” said Krishna Udayakumar, the founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center.

“After the first wave, instead of using time for preparation, there was complacency or a sense of victory, with policy decisions like allowing large events including election rallies that became super-spreader events,” he said. “The central government has failed in its mandate to protect public safety and health. The rise of variants may also be playing a role in the rapid rise of cases, though we don’t know for sure, as well as the potential of waning natural immunity from prior infections.”

The India package amounts to the Biden administration’s biggest foray to date into COVID-19 diplomacy as health experts and advocates pressure the U.S. to use its relative wealth and influence to lift other nations.

The White House loaned 4 million unused doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada and Mexico but plans to share up to 60 million more with other countries, as doses become available.

The U.S. enjoys a surfeit of other vaccines compared to other countries, and the AstraZeneca vaccine is not yet approved for use in the U.S.

“We do not need to use AstraZeneca in our fight against COVID over the next few months,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

She said the Food and Drug Administration will have to review doses for safety before they are exported. Senior administration officials estimated that 10 million doses could be available in the coming weeks and 50 million additional doses would come through the pipeline by the end of June.

The drugmaker said it cannot comment on the specifics of the arrangement “but as a reminder, the doses are part of AstraZeneca’s supply commitments to the U.S. government. Decisions to send U.S. supply to other countries are made by the U.S. government.”

Dr. Udayakumar called the AstraZeneca announcement “a welcome development.”

“The U.S. has been late in its global engagement, and still without a well-articulated comprehensive strategy, but I’m pleased that we are starting to see more action and commitment,” he said.

Foreign press accounts pointedly accused the Biden administration of being slow on the draw as India’s crisis worsened, only to be “jolted” into action over the weekend.

“At the time of writing, Washington was still getting its act together in terms of supplies and logistics,” the Times of India said in a Monday piece.

Communist China also had a field day, with the Global Times saying images of the Indian crisis alarmed Chinese citizens but “more shocking news to them is the U.S.’s indifference and selfishness when asked to help Indian people who are suffering.”

The aid package comes as Mr. Biden tries to foster relations with an Indo-Pacific “Quad,” which also includes Japan and Australia, to check China’s ambitions in the region.

Mr. Biden hosted Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the White House this month and offered support for his efforts to host the Summer Games in Tokyo. Australia, meanwhile, has been praised for handling COVID-19 on its own through strict travel measures and quick isolation of known infections.

Senior administration officials specifically mentioned Quad partners during a press call on the global effort to help India.

The European Union is also offering oxygen supplies and Singapore, Saudi Arabia and Russia pledged assistance.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin joined the chorus of U.S. officials expressing alarm at the situation over the weekend.

“I directed the [Defense Department]to use every resource at our disposal, within our authority, to support U.S. interagency efforts to provide India’s frontline healthcare workers with the materials they need,” he tweeted late Sunday.

The private sector is also offering help.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said he was “devastated to see the worsening Covid crisis in India” in a tweet that pledged $18 million in aid from the company.

COVID-19 crisis in India: Joe Biden pledges ‘steadfast support’ in call with PM Narendra Modi

COVID-19 crisis in India: Biden pledges ‘steadfast support’ in call with PM Modi

U.S., Europe scrambling to help with oxygen supplies, vaccine material

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People queue up for COVID-19 vaccine in Mumbai, India, Monday, April 26, 2021. New infections are rising faster in India than any other place in the world, stunning authorities and capsizing its fragile health system. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool) more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Monday, April 26, 2021

President Biden on Monday pledged “America’s steadfast support for the people of India” in a call with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as his country battles a coronavirus surge that is spiraling into a major health catastrophe.

Mr. Biden detailed material support the U.S. is sending to India, including oxygen supplies, raw materials for vaccines and therapeutics.  

“Prime Minister Modi expressed appreciation for the strong cooperation between both countries. The two leaders resolved that the United States and India will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the effort to protect our citizens and the health of our communities,” the White House said in a description of the call.

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India has a relatively young population and avoided the worst of the COVID-19 crisis earlier in the pandemic. Now, variant-fueled transmission is setting global records for cases — 350,000 per day — and forcing cremation centers to run around the clock. Shortfalls in oxygen supplies and accidental leaks caused some patients to suffocate, adding to families’ desperation.

The U.S. aid is part of a global scramble to help India. The European Union is offering oxygen supplies and Singapore, Saudi Arabia and Russia are offering assistance.

The India package, which includes raw materials for vaccine production, amounts to the Biden administration’s biggest foray to date into virus aid and diplomacy. 

Mr. Biden loaned 4 million unused doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada and Mexico but plans to share up to 60 million more, as they become available, amid calls to assist the global community. 

The U.S. enjoys a surfeit of other vaccines compared to other countries, and the AstraZeneca vaccine is not yet approved for use in the U.S.

“We do not need to use AstraZeneca in our fight against COVID over the next few months,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

She said the Food and Drug Administration will have to review doses for safety before they are exported.

Foreign press accounts said the U.S. administration was slow on the draw as India’s crisis worsened, only to be “jolted” into action over the weekend.

“At the time of writing, Washington was still getting its act together in terms of supplies and logistics,” the Times of India said in a Monday piece.

Communist China also had a field day, with the Global Times saying images of the Indian crisis alarmed Chinese citizens but “more shocking news to them is the U.S.’s indifference and selfishness when asked to help Indian people who are suffering.”

The aid package comes as Mr. Biden tries to foster relations with an Indo-Pacific “Quad,” which also includes Japan and Australia, to check China’s ambitions in the region.

Mr. Biden hosted Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the White House this month and expressed support for his efforts to host the Summer Games in Tokyo. Australia, meanwhile, has been praised for handling COVID-19 on its own through strict travel measures and quick isolation of known infections.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin joined the chorus of U.S. officials expressing alarm at the situation in India.

“I directed the [Defense Department] to use every resource at our disposal, within our authority, to support U.S. interagency efforts to provide India’s frontline healthcare workers with the materials they need,” he tweeted late Sunday.

The private sector is also offering help.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said he was “devastated to see the worsening Covid crisis in India” in a tweet that pledged $18 million in aid from the company.

Friend: 2 Australian agriculture consultants held in Myanmar

Friend: 2 Australian agriculture consultants held in Myanmar

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By ROD McGUIRK

Associated Press

Monday, March 22, 2021

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – An Australian couple working as agriculture development consultants in Myanmar are being detained at their home after the woman was not allowed to leave the country, a friend said Monday.

Christa Avery was refused permission to board a flight to Australia on Friday and she and her husband Matt O’Kane have been detained at their Yangon home since then, said their Sydney-based friend Tim Harcourt, a University of New South Wales economist.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement it was “providing consular assistance to two Australians in Myanmar,” but would provide no further details.

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The couple were friends with Australian economic policy adviser Sean Turnell, who has been in detention since early February, Harcourt said.

Turnell was detained within weeks of arriving in Yangon from Australia to take up a job as adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, which was ousted in a military coup Feb. 1.

Australia has repeatedly demanded Turnell’s release. Two weeks ago, the Australian government announced it had suspended its defense cooperation with Myanmar and was redirecting humanitarian aid because of the military takeover and Turnell’s ongoing detention.

Harcourt did not think the couple had been detained because of their friendship with Turnell.

“They both work in areas where there’s a lot of foreign aid money coming into Myanmar,” Harcourt said, referring to Turnell and the couple.

“Maybe the junta’s trying to trace where the foreign money is coming in because most foreign aid has now dried up because they (donors) don’t want to support the military,” Harcourt added.

Avery, who was born in Canada and is a dual citizen, left Sydney a decade ago to work in Myanmar, Harcourt said.

The Australian community in Myanmar was small and “pretty friendly with each other,” so it was not unusual that the couple would be friends with Turnell.

“They’re in home detention so it’s not quite as bad as Sean because they took him away,” said Harcourt, who is also Turnell‘s friend.

“I’m just hoping they can stay in home detention and wait it out. It might blow over,” he added.

Avery did not immediately reply to an email from The Associated Press on Monday.

Myanmar security forces kill 2 anti-coup protesters

Myanmar security forces kill 2 anti-coup protesters

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Anti-coup protesters discharge fire extinguishers to counter the impact of the tear gas fired by police during a demonstration in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Monday, March 8, 2021. The escalation of violence in Myanmar as authorities crack down on protests against the … more >

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By

Associated Press

Monday, March 8, 2021

MANDALAY, Myanmar (AP) — Security forces shot dead two people in northern Myanmar on Monday, local media reported, as the military government continued its attempt to stamp out opposition to its Feb. 1 coup.

The Irrawaddy newspaper said the victims were shot in the head during anti-coup protests in Myitkyina in Kachin State. Graphic video on social media showed protesters in the street backing away from tear gas, responding with rocks, then fleeing after a fusillade of what seemed to be automatic gunfire.

Demonstrators hurriedly carried away a number of injured people, including one apparent fatality, a person who had sustained a severe head wound. A second body was seen later on a stretcher, his head covered with a cloth.

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To date, the government’s violent crackdown has left more than 50 protesters dead. At least 18 people were fatally shot on Sunday last week and 38 on Wednesday, according to the U.N. Human Rights Office.

Security forces also clamped down on anti-coup protesters elsewhere Monday, firing tear gas to break up a crowd of about 1,000 people who were demonstrating in the capital, Naypyitaw. The protesters deployed fire extinguishers to create a smoke screen as they fled from authorities.

Thousands of protesters who marched in Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, dispersed on their own amid fears that soldiers and police were planning to use force to break up their demonstration.

Meanwhile, an armed force from one of Myanmar’s ethnic groups deployed to protect anti-coup marchers in the wake of a brutal junta crackdown.

The unit from the Karen National Police Force (KNPF) arrived shortly after dawn to accompany about 2,000 protestors near Myitta in Tanintharyi Region in south-eastern Myanmar. They carried an assortment of firearms including assault rifles as they marched ahead of the column down dusty rural roads.

The KNPF are under the control of the Karen National Union (KNU), one of many ethnic organizations that have been fighting for greater autonomy from the central government for decades. The KNU employs both political and, through its armed wing, military means to achieve its aims.

Large-scale protests have occurred daily across many cities and towns in Myanmar since the country’s military seized power, and security forces have responded with ever greater use of lethal force and mass arrests.

The coup and its violent aftermath have led foreign governments and international organizations to impose measures against Myanmar‘s military leaders.

In the latest case, Australia suspended its defense cooperation with Myanmar and is redirecting humanitarian aid in the country because of the military takeover and detention of an Australian citizen.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Monday that diplomats and relatives had only been able to contact economic policy adviser Sean Turnell twice by phone since he was detained in early February. She described the access as “very limited consular support.”

Australia announced late Sunday that it had suspended a defense training program with Myanmar worth about 1.5 million Australian dollars ($1.2 million) over five years. The program had been restricted to noncombat areas such as English-language training.

Australian humanitarian aid will be directed away from the Myanmar government and government-related entities. Instead it will focus on the immediate humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable and poor in Myanmar, including the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities, Payne said.

On Sunday, police occupied hospitals and universities and reportedly arrested hundreds of people involved in protesting the military takeover.

In Myanmar‘s largest city, Yangon, gun shots from heavy weapons rang out for a second straight night in several neighborhoods after the start of an 8 p.m. curfew. The sounds of what apparently were stun grenades could also be heard on videos posted on social media.

The use of such weapons after protesters had left the streets appeared to be part of a strategy to strike fear in anyone who might think about defying the authorities. In a similar vein, many filmed incidents of police and soldiers show them savagely beating protesters they had taken into custody.

Some of the shooting was heard near hospitals, where reports said neighborhood residents sought to block the entry of police and soldiers.

Security forces have often targeted medical personnel and facilities, including ambulances and their crews. Members of the medical profession launched the Civil Disobedience Movement, which is the nominal coordinator of the protests, frequently hailed on demonstrators’ signs by its initials CDM. Taking over hospitals would allow the authorities to easily arrest wounded people presumed to be protesters.

Meanwhile, a Canadian-Israeli lobbyist hired by Myanmar’s junta said the ruling generals want to get out of politics and shift the nation away from China.

Ari Ben-Menashe, who previously represented Sudan’s military leader and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, spoke to The Associated Press on Sunday from the U.S. after returning from his second trip in the past month to Myanmar.

He said he was confident he can persuade the Biden administration to lift sanctions imposed on military leaders who directed the coup last month that deposed and detained Myanmar‘s elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

He said the U.S. and others in the West have reduced Myanmar’s political conflict to a black and white tale of military repression against pro-democracy activists and ignore the exclusion of millions of minority members from voting in last year’s election.

Australia ends defense cooperation with Myanmar over coup

Australia ends defense cooperation with Myanmar over coup

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FILE – In thisNov. 25, 2005, file image taken from video, Sean Turnell, an economist at Australia’s Macquarie University, speaks during an interview at his university office in Sydney. Australia has suspended its defense cooperation with Myanmar and is redirecting … more >

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By ROD McGUIRK

Associated Press

Sunday, March 7, 2021

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Australia has suspended its defense cooperation with Myanmar and is redirecting humanitarian aid because of the military takeover of the government and ongoing detention of an Australian citizen.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Monday that Australian diplomats and relatives had only been able to contact economic policy adviser Sean Turnell twice by phone since he was detained in early February. She described the access as “very limited consular support.”

“We believe Professor Turnell has been arbitrarily detained along with senior members of the Myanmar government including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, including the President” Win Myint, Payne told reporters.

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“We do not accept the conditions of his detention and the reasons for his detention. We seek a return to democracy. We seek absolutely the cessation of any armed violence against unarmed peaceful protesting civilians. And in everything we are doing we are seeking Professor Turnell’s release,” she added.

Australia announced late Sunday it had suspended a defense training program with Myanmar worth about 1.5 million Australian dollars ($1.2 million) over five years. The program had been restricted to non-combat areas such as English-language training.

Australian humanitarian aid will be directed away from Myanmar government and government-related entities. Instead it will focus on the immediate humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable and poor in Myanmar including the Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities, Payne said.

“One of the things that I do not want to do, and that Australia does not want to do, is to penalize the people of Myanmar,” Payne said.

Australia had previously imposed sanctions including an arms embargo and sanctions targeting five members of Myanmar‘s armed forces. These sanctions would continue to be reviewed, Payne said.

Turnell was detained within weeks of arriving in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, from Australia to take up a job as adviser to Suu Kyi’s government.

Turnell’s Australian friend and fellow Myanmar expert Monique Skidmore described Australia‘s response to the Feb. 1 military coup as late and “very soft.”

“The reality is that they have enough money, they have enough weapons, they have enough trade partners with China on their doorstep. They don’t need the West,” Skidmore said.

“I assume that we are going more softly than otherwise at the moment until Sean is returned to Australia,” she added.

China fumes as U.S., Asia ‘Quad’ allies talk strategy

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Beijing concerned with powers' military, diplomatic expansion

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) **FILE** more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Secretary of State Antony Blinken triggered a harsh reaction in China’s state-controlled media Thursday by holding a conference call with counterparts from Asia’s so-called “Quad” countries — India, Japan and Australia — to discuss joint strategy on a range of issues in the Indo-Pacific.

The call was the clearest sign to date the Biden administration is prepared to build on a Trump administration strategic push to link up with the region’s most powerful democracies to box in China, in a semi-formal alignment some are already dubbing an “Asian NATO.”

China can retaliate economically if red line crossed,” a headline in the Chinese Communist Party-aligned Global Times warned ahead of the Quad virtual meeting, reflecting Beijing’s unease over the expanding diplomatic and military engagement of the Quad powers.

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The Biden administration’s early efforts to build upon a Trump-era push to promote the Quad as the go-to economic and military alliance is likely to unnerve a China which hoped to a re-set from the often harsh exchanges with Washington under President Trump.

The group’s expanding momentum is all the more noteworthy given how the massive trade ties that China has with India, Japan and Australia.

U.S. officials are aware of such concerns. In the State Department summary of Mr. Blinken’s call Thursday with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr. S. Jaishankar, and Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, no mention was made of China.

However, the readout noted issues connected to China throughout, saying, for instance, that Mr. Blinken and his counterparts focused on “the urgent need to restore the democratically elected government in [Myanmar],” which borders China and serves as a potential land bridge between the Chinese mainland and the Indian Ocean.

China, which has oil and gas interests Myanmar, has so far refused to condemn the recent military takeover of the country that Washington has characterized as a coup, calling it an internal matter for Myanmar to settle.

Mr. Blinken and his Quad counterparts also talked about joint efforts for “countering disinformation,” and how the U.S., India, Japan and Australian can better work together on “counterterrorism [and] maritime security.”

Chinese analysts told the Global Times that Beijing should be wary of the Quad’s evolution. Ruan Zongze at the China Institute of International Studies, told the newspaper that Mr. Biden wants to use the Quad to advance U.S. regional interests and declare that “Captain America is back,” while potentially turning the grouping into an anti-China club.

The Quad concept has been around for more than a decade. It was first put forward as a strategic forum in 2007 by then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

It gained steam during the final years of the Trump administration, as China’s military prowess and increasingly aggressive foreign policy moves spurred talk in Washington of the need for an Asian counterpart to NATO, to confront Beijing the way the Soviet Union was constrained in Europe during the Cold War.

By late last year, pushed by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, there was clear progress in building up the security identity of the Quad. U.S., Indian, Japanese and Australian naval units gathered twice in November in the Bay of Bengal for their largest-ever joint military drills, sparking fiercely critical Chinese commentary.

Sources have told The Washington Times that Mr. Biden pushed during a call with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week, for a first-of-its-kind meeting of the top leaders of the Quad countries to be held soon. It was not clear whether the idea was discussed on Thursday’s call between the four foreign ministers.

Fiji deports university leader in blow to regional relations

Fiji deports university leader in blow to regional relations

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In this photo provided by Sandy Price, Price and her husband, Pal Ahluwalia, pose for a photo in Brisbane, Australia, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. Ahluwalia, the leader of the University of the South Pacific, and his wife were asleep Wednesday … more >

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By NICK PERRY

Associated Press

Friday, February 5, 2021

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – The leader of the University of the South Pacific and his wife were asleep at their Fiji home when a ruckus awoke them around midnight.

About 15 plain-clothed government agents had surrounded their house in the capital Suva, Vice-Chancellor Pal Ahluwalia said. After an argument at the door, four of the agents chased him through the house as he frantically tried to use his phone, he said. The agents confiscated all their devices, even their smart watches, and gave them minutes to pack.

The professor had vowed to root out corruption since beginning his job two years earlier at the university, which is considered a beacon for regional cooperation. Now, he’s at the center of a bitter dispute threatening to tear apart South Pacific regional relationships.

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In his haste to meet the agent’s demands, Ahluwalia, who is diabetic, forgot some of his medicine. He and his wife, Sandy Price, a lecturer in nursing and midwifery at Fiji National University, were driven across the island to the international airport, put in a waiting room and bundled onto a plane just before 10 a.m. Thursday, with their devices returned to them as they left. About 10 hours after they were awakened, they were deported to their home country, Australia.

“We were in shock. We’re still in shock,” Ahluwalia said Friday in a phone interview with The Associated Press from his quarantine hotel in Brisbane. “We’re figuring out that whistleblowers aren’t treated well in Fiji.”

Their deportation was a dramatic escalation in a management dispute at the South Pacific’s top educational institution. Serving more than 28,000 students, the university is jointly owned by 12 countries, which each have their own campuses. The university is unusually structured for the scattered region that stretches over a geographic area three times the size of Europe.

Ahluwalia, who got his doctorate from Flinders University in Australia and was once a professor at the University of California, San Diego, said he became concerned about corruption soon after he started at USP. In March 2019, he submitted an 11-page report, along with hundreds of pages of evidence, to the university council’s executive committee.

The report documents a raft of extraordinary allegations: One manager’s salary increased more than eightfold over nine years, and an institute director was paid his own salary plus half the salary of an unfilled deputy position. It documented how one official took 28 days of paid professional development leave over six weeks and later was paid for another 117 such days.

By shaking up the university, Ahluwalia found himself in conflict with other administrators, some of whom have deep ties with Fiji‘s government. In particular, Ahluwalia clashed with Pro-Chancellor Winston Thompson, a former Fijian diplomat.

Thompson, who could not immediately be reached for comment, told radio station RNZ last year that the university had been plagued by a governance crisis and that the management wasn’t fulfilling its duties. A committee led by Thompson briefly suspended Ahluwalia last year before he was reinstated to his role by the university council.

Jonathan Pryke, the director of the Pacific Islands Program at the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank, has followed the dispute closely but was taken aback by this week’s developments.

“The whole thing is shocking, and the repercussions will be felt for years to come,” Pryke said. “I hope USP isn’t fatally damaged.”

He said not all the information has been made public, but it seems Ahluwalia had the right intentions.

“He could have played his cards better, given the cultural environment,” Pryke said. “He was trying to clean things up, and clearly pushed too hard. The old guard has enough domestic political backing to turn this thing into a real fight. Now they’ve gone nuclear.”

Fiji‘s government is led by Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who initially seized control in a military coup before being democratically elected. It said both Ahluwalia and his wife had to leave because they violated an immigration law that says foreigners cannot breach the peace, public morality or good government of Fiji.

“As a sovereign nation, Fiji will continue to enforce a zero-tolerance policy towards any breaches of its immigration law,” the government said.

The government’s statement has prompted more than 1,000 responses on Facebook, with many Fijians asking for specifics about what the couple did wrong. But the government hasn’t elaborated.

Pryke said Fiji tends to see the university as a national institution because it’s based there and its largest cohort is Fijian students. He said Bainimarama and his colleagues are likely frustrated they can’t exert total control. But he said other countries view it much more as a regional institution and are watching on with consternation.

He said the timing of the deportation couldn’t be worse, as the region has also been scrapping over the leadership of the Pacific Islands Forum, another organization which relies on regional cooperation.

Australia and New Zealand, which provide some funding for the university, have so far offered only bland responses.

“Look, there have been a number of issues in relation to the University of South Pacific, which have been the topic of much discussion among Pacific leaders and Pacific countries,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday. “I’m not going to say anything here that would seek to add to or seek to complicate that.”

Meanwhile, Ahluwalia remains defiant. He said that while Fiji has forced him to leave it can’t force him to relinquish his job, which he intends to continue doing. But that remains uncertain. He was locked out from a virtual meeting of the university council on Friday and awaits his fate.

Japan expresses concern to UK over new Chinese maritime law

Japan expresses concern to UK over new Chinese maritime law

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Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, left, and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi attend a video conference with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Defense Minister Ben Wallace on screen, not seen, at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, Feb. 3 2021. Both … more >

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By MARI YAMAGUCHI

Associated Press

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

TOKYO (AP) – Japan‘s foreign minister and defense minister expressed strong concern to their British counterparts on Wednesday over a new Chinese maritime law that took effect two days earlier.

Japan is staying alert and paying close attention to its effect on us,” Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said in online talks between the two sides. “I believe the law should not be used in a way that violates international law.”

Japan sees China’s escalating influence and military activity in the region as a security threat and has been stepping up defense cooperation with the U.S., Australia, Southeast Asian countries, as well as Britain.

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The new Chinese Coast Guard Law, which increases the possibility of clashes with regional rivals, empowers the force to “take all necessary measures, including the use of weapons, when national sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction are being illegally infringed upon by foreign organizations or individuals at sea.”

It also authorizes the coast guard to demolish other countries’ structures built on areas claimed by China and to seize or order foreign vessels illegally entering China’s territorial waters to leave.

“We would like to share our strong concern with you” about the law, Motegi, accompanied by Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, told British counterparts Dominic Raab and Ben Wallace, who joined them from London.

China’s coast guard is active near disputed East China Sea islands controlled by Japan but claimed by Beijing. China also claims virtually the entire South China Sea.

The coast guard’s activities have brought it into frequent contact with the Japanese coast guard and air force.

In a joint statement released after the talks, the ministers expressed “serious concerns” about the rising tension in the regional seas and urged all parties “to exercise self-restraint and refrain from activities likely to raise tensions, in particular militarization and coercion.”

They also expressed “grave concerns” over China’s crackdown on opposition in Hong Kong and “gross human rights violations being perpetrated against Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang,” according to the statement.

The ministers also agreed to deepen defense and security cooperation between Japan and Britain to ensure a “free and open Indo-Pacific” vision that Japan promotes with the U.S., Australia and India to counter China.

Japan and Britain are jointly developing an air-to-air missile defense system and increasing the inter-operability of defense equipment and technology as their troops work together more closely.

Kishi welcomed the planned dispatch of a British aircraft carrier strike group this year to East Asia as part of Britain’s growing commitment to the region.

Wallace said the Asia visit for the strike group, led by the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, was “the most significant Royal Navy deployment in a generation.”

The British government, which is seeking to boost the country’s global profile after Brexit, said the U.K.-Japan meeting was part of an “Indo-Pacific tilt” toward Asian allies.

Raab said the new focus “demonstrates our shared priorities and common strategic interests from maritime security to climate change and free trade.”

___

Associated Press writer Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

James H. Baker, top Pentagon official, dismissed U.S. alliances with Taiwan, Australia

Top Pentagon official dismissed U.S. alliances with Taiwan, Australia

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James. H. Baker more >

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By Rowan Scarborough

The Washington Times

Monday, January 4, 2021

Retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, if confirmed as secretary of defense, will rejoin a senior adviser at the Pentagon who privately expressed some unconventional views on alliances with longtime U.S. friends abroad, according to documents obtained by The Washington Times.

The senior adviser suggested that losing Taiwan to China would not be a “great insult” to the U.S. and expressed dislike for the American security agreement with Australia.

Gen. Austin ran the Joint Staff, a brass-heavy advisory unit for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who was Navy Adm. Michael Mullen during the general’s tenure. Gen. Austin transferred to Iraq in September 2010 as commander of all U.S. forces and culminated his career as head of U.S. Central Command.

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A key military adviser to Adm. Mullen was James H. Baker, then an Air Force colonel. Col. Baker directed the chairman’s “Action Team,” which was charged with giving the admiral strategic advice.

After his Air Force career, Mr. Baker won the prestigious post of director of the Office of Net Assessment in 2015. He presides there today producing confidential studies on global threats and has a direct line to the defense secretary, who would be his old colleague, Gen. Austin, in the incoming Joseph R. Biden administration.

In November 2010, while preparing Adm. Mullen for a conference in Australia, the Joint Chiefs chairman’s staff drew up “Asia scene setter” talking points for discussions about the region, according to documents provided to The Times by a congressional source.

Mr. Baker added his comments under “bakerjh.” He said losing Taiwan to China would not be a “great insult.”

“Should be last and least important to emphasize,” he wrote. “Losing Taiwan to China would not be a great insult to US national interests. The other two are nation states with real nations and a long history of enmity.”

The “other two” appears to be a reference to South Korea and Japan. The U.S. does not recognize Taiwan diplomatically. The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act authorizes arms sales for the island’s defense.

Mr. Baker also dismissed a long-standing treaty with Australia. “I don’t believe in ANZUS,” he wrote.

ANZUS — the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty founded in 1951 — calls for the U.S. and Australia to cooperate on security matters. Australia and New Zealand cooperate separately.

Fast-forward to 2017, after Mr. Baker gained Office of Net Assessment directorship under President Obama. He wrote a paper titled “What are the threats ahead,” which touched on Taiwan as well as Israel.

It was the first year in office for President Trump, who was looking for ways to reduce the military’s troop commitment to anti-Islamic extremist wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

“Primacy advocates also face the problem of the increasing fragility of ambiguous commitments, commitments such as the defense of Taiwan, of Israel,” Mr. Baker wrote.

Foreign policy experts have termed the Taiwan Relations Act as somewhat ambiguous. However, the U.S. has recognized Israel since 1948 and supplies billions of dollars in front-line weapons. Mr. Obama was cool toward Israel, but Mr. Trump said there is “no daylight” between the U.S. and the Jewish state.

The Washington Times reached out to Mr. Baker for comment, and a defense official responded with a statement: “I can’t speak to any alleged remarks or notes from an alleged decade-old briefing because I don’t know the context of the briefing, the intent of the briefing, what positions the briefers were tasked with conveying, why the comments were provided, or what questions they answered. The Department would need the opportunity to review the alleged comments before providing a response to them.

“However, successive Secretaries of Defense and Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs have tasked the Office of Net Assessment to provide various viewpoints — from a blue and red perspective — when assessing national security policy. The office’s insights regarding the importance of a more lethal military and more capable allies were included in the Department’s National Defense Strategy, and their views on the danger China poses to the United States are repeatedly sought by senior policy makers across the U.S. government. Mr. Baker and the Office of Net Assessment will continue to provide their best advice and counsel, regardless of who holds the position of Secretary of Defense,” the Pentagon official said.

The Office of Net Assessment is now the subject of an inquiry by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, into how Mr. Baker has awarded research contracts worth millions of dollars.

A Pentagon inspector general’s report found that the office failed to document work products submitted by Stefan Halper. The longtime Washington national security scholar gained fame as the undercover agent whom the FBI assigned to spy on two Trump campaign volunteers.

On Dec. 18, Mr. Grassley upped the pressure on Mr. Baker and the Office of Net Assessment via a letter to acting Pentagon Inspector General Sean O’Donnell. The senator wants investigators to look more deeply into the office’s operations.

The inspector general reported in August 2019 that the Office of Net Assessment did not follow basic contracting regulations in awarding research contracts. Focusing on four Halper studies for which he was paid $1 million, the inspector general said Mr. Halper failed to document that he had interviewed experts and visited places he listed in his work proposal to win the contract.

The Times reported in 2018 that Mr. Halper cited a number of well-known national security figures as consultants for his $244,000 study on Russian-Chinese relations. When The Times checked a large sample of those figures, they said they played no part and had not heard of the study.

Mr. Grassley said the Office of Net Assessment is stonewalling his requests for documents.

“I have made repeated requests for information from ONA,” he wrote to the inspector general. “ONA has provided documents, but has failed to produce all of them. Either ONA officials do not have possession of certain documentation required in Professor Halper’s contracts, or they’ve failed to comply with congressional demands.”

Mr. Grassley said the Office of Net Assessment has not carried out its core mission — producing a net assessment of global threats — since 2007. He said the office responded to his criticism in April by removing the word “shall” from the directive that requires net assessments.

“This is yet another example of ONA’s apparent lack of effort to perform its mission on behalf of the American taxpayer and an effort to cover-up its previous failures to do the job for which it was designed,” Mr. Grassley wrote.

The Times asked Air Force Lt. Col. Uriah Orland, a Defense Department spokesman, to respond to Mr. Grassley.

Col. Orland said: “As stated multiple times over the past two years to Senator Grassley’s office, and as noted publicly, the Office of Net Assessment has formally published two net assessments since 2017. These highly classified products were briefed to and debated by senior leaders in the Department of Defense. In the past five years, ONA has also provided dozens of memos, briefings, and reports which provide a comparative assessment of the United States, its allies, and its adversaries on a variety of strategic issues, often at the direct request of the Secretary, the Deputy Secretary, their Principal Staff Assistants, or the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Additionally, throughout this correspondence, we have provided hundreds of pages of documentation responsive to the Senator’s queries.”

Col. Orland provided a link to an Office of Net Assessment website that details its work since Mr. Baker took charge in 2015.

It says, in part: “ONA products include internally-produced assessments which represent years of detailed analysis. These assessments are highly classified, tightly controlled in distribution, and provide strategic-level management insights for the Secretary of Defense and other senior DOD leaders. Two such assessments have been completed since 2017.”

Australia to seek WTO intervention in barley row with China

Australia to seek WTO intervention in barley row with China

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FILE- In this Oct. 16, 2019, file photo, Australia’s Trade Minister Simon Birmingham addresses media outside the Parliament House in Canberra, Australia. Australia will ask the World Trade Organization to intervene in its dispute with China over barley and expects … more >

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By ROD McGUIRK

Associated Press

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Australia will ask the World Trade Organization to intervene in its dispute with China over barley and expects other nations to become involved in the case, Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said on Wednesday.

China effectively ended imports of Australian barley in May by putting tariffs of more than 80% on the crop, accusing Australia of breaching WTO rules by subsidizing barley production and selling the grain in China at below production costs.

Birmingham said Australia would formally ask the WTO to intervene on Wednesday.

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“WTO dispute resolution processes are not perfect and they take longer than would be ideal, but ultimately, it is the right avenue for Australia to take at this point,” Birmingham told reporters.

“It’s quite common for other countries to become third parties to proceedings in the WTO; Australia has done so on many occasions, China has done so on many occasions, and I would anticipate that others would do so on this occasion,” he added.

China is the Australian barley growers’ largest market. The grain is among a growing number of commodities that China has targeted as bilateral relations plumb new depths.

Trade in Australian seafood, wood, beef and wine has also been disrupted since Australia angered China by requesting an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Australia is seeking clarification of recent Chinese state media reports that Australian coal imports have been banned.

Birmingham said China had “accumulated a series of decisions that look like sanctions against Australia.”

Asked about the reports on coal exports, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday that Australia “dresses up as a victim” while China complied with its own laws, regulations and international practices.

Australia government gains new power to scrap foreign pacts

Australia government gains new power to scrap foreign pacts

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By ROD McGUIRK

Associated Press

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – The Australian Parliament on Tuesday gave the government power to cancel deals struck with foreign nations by lower levels of government that conflict with the national interest, despite China warning against disrupting cooperation.

An agreement signed by Australia’s second-most populous state, Victoria, with Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative to build trade-related infrastructure is among 135 deals with 30 countries that the government argues need to be reviewed.

“We didn’t agree with it in the first place, still don’t agree with it, and no doubt decisions on that will be made in due course,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told reporters, referring to the Victoria deal.

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The laws allow the federal government to review and scrap state, territory, local council and public university deals with other nations.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne can assess arrangements between governments or public universities and foreign governments to check if they align with foreign policy goals.

When the new federal power was proposed in August, the Chinese foreign ministry cautioned against disrupting “successful pragmatic cooperation” with Victoria.

Australia should see two sides’ cooperation under the BRI in an objective and reasonable manner and not set obstacles artificially for normal exchanges and cooperation,” foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in Beijing.

Bilateral relations have since deteriorated further, with Chinese officials announcing on Monday that Queensland state abattoir Meramist had become the sixth Australian meat exporter suspended from trading with China. No reasons were given.

China last month added wine to the growing list of Australian goods barred or restricted from its markets in a trade war against Australia over disputes including its support for a probe into the origin of the coronavirus.

Earlier, China stopped or reduced imports of Australian coal, barley, seafood, sugar and timber after Australia supported calls for a probe into the origin of the pandemic, which began in China late last year.

A diplomatic war of words recently erupted between Australia and China over a fake image that had been tweeted by a Chinese official.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed indignation and anger at the tweet, which depicted a grinning Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to an Afghan child’s throat.

The post took aim at alleged unlawful killings and abuses by Australian soldiers during the conflict in Afghanistan.

The Australian government created new powers to veto foreign deals as lawmakers become increasingly sensitive about Chinese political and economic influence.

In August, Australian regulators blocked a Chinese company’s purchase of Japanese brewer Kirin’s Australian beverage unit as “contrary to the national interest.”

In 2018, Australia passed sweeping national security laws that ban covert foreign interference in domestic politics. Beijing protested that the laws were prejudiced against China and poisoned Chinese-Australian relations.

Payne, the Australian foreign minister, said a task force would be created within her department to review international agreements under the new law.

“The legislation is necessary to appropriately manage and protect Australia’s foreign relations and the consistency or our nation’s foreign policy,” she said in a statement.

New Zealand joins Australia in denouncing China’s tweet

New Zealand joins Australia in denouncing China’s tweet

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a media stand-up on her way to Question Time at Parliament, in Wellington, New Zealand Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. New Zealand has joined Australia in denouncing a graphic tweet posted by a … more >

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By NICK PERRY

Associated Press

Monday, November 30, 2020

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – New Zealand has joined Australia in denouncing a graphic tweet posted by a Chinese official that shows a fake image of a grinning Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to a child’s throat.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Tuesday that New Zealand has voiced its concerns directly with Chinese authorities.

“This is an image that wasn’t factual. It wasn’t correct. And so in keeping with our principled position where images like that are used, we will raise those concerns and we’ll do it directly,” Ardern told reporters.

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China has not backed down from the tweet and said there will be no apology.

Ardern’s criticism was more muted than Australia‘s. She faced an awkward choice of how far to get involved in a conflict between New Zealand’s closest ally, Australia, and its biggest trading partner, China.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday called the image “repugnant” and demanded an apology from the Chinese government. The post took aim at alleged abuses by Australian soldiers during the conflict in Afghanistan.

The incident is further souring already tense relations between Australia and China.

The image, which appeared to show the soldier slitting the child’s throat, was posted by Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry. He wrote a caption with his tweet: “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, & call for holding them accountable.”

He was referring to a disturbing report by Australia’s military earlier this month which found evidence that elite Australian troops unlawfully killed 39 Afghan prisoners, farmers and civilians during the Afghanistan conflict. The report recommended that 19 soldiers be referred to federal police for criminal investigation.

Asked about the issue at a daily briefing, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying cast blame on the Australian side.

“What Australia should do is to reflect deeply, bring the perpetrators to justice, make a formal apology to the Afghan people, and solemnly promise to the international community that they will never commit such terrible crimes again,” Hua said.

Morrison said Zhao’s tweet was “utterly outrageous” and a terrible slur against Australia’s military.

It “is truly repugnant. It is deeply offensive to every Australian, every Australian who has served in that uniform,” he told reporters in Canberra. “The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes.”

Morrison said his government contacted Twitter asking it to take the post down. The post had a warning tag on it on Tuesday but could still be viewed. Zhao’s account comes with a Twitter label stating that it’s a Chinese government account.

Despite China blocking Twitter and other U.S. social media platforms within the county, Chinese diplomats and state media have established a strong presence on them.

Zhao was criticized by the U.S. in March after tweeting a conspiracy theory that U.S. soldiers may have brought the coronavirus to China. He is considered a leading representative of China’s high-pitched new strain of assertive foreign relations.

Morrison acknowledged there were tensions between China and Australia.

“But this is not how you deal with them,” he said. “Australia has patiently sought to address the tensions that exist in our relationship in a mature way, in a responsible way, by seeking engagement at both leader and ministerial level.”

The rift between the two nations has grown since the Australian government called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. China has since imposed tariffs and other restrictions on a number of Australian exports.

China slaps 200% tax on Australia wine amid tensions

China slaps 200% tax on Australia wine amid tensions

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In this Feb. 29, 2012, file photo a shopper looks over the wine at King & Godfree, one of Australia’s oldest licensed grocery stores in, Melbourne, Australia. China on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, began investigating whether Australia is dumping wine … more >

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By JOE McDONALD

Associated Press

Friday, November 27, 2020

BEIJING (AP) – China on Friday added wine to the growing list of Australian goods barred from its markets in a trade war against Australia over disputes including its support for a probe into the origin of the coronavirus.

The Ministry of Commerce imposed import taxes of up to 212.1%, effective Saturday, which Australia‘s trade minister said make Australian wine unsellable in China, his country’s biggest export market.

China increasingly is using its populous market as leverage to extract political concessions and increase its strategic influence.

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Earlier, China stopped or reduced imports of beef, coal, barley, seafood, sugar and timber from Australia after it supported calls for a probe into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, which began in China in December.

China‘s ruling Communist Party is trying to deflect criticism of its handling of the outbreak, which plunged the global economy into its deepest slump since the 1930s, by arguing the virus came from abroad, despite little evidence to support that.

Meanwhile, Australia is working on a mutual defense treaty with Japan, which Chinese leaders see as a strategic rival, and has joined Washington and Southeast Asian governments in expressing concern about China‘s construction of military facilities on islands in the disputed South China Sea, a busy trade route.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman called on Australia to “do something conducive” to improve relations but gave no details.

“Some people in Australia adhering to the Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice have repeatedly taken wrong words and deeds on issues concerning China’s core interests,” said the spokesman, Zhao Lijian.

Australia should “take China’s concerns seriously, instead of harming China’s national interests under the banner of safeguarding their own national interests,” Zhao said.

Australia‘s main stock market index fell 0.5% on Friday following the news.

“To a certain extent, this is Australia’s fault for allowing itself to become a one-trick pony export-wise to China,” market analyst Jeffrey Halley of Oanda said in a report.

The Chinese market is especially important at a time when China is recovering from the coronavirus while the United States, Europe and other major economies are struggling with anti-disease controls that depress demand.

The Ministry of Commerce said the wine tariffs are in response to complaints Chinese producers were damaged by improperly low-priced Australian imports.

Australia’s government denied subsidizing wine exports.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the accumulation of Chinese sanctions suggested they were due to “other factors” but gave no details.

“The Australian government categorically rejects any allegation that our wine producers are dumping product into China,” Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said.

Australia has imposed restrictions meant to block foreign influence in its politics following complaints Beijing might be trying to manipulate its government.

Australia also has joined the United States in imposing curbs on use of technology from Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei Technologies Ltd. on security grounds.

Chief Afghan peace envoy says US troops pulling out too soon

Chief Afghan peace envoy says US troops pulling out too soon

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By SUZAN FRASER

Associated Press

Saturday, November 21, 2020

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Afghanistan’s chief peace envoy Abdullah Abdullah said Saturday that the U.S. decision to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan has come too soon, as his country is still struggling to attain peace and security amid an ongoing conflict.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Abdullah also described as “shocking” an Australian military report that found evidence that elite Australian troops unlawfully killed 39 Afghan prisoners. He welcomed a decision by Australian authorities to pursue the perpetrators.

Abdullah spoke in Ankara where he sought Turkey’s support for negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban that are taking place in Qatar to find an end to decades of war. The talks have made little progress so far.

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“This is the decision of the U.S administration and we respect it,” Abdullah said of the U.S. decision this week to reduce troops levels in Afghanistan from more than 4,500 to 2,500. “Our preference would have been that with the conditions improving, this should have taken place.”

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Christopher Miller announced that Washington would reduce troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan by mid-January, in line with President Donald Trump’s pledge to bring U.S. forces home.

Afghan officials have expressed concerns that a rapid reduction in American troops could strengthen the negotiating hand of the Taliban, while the militants are still waging a full-fledged insurgency against government forces.

“It’s not like things will go as we wish,” Abdullah said, adding however, that he welcomed the fact 2,500 troops will remain and that NATO will also retain its presence.

The chief negotiator said he was confident that the United States will continue to support peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban during President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.

“What form or what shape it will take that remains to be seen but they will certainly push for a peaceful settlement,” Abdullah said.

Abdullah, who shared power in Afghanistan’s last government as chief executive and before that as foreign minister, cautioned that “a comprehensive settlement will come as a result of the negotiation between the Afghan government and the Taliban,” regardless of any possible new input by the new U.S. administration.

Washington signed a deal with the Taliban in February to pave the way for the Doha talks and American forces’ eventual withdrawal. The Americans championed the deal as Afghanistan’s best chance at a lasting peace.

Abdullah’s meetings with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish officials came days after Australia revealed a report into war crimes that found evidence that elite Australian troops unlawfully killed 39 Afghan prisoners, farmers and civilians.

“It was shocking,” Abdullah said of the report, but welcomed the fact that Australia had “come clear about it. ”

He added: “there is the promise, the prospect of prosecution for those who have committed these heinous crimes that will count. This will help preventing these types of crimes.”

The top Afghan official also said he had asked Turkey to “reenergize” its efforts in support of the peace process, and suggested that Turkey appoint a “special envoy” to support the negotiations.

Rights group, Afghan envoy want more probes into war crimes

Rights group, Afghan envoy want more probes into war crimes

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An honor guard is formed at Defence Headquarters in Canberra, Australia, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020, before findings from the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force Afghanistan Inquiry are released. A shocking report into war crimes by elite Australian troops has … more >

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By KATHY GANNON

Associated Press

Thursday, November 19, 2020

ISLAMABAD (AP) – A leading international human rights group and an Afghan envoy on Thursday urged nations whose militaries have served as part of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan – including America and Britain – to follow Australia’s example and probe their own soldiers’ conduct in the 19-year war.

The appeal came after Australia’s public release earlier in the day of a shocking report alleging unlawful killings by elite Australian troops in Afghanistan.

The report – the result of a four-year investigation – found evidence that some among Australia’s elite troops summarily killed 39 Afghan prisoners, farmers and civilians. Some of the crimes, which began in 2009, with most occurring in 2012 and 2013, could rise to the level of war crimes.

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A particularly disturbing practice noted in the report was the so-called “blooding,” where new soldiers to the battlefield were encouraged to kill an Afghan to get a first “kill.” It also alleges that items such a gun or a cell phone were placed on the slain victim to claim he was an insurgent.

“It’s important to understand that the elite Australian special forces were not alone in committing these atrocities,” said Patricia Gossman, senior researcher on Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch.

“Their soldiers have even said it was widely known that U.K. and U.S. special forces had carried out similar crimes,” she said. “It was part of a sick culture that essentially treated Afghans living in these contested areas as if they were all dangerous criminals – even the children – or simply as not human.”

Gossman said that at about the same time as some of the alleged Australian offences took place, there was a case of “alleged involvement of U.S. special forces in the forced disappearance, murder and torture of Afghan civilians in the Nerkh district of Wardak (province) in 2012-2013.”

The Australian report, she said, should put “pressure on other coalition members to do better, including the U.S. and also the UK.” Grossman added that there has been a similar probe in Britain that was never publicized. Britain “buried its own investigation and failed to prosecute those accused of serious crimes,” she said.

A former advisor to the Afghan government, Torek Farhadi, said it took courage for the Australian government to publicly acknowledge the alleged crimes but that from “an Afghan’s viewpoint, redress and compensation will be important.”

Australia must follow up with the victims,” he said.

Farhadi claimed abuses by the U.S.-led coalition forces started being reported to Afghan leaders soon after the Taliban were overthrown by the U.S.-led coalition in 2001.

But, at the time, “Afghan leaders were too insecure to confront the coalition,” he added.

However, a few years later, Afghanistan’s then-President Hamid Karzai began to complain bitterly about night raids conducted by international forces, reports of unlawful detentions and abuses by coalition and Afghan forces. He called for an immediate stop but Farhadi said Karzai “was quickly scolded as a non-team player by the U.S. and the coalition.”

Earlier this year, the International Criminal Court judges authorized a far-reaching investigation of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by Afghan government forces, the Taliban, American troops and U.S. foreign intelligence operatives. Washington, which has long rejected the court’s jurisdiction and refuses to cooperate with it, condemned the decision.

The probe was authorized after the ICC in 2018 received a staggering 1.7 million statements – including those of entire Afghan villages – alleging atrocities were committed by the Talban, the Islamic State group, Afghan government forces and U.S. forces. The statements resulted in several thousand claims.

While the ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda pledged to carry out an independent and impartial investigation, little has been done so far. Current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government has said it would not authorize any investigations into the conduct of Afghan forces, denying they were involved in any war crimes.

Still, Ghani’s special envoy on human rights and international affairs Sima Samar told The Associated Press on Thursday that probes similar to the Australian inquiry should be conducted by all governments that had troops deployed to Afghanistan.

“It is very sad to know that this kind of crimes has happened in Afghanistan,” said Samar. “I hope (the Australian report) will encourage others to do the same – not only make their reports public, but acknowledge the wrongdoing and crimes committed by the their forces in Afghanistan.”

Gossman of the Human Rights Watch said the Australian report was “an important step” that should also “be a reminder to all that the ICC investigation is pending, despite Afghan government efforts to seek a postponement and U.S. efforts to bully the court.”

“The details emerging from the Australia report underscore just how vitally important an ICC investigation is when countries implicated in serious abuses fail to hold their forces accountable,” she said.

China accuses US of sowing discord in South China Sea

China accuses US of sowing discord in South China Sea

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FILE – In this June 24, 2020, file photo, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference at the State Department in Washington. The Chinese Embassy in Washington said that a statement issued by Pompeo deliberately distorts … more >

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By KEN MORITSUGU

Associated Press

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

BEIJING (AP) – The Trump administration’s rejection of broad Chinese claims to much of the South China Sea came across in Asia as an election-year political move, with some appealing for calm amid fears of greater tensions.

China accused the U.S. on Tuesday of trying to sow discord between China and the Southeast Asian countries with which it has long-standing territorial disputes in waters that are both a vital international shipping lane and home to valuable fisheries.

“The United States is not a country directly involved in the disputes. However, it has kept interfering in the issue,” the Chinese Embassy in Washington said on its website. “Under the pretext of preserving stability, it is flexing muscles, stirring up tension and inciting confrontation in the region.”

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Other governments avoided direct comment on the U.S. announcement. The Philippine presidential spokesperson, Harry Roque, noted that the two powers would woo his country as they escalate their rivalry, but “what is important now is to prioritize the implementation and crafting of a code of conduct to prevent tension in that area.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a statement released Monday, said the U.S. now regards virtually all Chinese maritime claims outside its internationally recognized waters to be illegitimate. The new position does not cover land features above sea level, which are considered to be “territorial” in nature.

Previously, the U.S. had only insisted that maritime disputes between China and its smaller neighbors be resolved peacefully through U.N.-backed arbitration.

Pompeo’s statement was a major shift in America’s South China Sea policy, said Zhu Feng, the director of a South China Sea studies center at Nanjing University. He said other countries challenging China’s claims may take a more aggressive stance because of America’s openly stated support.

“The U.S. didn’t use to comment on the sovereignty issue in the South China Sea, because it itself is not a claimant,” Zhu said. “But this time it has made itself into a judge or arbiter. It will bring new instability and tension.”

He advised against a strong response from China, saying that current U.S. policy is being driven in a significant way by President Donald Trump’s reelection considerations.

“Trump’s current China policy is insane,” Zhu said. “He is making the China issue the most important topic for his election to cover his failure in preventing the epidemic and to divert public attention. I have no idea how far he will go in fully utilizing the China issue.”

An Indonesian analyst agreed that the announcement was a political one to divert attention from Trump’s weaknesses at home. A.A. Banyu Perwita, an international relations professor at President University, predicted it would focus more attention on the Indo-Pacific corridor but not have dramatic consequences.

“It will be not more than a political diplomatic statement,” he said, adding that “we need to make the atmosphere calm now. The best position for all now is the current status quo.”

James Chin, head of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania in Australia, said the U.S. stance was nothing new because it has always rejected China’s “nine-dash line,” as its claim to the South China Sea is known.

“What is new is that Trump has sort of made the South China Sea a new focus point for his confrontation with China,” he said.

Both Indonesia and the Philippines joined Pompeo in calling on China to abide by an international arbitration court ruling in 2016 that disqualified many of China’s claims.

Malaysia’s foreign ministry declined to comment.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian reiterated China’s position that it has had effective jurisdiction over the islands, reefs and waters of the South China Sea for more than 1,000 years.

He said at a daily briefing Tuesday that China is not seeking to build a maritime empire.

China’s emergence as a military power and its ambitions to extend its offshore reach have come into conflict with the U.S., which has been the dominant naval power in the western Pacific in the post-World War II period.

Two U.S. aircraft carriers drilled together in the South China Sea last week in a show of force.

Zhao, in a lengthy response to Pompeo’s statement, criticized America’s frequent dispatch of “large-scale advanced military vessels and aircraft” to the waters.

“The U.S. is indeed a troublemaker that undermines regional peace and stability,” he said.

___

Associated Press researcher Yu Bing in Beijing and writers Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, Edna Tarigan in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contributed to this report.

Australia suspends Hong Kong extradition treaty, extends Hong Kongers’ visas after security law impo

Australia suspends Hong Kong extradition treaty, extends Hong Kongers’ visas after security law impo

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CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Australia suspends Hong Kong extradition treaty, extends Hong Kongers’ visas after security law imposed.

Johnny Depp takes stand in libel trial, claims Amber Heard hit him

At libel trial, Johnny Depp blasts Amber Heard’s ‘sick’ abuse claim

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Johnny Depp, second left, wearing a protective mask arrives at the Royal Court of Justice, in London, Tuesday, July 7, 2020. Johnny Depp is suing a tabloid newspaper for libel over an article that branded him a “wife beater.” On … more >

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By Jill Lawless

Associated Press

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

LONDON (AP) — Johnny Depp said Tuesday that ex-wife Amber Heard had made “sick” claims of abuse and falsely branded him a monster, as the actor testified in a U.K. libel case that hinges on who was the aggressor in the celebrity couple’s violent, toxic relationship.

Depp is suing British tabloid The Sun over an April 2018 story headlined “Potty – How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?” The newspaper’s lawyers plan to use Heard’s allegations of abuse by Depp to defend the “wife beater” claim.

The “Pirates of the Caribbean” star strongly denies Heard’s claims that he assaulted her during their tempestuous marriage, and is suing The Sun’s publisher, News Group Newspapers, and its executive editor, Dan Wootton.

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“These sick claims are totally untrue,” Depp said in a written witness statement, adding that Heard’s allegations hurt his career and had “been a constant issue in my casting.”

A three-week trial over his libel claims opened Tuesday at the High Court in London. It is one of the first major cases to be held in person since Britain began to lift its coronavirus lockdown.

Depp entered the witness box of the wood-paneled courtroom wearing a dark suit and tie, and began by taking the court oath and giving his full name: John Christopher Depp II.

He told the court that Heard had “said to the world that she was in fear of her life from me, and I had been this horrible monster, if you will. Which was not the case.”

Depp, 57, and Heard, 34, met on the set of the 2011 comedy “The Rum Diary” and married in Los Angeles in February 2015. They divorced in 2017, and now bitterly accuse one another of abuse.

Depp and Heard arrived by separate entrances at the neo-Gothic court building. Both wore face coverings over their noses and mouths as they arrived. Proceedings have been spread over several courtrooms to allow for social distancing.

While Heard isn’t on trial, the case is also a showdown between the former spouses, who accuse each other of being controlling, violent and deceitful. It is set to put the two performers’ complex private lives under a microscope.

The Sun’s defense relies on Heard’s allegations of 14 incidents of violence by Depp between 2013 and 2016, in locations including Los Angeles, Australia, Japan, the Bahamas and a chartered jet. He denies them all and says Heard, an actress and model, attacked him with items including a drink can and a cigarette. He also claims that on one occasion Heard or one of her friends defecated on his bed.

In written witness statements, Depp said that in Australia in 2015 Heard severed the tip of his finger by hurling a vodka bottle at him. A photo of the bloody digit was included with his witness statement.

Depp claimed that on another occasion, Heard repeatedly punched him in the face on a private jet, forcing him to spend the flight locked in the plane’s bathroom.

“Rage-filled violent incidents on planes were common with Amber,” he said in the written statement.

Describing one incident in which Heard claims he hit her, Depp said the opposite was true.

“As things tended to do, (it) escalated and got physical, ending with a bit of assault. Ms. Heard struck me,” he said.

He painted himself as a peacemaker who tried to remove himself from conflicts “before things got out of hand.”

In a written statement, Depp alleged that Heard was “a calculating, diagnosed borderline personality; she is sociopathic; she is a narcissist; and she is completely emotionally dishonest.”

Heard alleges that Depp was prone to drink- and drug-fueled violent rages.
Under cross-examination by The Sun’s lawyer, Sasha Wass, Depp acknowledged taking myriad drugs over the years, including marijuana, cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, magic mushrooms and prescription painkillers.

He said his drug use began when he was an 11-year-old child with “not a particularly stable or secure or safe home life.” He said it was “the only way that I found to numb the pain.”

Depp acknowledged that he had struggled with fame, saying it meant he was “forced to live the life of a fugitive.”

“Anonymity doesn’t exist anymore. … You have become a product,” he said.
Wass depicted Depp as someone with an anger management problem, bringing up an 1989 arrest for assault and a later incident in which he damaged a New York hotel room.

“I was angry, but that doesn’t mean I have an anger problem,” Depp said.

Wass played the court a video clip recorded by Heard that shows Depp kicking kitchen cupboards and swearing before pouring red wine from a large bottle.
While saying he “wasn’t particularly proud of myself” over the video, Depp denied that it showed he became a “monster” when he drank and took drugs.

“It’s not Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” he said.

Heard is due to give evidence later in the trial. Depp’s lawyer, David Sherborne, said Heard had recently asked that one allegation be heard in private “because of its supposedly horrific nature.”

Witnesses for Depp are scheduled to include his former partners Vanessa Paradis and Winona Ryder.

Depp is also suing Heard in the United States for $50 million for allegedly defaming him in a Washington Post article about domestic abuse. That case is due to be heard next year.

Sherborne said in an opening statement that the actor had sued The Sun to “clear his reputation.”

“This is not a case about money,” he said. “It is about vindication.”

Testing stepped up as number of new coronavirus cases surges

Testing stepped up as number of new coronavirus cases surges

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People wearing face masks to help protect against the spread of the new coronavirus cross a road in Seoul, Monday, June 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) more >

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By Emily Schmall and Elaine Kurtenbach

Associated Press

Monday, June 29, 2020

NEW DELHI (AP) — Governments were stepping up testing and warily considering their next moves Monday as the number of newly confirmed coronavirus cases surges in many countries. India reported 20,000 new cases Monday, while the U.S. confirmed more than 40,000 new infections for the the third straight day.

As infections rise along with summer temperatures in the northern hemisphere, many governments are stepping up testing and mulling more aggressive moves such as renewed lockdowns to stem fresh outbreaks.

India’s 20,000 new infections was a new daily record. Several states reimposed partial or full lockdowns after the total number of cases jumped by nearly 100,000 in one week to 548,318.

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While some states have tightened precautions, in the worst-affected regions of Maharashtra, which includes India’s financial capital, Mumbai, and Delhi, home to the federal capital of New Delhi, most restrictions have been eased, with restaurants, shopping malls and parks reopened, and public buses and shared-ride services back on the roads.

The United States, the worst affected country, reported 42,600 newly confirmed infections as of Saturday, with the total surpassing 2.5 million, or about a quarter of all of the more than 10 million confirmed cases worldwide, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the actual numbers, both in the U.S. and globally, are likely far higher due to the large number of apparently asymptomatic cases and issues with testing.

Beaches were closing and beer was going untapped as Florida, Texas and other states backpedaled on their pandemic reopenings, ordering mandatory use of masks in public places and closing down restaurants and bars in hopes of stemming a resurgence in cases.

Nearly 8.3 million people out of some 21 million have undergone testing in recent weeks in the Chinese capital after an outbreak centered on a wholesale market. The country had 12 new cases Monday, including seven in Beijing, down by more than half from the day before, the National Health Commission reported.

South Korean authorities reported 47 new cases as they struggled to curb outbreaks that have spread from Seoul to other regions.

Widespread testing and contact tracing helped contain South Korea’s initial outbreak in which it was finding hundreds of new cases a day in late February and early March. Most of those cases were in the area surrounding city of Daegu, where many were linked to a single church congregation with thousands of members.

Tracing recent transmissions in the Seoul metropolitan area, home to about about half of the country’s 51 million people, has proved to be more difficult.

South Korean health officials have said they are ready to implement stronger social distancing measures — including banning all gatherings of more than 10 people, shutting schools, halting professional sports, and restricting operations of non-essential businesses – if the daily increase in infections doubles more than two times in a week.

Health authorities are using what they describe as a world-first saliva test for coronavirus in Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne in the state of Victoria, where the disease is spreading at an alarming rate.

Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said Monday that 75 people had tested positive in the state in the latest 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases to 2,099.

Brett Sutton, Victoria’s chief health officer, said the outbreak could surge out of control as pandemic restrictions ease elsewhere in Australia.

“l think it’s a genuine challenge now. I think we’re right at the edge in terms of being able to manage it,” Sutton said.

In the Philippines, local officials were under fire for allowing a street parade and dance during a weekend religious festival to honor St. John the Baptist despite quarantine prohibitions against public gatherings.

Performers in native wear and face masks danced during the night procession, which drew a large crowd in Basak village on Cebu, in the central Philippines.

The Philippines remains a Southeast Asian coronavirus hotspot with more than 35,000 confirmed infections, including 1,244 deaths. Restrictions have been eased in many places to help salvage the ailing economy, but Cebu resumed a strict lockdown this month after new cases spiked.

Some governments are pushing ahead with reopening travel, particularly between countries where outbreaks of the virus appear to be contained, though the changing landscape of the pandemic suggests the process will be complicated and subject to change.

The European Union is preparing a list of 15 countries whose nationals will be allowed to visit the bloc beginning Wednesday, Spain’s foreign minister, Arancha Gonzalez Laya, told the Cadena SER radio network.

The resurgence of cases in the U.S. means Americans may not be on that list. Gonzalez Laya said countries will be chosen according to their coronavirus status and the reliability of their data, she said.

“This is not an exercise to be nice or unfriendly to other countries, this is an exercise of self-responsibility,” she said. She confirmed that Spain will reopen its borders with Portugal despite rising infections there.

Meanwhile, civil aviation authorities in the United Arab Emirates announced they had suspended all flights to Pakistan until a “special laboratory” could be set up to conduct coronavirus tests for people traveling from the country to the UAE.

The UAE’s state-run WAM news agency issued a statement late Sunday from the country’s General Civil Aviation Authority announcing the decision.

Pakistan resumed international travel earlier this month even as its critics said the airport precautions were limited and ineffective. Last week, Pakistani media reported 27 passengers traveling from Pakistan arrived in Hong Kong and tested positive for COVID-19. The passengers had transited through the UAE.

___

Kurtenbach reported from Bangkok. Associated Press reporters from around the world contributed to this report.

UK cuts development ministry, merges it with Foreign Office

UK cuts development ministry, merges it with Foreign Office

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In this photo issued by 10 Downing Street, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures, during a Coronavirus media briefing in Downing Street, London, Wednesday June 10, 2020. (Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street via AP) more >

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By JILL LAWLESS

Associated Press

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

LONDON (AP) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Tuesday that he is merging the British government’s international development department into its foreign ministry to create a “super department” in charge of both diplomacy and aid. The move was criticized by three of Johnson’s predecessors as prime minister.

Johnson told lawmakers that the Department for International Development will combined with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office into the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

He said the combined department would “magnify” Britain’s voice on the world stage while linking development aid to Britain’s values and goals.

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Johnson said aid should not be treated as a “giant cashpoint (ATM) in the sky” divorced from the U.K.’s interests

Critics argued that the move would dilute Britain’s role in international development. But Johnson said many other countries, including Canada, New Zealand and Australia, already deliver aid through their foreign ministries.

He said the U.K. would continue to to meet the United Nations’ target of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on foreign aid.

“This is exactly the moment when we must mobilize every one of our national assets, including our aid budget and expertise, to safeguard British interests and values overseas – and the best possible instrument for doing that will be a new department charged with using all the tools of British influence to seize the opportunities ahead,” Johnson said.

Aid groups responded to the announcement with alarm. Danny Sriskandarajah, chief executive of Oxfam GB, said that with the coronavirus pandemic threatening to push half a billion people around the world into poverty, “the U.K. should be stepping up to protect lives but is instead choosing to step back.”

Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said the government shakeup was “the tactics of pure distraction,” intended to deflect attention from the Conservative government’s mishandling of COVID-19. Britain’s reported COVID-19 death toll of more than 41,800 as of Tuesday is the third-highest in the world, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

Starmer said that abolishing the development department “diminishes Britain’s place in the world.”

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose Labour government established the international development department in 1997, said he was “utterly dismayed by the decision.”

“The strategic aims of alignment with diplomacy and focus on new areas of strategic interest to Britain could be accomplished without its abolition. Wrong and regressive move,” Blair said.

Blair’s successor as prime minister, Gordon Brown, tweeted that the department “has lifted millions of people out of poverty, saved millions of lives, and helped millions more children go to school. It’s sad the government is abolishing one of the UK’s great international assets.”

Johnson’s announcement also earned a rare rebuke from a previous Conservative prime minister, David Cameron.

Cameron tweeted that abolishing the development department was a “mistake” that would mean “less expertise, less voice for development at the top table and ultimately less respect for the UK overseas.”

South China Sea disputes again putting spotlight on Beijing

South China Sea disputes again putting spotlight on Beijing

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FILE – In this March 6, 2020, file photo, a woman protester wearing a protective mask holds a slogan during a rally outside the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines against the planned military exercises between the Philippines and US under … more >

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Associated Press

Sunday, June 7, 2020

BEIJING (AP) – A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple territorial disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons. The waters are a major shipping route for global commerce and are rich in fish and possible oil and gas reserves.

US-PHILIPPINE PACT STANDS

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The Philippines has decided not to suspend a defense pact with the U.S., avoiding a major blow to one of America’s oldest alliances in Asia.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Tuesday that the Philippines is delaying its decision to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement by at least six months.

The alliance is seen as having deterred aggressive Chinese actions in the disputed South China Sea, including possible construction of structures in Scarborough Shoal, a disputed fishing area off the northwestern Philippines that China effectively seized after a tense standoff in 2012.

___

CAMBODIA SAYS BASE OPEN TO ALL

Cambodia’s leader says China has not been given exclusive rights to use a naval base on the country’s southern coast, and that warships from all nations, including the United States, are welcome to dock there.

Prime Minister Hun Sen last week repeated denials that the Ream naval base on the Gulf of Thailand had been handed over to close ally and financial benefactor China for 30 years. Such a move would allow the Chinese navy to post military personnel, store weapons and berth warships.

Many analysts believe basing rights in Cambodia would extend Beijing’s strategic military profile considerably and tilt the regional balance of power in a manner that would pressure adjacent countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations whose security concerns traditionally have been aligned more closely with the United States.

___

US REJECTS CHINA MARITIME CLAIMS

The U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations has fired back at Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Ambassador Kelly Craft’s note weighs in on Malaysia’s behalf in its bid to reject China-imposed limits on its continental shelf allowing it rights to resources.

“The United States rejects these maritime claims as inconsistent with international law as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention,” Craft’s note said.

China in December issued a rejection of Malaysia’s petition to extend its continental shelf. Beijing ignored a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague that invalidated most of China’s claims to virtually the entire South China Sea.

The U.S. does not officially take a stand on sovereignty issues in the area, but maintains its military has the right to fly, sail and operate in all areas open to international navigation.

___

INDIA-AUSTRALIA TO STRENGTHEN TIES

India and Australia are strengthening defense ties and cooperation on Indo-Pacific maritime issues, at a time when both countries are facing increased tensions with China.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, on Thursday agreed to give each other access to their military bases.

India accuses China of starting the latest standoff along their undefined border in the Himalayas.

China and Australia are at loggerheads over trade, China’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea, and most recently, Australia’s push for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and China’s response to it.

___

Associated Press writers across Asia contributed to this report.

Justin Trudeau, Canadian PM, says Russia should not rejoin G-7

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau says Russia should not rejoin G-7

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during his daily press conference on the COVID-19 pandemic outside of his residence at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Ontario, on Friday, April 10, 2020. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP) ** FILE ** more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Monday, June 1, 2020

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that Russia should not rejoin the Group of Seven nations summit after President Trump suggested its return, along with India, South Korea and Australia.

Mr. Trump on Saturday described his new proposal as the “G-10 or G-11” and said he’s “roughly” broached the idea with the leaders of the four countries he’d like to add.

The president has suggested that Russia return to the group in the past after being removed from what was known as the G-8 in 2014 amid Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula.

SEE ALSO: Putin supports ‘dialogue’ of return to G-7 but lacks information following Trump proposal

The G-7 has since been comprised of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the U.S.

Russia was excluded from the G-7 after it invaded Crimea a number of years ago,” Mr. Trudeau said during a news conference, “and its continued disrespect and flaunting of international rules and norms is why it remains outside of the G-7, and it will continue to remain out.”

Earlier Monday, a spokesperson for the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin “is a supporter of dialogue in all directions, but in this case, in order to respond to such initiatives, we need to receive more information, which we, unfortunately, do not have.”

Putin supports ‘dialogue’ of return to G-7 but lacks information following Trump proposal

Putin supports ‘dialogue’ of return to G-7 but lacks information following Trump proposal

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, attends a meeting via teleconference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Monday, June 1, 2020. Putin set a nationwide vote on constitutional amendments allowing him to extend his rule for July 1. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Kremlin on Monday said it remains in the dark about President Trump’s plan to add Russia, India, South Korea and Australia to the Group of 7 nations summit, but supports “dialogue in all directions.”

Mr. Trump on Saturday described his new proposal as the “G-10 or G-11” and said he’s “roughly” broached the idea with the leaders of the four countries he’d like to add.

“Maybe I’ll do it after the election,” he said, adding that he could also host the gathering around the time of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City in September — postponing the gathering that was expected next month.

SEE ALSO: Canadian PM Justin Trudeau says Russia should not rejoin G-7

“I’m postponing it because I don’t feel as a G-7 it probably represents what’s going on in the world. It’s a very outdated group of countries,” Mr. Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One. “We want Australia, we want India, we want South Korea. That’s a nice group of countries right there.”

The spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, said Monday that Mr. Putin “is a supporter of dialogue in all directions, but in this case, in order to respond to such initiatives, we need to receive more information, which we, unfortunately, do not have.”

Russia was removed from what was known as the G-8 in 2014 amid Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula.

The G-7 has since been comprised of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the U.S.

Following Mr. Trump’s announcement, Alyssa Farah, White House strategic communications director, said the proposal is bringing together traditional U.S. allies to talk about how to deal with the future of China. The administration is increasingly clashing with China over issues such as the coronavirus crisis and Hong Kong.

The president had been planning to host the G-7 summit at the White House in late June or partly at Camp David, amid discussions with other heads of state about how to handle the gathering during the coronavirus pandemic. He has previously expressed support of Russia’s return to the G-7.

U.S., Australia, Canada, U.K., slam China’s approval of Hong Kong national security law

U.S., Australia, Canada, U.K., slam China’s approval of Hong Kong national security law

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A ferry leaves the port with Hong Kong business district seen in the background Thursday, May 28, 2020. China’s legislature endorsed a national security law for Hong Kong on Thursday that has strained relations with the United States and Britain … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The U.S., Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom on Thursday slammed the latest move by China to approve a strict national security law on Hong Kong, which critics say will infringe on the territory’s autonomy.

China’s parliament hours earlier approved the controversial law on Hong Kong that Beijing says will allow Chinese intelligence and security forces to be based inside the district for the first time, and seeks to address terrorism, secession, and foreign interference in the city.

But the band of western democracies has forcefully come out against the move and said in a joint statement that the law will “dramatically erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and the system that made it so prosperous.”

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“Direct imposition of national security legislation on Hong Kong by the Beijing authorities, rather than through Hong Kong’s own institutions as provided for under Article 23 of the Basic Law, would curtail the Hong Kong people’s liberties,” the nations said.

Pro-Beijing lawmakers said the law will not impact the autonomy granted to Hong Kong under a 1997 treaty between Britain and China that bound Beijing’s communist rulers to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy as a special administrative region and to leave its liberal economy and government for 50 years under the formulation “one country, two systems.”

The U.S., Australia, Canada, and U.K. said the law would “undermine” the agreement and “raises the prospect of prosecution in Hong Kong for political crimes, and undermines existing commitments to protect the rights of Hong Kong people.”

China’s approval of the legislation came one day after the Trump administration declared that China has effectively stripped Hong Kong of its promised democratic freedoms and the city no longer deserves a raft of U.S. trade and investment privileges, fueling rising U.S.-Chinese tensions and throwing into question the island territory’s status as a global financial powerhouse.

The proposal of the law sparked widespread protests in the city this week as thousands of Hong Kong residents took to the streets, and hundreds have since been arrested.

The nations called on China to “find a mutually acceptable accommodation that will honor China’s international obligations under the UN-filed Sino-British Joint Declaration.”

It remains unclear when the law will be enforced, but it is expected to be enacted at a future gathering of the ceremonial legislature by September.

China cuts Australian beef imports amid virus tension

China cuts Australian beef imports amid virus tension

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FILE – In this May 14, 2019, file photo, frozen beef filets from Australia, United States, and Canada are on sale at a supermarket in Beijing. China has suspended imports of beef from four Australian producers following a threat by … more >

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Associated Press

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

CANBERRRA, Australia (AP) – China suspended imports of beef from four Australian producers on Tuesday following a threat by Beijing of possible trade retaliation if Australia pushed for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the suspensions appear to be based on “highly technical issues,” some of which date back more than one year. Birmingham said he was talking with the industry to “formulate a comprehensive response.”

Beijing has rejected calls by Australia and other governments for an international inquiry into the origin of the coronavirus, which emerged in December in central China.

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Ambassador Cheng Jingye told The Australian Financial Review last month the country might face a Chinese boycott of its tourism and exports of wine, beef and other goods if Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government pressed for an inquiry.

China is the No. 1 market for Australian beef, accounting for about 30% of exports.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, criticized Australia’s “erroneous words and deeds.” Zhao said Tuesday the pandemic shouldn’t be used as a reason to “engage in political manipulation,” which he said would disrupt international disease prevention.

Australia grain exporters said Sunday they were told China is preparing to raise duties on imports of Australian barley.

US couple’s nightmare: Held in China, away from daughter

US couple’s nightmare: Held in China, away from daughter

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Daniel Hsu, a Chinese American, poses for a portrait near the apartment he has been renting in Shanghai, China on Monday, April 13, 2020. He has been kept from leaving China by an exit ban issued by the Chinese authorities … more >

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By ERIKA KINETZ

Associated Press

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

SHANGHAI (AP) – The first thing Daniel Hsu noticed about the room was that there were no sharp edges. The walls were covered with beige rubber, the table wrapped in soft, grey leather. White blinds covered two barred windows.

Five surveillance cameras recorded his movements, and two guards kept constant, silent watch. They followed Hsu to the shower and stood beside him at the toilet.

Lights blazed through the night. If he rolled over on his mattress, guards woke him and made him turn his face toward a surveillance camera that recorded him as he slept. He listened for sounds of other prisoners — a door slamming, a human voice. But he heard only the occasional roar of a passing train.

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“First, keep healthy,” Hsu told himself. “Second, keep strong.”

He had no idea when or how he would get out.

Hsu is a U.S. citizen. He has not been convicted of any crime in China, yet he was detained there for six months in solitary confinement under conditions that could qualify as torture under international conventions. Authorities from eastern Anhui province placed exit bans on Hsu and his wife, Jodie Chen, blocking them from returning home to suburban Seattle in August 2017 and effectively orphaning their 16-year-old daughter in America.

Critics say the Chinese Communist Party’s expanding use of exit bans to block people – including U.S., Australian and Canadian citizens and permanent residents – from leaving China reeks of hostage-taking and collective punishment. They also warn that it lays bare China’s will to exert influence, not just over Chinese citizens in China, but also permanent residents and citizens of other countries.

“American citizens are too often being detained as de facto hostages in business disputes or to coerce family members to return to China-this is shocking and unacceptable behavior by the Chinese government and a clear violation of international law,” said James P. McGovern, chair of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

Hsu says Anhui authorities have been effectively holding them hostage in order to convince his father, Xu Weiming, to come back from the U.S. and face charges he embezzled 447,874 yuan (worth $63,000 today) over 20 years ago – an allegation Xu denies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added grave new urgency to their desire to leave. Despite fear of retribution, the family is speaking out for the first time, offering a rare account of life inside China’s opaque system of exit bans and secretive detention centers.

Their story is supported by Chinese court documents and correspondence and interviews with U.S. and Chinese government officials. Some details could not be independently verified but are in line with accounts from other detainees.

‘WHY ARE YOU NOT HERE?’

Five days before Hsu entered the smooth beige room at a Communist Party-run “education center” in Hefei, the capital of Anhui province, his stepdaughter, Mandy Luo, boarded a flight from Shanghai to Seattle alone. She had been on a family visit to China and was supposed to return with her mother to finish high school. But airport security had blocked her mother from boarding.

Mandy vomited for 10 hours on the flight home. When Luo felt bad, she liked to curl up on her mother’s lap. But now it was just her, a barf bag and a snoring man next to her.

“Mom,” she kept thinking, “why are you not here?”

The answer to that question lies in Chinese laws that give authorities broad discretion to block both Chinese citizens and foreign nationals from leaving the country. Minor children, a pregnant woman and a pastor – all with foreign passports – have been exit banned, according to people with direct knowledge of the cases.

The U.S., Canada and Australia have issued advisories warning their citizens that they can be prevented from leaving China over disputes they may not be directly involved in. People may not realize they can’t leave until they try to depart.

“We have frequently stressed to the government of China our concerns about their use of coercive exit bans,” Ian Brownlee, the U.S. State Department’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, said in Washington Tuesday. “We’re going to continue to do so until we see a fair and transparent process.”

“The misuse of exit bans is troubling,” said a spokesman for Canada’s Foreign Minister. “Promoting and protecting human rights is an integral part of Canada’s foreign policy.”

Australian consular cables obtained by the AP through a freedom of information request show that diplomats have repeatedly flagged concerns to Chinese counterparts about the growing number of exit bans on Australians.

Within China, exit bans have been celebrated as part of a best-practices toolkit for convincing corrupt officials to return to the motherland for prosecution, part of President Xi Jinping’s sweeping campaign to purify the ruling Communist Party and shore up its moral authority. Many corruption suspects fled to the U.S., Australia and Canada, which do not have extradition treaties with China.

Requests for comment to Anhui Province’s Commission for Discipline Inspection and Supervision, Public Security Department and procuratorate, as well as the province’s foreign affairs and propaganda offices all went unanswered. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing declined to comment.

I DON’T HAVE A FERRARI

Hsu was accused of being a co-conspirator in the corruption case against his father, Xu. The Hefei Intermediate People’s Court found that Xu embezzled money for real estate in the 1990s, while serving as chairman of Shanghai Anhui Yu’an Industrial Corporation, a developer owned by the Anhui Provincial People’s Government. At the time, Hsu was half a world away, studying accounting at the University of San Francisco.

Xu denies the charges. In a letter to the court, he wrote that the money was a housing stipend, vetted by a government audit committee and awarded to dozens of employees. He said he is the target of a political vendetta.

If he had really been interested in corruption, Xu added, he would have stolen far more than $63,000.

“If my dad’s rich, OK, I deserve this maybe,” said Hsu, who ran a barbecue restaurant in Bellevue, Washington, which he was forced to sell during his involuntary exile. “But I never enjoy anything. I don’t have a Ferrari. I don’t have a yacht. I’m just a small business owner. I work by my hands, cutting meat.”

His interrogations came in fits and starts. He gazed at the smooth edges in his room and thought about hurting himself. He fantasized a Delta Force chopper would rescue him. The men would break through the walls and say, “You’re free, sir. Come with us.” No one came. He read sports magazines and the Bible.

“Try to sit in a room for three hours and tell me how do you feel, just by yourself. You have nothing,” he said in an interview.

Before coming to the party education center, Hsu had spent 14 days in detention in Hefei, sharing a cell and one bucket toilet with two dozen men. Hsu asked police to send him back. At least there were other people, TV, chess. Even his cellmate who allegedly murdered his girlfriend was kind of nice.

In mid-September police gave Hsu a phone so he could convince his parents to return. His mother told him they’d written letters to Washington. Surely, there would be justice. “Be strong,” she said. “I am proud of you.”

Hsu’s mother told him he was living in the dark. No, he argued, there is a window in my room: “I can sometimes see the sun and the moon.”

Now, he said, he knows what she meant. “I knew nothing else, nothing that happens in the world, they closed everything,” he said. “She told me, ‘In your heart there should be a light. You should keep that light on.’”

After a few days, the phone was taken away. Hsu had been given a mission – convince his father to return – and he’d failed.

Hsu was being held under “residential surveillance in a designated location,” a legal mechanism that allows detentions of up to six months without formal charges or judicial review in certain cases.

The United Nations has urged Beijing to halt the practice, saying it “may amount to incommunicado detention in secret places, putting detainees at a high risk of torture or ill-treatment.”

China is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which defines torture as an intentional abuse of power by the state that causes severe physical or mental suffering. It signed, but did not ratify, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which precludes torture as well as “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

Joshua Rosenzweig, a deputy regional director at Amnesty International in Hong Kong, said that though residential surveillance sounds better than throwing someone in jail, in practice it’s one of the most excruciating forms of detention under Chinese law. In Hsu’s case, he said prolonged solitary confinement and 24-hour surveillance seemed designed to cause psychological suffering with the aim of coercing him to do something.

“That would clearly satisfy the criteria for torture and other ill treatment,” Rosenzweig said. “The ability, inside a black box, to carry out this kind of coercion against someone – it’s incredible this is allowed to go on.”

SURVIVING SOLITUDE

Hsu set a new challenge for himself: He would convince his guards, who had been ordered not to speak to him, to tell him their names.

“You study me. I study you back,” he said. “Who is stronger.”

Over time, and late at night, his guards relaxed. Hsu discovered one was a fan of Manchester United. Others wanted to know what the schools were like in America and how much real estate cost. Eventually, he said, he got one guy to bring him a caramel macchiato from Starbucks.

In December, police announced Hsu’s father had agreed to go back to China. Hsu was shocked. On Dec. 14, a consular officer came with news that his father had made a sworn statement declaring Hsu’s innocence.

His mother also sent word that her husband’s health was poor and he would postpone his return.

Hsu held his fists and began to shake.

The next morning, his minders yelled at him. They made him make a videotaped message. Hsu told his parents they should have kept their word and returned. He wrote a letter, telling them he was getting sick in his head, pulling his hair out, not sleeping.

The new rotation of guards refused to speak to him. He dreamed about his daughter and woke in the night, his face wet with tears.

Back in Seattle, Mandy was also struggling with solitude. Her mother’s presence had been like the air she breathed, invisible until it was gone. She missed the security of knowing someone was in the next room, just in case.

She expanded her cooking repertoire beyond boiled eggs. She managed the garden, got the boiler fixed, put up her Christmas tree by herself and waded through college financial aid forms on her own, all while pulling straight A’s and helping her grandmother fire off petitions to Washington.

“What I need to do gives me a lot of pressure,” she said. “I have to be a mom and then be a student at the same time.”

She didn’t want to add to the general misery, so she boxed up the rage and helplessness. Instead of shouting at her relatives, she wept in her family’s big, empty house.

“Why me?” she cried out, to no one in particular. “I’m only 16. What are you expecting of me?”

WHO GETS SAVED

On Feb. 11, 2018, near the end of Hsu’s sixth month in detention, he was released. His wife drove nine hours to pick him up. They tossed his prison books in a dumpster and went out to dinner.

Hsu watched his wife eat. He couldn’t bring himself to hug her.

He was so sorry.

Maybe he had been alone too long.

After sleeping under blazing lights for six months, he could no longer sleep in the dark. Shanghai’s jostling crowds made him nervous. He kept crying.

In Chinese tradition, he reasoned, nothing is more important than a son. The father should come back, even at pain of death, for his son. But what, then, of the son? Hsu said if his father returned to China and something bad happened, he would never forgive himself.

Hsu’s mother, Qin Peiyun, insisted she and Hsu’s father would return to China only after Hsu and Chen, a U.S. green card holder, were safely back in Seattle.

“My husband and I go to China, we can’t save Daniel and Jodie,” Qin said in an interview. “If we go to China, they will destroy our whole family.”

Hsu, 43, and Chen, 44, were living off savings. Their marriage was rapidly deteriorating. When they weren’t fighting, they sat at home and stared at each other.

They couldn’t say much on the phone because they figured their communications were monitored. It was a struggle to make their Americanized teenager understand how they could be stuck in China if they had done nothing wrong. Thousands of years ago, people who angered the Emperor risked having their entire family executed. But blood bonds and collective punishment were difficult for a person born in 2001 and living in Seattle to grasp.

Friends offered Hsu jobs or money to start a restaurant in Shanghai. But he always declined, worried he’d get them in trouble. He couldn’t work legally because he had a U.S. passport with an expired visa and the Anhui authorities wouldn’t give him paperwork needed to get a new one.

The U.S. Consulate in Shanghai lobbied intensively on their behalf. But nothing changed.

Hsu spent a lot of time at Starbucks. He realized that by sinking into the ruin of his life he was doing exactly what Anhui authorities wanted. The more miserable Hsu became, the more pressure it would put on his father to return. He decided to change things, starting with his marriage.

“We have to show them no matter how hard the situation, we are fine, we are better somehow,” he told his wife. This might be their final chapter in China, so they should do their best to relish the country.

Chen got a job. They went out with friends, ate crawfish and went to the beach at Sanya.

In May 2019, immigration officers came to Hsu’s home and told him they were going to deport him because his visa had expired. They warned him he’d never be able to return to China.

“I said, ‘We can talk about that later, but deport me, please.’”

They didn’t.

That same month a court notice went up outside their apartment saying the property would be auctioned.

“We still need a happy life,” Hsu said. “We have to show people the positive side.”

Tears were running down his face.

A HOMECOMING

In June 2019, Hsu and Chen missed their daughter’s high school graduation. In August, they recruited relatives to see her off to college. The days inched by.

“Jail, I know my release date,” Hsu said. “I’m still in jail. The (expletive) China jail. And I don’t know my release date.”

In early April, at the request of Anhui authorities, Chen wrote a formal petition for her exit ban to be lifted.

“I miss my daughter so much, especially at this critical moment,” she wrote. “I do hope to take care of her, side by side, to fulfill my duty as a mother.”

She pledged to persuade her father-in-law to return to China, saying she would deepen her emotional bond with her in-laws to establish mutual trust, then explain the “tolerant and humanized approach” of Chinese justice. She would use her wisdom and emotional suasion to reassure them that “the party and government will be fair and impartial.”

It was unclear why Chen’s exit ban was lifted. Hsu would have to stay in China. “They told me if my dad is not coming back, I will never leave this country,” he said.

Talking on FaceTime with her parents a week before her mother’s departure, Mandy, now 19, began to cry over a minor disagreement, then found she couldn’t stop. She cried so long and so deeply she could barely breathe, pouring out three years of stress and loneliness.

The morning of April 10, Chen and Hsu rode to Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport in a diplomatic sedan, a small American flag on the hood flapping in the wind. The Shanghai consul general, Sean Stein, escorted Chen to the departure gate.

Chen’s trip back to Seattle took more than 24 hours. Concerned she might have picked up COVID-19 on the journey, she took an Uber from the airport to the leafy cul-de-sac they call home. Her daughter and her mother-in-law were waiting outside in the dark.

It had been 971 days since Chen had touched her daughter.

“Finally, Mom’s back,” Chen said.

Mandy ached to embrace her mother, but her grandmother had her by the arm, holding her back. No one knew what terrible germs Chen might be carrying.

Chen had planned to self-quarantine for two weeks, but Mandy couldn’t wait. She moved from her grandparents’ house and went into quarantine with her mother.

“It’s 50 percent over,” Mandy said. “My dad is the other 50 percent.”

Back in Shanghai, Daniel went home from Pudong airport and slept most of the day.

When he awoke, he was alone.

Associated Press correspondents Kristen Gelineau in Sydney and Rob Gillies in Toronto, AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington, D.C., and researcher Chen Si in Shanghai contributed to this story.

Follow Kinetz on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ekinetz

Dr. Deborah Birx: Will be interesting to watch southern hemisphere countries moving forward

Dr. Deborah Birx: Will be interesting to watch southern hemisphere countries moving forward

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Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, April 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) more >

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By David Sherfinski

The Washington Times

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Dr. Deborah Birx, the U.S. coronavirus response coordinator, on Tuesday said officials will likely be keeping a close eye on countries such as Australia and New Zealand to see how the southern hemisphere deals with the virus in the months ahead.

“Normally, northern hemisphere respiratory diseases move into the southern hemisphere during the summer because it’s their fall,” Dr. Birx said on “Fox & Friends.”

“It will be very interesting to watch Australia, New Zealand, southern Africa, and Chile and Argentina to see what happens with the virus in the summertime and what’s happening to the virus here,” she said. “So really, those two pieces together will really define how we do in the fall.”

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this week that the country has won the current “battle” against the virus as New Zealand lifted some of the restrictions it had imposed in response.

Dr. Birx said the White House’s job right now is to prepare for anything that might happen in the fall, whether it’s testing, personal protective equipment, ventilators, or a surveillance system to track for both asymptomatic and symptomatic people.

“All of those pieces need to accelerate and expand [to] be ready for the fall,” she said.