China says US orders it to close its consulate in Houston

U.S. orders China to close its consulate in Houston amid rising tension

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A firetruck is positioned outside the Chinese Consulate Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Houston. Authorities responded to reports of a fire at the consulate. Witnesses said that people were burning paper in what appeared to be trash cans, according to … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The U.S. on Wednesday ordered China to close its consulate in Houston, citing efforts to protect American intellectual property.

The move marks the latest in a series of increasing escalation between Washington and Beijing over trade, human rights, technology and national security.

While the Trump administration did not provide details behind the reason it is closing the Chinese consulate in Houston, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed to action being taken by the White House to end alleged intellectual property theft.

SEE ALSO: Rubio: Chinese Consulate in Houston is a ‘front’ for ‘massive spy operation’

“The United States will not tolerate [China‘s] violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated [its] unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behavior,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

One day prior, the Justice Department accused the Chinese government of running an elaborate cyberhacking operation aimed at stealing secrets from Western companies, including U.S. businesses racing to develop a coronavirus vaccine to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic that began in China six months ago.

Federal prosecutors claimed that two Chinese hackers were working with the government in Beijing to steal hundreds of millions of dollars and secrets through a yearslong operation that has recently targeted biotechnology companies, including one in Maryland and another in Massachusetts.

“President Trump has said, ‘Enough, we’re not going to allow this to continue to happen,’ ” Mr. Pompeo said while on an official visit to Copenhagen.

Back in Houston, firefighters responded to calls of papers being set ablaze on the consulate’s property but were denied entry to the grounds, local news reported.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, on Wednesday said the Chinese consulate in Houston is basically a front for a massive spy operation after the State Department ordered the consulate to close.

“So this consulate is basically a front. … It’s kind of [the] central node of a massive spy operation — commercial espionage, defense espionage — also influence agents to try to influence Congress,” Mr. Rubio, the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Fox Business Network.

Mr. Rubio said the closure was “long overdue” and predicted that China would close one of the United States’ facilities in China as a response.

China has condemned the U.S.’ move to shut down the consulate.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said during a news conference Wednesday that “the unilateral closure of China’s consulate general in Houston within a short period of time is an unprecedented escalation of its recent actions against China.”

He warned of firm countermeasures if the U.S. does not reverse itself. Besides its embassy in Beijing, the U.S. has five consulates in mainland China, according to its website. They are in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan and Shenyang.

At the height of the coronavirus outbreak in China, the U.S. in January closed its consulate in Wuhan and has since decided to not reopen the facility.

• David Sherfinski contributed to this story, which is also based on wire reports.

China warns US over actions against 4 more media outlets

China warns US over actions against 4 more media outlets

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Associated Press

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

BEIJING (AP) – China warned Tuesday it will take countermeasures after the U.S. added four more Chinese media outlets to a list of organizations that should be considered “foreign missions” in the United States because of their ties to the government and ruling Communist Party.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian attacked the Trump administration’s move as “yet another example of the U.S.’s flagrant political suppression of the Chinese media,” saying it would interfere with their reporting on the U.S. and betray America’s commitment to freedom of the press.

“We strongly urge the United States to abandon the Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice, and immediately stop and correct this wrong practice that serves no one’s interest. Otherwise China will have to make the necessary legitimate response,” Zhao said.

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The U.S. decision Monday to add the four organizations to the list, which already included five others, doesn’t directly impede their ability to conduct journalism but could force some to cut staff in the U.S. and is likely to further aggravate relations between the two countries.

State Department officials said the four organizations, including state-run CCTV, will be required to submit the identities of all staff in the U.S. and any real estate holdings just as they would if they were foreign embassies or consulates.

The five other Chinese organizations were directed to cap the number of people they can employ in the United States in March – a month after they were designated as foreign missions.

China responded by revoking the media credentials of all American journalists at The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

State Department officials said the organizations are essentially mouthpieces for the Communist Party and Chinese government, not legitimate news outlets.

The U.S. designated Soviet outlets as foreign missions during the Cold War. That precedent reflects the bitter state of relations between the United States and China, which are at odds over the origin and response to the coronavirus, trade, human rights and other issues.

US says its embassy in Kabul battling coronavirus outbreak

US says its embassy in Kabul battling coronavirus outbreak

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FILE – This Dec. 25, 2013, filer, photo shows a general view of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan after it was hit by rocket fire in Kabul, Afghanistan. The U.S. State Department says Saturday, June 20, 2020 that COVID-19 … more >

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By RAHIM FAIEZ and MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

Saturday, June 20, 2020

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The U.S. State Department says COVID-19 infections have been reported at its embassy in the Afghan capital and affected staff include diplomats, contractors and locals.

The State Department did not say how many were affected. An official at the embassy in Kabul, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, said up to 20 people were infected, the majority of them Nepalese Gurkhas, who provide embassy security.

“The embassy is implementing all appropriate measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” the State Department said in a statement late Friday.

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The infected staff are in isolation in the embassy while the remainder on the compound are being tested, said the embassy official. That official added that embassy staff were told they can expect tighter isolation orders.

The State Department said a sanitization of the premises was being carried out to “prevent further outbreak.”

Afghanistan has 28,424 confirmed coronavirus cases. International aid organizations monitoring the pandemic’s spread in the country say the numbers are much higher because of a lack of testing capabilities as well as access to testing.

Observers also fear the highly contagious coronavirus has spread throughout the country with the return of nearly 300,000 Afghans from Iran, the hardest hit country in the region. Iran has recorded more than 200,000 cases and 9,392 deaths.

Few of the Afghans who returned from Iran were tested before they fanned out across the country to their homes.

Earlier this month, the International Rescue Committee warned Afghanistan was on the brink of a humanitarian disaster mostly because the government does not have the capacity to even test 80% of coronavirus cases.

A handful of NATO troops have also tested positive for the infection. State

___

Lee reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Kathy Gannon in Islamabad contributed to this report

Pompeo to meet top Chinese official in Hawaii amid tensions

Pompeo to meet top Chinese official in Hawaii amid tensions

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks as Attorney General William Barr listens, during a joint briefing, Thursday, June 11, 2020 at the State Department in Washington, on an executive order signed by President Donald Trump aimed at the International Criminal … more >

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By MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is making a brief trip to Hawaii for closed-door talks with a senior Chinese official, as relations between the two nations have plummeted over numerous disputes.

The State Department said Pompeo and his deputy Stephen Biegun left Tuesday for Hawaii but offered no additional detail about his plans. People familiar with the trip said Pompeo and Biegun will meet on Wednesday with a Chinese delegation led by Yang Jiechi, the Chinese Communist Party’s top foreign affairs official.

The private discussions are set to take place at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu and will cover the wide range of issues that have set the world’s two largest economies on a collision path, according to the people familiar with the trip, who were not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

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Washington and Beijing are at odds over trade, China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, human rights, the status of Hong Kong and increasing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea. China has become key element in the 2020 presidential campaign with President Donald Trump and his supporters seeking to make the administration’s tough stance with Beijing a main foreign policy selling point.

Last month, Trump and Pompeo announced that the U.S. would be rescinding special trade and economic privileges it had extended to Hong Kong after the former British territory reverted to Chinese control in 1997. The move was in response to Beijing’s decision to impose strict new national security laws limiting the right to free speech and assembly similar to those on the mainland.

And, since last year, both sides have ramped up hostile rhetoric against the other and taken reciprocal steps to expel journalists and restrict diplomats’ ability to travel.

The presence of Biegun, who is also the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, on the trip suggested that the stalemate in the Trump administration’s diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang would also be on the agenda.

Earlier Tuesday, North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office building just north of the heavily armed border with South Korea, in a carefully choreographed, largely symbolic display of anger that puts pressure on Washington and Seoul as nuclear diplomacy remains deadlocked. The last face-to-face meeting between the two sides was in October outside Stockholm, Sweden.

In a brief statement acknowledging the destruction of the office, the State Department said “the United States fully supports the ROK’s efforts on inter-Korean relations and urges the DPRK to refrain from further counterproductive actions.” ROK refers to South Korea’s official name, the Republic of Korea, and DPRK is shorthand for the country’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The destruction came after the North marked the two-year anniversary of Trump’s first meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last week with defiant statements vowing never again to give the president anything he could present as a foreign policy success without significant concessions.

Trump policy change frightens Cubans, shows Washington chaos

Trump policy change frightens Cubans, shows Washington chaos

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People stand outside a Western Union in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana, Cuba, Friday, June 12, 2020. Fincimex is a Cuban state corporation that works with foreign credit-card and money-transfer businesses and handles remittances sent to Cuba through Western Union … more >

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By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN and MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

Friday, June 12, 2020

HAVANA (AP) – A week and a half ago, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a strongly worded announcement that the Trump administration was prohibiting business with Fincimex, a Cuban state corporation that works with foreign credit card and money transfer businesses, among others.

Many ordinary Cubans panicked.

Fincimex handles hundreds of millions of dollars in remittances sent to Cuba through Western Union by families in Cuban-American communities in South Florida and around the nation. Would a ban on business with the military-run company mean an end to the remittances that so many Cuban families need to put food on the table?

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The State and Treasury departments wouldn’t say. Meanwhile, thousands of families rushed to send money before the ban went into effect on Friday.

What happened next offers a small window into the chaos behind the administration’s execution of one of its top foreign policy priorities – weakening the communist-run Cuban government and its longstanding alliance with President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela.

As expected, the administration published a regulation Friday in the Federal Register – the official gazette of the U.S. government. The new rule sanctions anyone doing business with military-run businesses in Cuba, including three hotels, two scuba-diving centers and a swimming-with-dolphins center at a beach resort in eastern Cuba.

But it doesn’t mention Fincimex. That led Cuba-watchers to speculate Friday morning that the Trump administration had simply backed off its threat to potentially cut remittances to Cuba. A few hours later, the State Department said omitting Fincimex had simply been a clerical error and the Cuban company would indeed be sanctioned.

“The correction will be published in the Federal Register in the coming days,’’ the State Department said.

The new regulation will not, however, actually affect Americans’ ability to send remittances to family in Cuba, according to a person familiar with the process.

Western Union is expected to be able to continue sending money to Cuba through Fincimex even after the new ban goes into effect, the person said on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. company declined to comment on any future regulations, saying Friday simply that “we can confirm that our business and services from the U.S. to Cuba are operating as usual and in compliance with U.S. law and regulations.”

A U.S. bank that works with MasterCard to operate a small number of cards allowing cash withdrawals at ATMs in Cuba cut off those cards on Thursday evening, but otherwise the Fincimex ban was expected to have a minimal impact on the island, said Collin Laverty, who runs head of Cuba Educational Travel, one of the largest companies bringing U.S. travelers to Cuba. Laverty also consults for U.S. companies who want to do business in Cuba.

“It kind of is symbolic of the Trump approach to Cuba, which is to make a lot of noise, cause a lot of confusion,’’ he said. “Sometimes they follow though with regulations, sometimes they don’t … the policy’s been extremely inconsistent and incoherent.”

Despite Western Union’s reassurances, many Cubans and their families in the U.S. have spent the last week assuming that remittances were about to be cut off in the middle of one of Cuba’s deepest economic crises in decades, fueled in large part by the near-total closure of flights in and out of the island due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Yadamis Roque is a 47-year-old homemaker with a disabled 20-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son. She lives on remittances sent by her mother in Florida.

As she waited on line outside a Western Union in Havana on a recent weekday, she said she was still assuming that her lifeline was about to be cut off.

“I will be affected,’’ she said. “This has been a really heavy blow … why do we have to suffer as a result of this, and in the middle of a pandemic!’’

____

Associated Press writer Michael Weissenstein reported this story in Havana and AP writer Matthew Lee reported from Washington. AP writer Andrea Rodríguez in Havana contributed to this report.

Democratic lawmakers seek records on Russian ventilators

Democratic lawmakers seek records on Russian ventilators

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President Donald Trump answers questions from reporters during an event on protecting seniors with diabetes in the Rose Garden White House, Tuesday, May 26, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By KEVIN FREKING

Associated Press

Thursday, May 28, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) – House Democrats are calling on the Trump administration to provide records related to the purchase of ventilators from Russia, asserting that the machines were not only unsafe for use but also were made by a subsidiary of a Russian company under U.S. sanctions.

The lawmakers, who lead five House committees and subcommittees, sent the request to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

They are protesting that the U.S. donated hundreds of ventilators to Russia after buying machines from Moscow in the early weeks of the pandemic that were not immediately usable. The same model, Aventa-M, reportedly caused fires in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency has confirmed that no Aventa-M ventilators purchased from Russia have been used in the U.S., but lawmakers still have concerns.

“These misguided decisions waste millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars, undermine our foreign policy and national security interests, and impair our nation’s ability to combat the coronavirus,” the lawmakers wrote.

The lawmakers said the State Department received a final invoice from Russia for $659,283. They are seeking all records and communications between the State Department and the White House related to the shipments and a summary of a March 30 call between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as other records.

The White House referred questions to the State Department, which did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

After earlier concerns about a shortage of ventilators, the Trump administation now says the U.S. has a surplus and has begun to sell or donate ventilators to other nations dealing with an influx of patients with COVID-19. The president has been describing the U.S. as the “king of ventilators.”

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“We greatly underestimated the degree to which Beijing is ideologically and politically hostile to free nations. The whole world is waking up to that fact,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday. (Associated Press) more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

President Trump is preparing tougher new policies toward China as a result of Beijing’s mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday.

Mr. Trump already has shifted U.S. policies on trade and economic relations, imposing tariffs on Chinese goods and demanding more reciprocal trade relations.

Mr. Pompeo, talking to reporters at the State Department, said the president is considering how to respond to China’s mishandling of the virus that began in Wuhan in December, missteps Mr. Pompeo blamed on the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

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China’s government withheld key details about the virus, including samples and details of its infectiousness, and supplied the World Health Organization with incorrect information about the extent of disease’s outbreak and transmissibility, critics say.

China also allowed millions of people from Wuhan to travel around the country and globally during the mid-January Lunar New Year celebrations. Many were infected with the virus and helped spread it.

“I don’t want to get ahead of [Mr. Trump] in terms of talking about how the administration will respond to that, but you can already begin to see the outlines of it,” Mr. Pompeo said Wednesday.

New sanctions related to China’s work to dominate the global market on emerging 5G telecommunications technology and stepped-up efforts to block Chinese control over rare earth mineral supplies needed for high-technology manufacturing are among the new policies, he added.

“We continue to work on this to develop an appropriate way to think about how we can get the Chinese Communist Party and China to behave in a way that’s consistent with how we ask every nation to behave,” Mr. Pompeo said.

Mr. Pompeo stepped up his harsh criticism of the CCP, accusing Beijing of destroying coronavirus samples needed by virus investigators to deal with the global pandemic.

More broadly, Mr. Pompeo criticized what he termed China’s “brutal authoritarian regime” and said longtime efforts by Republican and Democratic administrations to appease that regime had failed.

“For several decades, we thought the regime would become more like us through trade, scientific exchanges, diplomatic outreach, letting them in the [World Trade Organization] as a developing nation,” he said. “That didn’t happen. We greatly underestimated the degree to which Beijing is ideologically and politically hostile to free nations. The whole world is waking up to that fact.”

A recent Pew public opinion poll found that 66% of the American public now has an unfavorable view of China, up from 47% three years ago.

Mr. Pompeo said the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan has prompted more realistic views of communist China.

“The party chose to destroy live virus samples instead of sharing them or asking us to help secure them,” he said.

Additionally, China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, has stepped up claims for more islets and reefs in the disputed South China Sea, in areas the United States has declared as international waters and China is claiming as its maritime territory.

Chinese gunboats recently sank a Vietnamese fishing boat as part of the waterway dispute and threatened a Malaysian energy survey effort, while declaring a unilateral fishing ban in the region. “The United States condemns these unlawful act,” Mr. Pompeo said.

ANTI-HYPERSONIC SATELLITE PLANS

The Pentagon’s Space Development Agency made public its plan to build a series of satellites capable of tracking ultra-fast hypersonic missiles, like those deployed by China and Russia.

The program was announced in a draft request for contract proposals from the agency May 11 and provides the first clues to the military’s efforts to track and knock out the new generation of hypersonic missiles — maneuvering weapons that travel 7,000 miles per hour and are faster than many anti-missile interceptors.

The contract notice posted on the SDA website states that adversaries want to undermine American advantages in space by exploiting vulnerabilities in military satellite systems.

“In addition, these potential adversaries are developing and demonstrating multi-domain threats to national security much faster than the U.S. can deploy responsive space-based capabilities,” the proposal states.

The new agency was set up last year to play a key role in identifying threats and building weapons and other capabilities for space warfare. A key first step is creating a sensor and data transport system mainly based in low Earth orbit — about 1,200 miles or less above the planet.

The eight-satellite tracking layer system, when deployed by 2022, will “provide global indications, warning, tracking and targeting of advanced missile threats, including hypersonic missile systems,” the proposal states.

The satellites will provide both wide and medium fields of views and will use infrared sensors “with sufficient sensitivity and processing to detect hypersonic vehicles from low Earth orbit.”

Sensors are viewed by the military as the key to shooting down hypersonic missiles with interceptors, lasers or other weapons.

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, until last year the Strategic Command commander, said the Pentagon needs the new satellites closer to Earth than the higher orbit missile-warning satellites now deployed.

“You can’t defend against something that you can’t see,” Gen. Hyten, now vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told SpaceNews at a symposium.

Hypersonic missiles are difficult to track because of their speed and maneuverability. Current U.S. missile defenses were designed to knock out missiles and warheads moving in predictable, non-maneuvering flight paths.

The Air Force on Sunday launched the secretive unmanned space plane known as the X-37B, which analysts say is being developed for space warfare. Officially, the military calls the space plane an orbiting test vehicle.

“The X-37B team continues to exemplify the kind of lean, agile and forward-leaning technology development we need as a nation in the space domain,” said Air Force Gen. John Raymond, Space Force chief of space operations.

The orbiter’s sixth mission is the first with a service module attached to the back of the vehicle for experiments.

No details of its military or weapons work were provided by the Space Command announcement of the launch.

GEC ON CHINESE DISINFORMATION

A report by the State Department’s Global Engagement Center outlines Chinese disinformation themes being promoted by Beijing on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The April report analyzed themes put out by Chinese actors, along with complementary disinformation and propaganda employed by Russia and Iran.

“Although these actors regularly engage in disinformation and propaganda operations on a wide variety of geopolitical issues, COVID-19-related disinformation is especially irresponsible and harmful to vulnerable audiences around the globe,” the report said.

The GEC tracked what it calls “a surge” in Chinese government disinformation operations against the U.S. “as a means to veil their poor public health response” to the pandemic.

The operations involved flooding the global information space with false narratives.

“Their current convergence on COVID-19 disinformation has accelerated as the pandemic increasingly impacts the world and these regimes struggle to control public opinion in their own countries,” the report said.

During the period between Jan. 20 and March 24, the GEC noted a number of Chinese disinformation themes, such as that “the virus did not originate in Wuhan,” that the “U.S. is weaponizing crisis for political gain” and the “U.S. is racist.”

The disinformation operations first were published through “fringe” media outlets suspected of being linked to state actors. Later, the same themes were directly mouthed by government officials or by state and proxy media outlets.

As the operations sped up after March, new and more brazen lies were put forth, including that the virus did not originate in China and was a U.S. bioweapon. The disinformation then falsely accused U.S. troops of spreading the virus in China.

For the Chinese, the propaganda also spread the misinformation that “China’s system of government better able to handle virus,” the report said.

Bill Gertz is The Washington Times’ national security correspondent. Contact him on Twitter at @BillGertz.

China deception fuels fears of biological weapons ethnic ‘experiments’

Chinese deception fuels fears of ethnic biological weapons ‘experiments’

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In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping, second right, wearing a protective face mask, talks to a medical staff members during his visit to the Academy of Military Medical Sciences in Beijing, Monday, March 2, … more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Chinese government deception regarding the coronavirus outbreak is raising new fears about Beijing’s biological weapons activities, including population-specific research on germ weapons capable of attacking ethnic groups, according to current and former U.S. officials.

A senior Trump administration official told The Washington Times that China is known to be engaged in a covert program that includes development of biological weapons capable of attacking ethnic groups with pathogens.

“We are looking at potential biological experiments on ethnic minorities,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.

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Details about the activities were obtained from sources with direct knowledge of the Chinese programs and are contained in intelligence reports that may be declassified for public release in the future.

The official said China’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak has heightened concerns about its secret biological weapons work. Beijing hid early indicators of how infectious the coronavirus was and delayed warning the world.

“We continue to have concerns with China’s BWC compliance as well as their international obligations,” the official said, referring to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, an international treaty that prohibits the development and production of biological agents. “If we’ve learned nothing else through this COVID episode, it’s that China cannot be trusted to do the right thing.”

China signed the BWC treaty in 1984, and more than 100 other countries have joined. Article 5 requires signatories to “consult one another and to cooperate in solving any problems” related to biological threats.

Since the coronavirus outbreak began in December, China has refused to allow international investigators to examine research work on bat-origin coronaviruses conducted at two Wuhan laboratories.

A spokesman for the Chinese mission to the United Nations did not return emails or telephone calls seeking comment.

National security officials focused on international biological weapons security protocols have been concerned about Bejing’s activities for years.

Sources who spoke with The Times pointed to China’s contribution to a U.N. guide to biological security in 2011 that detailed Beijing’s own concerns relating to rapid technological advancements to create population-specific biological weapons and other exotic pathogens capable of attacking ethnic groups.

China did not say in the document that it had its own active program to develop such capabilities, but U.S. intelligence officials and some foreign affairs experts said Beijing did and continues to have such a program.

Some said the language Chinese officials used in the 2011 U.N. guide, which Beijing did not make public at the time, offered a window into their government research activities.

In the document, titled “Preventing Biological Threats: What You Can Do,” Chinese officials laid out their unease that scientific breakthroughs to “combat disease and improve health” could be unleashed as effective weapons. Chinese officials also cited “targeted drug-delivery technology making it easier to spread pathogens,” as well as “population-specific genetic markers” and the “creation of man-made pathogens.”

The U.N. guidebook was a compilation of information from 12 nations participating in the 2011 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, known as the BWC. An addendum, “New scientific and technological developments relevant to the Convention,” includes background information on nations’ submissions.

Several participants revealed ongoing research that could have either offensive or defense biological weapons applications.

The United States disclosed work on advances in manipulating genetic material and microorganisms, awareness-raising communication, confidence-building and scientific conduct, export controls and improvements in biosafety.

One current and two former officials said the prospect that China could develop ethnic-related biological weapons is chilling.

Paula DeSutter, a former assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation, said China, in the 2011 document, was “admitting to pursuing these activities, which is not surprising since each is clearly indicative of an intent to employ biological weapons, in some cases against specific populations.”

“One has to tremble at the notion that Wuhan may have been an experiment to test all of these items they were working on as far back as 2011,” Ms. DeSutter told The Times.

The notion appears to be bolstered by recent Chinese military writings.

Retired Chinese Gen. Zhang Shibo wrote in his 2017 book, “New Highland of War,” that biotechnology advances were increasing the likelihood of offensive bioweapons, including the danger of “specific ethnic genetic attacks.”

That same year, the Chinese military-run National Defense University’s annual Science of Military Strategy report for the first time included a section on biology as a domain of warfare. The document said germ conflict could include “specific ethnic genetic attacks.”

U.S. officials outlined their concerns about China’s biological weapons programs in a recent executive summary of the State Department’s annual arms control compliance report.

“During the reporting period, the People’s Republic of China (China) engaged in biological activities with potential dual-use applications, some of which raise concerns regarding its compliance with Article I of the BWC,” the report said.

Article 1 states that signatories to the BWC agree never to develop, produce or stockpile biological or toxin weapons, or to build weapons or equipment to deliver the arms.

The State Department’s 2020 compliance report, as well as reports produced by the department in 2005 and 2010, assessed that China maintained “some elements of an offensive [biological weapons] capability” in violation of the BWC.

The 2020 report also said China’s own confidence-building measure reports failed to document Beijing’s past offensive biological weapons program or its remaining stockpiles of those weapons.

A former senior Trump administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity expressed particular concern over the prospect that China has been conducting population-specific and other research with applications for biological weapons.

The concerns began receiving attention in the State Department’s annual arms compliance report in 2019. Before that, the State Department and the intelligence community largely played down such concerns, the former official said.

Although China’s 2011 submission to the U.N. guidebook does not provide clear evidence that Beijing is trying to develop ethnic cleansing biological weapons, the former official said the Chinese military writings emphasizing biological warfare as a new domain raises serious concerns.

“This is dual-use research, which is why it does raise the specter of China having an offensive capability,” the former official said. “What the Chinese are unable to say is that [population-specific genetic research] has a peaceful application.”

China did not make public its formal submission to the 2011 U.N. guidebook regarding Beijing’s BWC-related research.

However, He Yafei, who was China’s ambassador to the U.N. office in Geneva, wrote at the time that closely monitoring bioscience and technology developments was needed to maintain the effectiveness of the BWC.

China supports efforts to enhance the monitoring and assessment of the impacts of the advancement of biotechnology under the framework of the convention, with a view to preventing the hostile use of biotechnology and making it better serve the mankind,” Mr. He wrote.

China has said it is working on synthetic biology, which experts believe could be used to edit gene sequences to create viruses weaponized to infect a specific person.

A U.S. submission to a 2016 review conference on biological security said the threat of biological and toxin weapons is neither abstract nor theoretical.

“Scientific advances and the increasingly widespread availability of key materials, equipment and knowledge put such weapons within reach of more actors — whether state or non-state — than ever before,” the submission said.

“Biological weapons have been used in the past to horrific effect, and there is clear evidence that terrorist groups, individuals, and states continue to pursue these abhorrent weapons.”

Beijing is engaged in mass repression of several minorities, including Uighurs and other Muslims in western China. An estimated 1 million are being held in concentration camps, which Chinese officials call reeducation centers.

China also has targeted Tibetans for repression. The Chinese military has annexed the southwestern region, and many Tibetans remain loyal to the Buddhist leader Dalai Lama and are seeking independence.

The information about China’s 2011 BWC submission was contained in a report posted on the Geneva-based BWC information support unit website.

It was funded by the British and Canadian governments and reflects the findings of experts who met on the sidelines of the review conference in Geneva in January 2011.

State Department unveils new global maritime advisory for shippers to avoid sanctions

State Department unveils new global maritime advisory for shippers to avoid sanctions

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The State Department on Thursday issued a new advisory to the global maritime industry that highlights shipping practices that Iran, North Korea and Syria use to avoid sanctions.

The guidance, known as a Global Maritime Advisory, provides a set of “best practices” that private ships and insurers in the energy and metals sector can reference to avoid sanctions risk.

“The United States remains committed to disrupting shipping activities by malign actors worldwide — including sanctions evasion and smuggling — which may facilitate criminal activity and threatens international peace and security,” the department said in a statement announcing the advisory.

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The advisory includes guidance to not store Iranian oil and warnings to ships to not turn off their transponders, Reuters reported.

The department said the advisory is “intended to provide actors that utilize the maritime industry for trade with information on and tools to counter current and emerging trends in sanctions evasion related to shipping and associated services.”

Iran has repeatedly attempted to impede the flow of oil through the Middle East as a direct response to the Trump administration’s global embargo on all exports of Iranian oil.

The embargo is a key piece of a broader set of economic sanctions designed to drive Iran back to the negotiating table, but key U.S. allies have hesitated to fully join the pressure campaign. The U.S. has placed similar restrictions on Syria and North Korea, among other international actors.

State Department told to revisit sexual listing on passports

State Department told to revisit sexual listing on passports

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FILE – This July 20, 2016, file photo, shows Dana Zzyym, of Fort Collins, Colo., outside the federal courthouse in Denver. Under a ruling from a federal appeals court, the U.S. State Department is once again being ordered to consider … more >

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By COLLEEN SLEVIN

Associated Press

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

DENVER (AP) – Under a ruling from a federal appeals court, the U.S. State Department is once again being ordered to consider whether to grant an intersex person a passport if they do not specify a gender.

On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver concluded the State Department had authority to deny an application with no gender specified but had exercised it in an arbitrary and capricious manner with some of its stated reasons not supported by evidence.

The judges said the State Department should reconsider the application by Dana Zzyym because it’s not clear if it would have reached the same conclusion without relying on those reasons, including its assertion that there is no medical consensus on who is intersex.

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In a statement released by Lambda Legal, which is representing Zzyym, Zzyym said the most recent ruling was disappointing but the bid to get a passport would continue.

“I’m not deterred. I knew this would be a long battle and I’m ready to continue the fight,” Zzyym said.

The State Department declined to comment on the ruling.

Zzyym was born with ambiguous physical sexual characteristics and identifies as nonbinary in gender. Zzyym was first denied a passport in 2015 after requesting “X″ as a gender marker.

In 2016, U.S. District Judge Brooke Jackson ordered the department to reconsider Zzyym’s application. He then threw out the department’s second rejection from 2017, when all U.S. states listed only two genders on their identity documents.

The State Department has argued that allowing an “X” as a gender marker would complicate the process of verifying an applicant’s identity and determining eligibility based on federal, state and local databases.

However, attorneys general from California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state filed a brief in support of Zzyym’s case in 2019, saying adding nonbinary gender designations on their driver’s licenses and other documents has not caused any problems.

They said the State Department’s refusal to recognize nonbinary gender would make it harder to verify someone’s identity in government databases, not easier.

Amid pandemic, Pompeo to visit Israel for annexation talks

Amid pandemic, Pompeo to visit Israel for annexation talks

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks about the coronavirus during news conference at the State Department in Washington on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool Photo via AP) more >

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By MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

Friday, May 8, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Israel next week for a brief visit amid the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, a trip that’s expected to focus on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to annex portions of the West Bank, the State Department said Friday.

Pompeo will make the lightning trip to Jerusalem to see Netanyahu and his new coalition partner Benny Gantz on Wednesday as the Trump administration tries to return to business as normal by resuming governmental travel and reopening an economy devastated by the COVID-19 outbreak. The State Department formally announced the trip more than a week after plans for it first surfaced and a day after some Israeli media outlets reported it.

Pompeo will “discuss U.S. and Israeli efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as regional security issues related to Iran’s malign influence,” spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. “The U.S. commitment to Israel has never been stronger than under President Trump’s leadership. The United States and Israel will face threats to the security and prosperity of our peoples together. In challenging times, we stand by our friends, and our friends stand by us.”

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The top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, David Schenker, declined to comment on the status of the annexation discussions, noting that a joint U.S.-Israeli mapping committee had not yet completed its work in determining the specific boundaries that might be proposed by Israel or accepted by the United States.

Alone among most governments, the Trump administration has said it will support the annexation of West Bank territory claimed by the Palestinians for an eventual state as long as Israel agrees to enter peace talks with the Palestinians.

Pompeo and his small traveling party will need exemptions from Israel’s own virus restrictions that bar foreign visitors from entering and require returning Israelis to self-quarantine for 14 days. Pompeo will be on the ground in Israel for only several hours on Wednesday before returning to Washington from his first overseas trip since making an unannounced visit to Afghanistan in March.

Dr. William Walters, the State Department’s deputy director of medical operations, said the visit would be “highly choreographed” with Pompeo and his party undergoing frequent medical checks and wearing protective masks when necessary. Walters said there would be no quarantine imposed on the traveling party.

Schenker said Pompeo was making the trip “at the invitation of the Israeli government” to show the strong relationship between the new nations at a period of global unease over the pandemic. “We’re such a close ally, I think it’s important,” he told reporters on a conference call.

He said threats posed by Iran to Israel, the Middle East and beyond would be a prime topic of conversation, along with U.S. concerns about potential Israeli commercial activity with China. “Business with the Chinese is an issue of concern for us with Israel and across the region,” he said. “We speak often to our friends in Israel about these risks.”

Pompeo’s arrival will coincide with the swearing-in of Israel’s new government, which is expected to be sworn in on May 13.

After battling to a stalemate in three inconclusive elections over the past year, Netanyahu and his chief rival, former army chief Gantz, last month agreed to form a joint government.

Under the deal, Netanyahu will serve as prime minister while Gantz will hold the new position of ‘alternate prime minister,’ giving each side effective veto power over the other. The pair agreed to trade positions after 18 months.

Their ‘emergency’ government is meant to focus on the coronavirus crisis over its first six months. But their coalition agreement also permits Netanyahu to introduce an annexation proposal to the government after July 1, even if Gantz objects.

Annexation advocates believe they have a narrow window to redraw the Mideast map before November’s U.S. presidential election. They also believe it would give Trump a boost with pro-Israel voters, particularly the politically influential evangelical Christian community. The presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, has said he opposed unilateral moves by Israel in keeping with what had been decades of U.S. policy prior to Trump.

The annexation agreement says that any step must be coordinated with the U.S. while also keeping regional stability and peace agreements in consideration.

Netanyahu’s plan to annex portions of the West Bank has been met with harsh criticism from nearly the entire international community, including Washington’s European allies and key Arab partners, with the prominent exception of the United States. President Donald Trump’s much-vaunted Mideast peace plan allows for the possibility of U.S. recognition of such annexations provided Israel agrees to negotiate under the framework of the proposal that was unveiled in January.

That plan calls for the creation of a Palestinian state but gives it limited autonomy on a fraction of the land it has sought. The Palestinians have rejected the proposal outright.

___

Joe Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Farms scramble for answers as coronavirus threatens workers

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Denton Benedict stands inside one of the greenhouses at Benedict’s Produce in Franklin County, Pa., Friday, April 10, 2020. This year the agricultural industry was thrown a curve ball with COVID-19. Now as harvest season approaches, farmers are facing new … more >

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By MARIANA VELOSO and Hanover Evening Sun

Associated Press

Saturday, April 25, 2020

HANOVER, Pa. (AP) – In farming, there are many unknowns. The economy, weather and customer demand can affect crops and ultimately a farmer’s bottom line.

This year the agricultural industry was thrown a curve ball with COVID-19. Now as harvest season approaches, farmers are facing new questions about the availability of workers and how to keep them safe.

Farms in Adams and Franklin counties rank No. 1 and 3, respectively, in Pennsylvania for fruit, tree nut and berry sales.

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“Generally, one of the biggest concerns right now and we’re hearing from our members, especially Adams and Franklin and areas where fruit growing is the primary agriculture sector, it’s just access to workers,” said Liam Migdail of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

The potential shortage comes from recent restrictions to international workers in light of COVID-19 and fears about what to do if too many employees get sick.

“That would shut us down in a heartbeat. If we all got the coronavirus, OK, nobody could work, the fruit falls on the ground … ,” said Kay Hollabaugh, co-owner and manager at Hollabaugh Bros. Inc. in Butler Township. But, in the meantime, the farm is trying to stay positive and keeping their workers “safe and healthy.”

Not only could a shortage of workers affect a farmer’s ability to pick their produce to sell, but it could also mean fewer options available for customers in stores and an increase in unemployment.

But some farmers say it’s too early to tell if coronavirus regulations are going to affect their ability to harvest fruits and vegetables since many begin between May and July.

“We don’t even know if (workers are) going to be able to come, so working on stuff that we may not have to work on is not something that we tend to do,” said Chris Baugher, co-owner of Adams County Nursery in Menallen Township.

‘Locals don’t want the work’

In 2016, the fruit industry contributed $580 million to the Adams County economy, creating 8,500 jobs and $16.4 million in local tax revenue, according to a study commissioned by Adams County Fruit Growers, Penn State Extension and others.

The South Mountain Fruit Belt produces 70 percent of Pennsylvania’s total crop, which is about 400 to 500 million pounds of apples a year.

Franklin County is also ranked No. 2 in the state for production of vegetables, melons, potatoes and sweet potatoes.

In 2019, there were more than 1,800 guest workers in Pennsylvania through the H-2A visa program.

Denton Benedict, co-owner of Benedict’s Produce in Franklin County, usually employs around 90 workers through this visa program.

The program allows agricultural employers to hire temporary workers from outside the U.S. to perform temporary or seasonal work when there’s a lack of available domestic workers, according to Farmers.gov.

“Not being able to find good help locally is the reason that we went to the H-2A program,” said Baugher, who usually hires around 24 workers out of Honduras.

The H-2A program requires that participants attempt to fill jobs with domestic workers, which farmers say is difficult.

“For example, we’ve had our (job) ad out since two months or something, I haven’t got a single response, so if that tells you anything (it’s) that locals don’t want to work (picking vegetables),” Benedict said.

At Adams County Nursery, one apple picker will pick 150 to 200 bushels of apples a day within the span of three months. Baugher said the year before he began employing H-2A workers in 2017, they lost 5,000 bushels, that’s between $4 to $10 a bushel.

Hollabaugh said that they do not hire H-2A workers, but they also have a hard time hiring domestic workers because people aren’t interested.

“We’ve been in business since 1955, I’ve been involved in the business for probably 35 years, and I would say in the last 10 to 15 years there’s been a dramatic shift away from anyone domestic wanting to apply for any of our jobs,” Hollabaugh said.

Hollabaugh said some of the factors in this includes:

– People don’t have the skills to do this kind of work anymore.

– It’s hard physical labor. Domestic workers don’t want to work in the 95 degree weather, with humidity, carrying a crate around their neck that weighs 35 pounds.

– The pay is lower than what a domestic person will work for. Hollabaugh said they pay $10 to $15 an hour for people with skills and minimum wage for those without any skills, like high school students.

“There is a skill set involved,” Hollabaugh said. “The people who work for us who harvest our fruits and vegetables are very skilled, they’re very fast, they come to work in the morning with the sole purpose in mind to work to the best of their ability because we’re giving them a job, and they’re so grateful for it.”

On March 20, the U.S. Department of State temporarily suspended routine visa services like in-person interviews at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates in response to the pandemic. Embassies in Mexico, which last year supplied 91 percent of H-2A workers to the U.S., were the first to implement this policy.

On March 26, the State Department released an announcement allowing consular officers to waive visa interview requirements for first-time and returning H-2 applicants who have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility.

“There was some changes that happened at the State Department to try and make it available for more workers to come in but it didn’t fix the whole problem. We’re still advocating to try to get more access to H-2A workers,” Migdail said.

While Benedict said that his application seems to be moving along he does expect that his workers’ arrival date will be pushed back.

“If we don’t get our help, I mean, we’re already laying plastic, we got the greenhouses full of plants so we’re counting on that,” Benedict said. “If that would fall through, I mean that would be devastating.”

Keeping workers healthy, virus-free

Employers that use the H-2A program are required to provide transportation and housing for their workers.

At Adams County Nursery, migrant workers are housed in a barrack-style camp that fits about 16 people and two house trailers that can house 12 more.

These living conditions do not allow for self-quarantine in case an employee gets coronavirus. Baugher hopes that by the time he needs these employees in June it won’t be a problem anymore.

“We’ve thought about maybe the need to quarantine them when they arrive for two weeks, but we haven’t thought about what a quarantine would look like if when we had them here we would need to quarantine them (individually),” Baugher said.

Hollabaugh hires migrant workers that are already in the country. She said they have not looked into how their employees can self-quarantine yet either since their harvesting season isn’t until the Fourth of July.

“Right now we are going like the rest of the world, day to day. … Certainly my hope and prayer is that by the Fourth of July it’s not an issue anymore. That’s my prayer, but if it still is an issue that is absolutely something that we will be addressing, we will be following the CDC guidelines and doing whatever is required of us,” Hollabaugh said.

Their camp is made up of apartment units available for singles and families, which would allow individuals to self-quarantine.

“I think it’s reasonable to say that we can expect that there’s going to be some shortages as a result of this,” Migdail said. “I mean if people’s kids are out of school or daycares close, they get sick, a family member gets sick, I think those ripple effects of not necessarily being able to have the workers you usually do are absolutely a concern.”

As part of the U.S. government’s attempt to help encourage employees to choose their health over their paycheck, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.

This includes farmers who employ less than 500 people, Migdail said.

“We are also mindful of the financial strain this places on many farms, who are already operating on tight margins and contending with the economic fallout of the pandemic,” Migdail said. “We are advocating for farms to be able to access the assistance they need to remain viable during this time.”

‘If we don’t have the workers … you’re also gonna lose farms’

A shortage of farm workers has much greater consequences than just less hands to pick the fruits and vegetables grown in Franklin and Adams counties. Nationally, this shortage could mean less produce available for customers and less employment opportunities.

“There’s a lot of jobs in between the apple tree on the farm and in the orchard and the bin at the grocery store. … The whole industry as a whole employs a lot of people, and it generates extra economic boom for the areas as a result of that,” Migdail said.

Benedict said he knows a lot of farmers that rely on H-2A workers to keep their farms going.

“If they would shut down the H-2A … that would drastically impact the food for sure and prices will go up or else there will be a shortage of it,” Benedict said. “That’s why I think they’re trying pretty hard to let the H-2A stuff still go because I think they realized that it would cripple agriculture.”

Baugher said that if this shortage goes too far, the effects could be much more long term.

“The ag industries have not been faring well the last three or four years, and if they can’t pay the bank they’re gonna go away. … If we don’t have the workers to harvest the crops, you’re gonna lose jobs, you’re gonna have higher price produce on the shelves and you’re also gonna lose farms, I believe,” Baugher said.

For Benedict, one challenge he thinks he will have is selling his “crooked cucumbers or mis-shapen peppers” because of restaurant closures.

“Whereas the stores all want your nice looking, No. 1 stuff, so I have a feeling there’s gonna be a lot dumped because of that,” Benedict said.

But he knows that in the end, people have to eat.

“We’re just rolling with it and we’ll see what happens, not much else you can do. … We’re gonna do our best to provide it to them as long as we can get a reasonable price for stuff and we have the help to do it,” Benedict said.

All he asks of the public is to shop local and fresh when possible.

“Maybe with this virus people will pay more attention to that, they might want local, fresh stuff and know where it’s coming from. … We just keep on doing what we’re doing and try to make a living.” Benedict said.

Trying to stay up-to-date with precautions

In the meantime, farmers are doing what they can to stay sanitary and ensure that the public can get their produce.

At Hollabaugh Bros., market employees are wearing masks and gloves while all employees are also being asked to stay at home if they feel sick or don’t feel safe coming into work.

“My son takes care of the production crew, and he has been talking regularly with them about the CDC mandates, if you’re sick stay home, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, keep the distance,” Hollabaugh said.

Baugher said they are doing what they can to keep employees at the nursery separated by keeping groups smaller then 10 and staggering lunches. At times it can be hard though, like when workers are packaging trees into boxes that are 5 feet long.

Baugher said they are hesitant to use N95 masks because of the shortage.

“We didn’t figure we (should) put any more pressure on that market at the moment, than there already is.”

While farms are doing everything to stay compliant, Hollabaugh said it can be hard to keep up with all the changes that come with every passing day.

“Every day is a new day with a new set of challenges that we’re reading, what are the regulations now, what are they saying now, can we do this, should we do this or wait? It’s crazy,” Hollabaugh said.

One change they’re now facing is how they are going to market their crop. Usually, the Hollabaugh farm allows customers to pick out their individual produce but that isn’t safe to do this year

“Everything that’s coming in here right now that is not grown by us is being packaged in plastic, I mean with a worker who has a mask on and gloves on, that person is packing it in plastic so that no hands are ever touching it,” Hollabaugh said.

If this continues, they will have to take the same precautions for peaches. Though, there is no evidence that human or animal food or food packaging is associated with transmission of COVID-19, according to a news release from the Pa. Department of Agriculture.

“It’s vital that they’re able to keep doing what they’re doing through this and that creates a whole other set of challenges,” Migdail said. “OK, you are essential and you’re going to keep operating but how do you do that in a way that you know works with the new regulations or rules that we’re seeing state, national level and how do you do that in a way that’s safe for yourself, your workers, your family, the public?”

Online:

https://bit.ly/3cwqgM6

___

Information from: The Evening Sun, http://www.eveningsun.com

Americans stuck in Africa trying to bring adopted kids home

Americans stuck in Africa trying to bring adopted kids home

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Story TOpics

This Sept. 13, 2019 photo provided by the family shows Adebambo Alli, left, Robin Gallite and their adopted daughter, Adenike-Rae, at the Lekki Conservation Center, a natural reserve protecting the wetlands of the Lekki peninsula in Nigeria. Stranded in Nigeria … more >

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By DAVID CRARY

Associated Press

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Stranded in Nigeria for months, a Colorado couple had a rare chance to catch an evacuation flight to the U.S. recently during the coronavirus outbreak. But they refused because they would have had to leave behind their adopted daughter, who has yet to get a U.S. visa.

“After we found our daughter and our daughter found us, it was out of the question to leave her,” Robin Gallite said.

Gallite and her husband, Adebambo Alli, who live in Denver, are among several American families facing similar predicaments as the pandemic disrupts travel and slows the final steps needed to bring home children who were adopted abroad.

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The Virginia-based National Council for Adoption says it is following dozens of cases where the foreign adoption is complete and American parents are waiting for their child to receive a visa from the State Department.

“We need to do the right thing and prioritize the health and safety of these families,” council vice president Ryan Hanlon said.

The State Department says foreign adoptions remain a priority but has told families that with routine visa services suspended during the pandemic, their requests for emergency visas may not be granted swiftly, if at all.

The adoption council says nearly all of the cases it’s tracking are from Africa – where many countries, including Nigeria, are not part of the main international convention on adoption and investigations can take longer even under normal circumstances.

Gallite, 41, and Alli, 42, have been in Nigeria since last August, when they arrived to complete the adoption of a baby girl. A Nigerian judge signed off in November, but obtaining a U.S. visa has moved slowly and is now in deeper limbo because of virus-related shutdowns.

While the couple delight in their daughter’s love for dancing and jumping, they ache to return to Denver with 17-month-old Adenike-Rae – nicknamed Nike – and are frustrated by the uncertainty of when that might be possible.

“We’re resilient people – we have to be strong and tough for Nike,” Gallite said. “The stress comes from trying to figure out how to get home.”

In the meantime, they’re staying with Adebambo Alli’s sister. Alli, who was born in the U.S. to a Nigerian family, has worked in Colorado’s energy industry but now has no job and is trying to line one up from Lagos. Gallite is supporting the family by working remotely as deputy director of an arts center in Denver.

Also stranded in Lagos – with her nearly 9-month-old adopted daughter Zoe – is Ufuoma Sada of Columbus, Ohio.

Sada has been in Nigeria since September while her husband, Ebenezer, works as an engineer in Ohio to keep the family afloat. Nigerian authorities approved the adoption in December, but Sada says she has faced delays and communication gaps as she tries to get the U.S. Consulate to make progress on a visa for Zoe.

“We’re now into the fourth month, and nothing has been done,” said Sada, who worries increasingly about the COVID-19 outbreak in Nigeria and wants U.S. authorities to expedite their return.

About 800 miles (more than 1,200 kilometers) east of Lagos, another American family is stranded in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, waiting for the U.S. Embassy to issue visas for 2-year-old twin girls they adopted in Chad in 2018.

David Parker, 29, a former youth pastor at a church in Denver, North Carolina, and his wife, Michaela, 24, moved to Chad two years ago to serve as Christian missionaries.

In January, the couple were told to come to Cameroon to complete the U.S. portion of the adoption process and get U.S. immigration visas for the girls, which the embassy in Chad does not handle.

Because of the pandemic, Parker says it has been difficult to gather all the evidence that U.S. officials requested as part of their investigation. He’s increasingly worried the delays will endanger the health and safety of his family, which includes a 6-month-old son, Philip, as well as twins Ariella and Claira.

“Everything’s basically shut down,” Parker said by phone. “We don’t know when or if we’re going to be able to complete this.”

Like Gallite and Alli, the Parkers were told they could board a U.S.-bound evacuation flight with their biological son but would have to leave their daughters behind.

“For us, that’s not an option,” said Parker, whose family is now restricted to a missionary compound in Yaounde.

The parents are hoping the U.S. government will issue them emergency visas. There’s also a rarely used process called “humanitarian parole,” which allowed some Haitian orphans to come to the U.S. in 2010 after Haiti’s devastating earthquake.

Gallite has asked the State Department to work with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to obtain humanitarian parole for Nike.

“We are stuck abroad and our health and safety is extremely vulnerable here in Nigeria during a pandemic,” she wrote to the State Department last week. “Please bring your U.S. citizens home and our legally adopted daughter.”

In a memo sent to The Associated Press on Monday, the State Department said humanitarian parole is granted “only in rare circumstances where no other immigration avenue exists.” It said families should contact USCIS directly with questions and that requests “generally take several weeks or longer to process.”

The State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues said it had received many inquiries about emergency visas, which can be sought from embassies or consulates where the adoptions took place.

“Because routine visa services have been suspended, parents should be prepared to explain how their circumstances constitute an emergency,” the office said.

___

Crary reported from New York.