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US Offers Condolences at Death of Vietnamese President

15 hours 30 min ago
U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed condolences to the Vietnamese people at the death of their president, Tran Dai Quang, who died Friday at age 61 after a serious illness. In a statement, Trump called Quang “a great friend of the United States” and noted that Quang had “graciously” hosted the U.S. president during his state visit to Vietnam in November last year.  “I am grateful for his personal commitment to deepening the United States-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership,” Trump said Friday. He added, “We will not soon forget his contributions to peace, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region or his voice for Vietnam as a proud and independent nation on the world stage.” Vietnam’s official news agency announced Quang’s death on Friday at the Military Hospital in Hanoi. It said Quang died of “serious illness” but did not elaborate. Quang was last seen in public Wednesday at a Politburo meeting of the Communist Party and a reception for a Chinese delegation.  Quang was a career security officer and served as minister of public security before he was elected president in April 2016.

US Official 'Optimistic' About Resolving Trade Dispute with China 

17 hours 56 min ago
The United States is optimistic about finding a way forward in trade talks with China, but no date has yet been determined for further talks between the two countries, according to a senior White House official.  The official told reporters Friday at the White House that China "must come to the table in a meaningful way" for there to be progress on the trade dispute.  The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said while there is no confirmed meeting between the United States and China, the two countries "remain in touch." "The president's team is all on the same page as to what's required from China," according to the official.  The Trump administration has argued that tariffs on Chinese goods would force China to trade on more favorable terms with the United States. It has demanded that China better protect American intellectual property, including ending the practice of cybertheft. The Trump administration has also called on China to allow U.S. companies greater access to Chinese markets and to cut its U.S. trade surplus. Earlier this week, the United States ordered duties on another $200 billion of Chinese goods to go into effect on September 24. China responded by adding $60 billion of U.S. products to its import tariff list. The United States already has imposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods, and China has retaliated on an equal amount of U.S. goods. Earlier this month, President Donald Trump threatened even more tariffs on Chinese goods — another $267 billion worth of duties that would cover virtually all the goods China imports to the United States. "That changes the equation," he told reporters. China has threatened to retaliate against any potential new tariffs. However, China's imports from the United States are $200 billion a year less than American imports from China, so it would run out of room to match U.S. sanctions.

North Korea, Iran Likely to Dominate Trump's UNGA Address

18 hours 20 min ago
U.S. President Donald Trump returns to the United Nations on Monday for the annual gathering of world leaders. After an international debut last year in which he threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, many are anxious about what message he may bring this year to the U.N. General Assembly. Since last September’s war of words with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — during which Trump memorably called Kim “Rocket Man” and Kim responded from Pyongyang, calling Trump a “dotard” — tensions have cooled dramatically and the two leaders have met amid much fanfare to discuss North Korea’s denuclearization. This year, however, Iran looks to be in Trump’s sights, with members of his administration ramping up the rhetoric ahead of the General Assembly.​ Tough talk U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News on Wednesday that the Trump administration was “working to get Iran to behave like a normal nation” and “stop being the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.” U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley regularly castigates Tehran for its destabilizing role in Syria and Yemen and its support for militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah. “Iran continues to be a problem,” Haley told reporters Thursday. “Every dangerous spot in the world, Iran seems to have their fingerprints in it.” Earlier this year, Trump announced the United States was withdrawing from the Obama-era 2015 deal to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program and reimposing unilateral sanctions on Tehran. In November, companies doing business with Iran will have to stop or risk being shut out of the U.S. financial system. Washington wants to pressure Tehran back to the negotiating table for a new, broader deal. Trump will most likely fault Tehran for its destabilizing behavior in the region and disparage the nuclear deal when he addresses the General Assembly early Tuesday. Experts warn the U.S. might find itself somewhat isolated at the gathering. “The problem for the Trump administration is that many of the U.S.’s allies, including the powers which are signatories to the Iran nuclear deal, they will not join such condemnation,” noted the Middle East Institute’s Ahmad Majidyar. “While these countries share Washington’s concerns about Iran’s controversial ballistic missile program or support for some terrorist and militant groups in the region, they strongly support the nuclear deal and they do not back Washington’s unilateral exit.” The United States also happens to hold the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council this month and is using the opportunity for Trump to chair a meeting Wednesday on nonproliferation. Expect him to talk a lot about Iran. “I am sure that will be the most-watched Security Council meeting ever,” Haley said in a nod to her boss’s love of good television ratings. The president took to his favorite communications medium on Friday morning to promote the session, tweeting, “I will Chair the United Nations Security Council meeting on Iran next week!” ​Likely by Trump's side will be his national security adviser and a former Bush-era U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, who is known for his hard-line views on Iran and his disdain for the United Nations. “Bolton understands how the U.N. works better than others,” Majidyar said. “He would try to shape the discussion at the U.N. on Iran and also try to use both carrot and stick with its allies to gain their support when it comes to Iran.” While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will also be at next week's General Assembly, a meeting between the two leaders is highly unlikely. But expect Rouhani to counter any criticism from Trump during his own address to the assembly hours after Trump's speech, and at a news conference on Wednesday. Talks with North Korea Denuclearization talks with North Korea will also dominate the week. The leaders of North and South Korea this week wrapped a three-day summit in Pyongyang and signed a series of agreements, as relations between the two countries continue to improve. But talks between the U.S. and North Korea have stalled since the June Trump-Kim summit in Singapore. Kim has never attended the General Assembly and will not this year, but Trump will meet Monday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a debriefing on the Pyongyang summit. Pompeo has also invited his North Korean counterpart to meet him in New York. "This will mark the beginning of negotiations to transform U.S.-DPRK relations through the process of rapid denuclearization of North Korea, to be completed by January 2021,” Pompeo said in a statement Wednesday, setting out a timeline for completing Pyongyang’s denuclearization. Pompeo also plans to chair a ministerial-level meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday to discuss North Korea. “It’s a chance for us to look at what we’ve achieved in progress on North Korea,” Haley told reporters this week. “It’s a chance to look at the commitment we want on peace. But it’s also a chance to have the conversation that if we don’t enforce the sanctions, all of this can go away.” Multilateralism in peril? In the year since he made his U.N. debut, Trump has cut funding to the world organization, withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal, and quit U.N. bodies, including the Human Rights Council. He has also had difficult outings at gatherings of G-7 leaders and NATO. “I think that a lot of leaders are going to be pretty cautious with President Trump,” said Richard Gowan, senior fellow at the U.N. University Centre for Policy Research. “The Europeans have been quite burned at a number of recent summits.” Without naming names, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently told reporters that “multilateralism is under attack from many different directions precisely when we need it most.” He said he would use his meetings to press for a renewed commitment to a “rules-based global order and to the United Nations.”

Texan Running 3-D-Printed-Guns Company Ordered to Leave Taiwan

18 hours 53 min ago
A Texan running a 3-D printed guns company who flew to Taiwan as police investigated an accusation he had sex with an underage girl was detained Friday in Taipei and ordered to leave the island after his U.S. passport was annulled, officials said. Cody Wilson, 30, was taken to immigration authorities in the capital by officers from Taiwan's Criminal Investigation Bureau, according to officials. He was ordered to leave Taiwan because he no longer has a valid travel document, said Zhang Wen-xiu, a director of the international affairs and law enforcement division at Taiwan's National Immigration Agency. Zhang said Wilson was being held by the agency and that its officials were in talks with U.S. representatives in Taiwan concerning his repatriation. The U.S. Marshals Service, which would likely be responsible for taking Wilson back to the United States, said in a statement it was aware of Wilson's arrest and was "fully engaged with our international partners on this matter." Wilson, at the center of a U.S. legal battle over his plan to publish instructions for the manufacture of 3-D-printed plastic guns, flew into Taiwan legally, the National Immigration Agency said Friday. Because his U.S. passport was later annulled, the agency said in a statement, he "no longer has the legal status to stay in Taiwan." A lawyer for Wilson and representatives of the Austin Police Department were not immediately available for comment. Taiwan does not have an extradition treaty with the United States. Austin police have said Wilson flew to Taiwan earlier this month after a friend told him officers were investigating an allegation by a 16-year-old girl who said she was paid $500 to have sex with him at a hotel in the Texas capital. Police said investigators interviewed the girl and on Wednesday obtained a warrant for Wilson's arrest, but he had flown to Taiwan by then. Police said they were aware that Wilson travels often for business, but that they did not know why he had gone to Taiwan. Wilson is the founder of Defense Distributed, the focus of a legal and political battle over its placing on the internet blueprints for plastic guns that can be made with a 3-D printer. The files could previously be downloaded for free, but a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction last month that blocked the posting of the blueprints online.

Trump Returns to UN a Year after ‘Rocket Man’ Speech

21 hours 49 min ago
President Donald Trump will join other world leaders Monday at the United Nations for their annual meetings. From wars to climate change, to hunger and disease, there is no shortage of issues on their agenda. But the U.S. president is likely to steal much of the spotlight, as many wait to hear what he has to say about progress on North Korea’s denuclearization and other pressing issues. VOA U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer takes a look at what to expect.

Cambodia Pardons Australian Filmmaker Jailed for Espionage

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 22:52
Cambodia has granted a pardon to an Australian filmmaker jailed in August on espionage charges for six years, a court in Phnom Penh said Friday. James Ricketson was freed from prison later in the day and Cambodia's immigration department said he would be deported back to Australia. The 69-year-old was arrested in June 2017 after he was photographed flying a drone above a rally organized by the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) before communal elections. The filmmaker, who has been visiting Cambodia for more than 20 years, producing documentaries about the country and its people, was charged with espionage. Ricketson was released from prison at 5 p.m., said Be Tea Leng, the deputy director of Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison where Ricketson had been jailed. "We are happy. We are grateful for the royal pardon. It's the best news ever," Jamie Ricketson, one of Ricketson's sons, told reporters. Uk Heisela, investigation chief at Cambodia's immigration department, said Ricketson would be deported back to Australia. "We will deport him tonight because he committed a crime in this country," Uk Heisela told Reuters. Reuters was not able to immediately reach Ricketson for comment. The Australian Embassy in Cambodia did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment by email.

World Trade Body to Rule on US, China Anti-Dumping Spat

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 21:57
A World Trade Organization arbitrator will step into a years-old dispute brought by China over U.S. anti-dumping measures. A trade official said Friday the arbitration was triggered automatically after the U.S. objected to Beijing's request for authorization to retaliate against more than $7 billion worth of U.S. goods in the case. The case originated with a Chinese challenge nearly five years ago over 40 U.S. anti-dumping rulings against Chinese goods, which the U.S. says were sold below market value. In 2017, the WTO's appellate body ruled largely in favor of China. Beijing insists the U.S. has not complied. The arbitrator has until Oct. 21 to rule on the issue, but such cases often go past the deadline. The standoff comes amid a high-profile showdown between China and the Trump administration over trade.

Pakistan Urges China to Ease Pressure on Muslim Minority

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 21:43
Pakistan is urging China to ease pressures on the country's Muslim minority amid warnings by rights groups that the Uighurs in China face restrictions on religious activities and mass detentions in so-called "re-education camps." The appeal comes as Pakistan has had traditionally good ties with its large neighbor. Pakistan's minister for religious affairs, Noorul Haq Qadri, met Chinese envoy Yao Xing this week to discuss the situation of the Uighurs in China's western Xinjiang province. Human Right Watch says forcible detentions of "thousands of Uighurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities" in Xinjiang started in 2017. Qadri says such pressures could foment reactionary extremist viewpoints and urged Beijing to take concrete steps on the issue. Analysts say Pakistan's move is significant amid growing pressure on China over human rights violations.  

Hong Kong's High Speed Rail Debuts Amid Political Turmoil

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 20:28
As the first high speed train pulls out of Hong Kong's West Kowloon Station early Sunday morning to mainland China, it will cement a major change to the autonomous city's relationship with Beijing due to an unprecedented immigration deal, according to lawmakers and legal experts.  Much of the concern is centered on an important feature of the HK86.42 billion ($11 billion) rail link, which has given China legal jurisdiction over part of the train station and the entire rail link, an arrangement known "co-location."  It's a deal the Hong Kong government has said will ease immigration procedures, allowing travelers to go onto any Chinese city along the rail line. It's similar, they also say, to arrangements that exist between the United States and Canada, where travelers go through immigration in places like the Montreal airport before flying onto New York, according to promotional information on the rail line.  But legal experts like Philip Dykes, chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, said the agreement differs in small but crucial ways from other countries, beginning with the full powers given to Chinese immigration agents, which could have a serious impact on residents.  "What is different about the arrangements we have made here is that the Hong Kong authorities have agreed that Chinese authorities may make full jurisdiction - that is to say not merely can they refuse entry but they can detain and remove," Dykes said.  "So Hong Kong residents, in fact anybody who may use the new facility, may cross a line marked in the station which marks the end of Hong Kong jurisdiction, pass over into mainland controlled area and if he or she falls foul of those authorities they may be detained and then taken away into the mainland."  While the powers of U.S. immigration agents in Canada were recently expanded, they are still significantly more limited than in Hong Kong, Dykes said. U.S. agents in Canada, for example, are not permitted to interrogate or arrest a traveler at their own discretion under Canada's Pre-clearance Act of 2016. Similar restrictions do not apply to Chinese agents in Hong Kong. Then there is the fact that while the United States and Canada have comparable legal systems, Hong Kong and China differ in significant ways.  Hong Kong police, for example, can only hold someone for 72 hours without charge. In China, a suspect can be detained for up to 37 days without being arrested, after which time they may wait months before being formally charged. But it's not just technical concerns, though, that have lawyers and pro-democratic legislators worried. They have also expressed deep concerns about what granting China a legal foothold in Hong Kong territory would mean long term for the former British colony.  One country, two systems Under the terms of the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, it is supposed to have separate rights and privileges until 2047 in an arrangement known as "one country, two systems." Many of these are spelled out in the Basic Law, including Article 18, which says no Chinese laws, with few exceptions, will apply on Hong Kong soil.  "Now what ever happened to ‘one country, two systems'? And you would say 'Oh it's just an arrangement, for the sake of they say for speed convenience, expediency. But then technically, a Hong Kong person within Hong Kong territory from now on if you go inside that station will not be able to apply for habeas corpus to Hong Kong courts because that's already Chinese territory," said Claudia Mo, a legislator for Kowloon West who has previously spoken out against the co-location agreement. "Now they've done this, once they've done this, they can declare any space in Hong Kong, this legislature for example, Chinese territory and they can say mainland Chinese laws apply here. And this is just not right," she added.  The Hong Kong government directed VOA to a previous statement from late last year in response to questions on the co-location agreement. In the statement, the government said the Chinese "port area" of West Kowloon Station is legally "situated in the Mainland," Article 18 and the Basic Law do not apply in this case. "For the high-speed rail passengers who use the procedures for exit and entry under the co-location arrangement, the procedures and their rights are basically the same as those under the traditional "separate location" arrangement," it said. "The main difference is that co-location arrangement is more convenient and efficient." The immigration arrangement will be the subject of a legal case at Hong Kong's High Court on October 30. 

With Parents Detained, Chinese State Cares for Uighur 'Orphans'

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 20:06
Every morning, Meripet wakes up to her nightmare: The Chinese government has turned four of her children into orphans, even though she and their father are alive. Meripet and her husband left the kids with their grandmother at home in China when they went to nurse Meripet's sick father in Turkey. But after Chinese authorities started locking up thousands of their fellow ethnic Uighurs for alleged subversive crimes such as travel abroad, a visit became exile. Then, her mother-in-law was also taken prisoner, and Meripet learned from a friend that her 3- to 8-year-olds had been placed in a de facto orphanage in the Xinjiang region, under the care of the state that broke up her family. "It's like my kids are in jail," Meripet said, her voice cracking. "My four children are separated from me and living like orphans." Meripet's family is among tens of thousands swept up in President Xi Jinping's campaign to subdue a sometimes restive region, including the internment of more than 1 million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities that has alarmed a United Nations panel and the U.S. government. Now there is evidence that the government is placing the children of detainees and exiles into dozens of orphanages across Xinjiang. The orphanages are the latest example of how China is systematically distancing young Muslims in Xinjiang from their families and culture, The Associated Press has found through interviews with 15 Muslims and a review of procurement documents. The government has been building thousands of so-called "bilingual" schools, where minority children are taught in Mandarin and penalized for speaking in their native tongues. Some of these are boarding schools, which Uighurs say can be mandatory for children and, in a Kazakh family's case, start from the age of 5. China says the orphanages help disadvantaged children, and it denies the existence of internment camps for their parents. It prides itself on investing millions of yuan in education in Xinjiang to steer people out of poverty and away from terrorism. At a regular news briefing Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the measures taken in Xinjiang were necessary for "stability, development, harmony" and to fight ethnic separatists. But Uighurs fear that these measures are essentially wiping out their ethnic identity, one child at a time. Experts say what China is doing echoes how white colonialists in the U.S., Canada and Australia treated indigenous children — policies that have left generations traumatized. "This is an ethnic group whose knowledge base is being erased," said Darren Byler, a researcher of Uighur culture at University of Washington. "What we're looking at is something like a settler colonial situation where an entire generation is lost." For Meripet, the loss is agony; it is the absence of her children and the knowledge they are in state custody. A year and a half after leaving home, the 29-year-old mother looked at a photo of a brightly painted building surrounded by barbed wire where her children are believed to be held. She fell silent. And then she wept. "When I finally see them again, will they even recognize me?" she asked. "Will I recognize them?" "Protection of disadvantaged children" When Xi came to power in 2012, an early challenge to his rule was a surge in violent attacks that killed several hundred people and which Beijing pinned on Uighur separatists. Since then, Xi has overseen the most extensive effort in recent years to quell Xinjiang, appointing in 2016 the former Tibet party boss Chen Quanguo to lead the troubled region bordering Afghanistan. Chen rolled out unprecedented security measures such as the internment camps that hold Muslims without trial and force them to renounce their faith and swear loyalty to the ruling Communist Party. China has described religious extremism as an illness that needs to be cured through what it calls "transformation through education." Former detainees say one can be thrown into a camp for praying regularly, reading the Quran, going abroad or even speaking to someone overseas. The camps are among the most troubling aspects of Xi's campaign to assert the party's dominance over all aspects of Chinese life, which has drawn comparisons with Mao Zedong. Authorities heeding Xi's call to "Sinicize" religion across the country have shut underground churches, burned Bibles, replaced pictures of Jesus with ones of Xi, and toppled crescents from mosques. The party also has beefed up its ability to track the movements of its 1.4 billion people, with Xinjiang serving as an important testing ground. In Xinjiang, detention has left countless children without their parents. Most of these families in China cannot be reached by journalists. However, the AP interviewed 14 Uighur families living in Turkey and one Kazakh man in Almaty with a total of 56 children who remain in China. The families say that among these children, 14 are known to be in state-run orphanages and boarding schools. The whereabouts of the rest are unknown because most of their adult relatives in Xinjiang have been detained. Some interviewees, like Meripet, requested that they be identified only by their first names because they feared official retaliation against their relatives. Others insisted their full names be used despite the risks, saying they were desperate for their stories to be heard. They pleaded with reporters to track down their families in Xinjiang, and one interviewee pressed a piece of paper into a reporter's hand with a Chinese address scribbled on it. The regional government appears to be moving quickly to build centers to house the children of these exiles and of detainees. An AP review of procurement notices in Xinjiang has found that since the start of last year, the government has budgeted more than $30 million (200 million Chinese yuan) to build or expand at least 45 orphanages, known variously as children's "welfare centers" and "protection centers," with enough beds to house about 5,000 children. In July and August alone, the government invited bids for the construction of at least nine centers for the "protection of disadvantaged children" in the Xinjiang city of Hotan and several counties in Kashgar, Aksu and Kizilsu prefectures, inhabited primarily by ethnic minorities. Most orphanages have a minimum of 100 beds mandated by the government, and some are much larger. One notice called for an orphanage in Moyu county with four four-story dormitories, coming to 22,776 square meters in size — nearly as big as four football fields. These numbers do not include kindergartens and other schools where some children of Uighur detainees are being housed. It's impossible to tell how many children of detainees end up at these schools because they also serve other children. Shi Yuqing, a Kashgar civil affairs official, told the AP over the phone that "authorities provide aid and support to everyone in need, whether they're the children of convicted criminals or people killed in traffic accidents." But such services may not be welcome. A government report from Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture in June last year acknowledged that relatives were resistant to "handing over" their extended families' kids to the orphanages because they "lack trust or confidence" in the centers. A friend told Meripet last November her four children were living in the Hotan City Kindness Kindergarten in southern Xinjiang. The friend said Meripet's sister-in-law had visited her children and was permitted to take them home for one night only. The school looks like a house-sized castle, with a bright marigold facade, orange turrets and blue rooftops. Its entrance is blocked by an iron gate and a walled enclosure lined with barbed wire. "We Are Happy and Grateful to the Motherland," say the red characters emblazoned on one fence. The principal, who gave only her last name, Ai, told AP reporters that the institution is "just a normal kindergarten." But the authorities' anxiety was clear: armed police officers surrounded the reporters' car minutes after their arrival at the school and ordered them to delete any photos. Gu Li, a propaganda official for Hotan who also immediately appeared on site, said: "There are really young kids here — some of them may even be orphans whose parents have died." A report published this February in the Xinjiang Daily, a party newspaper, called Hotan City Kindness Kindergarten a "free, full-time" kindergarten for children 6 and younger that provides accommodations and clothing to those whose "parents cannot care for them for a variety of reasons." "Soon after many of the kids arrived at the school, they grew taller and got fatter, and quickly started using Mandarin to communicate," the article said. Another state media report in January said $1.24 million (8,482,200 yuan) had been invested in the kindergarten. Satellite imagery shows that the kindergarten was constructed less than three years ago, just as an initiative was launched to strengthen "bilingual" education in Xinjiang. More than 4,300 bilingual kindergartens were built or renovated last year, according to the government. A report on the project in a state-run regional newspaper said such kindergartens teach children "civilized living habits." "The children started educating their parents: your hands are too dirty, your clothes are too dirty, you haven't brushed your teeth," the report quoted Achilem Abduwayit, a deputy chief of the Hotan city education bureau, as saying. Life in an orphanage could have a lasting psychological and cultural impact on children, said James Leibold, an expert on Chinese ethnic policy at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. "You grow up as a ward of the state," he said. "They're told to be patriotic citizens, told that the identity and religion of their parents was abnormal, if not radical, and thus needs to be eradicated." Meripet has at least an inkling of where her children are. Her brother, a 37-year-old doctor named Aziz, has not heard any news of his three youngest children since his wife was taken to a re-education center in June 2017. Aziz fled to Turkey more than a year ago after he received a call from his local police station ordering him to report to authorities immediately. More than half his neighbors had already been taken away to re-education centers or prison, he said. Now the young doctor is often shaken awake by a nightmare in which his kids are huddling at the bottom of a cliff, their faces smudged with dirt, calling to him to hoist them up. Aziz walks for what feels like hours but cannot reach them. He awakens with their cries ringing in his ears. "If I could, I would choose not to have been born as a Uighur, to not have been born in Xinjiang," Aziz said. "We are the most unfortunate ethnic group in the world." "They won't be like us anymore" The government says all 2.9 million students attending compulsory elementary and junior high school in Xinjiang will receive Mandarin instruction by this month, up from just 39 percent in 2016. Even preschoolers are steeped in the language. A former teacher at a "bilingual" kindergarten outside Kashgar said all lessons were given in Mandarin and the entirely Uighur student body was banned from speaking Uighur at school. A colleague who used Uighur to explain concepts to students was fired, according to the teacher, who lives in Turkey but asked for anonymity because she fears retribution against family in China. Like all schools in China, this one immersed children in patriotic education. Kindergarten textbooks were filled with songs like "Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China," the teacher said. Dilnur, a 35-year-old business student in exile in Istanbul, said officials regularly visited her children's kindergarten in Kashgar and asked the students if their parents read religious verses at home or participated in other faith-based activities. The questions effectively forced children to spy on their own families. A man was taken away by police after his grandson said in class that he had made a pilgrimage to Mecca, she said. Her seven-year-old daughter once complained that her throat was sore from chanting party slogans. "Mama, what does it mean to love the motherland?" she asked. Some bilingual schools are boarding schools, which are not uncommon in China. Xinjiang has long provided voluntary boarding school programs that are seen as coveted opportunities for the best minority students. But several Uighurs asserted that in many cases boarding school was now mandatory for minority children, even though Han Chinese children could choose to continue living at home. The Xinjiang government did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The government has said the tuition-free boarding schools relieve parents of education and living expenses and help raise Mandarin standards, which will make their children more employable. But Uighurs say they don't want their culture erased. "If the kids are forced to speak Mandarin and live like Han Chinese every day, I'm afraid they won't be like us anymore," said Meriyem Yusup, whose extended family has four children sent to state-run orphanages in Xinjiang. Adil Dalelkhan, an ethnic Kazakh sock merchant in exile in Almaty, said that even though his then 5-year-old son could live with relatives, he was forced to stay at his preschool Mondays through Fridays instead. The father called the policy a "terrifying" step toward extinguishing Kazakh culture. A Uighur businessman in Istanbul, also named Adil, told a similar story. Adil's son was 9 years old when the school system automatically transferred him to a boarding school. All children of a certain age in their Uighur district were obliged to attend boarding school, Adil said. His son was only permitted to come home on weekends and holidays. "There were iron bars like we saw in a zoo in Kashgar," Adil recalled. Dilnur said her neighbors too were only allowed to visit their kids at boarding school on Wednesday nights, and even then they had to hand them candies through a fence. "The educational goals are secondary to the political goals," said Timothy Grose, a professor at Indiana's Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology who has done research on Xinjiang boarding schools. "They aim to dissolve loyalties to ethnic identity ... toward a national identity." A government notice posted in February in Kashgar states that children in the fourth grade and above with parents in detention must be sent to boarding school immediately — even if one parent is still at home. Students must be instilled with socialist values, the notice said, and be taught to "be grateful for education and love and repay the motherland," and avoid the "75 types of behavior that show religious extremism." Such behavior ranges from calling for `holy war' to growing beards and quitting smoking and drinking for religious reasons, the government said. China insists it guarantees the freedom of religion, but Uighurs view the Chinese education system as a threat to it. In schools, children are taught to respect teachers more than their parents and may criticize their parents' Islamic faith, according to Byler. "The students, children, might question them and say, you know, this is backward, this is extremist," he said. The Kashgar notice also said schools being modified to house students should place no more than 24 beds in one room--an indication of the program's size. In 2015, a sprawling new boarding school complex was completed on the outskirts of Kashgar, with the capacity to house 23,400 students and teachers, according to the state-run China Daily. Abdurehim Imin, a writer from Kashgar, said a friend told him his 14-year-old daughter was sent to a bilingual school in 2015 after his wife was arrested, stensibly for receiving a gift of olive oil he sent her. When AP reporters visited what was likely his daughter's school, Peyzawat County No. 4 High School, a local plainclothes officer who identified herself as Gu Li said it was a bilingual boarding school. She said that while Uighur students had to study Mandarin, there were also Han Chinese students studying Uighur. Yet the exterior of the school bore bright red lettering that said: "Please speak Mandarin upon entering the schoolyard." Barbed wire around the campus extended for miles, with rows of tall apartment buildings marked as dormitories. A historian at the University of Sydney, David Brophy, said the move toward boarding schools brings to mind Aboriginal children in Australia who were forcibly separated from their families in the 1900s and placed into state-run institutions that discouraged indigenous identity. "Should China's policies continue in this direction, we may be talking about a Chinese version of the Stolen Generation," he said. 'Eternal torture' Since coming to Istanbul by himself in 2014, 42-year-old Imin, the writer, has led a solitary existence in a dimly-lit apartment with bare walls and stacks of writings. For the first year, he avoided looking at photos of his children. "We are dying every day," Imin said. "We cannot see our kids, we cannot see our parents. This is an eternal torture." In December, he was sent a photo of his daughter wearing a traditional Chinese "qipao". He deleted the picture because he could not bear to look at it, he said, and could not sleep for nearly a month. Imin also has four other children in Xinjiang. Last summer, a friend who had visited his home in Kashgar told Imin that two of his kids were killed in a traffic accident while his wife was in jail. He doesn't know where the other two are. Feeling helpless, he wrote verse after verse in mourning: "I will go...to tear down your dark, endless night... I will go, to embrace again my hometown... I will go, bearing my sorrow to your tomb." Elsewhere in Istanbul, Meripet's house was quiet during Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holy festival heralded by large family reunions. In a room at the end of the hall, there rose the distant laughter of relatives' children, children who were not hers. She flipped through the photographs which she keeps in her purse: Abdurahman, the oldest; Adile, her only daughter; and her two younger sons, Muhemmed and Abdulla. Meripet has a fifth child, a son named Abduweli who was born in Turkey. She calls him "my only light." "Sometimes I wonder if I will go crazy from this pain," she said. "I have only been able to keep living because I know there is hope — I know one day I will see my children again."

Indonesian Opposition Movement Accuses President of Authoritarianism

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 16:50
As Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo prepares to compete in the nation’s 2019 national election, he faces a mass social media campaign calling itself #2019GantiPresiden (change the president in 2019), criticizing the incumbent for being inadequately sympathetic to Islamic interests and the rising prices of household goods. After several heated clashes with Jokowi supporters, several subsequent #2019GantiPresiden rallies have been disallowed by police, sparking the accusation that the president is employing authoritarian tactics reminiscent of the country’s former dictator Suharto to suppress critics. Mardani Ali Sera, the parliamentarian for the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) who began the #2019GantiPresiden hashtag, told VOA he didn’t have a plan to start the campaign. After going on the prominent TV show Indonesian Lawyers Club in February, however, he said “almost all of the panelists were praising Jokowi. I thought this isn’t healthy for democracy. Because of that, I took the opportunity to say God willing in 2019 the government will change.” Freedom of speech vs. keeping the peace As the world’s third largest democracy, Indonesia has long juggled the challenges of ensuring freedom of speech while also preserving interethnic and religious harmony. Many of the comments attached to the #2019GantiPresiden hashtag are incendiary, including falsely accusing Jokowi of secretly being a Christian or kowtowing to the Chinese Communist Party. In response, the president has maintained that there are limits to Indonesian democracy. “This country is a democracy. Yes, you are free to gather, to argue. But remember there are limits, there are rules,” he said earlier this month, as quoted by Tempo. “We have never at all disturbed our friends who support #Jokowi2Periode (two periods for Jokowi). It is everybody’s right [to support Jokowi],” said Mardani of PKS. Neno Warisman, a prominent anti-Jokowi activist, arrived in the Sumatran city of Pekanbaru in late August to attend a #2019GantiPresiden event. She said she was met by pro-Jokowi counterprotesters who threw things at her car, and the police sent her back to Jakarta on a plane. Referring to Neno’s removal, Deputy Speaker of the House Fahri Hamzah accused Jokowi of displaying an “authoritarian mentality.” “It’s quite a stretch to claim that the government [is using] authoritarian measures to silence those people,” said Rudi Sukandar, a senior researcher at The Habibie Center, a Jakarta-based thinktank focused on the promotion of democracy and human rights. “Those people actually have already had their own voice, and they have voiced their opinions openly.” Rahayu Saraswati, a member of the Indonesian parliament for the opposition Gerindra Party, said in a statement provided to VOA that “reactions toward #2019GantiPresiden have been interesting, but despite what some are trying to paint it as, it begun as and still very much is a social movement.” Democratic backsliding? When elected in 2014, Jokowi appeared on the cover of TIME and was touted as “the new face of Indonesian democracy.” Unlike his predecessors, Jokowi was not from the political elite or an ex-general, but rather a furniture salesman turned mayor hailing from the central Javanese city of Solo. Nevertheless, many observers have perceived setbacks for democracy during his tenure. The blasphemy conviction of former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama in May 2017, who was once Jokowi’s own deputy, is seen as emblematic of the growing influence of right-wing religious groups and the shrinking space for free speech. Conversely, however, the government’s outlawing of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), a fundamentalist Islamist group that promotes the replacement of Indonesia’s relatively secular democracy with a transnational caliphate, albeit by nonviolent means, is also seen by many as a step backwards for democracy. Indeed until 2017, the Indonesian Communist Party was the only so-called “mass organization” officially banned by the government. Jokowi’s detractors began to accuse him of acting like a dictator. The denial of #2019GantiPresiden activists the right to protest has been framed in a similar manner, justified by authorities on the basis that its campaigners have allegedly spread hate speech, misinformation and pose a threat to public order. For Tom Pepinsky, an associate professor in the Southeast Asia Program at Cornell University, the #2019GantiPresiden movement is “picking up on” the authoritarian legacy of Suharto’s New Order regime in contemporary democratic politics.  “The Indonesian political system retains a bunch of laws that allow for the regulation of political speech should a president choose to do so,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with the hashtag itself … this is after all, freedom of speech,” said Rudi of the Habibie Center. “The thing that might not be acceptable for me is if they’re using issues of ethnicity … and some other things that might incite people’s hatred towards Jokowi.” According to Rahayu of Gerindra, however, the movement is comparable to anti-Trump protests in the United States.  “The American people in those protests demand change in government leadership,” she said. “It is a rally call to all those who feel the same, that there should and will be a change of leadership in Indonesia for the betterment of the people and for the sake of the country’s future.”

Typhoon Kills Dozens; Philippines Searches for Reasons

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 13:41
After a super-typhoon killed 6,200 people five years ago, Filipinos figured the experience had taught their country a lesson. Pre-storm warnings and disaster responses should improve, then-president Benigno Aquino said. This month another super-typhoon killed at least 74 when it set off landslides in the Philippine central mountain range. Now officials are looking for ways to improve once again as they eye illegal mining and a glitch in the evacuation system as underlying causes of the deaths. Miners in the mountain village of Itogon refused to evacuate before Typhoon Mangkhut struck Saturday, the mayor was quoted as saying in domestic media. The government should look too into the dangers of “uncontrolled” mining in general, President Rodrigo Duterte said on the presidential office website. “I think what was lacking was on enforcement, the point where you don’t give them any choice anymore,” said Herman Kraft, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman in Metro Manila. “And then another thing that reached the level of the president is the question about mining,” he said. “The question that’s being raised now is the extent to which mining companies have actually undermined the land.” ​Evacuation system Fifty-five people are missing in northern Luzon Island, where the world’s strongest tropical storm so far this year first struck. In Itogon, Mayor Victorio Palangdan said people living in miners’ bunkhouses ignored warnings from police officers and disaster officials who tried to “move them out of harm’s way” last week, ABS-CBN News of the Philippines reported. The government was “more systematic” than before in ordering evacuations, said Antonio Contreras, political scientist at De La Salle University in the Philippines. It was “very ready” and few deaths were reported outside mining areas, he added. 14 million affected About 3 million Filipinos were affected in the worst hit regions, and another 11 million nearby braced for flooding. Mangkhut went on to topple trees and damage infrastructure in southern China, where four people died. Typhoon Yolanda, called Haiyan internationally, brought storm surges higher than expected in 2013. People were slow to move that year, too. Officials issued storm surge warnings that year, but “it appears that many residents and local authorities underestimated” the event and thought that they could evacuate at a later stage or during the storm itself,” according to a 2015 study in the International Journal of Sustainable Future for Human Security. “The results clearly highlight the need for better education and for development strategies in the region to focus on improving the resilience of local inhabitants,” the study said. Uncontrolled mining Duterte said Monday “uncontrolled” mining contributed to landslides Saturday. Duterte was “anti-mining” since before the typhoon, Contreras said. “We have a problem with the mining industry,” he said via the presidential office website. “It has not contributed anything substantial to the national economy. That mining thing has really contributed a lot of heartaches for the Filipino people.” On Thursday a landslide near the Philippine city Cebu buried 24 houses and killed at least 21 people in another spot known for mining, domestic media outlets said. The typhoon did not reach Cebu but brought heavy rains to much of the country. “The issue about the capacity of the state regulator to determine the safety of mining areas will now be in question and in doubt,” Contreras said. Some Filipinos see mining as an underexplored way to stimulate the economy, held back so far mainly by environmental groups and debates about whether to let foreign investors take a share. Aquino had pushed for clearer mining regulation during his 2010-2016 term, when he made foreign investment a priority. ​Rice prices keep surging Saturday’s typhoon is also threatening to ruin the October 2018 rice harvest as it flooded prime Philippine cropland, Kraft said. Filipinos have paid more for rice, a national staple, since August as earlier 2018 storms and perceptions of a shortage raised consumer prices. Some blame the government for letting prices rise. Philippine officials estimated earlier this week that Typhoon Mangkhut caused agricultural damage of $264 million. “Devastating crop damage” would pressure poor farmers in part by leaving them too little money to buy next season’s seeds, said Rajiv Biswas, executive director and Asia-Pacific chief economist with the research firm IHS Markit. “If this results in even higher inflation because of the loss of essential food items, particularly rice — rice prices have been rising quite rapidly already even before this typhoon — the damage of loss of rice production means that prices will probably go up even more,” Biswas said.

Vietnam President Tran Dai Quang Dies at 61

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 12:28
Vietnam President Tran Dai Quang, one of the country’s top three leaders but with mostly ceremonial duties, died Friday after an illness, state television and radio announced. Quang, 61, died in a military hospital in Hanoi from a “serious illness despite efforts by domestic and international doctors and professors,” Vietnam Television reported. Vietnam has no paramount ruler and is officially led by the president, prime minister and Communist Party chief. Experts say the presidency is largely ceremonial. Quang was appointed to the role in April 2016. Before that, he had served as Minister of Public Security, an organization with broad powers, including intelligence gathering and thwarting domestic and foreign threats to the party. Originally from a small farming community 115 km (70 miles) south of Hanoi, Quang rose through party ranks to become a police general and member of Vietnam’s powerful decision-making Politburo. “We are saddened to hear the news that the president has died,” said Bui Duc Phi, chairman of the village in which Quang was born.

Despite Optics of Inter-Korea Summit, Denuclearization Still Distant

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 09:02
Despite the sound bites and photos that emerged from the third summit between the leaders of South Korea and North Korea, peace and denuclearization remain distant, experts said. “The video images of the hand-holding and hugging” gave “the impression that things are much farther along toward a peaceful settlement of disputes between North and South Korea than we know is in the reality,” Douglas Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said of the meeting. The three-day summit began Tuesday with thousands of North Koreans lining the streets of Pyongyang to welcome South Korean President Moon Jae-in on his first trip to North Korea. It concluded with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Moon, and their wives, making a highly symbolic visit to Mount Baekdu, an active volcano near North Korea’s border with China that is the mythic birthplace of all Korean people, and the purported birthplace of Kim’s father. Joint statement disappoints The joint statement announced by the two leaders Wednesday, however, did not achieve the kind of concrete advance on denuclearization that North Korean watchers in Washington had hoped for after U.S.-North Korea relations appeared to hit a snag with the late August cancellation of a planned trip by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang. “[The summit] certainly improved the atmospherics on the peninsula in a way that I think is historic … and certainly unprecedented,” said Christopher Hill, a chief negotiator with North Korea during the George W. Bush administration. The two Korean leaders agreed to transform the peninsula into a “land of peace without nuclear weapons and nuclear threats.” That prompted Pompeo to invite North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho to meet in New York next week, where both are scheduled to attend the United Nations General Assembly. “I don’t think, however, there’s a big change on the denuclearization,” Hill said. Other experts said the joint declaration that the two leaders signed lacked substantive denuclearization agreements. “I think it’s beneficial that [denuclearization] was raised as a topic,” Paal said. “But we’re not any closer to the steps toward real denuclearization as a result of this document so it should not be mistaken for progress.” Paal added that absence of specific steps toward denuclearization “reflects (the) current status of the impasse between the sides on this issue.” Kim sleight of hand Although Kim agreed to dismantle the Tongchang-ri missile test facilities, also known as Sohae, under the observation of international inspectors, “for the first time … to witness the destruction. … It doesn’t mean very much because … you don’t need outside inspection to verify that these big facilities have been destroyed” given that satellites can track the process, according to Gary Samore, the White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction during the Obama administration. And because Kim had already agreed to partially destroy the Tongchang-ri site, which mainly was used to test engines built for long-range missiles such as the Hwasong-15, during the Singapore summit with President Donald Trump in June, “It’s selling the dead horse twice,” Paal said. In the joint declaration, Kim also expressed his intent to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear test site upon “corresponding measures” by the U.S. but “Yongbyon can easily be reactivated after being suspended, as we saw with its reactivation in 2003 after having been suspended since 1994,” said Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor of Korean studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. “It’s all a sleight of hand. Kim is the magician we are being conditioned to believe.” General Jack Keane, a retired four-star Army general and former Army vice chief of staff said dismantling the Yongbyon facilities “is still not disarmament.” He added, “Without disarming nuclear weapons and their fuel … and destroying ballistic missiles … we have a long way to go.” The kind of corresponding measures Kim is seeking most likely will involve “the question of the [South Korea]-U.S. alliance,” Hill said. ​What Pyongyang wants North Korea could ask for measures such as a peace declaration, which both Koreas want as a way to end the Korean War that was suspended in 1953 with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, said Michael Fuchs, deputy assistant secretary of state for Eastern Asia and Pacific affairs during the Obama administration. Pyongyang is also likely to reiterate its demand for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the peninsula, Paal said. North Korea has repeatedly said that the U.S. military presence in South Korea poses a threat to its regime. Currently, there are about 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. Bruce Klingner, a onetime intelligence officer specializing in Korean affairs who is a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said evidence points to the contrary. “When North Korea says it needs evidence that the U.S. and South Korea don’t have a hostile policy, well, which Korea invaded the other in 1950? Which Korea has committed countless acts of terror, war, threatened and killed [citizens of] the other Korea?” Klingner said. “It’s always North Korea that’s done the heinous acts, so it’s the U.S. and Seoul which should be demanding actions first from North Korea, not only to fulfill the requirements under the 11 U.N. resolutions, but also to prove North Korea doesn’t have any more hostile intent.” Keane said the U.S. will maintain its military presence until North Korea removes its complete stockpile of nuclear weapons and missiles. “We are not going to fall into that trap,” Keane said. “The United States sees that for what it is, and we are not certainly removing any troops from South Korea until such time as [there are] no nuclear weapons and no ballistic missiles in the North.” Inter-Korea projects At the summit, Moon agreed with Kim to start construction of a railroad to connect the countries, and resume operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex and tours on Mount Kumgang. The ventures have the potential to violate international sanctions imposed on North Korea. “So here, President Moon is making a lot of promises he can’t fulfill without the U.N. or the U.S. backing off on enforcement of U.N. sanctions and U.S. law,” Klingner said. “Many, particularly in Seoul, are advocating relief or release from sanctions. But all of the U.N. and U.S. sanctions and targeted financial measures are a response to North Korean illegal or aberrant behavior.” The agreement to reduce tensions along the North Korean and South Korean division of demilitarized zone (DMZ) is real progress, however. “The most tangible progress here in terms of improving the situation on the Korean Peninsula is the … multiple-page military agreement that was signed by both sides that … outlines a significant number of steps to try to reduce … military tensions at the DMZ, which I think is a good step,” Fuchs said. At the summit, South Korean Minister of National Defense Song Young-moo and First Vice Minister of People’s Armed Forces of North Korea No Kwang Chul signed a comprehensive military agreement to halt military exercises along the military demarcation line by Nov. 1 and remove 11 guard posts in the DMZ by year’s end. Keane said the plan to have “the two armies from South and North pull away from each other,” is a good sign as they will no longer be “deployed inside their respective countries to go to war and return to their bases and just doing their routine training.” However, he added, “I think that we could have to see all of that before we would consider reducing our troop’s level.” VOA's Christy Lee contributed to this report.

New Era for Religion in China as Party Tightens Controls

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 01:59
The recent closure of one of Beijing's largest independent churches, and a crackdown on congregations elsewhere in China, are part of a broader effort to bring religion more fully under the ruling Communist Party's control, say Christian leaders, scholars and rights advocates.   In recent weeks, authorities have used raids, religious censuses and even confessional statements to carry out that effort, according to accounts from Christian members, rights groups and postings online.   Authorities have characterized the efforts as moves aimed at protecting the public and using socialist values to guide religion and help believers unite around the country’s leadership. Earlier this year, stricter amendments were added to the Religious Affairs Regulation, a guideline whose stated aim is to protect religious freedoms. Those amendments, observers say, have helped pave the way for the crackdown on unregulated churches and general tightening on religion.   “Nationwide, regardless of whether it is the officially recognized patriotic church, house churches or underground congregations, all are facing new circumstances,” said Tang Jitian, a rights lawyer in Beijing. “All of these moves highlight the regime's concerns about religion.”   Earlier this month in central Henan province, authorities raided four churches, forcibly removed crosses and burned seized bibles. More recently, in Sichuan, authorities broke up a service of the Chengdu Early Rain Covenant Church, detaining its two pastors. One of the pastors remains in custody, according to the group Chinese Human Rights Defenders.   That move came just days after authorities shut down Beijing Zion Church, an independent congregation in the capital with about 1,500 members. ‘Illegal organization’ The pastor, Jin Mingri, told VOA that the effort to shut down Beijing Zion Church began earlier this year when authorities ordered the congregation to install 24 surveillance cameras for “fire safety” reasons. Members refused to comply, citing concerns about personal privacy and the impact it would have on the church’s atmosphere, he said in an interview with VOA’s Mandarin Service.   “Since April, they started to forcefully suppress our congregation, mobilizing some 10,000, using the combined force of police and government, interviewing our members and telling them Beijing Zion Church is an evil cult, that we’re politically incorrect and an illegal organization,” he said.     China’s Communist Party, which is said to have some 90 million members, is officially atheist; but, increasingly, especially in recent years, the number of religious believers in its ranks has grown.   In late August, the party released new internal disciplinary measures that call for the strict handling of religious activities that undermine national unity.   According to the regulations, party committees in government departments or major enterprises were also ordered to “strengthen the ideological education of religious members.”   Outside the party, the number of religious followers has been growing too, even faster than authorities can control.   And the leadership’s response to this has been clear since a major political party Congress was held last year. During that meeting, President Xi Jinping reasserted the party’s dominance over facets of society. More importantly, religious leaders and scholars note, was the shift in March to put the State Administration for Religious Affairs - a government office - back under the control of the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department. ‘Expansive control’ That move, Jin said, has once again turned religion into an ideological competition, pitting believers against the party. Unlike the religious affairs department, the United Front Work Department is much deeper into society, down into the local town and village level, and that will help the Communist Party exert more pressure over religions.   “When the party is in charge of religious affairs, it can use all types of means to exert control, and its power to suppress is unprecedented,” Jin said. Jin said this type of expansive control over religion will become a hallmark of Xi’s leadership. “All religions, not only Christians but Buddhists, Catholics and Muslims, will all have to deal with the special challenges of this new era,” he said.   In addition to the raid of churches and crackdowns already under way, pressure is being brought to bear within the party and outside through the use of pledge statements.   Online, many Christians have posted pledge letters that show how the party is trying to get believers to renounce their faith. Analysts say the pledge letters appear to be aimed at a wide range of targets, from party members to college teachers and students.   “We’re also seeing a mass scale campaign against party members who have religious beliefs,” said Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the divinity school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.   One signed pledge, posted online, read: “After studying the Religious Affairs Regulation and thinking it over, I promise I will no longer believe in Christianity and that I will resolutely listen to and follow the party.”   In Wenzhou City, authorities included a question about parents’ religious beliefs as part of a standard school contact information form. The form has raised concerns among believers, who have urged members to go ahead and declare their faith, come what may.   Neither authorities at the religious affairs bureau in Wenzhou nor the United Front Work Department could be reached for comment about the forms, raids or crackdown. Joyce Huang and John Ai contributed to this report.  

US Sanctions Chinese Agency for Buying Russian Military Equipment

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 01:44
The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on a Chinese military agency and its director for buying defense equipment from Russia in breach of a sweeping U.S. sanctions bill enacted in 2017. The U.S. State Department said it would immediately impose sanctions on China's Equipment Development Department, which oversees defense technology, and its director, Li Shangfu, for engaging in "significant transactions" with Rosoboronexport, Russia's main arms exporter. The Trump administration also blacklisted a further 33 people and entities associated with Russian military and intelligence, adding them to a sanctions list under the 2017 law, Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA. One State Department official, who briefed reporters and speaking on condition of anonymity, insisted that the China sanctions targeted Moscow only, not Beijing or its military. "The ultimate target of these sanctions is Russia. CAATSA sanctions in this context are not intended to undermine the defense capabilities of any particular country," the official told reporters on a conference call. "They are instead aimed at imposing costs upon Russia in response to its malign activities." The measures come as President Donald Trump's administration pursues a variety of strategies to clamp down on China and faces growing pressure to respond strongly to U.S. intelligence agency reports that Russia is continuing to meddle in U.S. politics. Members of Congress, including many of Trump's fellow Republicans, who passed the sanctions bill nearly unanimously, have repeatedly called on the administration to take a harder line against Moscow. The State Department official said the sanctions were related to China's purchase of 10 SU-35 combat aircraft in 2017 and S-400 surface-to-air missile system-related equipment in 2018. The sanctions block the Chinese agency from applying for export licenses and from participating in foreign exchange transactions under U.S. jurisdictions.

China Eyes Banning Foreign Online News

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 00:58
The Chinese government will potentially block foreign current affairs content from being shown in the country, according to draft regulations from their National Radio and Television Administration. The regulations, obtained by Reuters Thursday, will clamp down on what kinds of shows may be aired on domestic television stations or online video platforms. Current affairs shows were singled out as being barred from the country. Also forbidden by the draft regulations were foreign content that contains violence, terrorism, incitement to crime, endangers social stability, or is deemed harmful to national sentiment. The regulations also target film and animation. The Chinese government is in the midst of a push to restrict online content. Earlier this month, it banned the website of the Australian Broadcasting Company, telling the public news organization that China's internet was “fully open.” China is known for the depth and reach of its censorship operations. Thousands of websites have been blocked in the country, inspiring the nickname “the Great Firewall of China.” Foreign journalists are routinely detained for their reporting, and virtually all domestic media capable of reaching a mass audience is tightly regulated. The censorship watchdog Freedom House has rated China’s freedom of the press as “not free.”

British FM Suggests Referring Myanmar Leaders to ICC

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 00:15
Britain's Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt tweeted Thursday that Myanmar officials should be held responsible for their country's Rohingya crisis before the International Criminal Court. Hunt's comments, referring to Myanmar as Burma, came after he met Thursday with embattled Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a high-profile state visit to the country. The visit followed Tuesday's release of a United Nations report that criticized Suu Kyi's handling of the crisis. The report details why several Myanmar generals should be prosecuted for genocide against the Rohingya minority, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. It also accuses military leaders of extrajudicial killings, rape, and razing Rohingya villages in Rakhine, from which more than 700,000 Rohingya were forced to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. Hunt arrived in Yangon Wednesday for a two-day visit. He said he planned to meet with military and civilian leaders. He met in the capital of Naypyidaw with Aung San Suu Kyi and said she would look into crisis-related issues that were discussed, including two Reuters journalists who were sentenced to 7-year prison terms earlier this month. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were convicted on September 3 of violating a colonial-era law on state secrets in a landmark case that was viewed as a test of progress toward democracy in Myanmar. Hunt also met early Thursday with local Muslims in northern Rakhine state, where he "mainly observed the planned repatriation process," Rakhine State Minister U Chan Tha told VOA. On Wednesday, U.N. advisor on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng told reporters in New York Myanmar "may constitute certainly a threat to international peace and security." "We have seen such mass exodus of people from Myanmar to Bangladesh," said Dieng, "and this is still, in fact, continuing ... which means, although the level of violence is now less, I would say [it is more] intense than before." Dieng urged U.N. member states who have not ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to do so at the 70th anniversary of the convention on December 9.

Trump Administration Cites North Korean Progress, Other Unsure

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 22:37
While the Trump administration has signaled it welcomes the outcome of the third inter-Korean summit as signs of a positive step toward North Korea's commitment to denuclearization, experts point to lack of specific details on how to achieve that goal and a path forward remains unclear. VOA's Steve Miller reports from Seoul.

Laos Accused of Copy-Pasting Dam Impact Survey

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 22:00
An official impact assessment for a controversial new Lao dam on the Mekong river has been directly copied and pasted in parts from a previous project, a coalition of groups fighting to protect the river has alleged.   The allegation came as Mekong River Commission (MRC) member countries met Thursday in Laos’s capital, Vientiane, to discuss the study in question, the Pak Lay Transboundary Environmental and Social Impact Assessment and Cumulative Impact Assessment.   Save the Mekong alleged in statement that large sections of that study “are simply copied directly from the Pak Beng [report]” - a 2015 assessment for a different project that an MRC review found was inaccurate.   “At least 90 percent of the Social Baseline Conditions section of the Pak Lay dam TBSEIA/CIA is copied directly from the Pak Beng dam assessment, including photos, tables and text,” the statement said.   In one plagiarized section, the authors replaced the project name from the old report but forgot to adjust the correct listed developer, Save the Mekong said.   “The Environmental Impacts and Mitigation section notes that after mitigation, all impacts from the Pak Lay dam will either be insignificant or positive. This section is not supported by evidence. Instead, it is copied from the Pak Beng assessment,” they further alleged.   Under MRC regulations, Laos is obligated to submit transboundary impact studies as part of the prior consultation process with fellow member countries Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam on any new Mekong dam project.   The Save the Mekong groups are calling for the current study to be scrapped and the prior consultation process halted until a meaningful assessment is produced.   When asked about the copied sections of the study, a representative of the Pak Lay dam developer Powerchina Resources Ltd who declined to be named denied they had been plagiarized from the Pak Beng report. “[The] Laos government have the exact knowledge for the process. We’re following almost the same process because the government of Laos have the sequence to make Pak Beng a little bit earlier than us but all of the documents are made by us independently,” he said. No one raised the plagiarisms during sessions of the forum attended by VOA and Lao government officials flatly refused to discuss the matter.   Anoulak Kittikhoun, spokesperson for MRC CEO Pham Tuan Phan, said he couldn’t say if the plagiarism identified would be assessed as a major problem or not.   “If it has minimal effects then it’s okay but if it prevents us from making a reasonable and sound assessment then we will point it out in our technical review report,” he said. “Because you have to understand that the projects are close together so some information, even though it appears in Pak Beng, could also be relevant for Pak Lay, so we have to assess that as well. So we can’t say that if it is copied that it is not valid.”   The Pak Lay project is almost 400 kilometers downstream from Pak Beng and about 190 kilometers directly overland.   From a transboundary and cumulative impact perspective though, they are in a similar region of the more than 4,000 kilometer river.   Maureen Harris, Southeast Asia program director of International Rivers, a member of the Save the Mekong coalition, said it was very misleading to imply that largely the same information could be used in a meaningful way to address the impacts of both projects.   “It really looks to us like a fairly cynical view of the standard of information that is being provided to stakeholders in the prior consultation process,” she said. “And it really reinforces the perspective I think of many Mekong communities and civil society groups and other stakeholders that prior consultation is really just seen cynically as a rubber stamp.”   Laos began the prior consultation process with its neighbors on the Pak Lay dam the day after it said it was temporarily suspending all new hydropower proposals in reaction to the catastrophic July collapse of an auxiliary dam in the country’s south.   Scores were killed and thousands displaced by the collapse of the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy Saddle Dam D, which the government eventually conceded was likely due to shoddy construction. It was the second dam collapse in Laos within a year.   In April, the MRC Secretariat presented findings of a landmark 6-year, $4.7 million study that warned of catastrophic environmental impacts if hydropower development plans for the Mekong continued unaltered - especially from mainstream dams.   Laos plans to build more than 140 dams on the Mekong and its tributaries, including five on the mainstream.