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16 dead, 18 Missing in Flash Flood in Western China

At least 16 people died and 18 others were missing after a sudden rainstorm in western China triggered a landslide that diverted a river and caused flash flooding in populated areas, Chinese state media said Thursday.  Rescuers, who earlier reported 36 people missing, had found 18 of them by early afternoon, state broadcaster CCTV said in an online update. The Wednesday night disaster affected more than 6,000 people in six villages in Qinghai province, CCTV said.  China is facing both heavy rains and flooding in some parts of the country this summer and extreme heat and drought in other regions. State media has described the prolonged heat and drought as the worst since record-keeping started 60 years ago.  Emergency authorities described the flash flooding in Qinghai’s Datong county as a “mountain torrent.” Such torrents generally result from heavy squalls in mountainous areas. Water running down the mountain can turn gullies or streams into raging rivers, catching people by surprise.  Video posted by the Beijing News website showed muddy water rushing down a wide street at night and debris-strewn areas with uprooted trees, partially washed-away roads and overturned cars after the waters had receded.  Seven people died last weekend from a mountain torrent in southwestern China’s Sichuan province.  Elsewhere in Sichuan and other provinces, crops are wilting and factories have been shut down as a drought cut hydropower supplies and high temperatures raised electricity demand.  Authorities in three provinces shot rockets into the sky in recent days to “seed” clouds with agents to try to induce them to produce more rain, according to Chinese media and government reports. 

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China, Japan Officials Meet Amid Taiwan Tensions

Chinese and Japanese officials have met in northern China amid renewed tensions over Beijing’s military threats against Taiwan and after Tokyo protested China’s firing of missiles into Japan’s exclusive economic zone during recent military drills.  The meeting Wednesday between senior foreign affairs advisor Yang Jiechi and the head of Japan’s National Security Secretariat, Akiba Takeo, followed China’s cancellation of a meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries after Japan signed on to a statement from the Group of Seven industrialized countries criticizing China’s threatening war games surrounding Taiwan earlier this month.  Japan issued diplomatic protests over China’s firing of missiles into its exclusive economic zone during the drills, which saw Chinese warplanes and navy ships cross the middle zone of the Taiwan Strait that has long been a buffer between the sides.  China claims Taiwan as its own territory, to be annexed by force if necessary. The former Japanese colony has been under Chinese military threat since Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government fled to the island in 1949 as Mao Zedong’s Communist Party seized control of the Chinese mainland.  In his comments to Takeo, Yang said “the Taiwan question bears on the political foundation of China-Japan relations and the basic trust and good faith between the two countries,” China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported Thursday.  “Japan should ... shape up a right perception of China, pursue a positive, pragmatic and rational China policy, and uphold the right direction of peaceful development,” Xinhua quoted Yang as saying.  China’s nearly two weeks of military exercises surrounding Taiwan followed U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in defiance of Beijing’s threats.  China announced further drills in response to the visit by another Congressional delegation this week, but has not said when or where they will take place.  The exercises appear to have had little impact among Taiwan’s more than 23 million people, who overwhelmingly favor the status quo of de facto independence while maintaining robust economic ties with China.  Takeo met earlier this month with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Washington, during which they “reiterated the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and reinforced their resolve to stand united against Russia’s unjust and unprovoked war on Ukraine and united in support of the Ukrainian people,” the State Department said in a news release.  China’s threats against Taiwan have been likened to Russia’s invasion of its neighbor. Shortly before Moscow dispatched troops in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping met in Beijing, where they declared their relationship had “no limits” and Russia supported China’s claim to Taiwan.  Many Chinese also resent Japan over its brutal invasion and occupation of parts of the country during the 1930s and 1940s, sentiments kept alive by Communist Party propaganda.  In an incident reported widely on social media, a Chinese woman wearing a traditional Japanese kimono dress was recently detained by police in the eastern city of Hangzhou for allegedly creating a disturbance. She was reportedly released without charge after writing an apology. 

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Myanmar to Import Russian Oil, Military Says

Military-ruled Myanmar plans to import Russian gasoline and fuel oil to ease supply concerns and rising prices, a junta spokesperson said, the latest developing country to do so amid a global energy crisis. The Southeast Asian country has maintained friendly ties with Russia, even as both remain under a raft of sanctions from Western countries — Myanmar for a military coup that overthrew an elected government last year, and Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, which it calls a “special military operation.” Russia is seeking new customers for its energy in the region as its biggest export destination, Europe, will impose an embargo on Russian oil in phases later this year. “We have received permission to import petrol from Russia,” military spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said during a news conference Wednesday, adding that it was favored for its “quality and low cost.” Fuel oil shipments are due to start arriving from September, according to media. Zaw Min Tun said junta chief Min Aung Hlaing discussed oil and gas during a trip to Russia last month. Myanmar now imports its fuel through Singapore. Myanmar would consider joint oil exploration in Myanmar with Russia and China, he said. The military has set up a Russian Oil Purchasing Committee headed by a close ally of Min Aung Hlaing to oversee the buying, importing, and transport of fuel at reasonable prices based on Myanmar’s needs, according to a statement published in a state newspaper on Wednesday. In addition to political turmoil and civil unrest, Myanmar has been hit hard by high fuel prices and power cuts, prompting its military leadership to turn to imports of fuel oil that can be used in power plants. Petrol prices have surged about 350% since the coup in February last year to about $1  (2,300-2,700 kyat) per liter.  In the past week, petrol stations have shut down in various parts of the country because of shortages, according to media reports. Russia is also a major supplier of weapons to the Myanmar military.

Death Toll Rises to at Least 21 in Afghan Mosque Bombing

Taliban authorities in Afghanistan said Thursday that the death toll from an overnight bomb blast inside a mosque in Kabul had risen to at least 21.    Khalid Zadran, a police spokesman in the Afghan capital, told VOA that at least 33 worshipers also were wounded.     Witnesses and police said the powerful blast ripped through the Siddiquiya Mosque in the city’s northern Kher Khanna neighborhood during evening prayers on Wednesday.    Prayer leader Amir Mohammad Kabuli, a renowned Afghan scholar and preacher of Sufi Islam, was said to be among the dead.    The Italian-run Emergency7 charity hospital in Kabul said in a statement that of the 27 victims brought to the facility from the blast site, two were dead and a third patient died in the emergency room. It said five children, including a 7-year-old, were among the injured.  The ruling Taliban’s chief spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, condemned the deadly attack, saying the “perpetrators of such crimes will soon be brought to justice and will be punished.”    No one immediately took responsibly for the attack. Suspicions fell on the self-proclaimed Islamic State terrorist group, however, which condemns Muslims practicing Sufism as polytheists.    The Islamic State Khorasan Province, or ISIS-K, the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State group, has stepped up attacks in Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power a year ago. The terror outfit has carried out bomb attacks against Taliban fighters and civilians, particularly minority Afghan Shiite Muslims that it denounces as apostates.    Last week, an Islamic State group suicide bomber killed a prominent and highly respected Taliban scholar inside his Islamic seminary, or madrasa, in Kabul.    The Taliban repeatedly have claimed to have degraded ISIS-K in military operations. Critics question those claims, though, in the wake of recent high-profile attacks in Kabul and deadly bombings elsewhere in Afghanistan.

Chinese Firms Leaving New York Stock Exchange Could Be First of Many

A long-running battle between U.S. securities regulators and Chinese companies that sell their shares in the United States is expected to result in five large state-controlled Chinese firms leaving the New York Stock Exchange, with other departures possible in the future. Last week, oil company Sinopec, China Life Insurance Company, Aluminum Corporation of China Limited, PetroChina, and Sinopec Shanghai Petrochemical announced that they would voluntarily delist from the NYSE. The immediate effect for investors who have purchased shares of the five firms will be an exchange of what are known as American Depository Receipts, which trade in the U.S., for shares of the firms that trade in Hong Kong. But what it means for the larger number of investors who hold shares in the hundreds of Chinese firms listed on U.S. exchanges is less clear. The departure of the five firms will leave only China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines as major state-owned enterprises that remain listed in the U.S., raising questions about whether they will eventually delist, as well. Other departures possible Some other large Chinese firms have either already delisted or appear to be making plans to do so. Didi, the Beijing-based ride-hailing company, delisted under pressure from the Chinese government earlier this year. This week, fast food giant Yum China Holdings announced it is converting its current secondary share listings in Hong Kong to a primary listing, which would make delisting simpler. E-commerce giant Alibaba took the same step last month. In a recent interview with CNBC, former NYSE President Tom Farley said that from an economic perspective, the departure of the five Chinese government-owned firms is “a non-event.” The companies do not trade widely in the U.S., he said. However, he added, “Symbolically, it’s very important,” because it opens the door to the departure of large Chinese companies like Alibaba and JD.com, which do trade heavily in the U.S. “This is China saying, ‘Hey, these are gone, and the next batch to go are the Alibabas and the JD.coms.’ That would be a big deal both economically and symbolically,” Farley said. Alibaba’s market capitalization, the cumulative value of its outstanding shares, is over $232 billion. JD.com, another e-commerce firm, has a market capitalization of more than $87 billion. Battles over access At its root, the argument has been about disclosure. U.S. securities regulators, who are charged with assuring that individual investors have the information they need to make informed decisions, require that publicly traded companies provide extensive information about their business and accounting practices. In particular, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) requires companies to provide it with full access to the working papers of their auditors. Created in the wake of several major accounting scandals, including at Enron in 2001 and WorldCom in 2002, the PCAOB’s mission is to ensure that the established business accounting rules are being followed by firms that sell their shares to the public. The Chinese government, however, has long balked at the requirement that audit working papers be surrendered to the U.S. government. The primary complaint is that many of the firms possess data that the government in Beijing views as being too sensitive to share with other governments. This has led to a stalemate between the PCAOB and Chinese officials. According to the agency itself, “The PCAOB spent significant time and resources negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Chinese authorities for enforcement cooperation. Unfortunately, since signing the MOU in 2013, Chinese cooperation has not been sufficient for the PCAOB to obtain timely access to relevant documents and testimony necessary to carry out our mission consistent with the core principles identified above, nor have consultations undertaken through the MOU resulted in improvements.” Farley, the former NYSE president, said that even though Chinese firms would be hurt by withdrawing from the U.S. market, which has the largest supply of investment capital in the world, it could still happen. “This dispute may end up being intractable,” he told CNBC, “and you very well may see these companies pick up and go home if this negotiation doesn't improve markedly.” Secrecy questioned Frank Tian Xie, a professor of business at the University of South Carolina Aiken, told VOA that while the Chinese government may have some security concerns about U.S. regulators’ access to company data, there are other reasons why Beijing is resistant to comply with U.S. rules. Xie said it is an “open secret” that Chinese companies do not always comply with accounting rules, and that enforcement within China is lax. Turning over their business records to U.S. authorities would invite “disaster” for many Chinese firms, Xie said. “They just cannot fare well with more scrutiny from U.S. authorities,” Xie said. However, Xie added, he does not believe there will be a wholesale exodus of Chinese companies from U.S. stock markets, because the benefits of listing in the U.S. are too significant. “There are good, bona fide Chinese companies with honest people doing their business,” he said. If Chinese authorities allow them to comply with U.S. regulations, they will try to maintain their U.S. listings. “Chinese companies want to have their stocks listed on American exchanges, because of the prestige — it's an honorable thing to have — and so they can gain access to U.S capital,” Xie said. Long timeline The struggle intensified last December, after the Securities and Exchange Commission finalized new rules that made it possible for the agency to prohibit trading of the shares of noncompliant Chinese firms. The new rules were written to implement the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act of 2020, which Congress passed with the explicit intent of forcing Chinese firms trading in the U.S. to prove that they are not controlled by the Chinese government and to force compliance with transparency rules. As of Aug. 7, the SEC had placed 162 Chinese firms on a list of those at risk of a trading prohibition because of their failure to comply with the law. Any actual prohibition would take place only after a company had been found to be in violation of reporting requirements for three consecutive years, beginning in 2023.

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China Risks Miscalculation with Pressure on Taiwan, US Says

China’s efforts to coerce and undermine Taiwan risk miscalculation and its pressure campaign will most likely continue, Daniel Kritenbrink, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, said.  China, which claims Taiwan as its territory, has been carrying out war games and military drills around the island this month to show its anger at a visit to Taipei by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Speaking on a conference call on Wednesday, Washington D.C. time, Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said China had used Pelosi’s trip as an excuse to change the status quo, jeopardizing peace. “These actions are part of an intensified pressure campaign by the PRC against Taiwan, which we expect to continue to unfold in the coming weeks and months,” he said, referring to China’s official name, the People’s Republic of China.  “The goal of this campaign is clear to intimidate and coerce Taiwan and undermine its resilience.”  Committed to 'one China' policy The United States has been clear with China that its approach to Taiwan has not changed, including the U.S. commitment to its “one China” policy and not supporting Taiwan’s formal independence, Kritenbrink added.  “While our policy has not changed, what has changed is Beijing’s growing coercion. The PRC's words and actions are deeply destabilizing. They risk miscalculation and threaten the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait.”  The United States has conveyed to China in every conversation that it does not seek and will not provoke a crisis, he said.  'Calm, but resolute steps' U.S. lines of communication with Beijing remain open, and the United States will continue to conduct routine naval transits through the Taiwan Strait, Kritenbrink added.  “We will continue to take calm, but resolute steps to uphold peace and stability in the face of Beijing’s ongoing efforts to undermine it and to support Taiwan in line with our long-standing policy. We will act responsibly, steadily and resolutely,” he said.  Speaking in Taipei, Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou reiterated that they believe the Taiwan Strait is an international waterway and support U.S. freedom of navigation missions there as being “positive” for peace and stability.  China has never renounced the use of force to take control of Taiwan.  Taiwan’s democratically elected government says that as the People’s Republic of China has never ruled the island, it has no right to decide its future, which can only be set by its 23 million people without coercion.  Washington has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan but is bound by law to provide it with the means to defend itself.  China says Taiwan is the most important and sensitive issue in its ties with the United States. 

US Congressional Delegation in Kenya Amid Election Crisis

A U.S. congressional delegation has arrived in Kenya to meet with the new president-elect and the opposition figure likely to file a court challenge to his election loss in the latest electoral crisis for East Africa’s most stable democracy. The new U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Meg Whitman, said the delegation led by Sen. Chris Coons also will meet with outgoing Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been publicly silent since the largely peaceful Aug. 9 election. President-elect William Ruto is Kenyatta’s deputy president, but the two fell out years ago, and Kenyatta in the election backed longtime opposition figure Raila Odinga instead. Odinga has said he is exploring “all constitutional and legal options” to challenge his close election loss. His campaign has a week from Monday’s declaration of Ruto’s win to go to the Supreme Court, which then has 14 days to rule. Odinga has urged his supporters to remain calm in a country with a history of post-election violence. Kenya’s electoral commission publicly split in chaos just minutes before Monday’s declaration, with commissioners accusing each other of misconduct. The four commissioners who objected to Monday’s declaration were appointed by Kenyatta last year. The split came as a shock to many Kenyans after an election widely seen as the country’s most transparent ever, with results from the more than 46,000 polling stations posted online for the public to follow along. Public tallies, including one by a local election observer group, added up to a Ruto win with just over 50% of the votes. The political transition in Kenya will have significant impact on the East Africa region, where Kenyatta had been working with the U.S. to try to mediate in Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict and promoting peace efforts between Rwanda and Congo. Ruto in his public comments this week has focused on domestic matters, not regional ones. The 55-year-old Ruto appealed to Kenyans by making the election about economic differences and not the ethnic ones that have long marked the country’s politics with sometimes deadly results. He portrayed himself as an outsider from humble beginnings defying the political dynasties of Kenyatta and Odinga, whose fathers were Kenya’s first president and vice president. The 77-year-old Odinga has pursued the presidency for a quarter-century. He is renowned as a fighter and was detained for years in the 1980s over his push for multiparty democracy. He was also a supporter of Kenya’s groundbreaking 2010 constitution. 

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Heavy Rains Pelt New Zealand, Forcing Hundreds to Evacuate

Heavy rain continued to pelt New Zealand on Thursday, causing further disruptions and road closures from a storm that has already forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes.  Residents in the northern part of North Island found themselves isolated after landslides, fallen trees and floodwaters blocked highway access. The stormy weather also forced some schools to close, airlines to cancel flights, and businesses to shutter.  The storm sunk at least one sailboat near Auckland and caused a home to slip down into a gully in the town of Tāhunanui.  About 230 homes in the town of Nelson were evacuated Wednesday and remained off-limits overnight after the Maitai River flooded. The military patrolled the area overnight.  Resident Robin Reichert told news outlet Stuff that she was “utterly shocked” when her street turned into a raging torrent.  “Within minutes it’s a river,” she said. “That’s how fast it happens.”  Another 160 homes in the town of Westport were also temporarily evacuated with residents later allowed to return.  Roads throughout the nation were closed due to flooding and landslides.  In the Buller region, Mayor Jamie Cleine told reporters that the rain had so far been lower than forecast but there was more rain on the way.  “Right across the district I believe we have got away relatively unscathed,” Cleine said. “A few people that did choose to self-evacuate last night have been told today that it’s reasonably safe, if they feel OK, to head back to their properties today to check them out while we have this lull.”  Cleine warned that more rain was forecast. 

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US to Hold Trade Talks with Taiwan in New Show of Support

The U.S. government has announced talks with Taiwan on a trade treaty in a new sign of support for the self-ruled island democracy claimed by China’s ruling Communist Party as part of its territory. The announcement Thursday comes after Beijing held military drills that included firing missiles into the seas around Taiwan in an attempt to intimidate the island after a visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest-level member of the U.S. government to visit Taiwan in 25 years. Thursday’s announcement by the U.S. Trade Representative made no mention of tension with Beijing but said the negotiations were meant to enhance trade and regulatory cooperation, a step that would entail closer official interaction. The United States has no official relations with Taiwan but maintains extensive informal contacts through the unofficial American Institute in Taiwan. Washington is obligated by federal law to see that the island has the means to defend itself. Taiwan and China split in 1949. The island never has been part of the People’s Republic of China, but the Communist Party says it is obligated to rejoin the mainland, by force if necessary. The talks also will cover agriculture, labor, the environment, digital technology, the status of state-owned enterprises and “non-market policies,” the USTR said.

Zelenskyy Hosting UN Chief, Turkey’s President in Lviv 

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are set to meet Thursday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv with an agenda expected to include a global food crisis, threats to a nuclear power plant, and finding a political solution to the war launched by Russia.  Efforts to ease the food crisis are ongoing, with ships carrying Ukrainian exports now able to depart under an agreement the U.N. and Turkey brokered in late July with Russia and Ukraine.  Guterres is scheduled to travel Friday to visit a port in Odesa, then on Saturday to Istanbul to see the Joint Coordination Center that is monitoring the export system, including inspections of inbound and outbound ships demanded by Russia.   The center said it expects inspections teams to conduct checks Thursday on four ships that departed Ukraine this week.     Those include the Osprey S, which is carrying corn to Turkey, the Ramus and its cargo of wheat bound for Turkey, the Brave Commander carrying wheat to Djibouti, and the Bonita carrying corn to South Korea.  Four other ships are set to be inspected on their way to Ukraine. Russia has sought to ensure that inbound vessels are not bringing weapons for Ukrainian forces.  Three more ships departed Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Wednesday.  The coordination center said the Sara, carrying 8,000 metric tons of corn, and the Efe, carrying 7,250 metric tons of sunflower oil, left the Odesa port bound for Turkey.      The Petrel S, loaded with 18,500 metric tons of sunflower meal, left the Chornomorsk port and was headed to Amsterdam, the coordination center said.   Since exports began August 1, 24 vessels have left Ukraine.    Crimea blasts  A series of explosions during the past week in Russian-occupied Crimea are part of a new strategy being deployed by Ukrainian forces in the war, a Ukraine official said Wednesday.     A week ago, an attack at a Russian air base in Crimea destroyed nine warplanes. On Tuesday, a series of explosions rocked an ammunitions storage facility at a Russian base.   Russia called the latest attacks “sabotage.”   Ukrainian officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Washington Post that Ukraine special forces were responsible for the attacks in Crimea.   Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told the Post that the Ukrainian government’s official position is that it can neither confirm nor deny Ukrainian involvement in the Crimea attacks.    However, Reznikov also told the Post that striking targets behind Russian lines is part of Ukraine’s current military strategy. He added that Ukraine lacks weapons with the range to reach targets in Crimea from Ukrainian-controlled territory.   In 2014, Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities have vowed to recapture Crimea and other territories now occupied by Russia after Moscow’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.   In a speech following the August 9 attack, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the war “began with Crimea and must end with Crimea – its liberation.”    Elsewhere, Russian shelling of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, killed seven people and injured 16, the Ukrainian Emergencies Service said Wednesday.  Kharkiv has often been targeted, and Zelenskyy called Wednesday’s attack “a devious and cynical strike on civilians with no justification” in a Telegram post.   Also on Wednesday, Ukraine held disaster response drills after repeated shelling of the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest of its kind in Europe.    Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko told Reuters his government was very concerned about the safety of the plant in Enerhodar in the southeast of the country.      Both sides have accused the other of attacks near the facility in recent days and engaging in what they call “nuclear terrorism,” Reuters reported.        Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters. 

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Latest Developments in Ukraine: August 18

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine. The latest developments in Russia’s war on Ukraine. All times EDT. 12:02 a.m.: Residential construction by the Russian military is in full swing in one of the most heavily bombed areas of the occupied Mariupol, The Associated Press reported. The first two buildings of the new complex are set to be completed by September with the construction site employing 2,080 workers and over 280 units of heavy machinery. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.

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International Edition

Voice of America’s immigration news - August 17, 2022 - 23:30
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Myanmar Junta Criticizes ASEAN After Being Barred From its Meetings

Voice of America’s immigration news - August 17, 2022 - 23:18
Myanmar's military leadership on Wednesday lashed out at the ASEAN grouping of Southeast Asian countries for excluding its generals from regional gatherings, accusing it of caving to "external pressure."  Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have heaped condemnation on Myanmar's junta, which they say has failed to make concrete progress on a peace plan agreed to with the 10-nation bloc last year, including engaging with opponents and a cessation of hostilities.  Myanmar's military seized power from an elected government in a coup last year and has since then crushed dissent with lethal force. Most recently, the junta has been criticized for executing political activists and imprisoning Aung San Suu Kyi, the symbol of Myanmar's opposition and democracy movement.  ASEAN has barred Myanmar's generals from attending regional meetings, and some members said last month it would be forced to rethink the way forward unless the junta demonstrates progress on the peace plan.  The junta has declined offers to send non-political representatives instead to ASEAN meetings.  "If a seat representing a country is vacant, then it should not be labeled an ASEAN summit," junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said at a routine news conference on Wednesday, adding that Myanmar was working on implementing the peace plan.  "What they want is for us to meet and talk with the terrorists," he said, using the junta's label for pro-democracy movements that have taken up arms against the military.  He said ASEAN was violating its own policy of non-interference in a country's sovereign affairs while facing "external pressure," but did not elaborate.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cambodia, which is currently chairing ASEAN, did not address the accusation.  Ministry spokesperson Chum Sounry said ASEAN was "hopeful that the situation in Myanmar can be greatly improved, so that it can return as an indispensable member of our united ASEAN family again."  Several Western countries including the United States and Britain have imposed sanctions on Myanmar's junta over the coup.   

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