Somali forces killed about 40 al-Shabab fighters in the Middle Shabelle region, the government said Thursday, the latest clashes in a monthslong offensive that aims to weaken the grip of the Islamist militant group. Al-Shabab, an al-Qaida franchise that is seeking to impose its interpretation of Islamic law across the country, frequently stages deadly attacks in the capital, Mogadishu, and elsewhere. On Sunday, al-Shabab stormed a heavily guarded hotel near the president's residence in Mogadishu, killing nine people. The government, supported by clan militias and African Union troops, says it has killed more than 600 members of al-Shabab and recaptured 68 settlements over the last three months, as part of concerted efforts to end the militants' control over large portions of the Horn of Africa country. Al-Shabab's restrictions on deliveries of international aid have compounded the impact of the worst drought in four decades, officials say, leaving Somalia on the brink of famine. Different sides often give conflicting accounts of clashes. "The security forces and our international allies killed around 40 al-Shabab fighters and wounded several others," Somalia's Information Ministry said in a statement. The ministry described it as a planned operation in a forest near the village of Ali Foldhere in Middle Shabelle on Wednesday night, but al-Shabab and one clan fighter said the fighting arose from an attack by the militants.
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As much of the world returned to some kind of new normal in 2022, China remains the only country sticking to a strict “zero-COVID” policy to control the spread of a global pandemic. While credited with saving lives, the policy slowed the economy, exacerbated supply-chain disruptions, cost millions of jobs, forced a large portion of Chinese residents into some form of lockdown for months, and is now, experts say, forcing Beijing’s leadership to seek a way out of a problem they don’t admit having. Over the last weekend in November, protests against the zero-COVID policy erupted across China, the country where the virus was first identified in humans in late 2019 and where authorities in Wuhan, site of the initial outbreak, locked down millions of residents for most of the first four months of 2020. That draconian step saved thousands of lives, according to Chinese figures, and since then many Chinese have compared the 6.6 million deaths worldwide to Beijing’s official count of just 15,986 deaths. The U.S. alone has lost more than 1.08 million people. Beijing’s policy emphasized “always putting the people and their lives above everything else,” according to a November 25 analysis in the official Xinhua news outlet. 'We want freedom!' But three years into zero-COVID, people fed up with being locked down are in the streets chanting “No PCR test, we want freedom!” “End the lockdowns!” “Step down, Communist Party!” Protests of this scale are rare because the Chinese Communist Party limits freedom of speech and association. Under President Xi Jinping, whose increasingly authoritarian rule was extended for a historic third term in October, many citizens vent on social media, trying to stay ahead of censors. “China at one point was one of the world leaders in COVID response, and now it’s the only country in the world that hasn’t gotten back to a near normal,” said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Washington’s Georgetown University and director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law. “I think part of the reason for that is literally the stubbornness of Chinese leadership, and particularly Xi Jinping,” he told VOA Mandarin via phone. Xi Chen, an associate professor of health policy and economics at the Yale School of Public Health, told VOA Mandarin in a phone interview that public outrage and economic impact indicate that China needs to make “a big adjustment in its public health policy.” Medical experts inside China are making similar arguments. Dr. Zhang Wenhong, who heads Shanghai’s expert panel on COVID, said in a recent video circulating on the Chinese app WeChat that Beijing should consider relaxing its zero-COVID strategy soon. “Look at the U.S., their cases are several times higher than us, yet their people are living their lives to the fullest. It’s time for us to adjust our policy, people should be able to relax and live a normal life, we as medical workers are the ones that should be prepared to face a rise in severe cases,” he said in the video, which China’s censors deleted soon after it appeared. Georgetown’s Gostin said that through conversations with top epidemiologists in Hong Kong who advise Beijing on its COVID strategy, he believes that Xi understands that China needs to end its zero-COVID policy. “But China is running out of time,” Gostin added. Authorities commit to policy Officially, Chinese leadership had shown little interest in ending zero-COVID before the end of last month. On November 29, during the regular daily press briefing, a Reuters reporter in Beijing asked Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, "Given the widespread display of anger and frustration at the zero-COVID policy in recent days across China, is China thinking about ending it and if so, when?" Zhao, usually quick with an answer, looked at the papers on his podium for almost 20 seconds before asking the reporter to repeat his question. Zhao then paused for another 15 seconds before saying that China is following a “dynamic zero-COVID policy” and there is no public anger. His silence came after Xinhua issued commentaries on November 28, saying that while Beijing will do its best to accommodate the needs or desires of the people, it will stick to a “dynamic zero-COVID policy.” “From newborn babies to centenarians, we won’t miss one infected case, we won’t give up on one patient,” one commentary said. A day later, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who oversees China's COVID containment efforts, urged further "optimization" of testing, treatment and quarantine policies, according to Reuters. The agency cited other officials saying that current restrictions, such as forcing people from their homes into quarantine centers if they test positive for the virus, would be implemented more flexibly to reflect local conditions. Zero-COVID above all Xi has staked his political reputation on the fight against COVID, and that continues to mean mass testing, snap lockdowns and extensive quarantines. According to estimates by the Japanese investment bank Nomura, about 412 million people in China were in some kind of lockdown as of November 23. That accounts for almost a third of China’s total population and was up from 340 million the week before. Shanghai, China’s most populous city and financial hub, experienced two months of strict lockdowns this spring, bringing business to a halt and severing key links in already disrupted regional and global supply chains. In November, with the number of cases increasing in Beijing, many residents in the country’s capital feared a similar lockdown as residents of other cities blamed the zero-COVID policy for tragedies. Father says policy 'indirectly killed' his son In the western city of Lanzhou, a 3-year-old boy died of carbon monoxide poisoning after COVID restrictions kept him from receiving medical care. His father told Reuters that the strict COVID-19 policies “indirectly killed” his son. In China’s northern city of Hohhot, a 55-year-old woman committed suicide by jumping from the 12th floor, where she had been quarantined for two weeks. The woman was reported to have suffered from anxiety and was on anti-depression medication, sparking discussion about the impact on mental health from strict zero-COVID lockdowns. The last straw was a fire in Urumqi on November 24 that killed at least 10 people and injured nine in a building with stringent lockdown protocols that that may have prevented victims from fleeing the flames. In a news briefing after the fire, Li Wensheng, head of the Urumqi City Fire Rescue department, said “the residents lacked the ability to rescue themselves.” “I think China’s zero-COVID strategy has been disastrous for the country in so many different ways,” said Gostin of Georgetown. “Most importantly it's really been a huge violation of human rights: not just the lockdowns, but also the intrusive surveillance that we've seen of the entire population on their mobile phones.” To enter any public space, all residents of China rely on a color-coded smart phone app that tracks exposure to infection. In June, media reports surfaced that authorities in Zhengzhou, the capital of central Henan province, were using the codes to restrict the movement of people heading to protest at local banks that had frozen their deposits. An economy upended Although the zero-COVID policy had nothing to do with the Zhengzhou bank run, it has slowed the country’s economic growth. Previous official estimates said China’s economy would grow 5.5% in 2022. Now, the International Monetary Fund has lowered China’s economic growth projection for this year to 3.3%. The difference equals about $400 billion in lost GDP. “International trade and tourism have ground to a halt. Supply chains have been severely disrupted," Gostin said. "And all in all, I think it's actually reduced public trust in Xi Jinping, and it burst the bubble of so-called Chinese efficiency and effectiveness in policy.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, U.S. President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said that he thinks China’s zero-COVID strategy “doesn’t make public health sense” on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on November 27. “They went into a prolonged lockdown without any seeming purpose or endgame to it,” Fauci said. Exit strategy Unlike almost all other countries, a large percentage of China’s population lacks immunity because most people have not been infected with COVID. Without this so-called herd immunity, it may be difficult for China to extricate itself from its zero-COVID position. The elderly are among the most vulnerable, but according to new statistics released by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention on November 29, only 65.8% of people over the age of 80 have received booster shots, up from 40% as of November 11. Chen of the Yale School of Public Health said there’s real concern among international experts about China’s ability to treat severe cases. "There is no shortage of hospital beds in China. The number of hospital beds per 100,000 people is basically the same as that of the United States. But for intensive care unit beds, it’s a completely different story,” he said. According to government statistics, there are 3.6 intensive care (ICU) beds per 100,000 people in China, compared to 11 in Singapore and 29.4 in the United States. “This is China’s weakest point,” Chen said. “Once the country relaxes the zero-COVID strategy, there will inevitably be a proportion of severe cases. And there will be deaths considering the current ICU beds level.” He added that as the country pours all its medical resources to COVID testing, there are few resources available for making these long-term preparations. Shin-Ru Shih, director of the Research Center for Emerging Viral Infections at Taiwan’s Chang Gung University in Taiwan, said that even though the omicron variant has become less virulent, it is still a threat to Chinese people who have not been infected or vaccinated. “The best way for China to fight against COVID and to reduce economic impact is vaccination by next-generation vaccines,” she said. Gostin stressed that it’s particularly important to make sure that a large percentage of the vulnerable populations gets jabbed with effective vaccines and boosters, saying “that is the only way China can emerge from zero-COVID … without a considerable loss of life.”
With major street protests erupting in Iran and China in recent weeks, U.S. President Joe Biden's administration is facing questions about its response to the unrest roiling two of the most significant U.S. adversaries. To date, the administration's responses to events in both China and Iran have been mostly measured, though distinct. In the case of Iran, where months of protests followed the death in police custody of a young woman accused of not wearing a headscarf appropriately, the president himself has criticized Tehran's policies. As early as October, he said that women "should be able to wear, in God's name, what they want to wear" and "Iran has to end the violence against its own citizens [for] simply exercising their fundamental rights." With regard to China, where the protests have primarily focused on the government's draconian lockdown procedures related to its "zero-COVID" policy, the administration has been very careful to say that it supports peoples' right to peacefully protest. However, it has not echoed demands by some of the protesters that leaders step down. In recent remarks, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said of the events in China, "[O]ur message to peaceful protesters around the world is the same and consistent: People should be allowed the right to assemble and to peacefully protest policies or laws or dictates that they take issue with." Response to China criticized as 'weak' There are reasons the United States might be more hesitant to directly confront the Chinese government over its COVID policies. China is one of the largest economies in the world, and the Biden administration has been working to shore up a relationship badly damaged by trade disputes and security concerns. Iran, by contrast, remains economically crippled by sanctions, and is not nearly as important a player on the international stage as China. However, that has not stopped Republicans in Washington from characterizing the administration's response as "weak," particularly with regard to China. In a statement released Monday, for example, Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Chris Smith, both Republicans, said, "The Biden Administration's weak rejection of the [Chinese Communist Party's] zero-Covid policy and refusal to call out [Chinese President Xi Jinping's] totalitarian grip is nothing short of cowardly. Just weeks after shaking hands with Xi in Bali, President Biden and his administration have once again demonstrated that they are unwilling to stand up to the CCP and stand in solidarity with the Chinese people." Public diplomacy Experts in public diplomacy also told VOA they were concerned that the administration is missing an opportunity by failing to more aggressively condemn China's lockdown policies and the strain it has placed on many of the Chinese people. Ash Jain, director for democratic order at the Atlantic Council's Scowcroft Strategy Initiative, said that the administration's measured tone with regard to China "reflects a keen interest in keeping the lines of engagement open with Beijing." Jain said, "I do think there's a case to be made that the administration could be even more forward leaning in terms of rhetoric." He added, "U.S. leaders are in a good position when they speak out clearly and forcefully about support for a values-based foreign policy, for supporting democracy and human rights. And that message is even better when it comes directly from the president." Speaking truth to power Ilan I. Berman, a senior vice president and director of the Future of Public Diplomacy Project at the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC), said there is an argument to be made that the administration can't achieve much by upping the rhetoric against China. "In the context of China, you could make the case, as some in the administration do, both publicly and privately, that moral support for the protesters is well and good, but there's really nothing material right now that the U.S. can do to move the needle, to strengthen the protests, to make the regime in Beijing more rickety," he told VOA. However, he added, there are other reasons to support more forceful rhetoric. "We are in a systems clash with the People's Republic of China. It's a clash of values. … If that's the case, if that's the frame and the lens through which we're looking at what's happening on the ground, in the PRC, then frankly, we have a duty to draw contrast, to explain to the world and to the Chinese people, the differences between the two models, and why the safe bet is ours and not theirs." Playing into regimes' hands Some have argued that the Biden administration is wise to limit its comments in support of protesters in both China and Iran, because leaders in Beijing and Tehran are already eager to try to characterize the protests as the product of foreign — particularly American — interference. In a recent interview with Reuters, Scott Kennedy, senior adviser and trustee chair in Chinese business and economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, "The White House is wise to refrain from speaking out in defense of the protesters and their demands … China has long asserted the U.S. government has been behind domestic protests, from Tiananmen in 1989 to Hong Kong in 2020. Saying anything now would give life to those assertions." Berman, of AFPC, said he doubted that the level of U.S. rhetoric would have much impact on efforts to blame outside forces for protests, whether in China or Iran. "Both regimes, actually, are making those arguments already," he said. "There's nothing to stop them from styling the protests, whether the ones in Tehran or the ones in Beijing, as being a CIA plot, as being orchestrated by the United States. That they can do, independent of anything that we do to show support for the protesters." While stressing what he saw as the importance of the U.S. taking a clear stand on the protests in both countries, the Atlantic Council's Jain said it is also important to remain clear-eyed about how much U.S. rhetoric can really accomplish right now. "In terms of making a difference on the ground, it's hard to see how that would change the dynamic," he said. "You're talking about regimes that have just years and years of experience in utilizing repressive tactics to prevent these movements from presenting any real threat to the regime."
Russian-made helicopters and weapons were used in an airstrike in September that left 12 people dead — half of them children — at a Myanmar school, according to a human rights group that monitors violations in the Southeast Asian country. Russia, which has diplomatic ties with Myanmar, denies the accusation. The group, Myanmar Witness, made its allegations in a recent report detailing what it says happened at the Let Yet Kone school located on the compound of a Buddhist monastery in Let Yet Kone village in Tabayin township. The report says Mi-35 and Mi-17 helicopters were used in the attack that lasted several hours, along with Russian-made S-5 rockets. “The remnants allegedly found at the location in Tabayin were confirmed to be S-5 rockets by our arms team," Myanmar Witness said in an email to VOA. According to Zaw Min Tun, a spokesperson for the military junta, the troops were flown to the village after the government received word that fighters from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and a local anti-coup group known as the People’s Defense Forces were moving weapons into the village. The junta accuses the KIA of supporting groups that oppose the military government. The KIA is seeking autonomy for the Kachin ethnic group. There has been no response from the KIA or the People’s Defense Forces. VOA spoke to villagers who say no weapons were in the area. Children were victims One of the children killed was 14-year-old Zin Ko Oo. In an interview with VOA, his father said the teenager did not want to go to school “because it was unsafe for students at school, and he feared soldiers would come to the school and shoot them.” The father declined to be named for fear of retribution. The school had an enrollment of around 300 elementary and middle school students. Locals told VOA that parents and volunteer teachers set up the school in secret after a February 2021 coup saw the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The coup triggered a civil disobedience movement, known as CDM, around the country. On September 16, the day the two army helicopters attacked the school, Zin Ko Oo was attending class. When the helicopter gunships opened fire with machine guns and heavy weapons, he ran to a classroom where his niece and nephew sought shelter, his father told VOA. “He helped to hide them under a wooden cot and covered them with his body and hands, but he was hit on the back of his head and legs by the bullets that came through the school’s roof.” The grieving father said four small children were also struck in the hail of bullets and their bodies shredded. The father said he was told the four youngsters died on the spot, but Zin Ko Oo was brought to Ye-U hospital, 11 kilometers away from the village, where he later died. The soldiers put the remains of the four children in garbage bags and took the bodies to their military post, Zin Ko Oo’s father said. From there, he said, the bodies were taken to a hospital for cremation. “The military also did not allow the parents to see the bodies or have their children’s ashes back after the Ye-U hospital cremated them," the father said. The father also said he was told the parents did not know the bodies would be cremated. Zin Ko Oo’s father also told VOA he was the only parent who had a chance to view his son’s body at the hospital. The father said he was able to do so only because he begged a military officer on duty to let him see his son one last time. Zin Ko Oo had already died by the time his father saw him. “I asked a doctor to allow me to take my son’s body, but they refused because they were afraid of the army,” Zin Ko Oo’s father said, adding, "They finally gave me his ashes.” Zin Ko Oo’s father said no one from the People’s Defense Forces had been in their village or the school as the regime’s spokesperson, Zaw Min Tun, alleged at a press briefing in the Myanmar capital, Naypyidaw, on September 20. The military spokesperson also accused the government's opponents of using the villagers as human shields. Running scared “We have never ever seen this kind of brutal attack targeting a school and us. We were civilians and did not have any weapons. We were so terrified and running as much as we could,” Zin Ko Oo’s father said, in describing the attack. After the helicopters fired rockets and machine guns, the junta soldiers who were inside the helicopters raided the village. Zin Ko Oo’s father told VOA his house and truck were burned by the soldiers. He said he lived five houses away from the west side of the monastery, where classes were in session. He said soldiers set fire to some of the motorcycles in a repair shop he owns. Myanmar Witness stated, "The attack on Let Yet Kone school is part of an emerging trend that shows the Myanmar military’s pattern of increasing recklessness towards the safety of children, especially around schools." The Let Yet Kone school is in Sagaing, one of seven regions in the country. There are thought to be 27 community schools, 4,000 students and 380 CDM teachers in Sagaing region, according to Myanmar Witness. The junta has outlawed such schools, arresting teachers as well as support staff. "Another spot report was done on a school where a teacher was beheaded and fingers [were] mutilated so that one was definitely a killing with a message against CDM/NUG supported schools,” Myanmar Witness wrote in its email to VOA. The NUG refers to members of Myanmar’s exiled National Unity Government. It was established in opposition to the junta. Separately, a group established in 2018 by the U.N. Human Rights Council said the school attack in Let Yet Kone village might be considered a war crime, with commanders criminally liable. According to a September 27 statement by the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), “Armed attacks that target civilians are prohibited by international laws of war and can be punished as war crimes or crimes against humanity.”
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.
Chinese citizens living abroad have been attending rallies across the U.S. this week in support of myriad protests that have been taking place throughout China. They are the first mass demonstrations in China since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests for political freedom in Beijing. The current demonstrators are seeking freedom from China’s “zero-COVID” policy. In the U.S. cities of Los Angeles, Washington and New York, Chinese students and residents at rallies have been critical of the Chinese government and the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, chanting in Mandarin “the Chinese Communist Party, step down” and “Xi Jinping, step down.” “People are dying in China,” said Han Wang, a Chinese student who organized a candlelight vigil in Los Angeles on Nov. 29. People in the U.S. and China have been protesting China’s strict zero-COVID policy, which has prompted sporadic and lengthy lockdowns through the country, making it difficult to get food for some residents. “Way more people are dying because of this. They're starving to death,” said a Chinese citizen currently living in Los Angeles who asked to be identified as “Max.” She and many other people attending demonstrations in the U.S. covered themselves from head to toe, with dark sunglasses and masks, because they fear their protests in the U.S. will cause the Chinese government to retaliate against their families in China. “A lot of the workers are all sealed up at home and can’t go out and can’t pay their mortgages. I think the continued lockdowns are not scientific. It’s not right,” said Liu Xiaomei, a Chinese citizen living in New York and using an alias. Tragic catalyst The simmering discontent exploded throughout China after a deadly apartment fire on November 24 in the city of Urumqi, in northwest China. The region is home to China’s Uyghur Muslims. One Urumqi resident told VOA that because of the zero-COVID policy, the doors to the fire escape were chained from the outside, trapping people inside the burning building. A fire department official said the residents were not aware of an alternate fire escape. Local hospital employees told a U.S.-based Uyghur news outlet that 44 people died in the fire, but the government puts the official death toll at 10. "Indeed, on social media there are some forces with ulterior motives relating the fire with the local response to COVID-19. The Urumqi city government has already held a news conference to clarify what actually happened, and refuted the disinformation and smears," Zhao Lijian, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said Monday. The vigil in Los Angeles was not only to commemorate the people who died in the fire, according to a student who wanted to be identified as “Kiki.” “These 44 fellow citizens also represent every single person in China — could be you, could be me -- we are actually inside the building, the big fire together. If we don’t speak out today, and don’t act, then no one in the world will hear. All the voices will be buried,” she said. From Washington, Hamid Kerim has been following the protests in China and the rallies in the U.S. Originally from China, Kerim is Uyghur and owns two restaurants around the U.S. capital city. He said the protests are long overdue, given China’s repressive policy against Uyghurs, which he described as genocide and which China denies. “The Urumqi fire ignited everyone’s heart. It made them, the people, stand up. I respect and support the protesters, but in my opinion it’s a little late. But it’s still not too late.” Uyghur community Some Uyghurs are encouraged the Chinese diaspora is recognizing what’s happening to their community in China. “I hope the Chinese [living] around the world can stand together with the Uyghurs, and Uyghurs can also stand together with the Chinese. We can jointly realize our desire of having a peaceful and free country. That’s my hope,” Kerim said. China has been rejecting criticism of its actions in the Xinjiang region, where many Uyghurs live. Beijing has said it is fighting against terrorism and has helped bring social stability and prosperity to the area. “China is a country governed by the rule of law, and the various legal rights and freedoms enjoyed by Chinese citizens are fully guaranteed in accordance with the law. At the same time, any rights and freedoms must be exercised within the framework of the law," Zhao Lijian, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said on Tuesday, regarding the protests against COVID-19 lockdowns in China that erupted after the fire. Freedom quest For some Chinese living in the U.S., the protests of China’s COVID control measures are transforming into a fight for additional freedoms. “We are here to support them [people in China] to fight for freedom and democracy,” Chinese student Wang said. “The Chinese people, they don't have the freedom to express themselves. They don't have the freedom of publication. They don't have the freedom of speech. Right now, they even lost their freedom to go out of their own house, so it's so brutal.” “No lockdown but freedom, no lies but dignity. We are tired of the party's lies. I love China. I love my people, which is why I'm here. I, we don't want the Cultural Revolution again. We want reform. We don't want a dictator. We want to vote for our leaders,” Max said. “He [Xi] is a fascist leader. He is not a communist leader, he is a fascist leader and we need help.” Even with protests in China and demonstrations in the U.S., a Los Angeles student who requested to be called “Kenneth” expressed doubt that change would happen. “I think honestly it will do very little to stop China. China is way too powerful. And although we can fight here, although we could let our voice be spoken, we could do whatever we can, but at the end of the day, it's a losing battle. But that does not mean that we should give up,” said Kenneth, who is a Hui Muslim from China. He said China has been closing mosques and Islamic schools, and his community’s ability to practice their religion is being slowly wiped away. Many overseas Chinese attending the rallies said they will continue to speak out for their friends and loved ones in China in hopes of a better life for them and the next generation. Genia Dulot in Los Angeles and VOA Mandarin Service video journalists, Fang Bing and Jiu Dao in New York and Wang Ping in Washington, contributed to this report.
The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on three senior North Korean officials connected to the country's weapons programs after Pyongyang's latest and largest intercontinental ballistic missile test last month. The U.S. Treasury Department named the individuals as Jon Il Ho, Yu Jin, and Kim Su Gil, all of whom were designated for sanctions by the European Union in April. The latest sanctions follow a November 18 ICBM test by North Korea, part of a record-breaking spate of more than 60 missile launches this year, and amid concerns that it may be about to resume nuclear tests, which it hasn’t done since 2017. A Treasury statement said Jon Il Ho and Yu Jin played major roles in the development of weapons of mass destruction while serving as vice director and director, respectively, of the North Korea's Munitions Industry Department. It said Kim Su Gil served as director of the Korean People's Army General Political Bureau from 2018 to 2021 and oversaw implementation of decisions related to the WMD program. "Treasury is taking action in close trilateral coordination with the Republic of Korea and Japan against officials who have had leading roles in the DPRK's unlawful WMD and ballistic missile programs," said Brian Nelson, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, in the statement, using the initials of North Korea's official name. "Recent launches demonstrate the need for all countries to fully implement U.N. Security Council resolutions, which are intended to prevent the DPRK from acquiring the technologies, materials, and revenue Pyongyang needs to develop its prohibited WMD and ballistic missile capabilities." The sanctions freeze any U.S.-based assets of the individuals and bar dealings with them but appear largely symbolic. Decades of U.S.-led sanctions have failed to halt North Korea's increasingly sophisticated missile and nuclear weapon programs, and China and Russia have blocked recent efforts to impose more United Nations sanctions, saying they should instead be eased to jumpstart talks and avoid humanitarian harm. "Targeting senior officials inside North Korea responsible for WMD and missile activities and working with South Korea and Japan are important, but it is an inadequate and symbolic response to 60+ missile tests, including 8 ICBM tests," said Anthony Ruggiero, who headed North Korea sanctions efforts under former President Donald Trump. "The Biden administration should sanction Pyongyang's revenue and force Kim Jong Un to make difficult decisions about his strategic priorities," he said. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said earlier that Washington was committed to using pressure and diplomacy to entice North Korea into giving up its nuclear arsenal. He said the administration had no illusions about the challenges but remained committed to holding Pyongyang accountable. A spokesperson at the White House National Security Council said sanctions had been successful in "slowing down the development" of the weapons programs and Pyongyang had turned to "increasingly desperate ways to generate revenue like virtual currency heists and other cybercrime to fund its weapons programs." "The DPRK's decision to continue ignoring our outreach is not in their best interest, or in the interest of the people of the DPRK."
Pakistan warned Thursday that cross-border terrorism emanating from Afghanistan “is both alarming and dangerous” for regional peace, calling on the neighboring country’s ruling Taliban to honor their anti-terror pledges. Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah issued the warning amid a new wave of deadly terrorist attacks in Pakistan that has claimed the lives of hundreds of people, mostly security forces. Outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), known as the Pakistani Taliban, has claimed credit for plotting much of the violence. Leaders and commanders of the group, an offshoot and ally of the Afghan Taliban, have largely taken refuge in Afghanistan. “If the TTP is claiming responsibility for terrorist activities in Pakistan, it should be a matter of serious concern for the government of Afghanistan because their soil is being used for terrorism,” Sanaullah told reporters in Islamabad. “[The Taliban] have given assurances to the world that they would not allow the use of Afghanistan’s soil by terrorist outfits, and they should deliver on their pledges.” The Afghan Taliban deny they allow TTP or any other group to use Afghan territory for plotting cross-border terrorist attacks, promising they will try for treason anyone found guilty of such crimes. Suicide bombing Sanaullah spoke a day after TTP claimed credit for a suicide bombing of a truck transporting policeman on their way to protect medical workers administering polio vaccines in southwestern Baluchistan province. The blast in the provincial capital, Quetta, killed at least four people and wounded more than two dozen, mostly policemen. TTP is listed as a global terrorist organization by the United States and the United Nations. It has carried out hundreds of suicide attacks and other terrorist strikes in Pakistan, killing tens of thousands of people since 2007 when the group emerged in volatile districts along the Afghan border. Pakistan sustained years of counterterrorism military operations, which forced TTP members to flee to Afghanistan and establish sanctuaries there. But the return to power in Kabul of the Taliban in August 2021 has emboldened TTP members, and they enjoy greater operational freedom on the other side of the border, Pakistani officials maintain. Sanaullah noted up to 7,000 combatants linked to the Pakistani Taliban and their families are currently sheltering on Afghan soil, saying the government is ready to talk with them to facilitate their repatriation if they agree to surrender and hand over their weapons in compliance with Pakistani laws. TTP announces end to unilateral "cease-fire" On Wednesday, the TTP said it was ending a unilateral “cease-fire” with the government and resuming attacks across Pakistan in retaliation for the government’s military operations against the group. Pakistani officials rejected the claims as "lame excuses” and said the operations were launched to prevent TTP fighters from regrouping or reorganizing in the country. The militant truce stemmed from several rounds of talks the Taliban government in Afghanistan recently brokered and hosted between Pakistani and TTP representatives.
Democratic Republic of Congo's armed forces on Thursday said M23 rebels and their allies killed 50 civilians in a massacre in the eastern town of Kishishe this week, which the M23 denied. Congo's army and the M23, a Tutsi-led militia, have been locked in fighting for months in the country's restive east, with each accusing the other of initiating attacks. "The M23 Movement rejects the baseless allegations made against it in Kishishe," the group's political spokesperson, Lawrence Kanyuka, said in a statement. "The M23 reminds the international and national community that it has never targeted civilian populations." The United Nations and a U.S. diplomat said they also had information about civilian killings on Tuesday in Kishishe, North Kivu province, but did not give details. Both called for an investigation. "We are deeply saddened by the massacre of civilians in Kishishe, which could constitute a war crime," Stephanie Miley, charge d'affaires for the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa, said on Twitter. Reports of abuse A spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the United Nations had received reports of human rights abuses committed during clashes between the M23 and local militias in Kishishe, which included a high number of civilian casualties. Congo and U.N. experts say neighboring Rwanda supports the M23, which Rwanda has consistently denied. The two countries took part in talks last week in Angola aimed at finding solutions to the conflict. One of their agreements was that an East African Community (EAC) regional force would intervene against the M23 if it did not stop fighting and withdraw from its positions. Thousands protest The EAC started sending troops into eastern Congo earlier this year to help fight various armed groups. A South Sudan army spokesman on Thursday said a battalion of 700 South Sudan troops would be sent to join the regional force. Earlier on Thursday, thousands of people took to the streets of Goma and Bukavu, the two main cities in Congo's east, to protest the deterioration of the security situation.
The United Nations and partners on Thursday appealed for a record $51.5 billion in aid money for 2023, with tens of millions of additional people expected to need assistance, testing the humanitarian response system "to its limits." The appeal represents a 25% increase from 2022 and is more than five times the amount sought a decade ago. The U.N. Global Humanitarian Overview estimates that an extra 65 million people will need help next year, bringing the total to 339 million in 68 countries. That represents more than 4% of the people on the planet or about the population of the United States. "Humanitarian needs are shockingly high, as this year's extreme events are spilling into 2023," said U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths, citing the war in Ukraine and drought in the Horn of Africa. "For people on the brink, this appeal is a lifeline." More than 100 million people have been driven from their homes as conflict and climate change fuel a displacement crisis. Nine months of war between Russia and Ukraine have disrupted food exports and about 45 million people in 37 countries are currently facing starvation, the report said. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to major setbacks in child vaccination programs and thwarted efforts to end extreme poverty, fueling other diseases such as cholera, Griffiths said at the launch Thursday. For the first time ever, 10 countries have individual appeals of more than $1 billion — Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen. But donor funding is already under strain with the multiple crises, forcing aid workers to make tough decisions on priorities. The United Nations faces the biggest funding gap ever, with its unmet funding at 53% in 2022, based on data through to mid-November. "The humanitarian response system is being tested to its limits," Griffiths said. Unlike in other parts of the U.N. where fees depend on countries' economic size, humanitarian funding is voluntary and relies overwhelmingly on Western donations. The United States is by far the biggest donor, giving upwards of $14 billion so far this year, followed by Germany and the European Commission while other major economies like China and India have given less than $10 million each. In remarks at the same U.N. event, EU ambassador Thomas Wagner said it was imperative to expand and diversify the donor base which he described as "disturbingly narrow."
The Supreme Court on Thursday said the Biden administration program to cancel some student debt will remain blocked for now, but the justices agreed to take up the case in late winter. The court's decision to hear arguments relatively quickly means it is likely to determine whether the widespread loan cancellations are legal by late June. That's about two months before the newly extended pause on loan repayments is set to expire. The administration had wanted a court order that would have allowed the program to take effect even as court challenges proceed. But as a fallback, it suggested the high court hold arguments and decide the issue. Biden's plan promises $10,000 in federal student debt forgiveness to those with incomes of less than $125,000, or households earning less than $250,000. Pell Grant recipients, who typically demonstrate more financial need, are eligible for an additional $10,000 in relief. The Congressional Budget Office has said the program will cost about $400 billion over the next three decades. More than 26 million people have applied for the relief, with 16 million approved, but the Education Department stopped processing applications last month after a federal judge in Texas struck down the plan. The Texas case is one of two in which federal judges have forbidden the administration from implementing the loan cancellations. In a separate lawsuit filed by six states, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis also put the plan on hold, and that case before the Supreme Court.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Thursday issued red alerts regarding the ongoing eruption of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Volcano — the world’s largest active volcano — as lava flows from the eruption are posing a threat to a major highway. The agency’s red alert warning means a volcanic eruption is underway that poses limited hazards to ground-based communities. The alert includes an aviation warning, as significant emission of ash into the atmosphere could affect air traffic. The USGS says lava from Mauna Loa is flowing from two active fissures, and the most active flow is moving toward the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, also known as Saddle Road. The highway is considered the major highway on Hawaii’s Big Island where Mauna Loa is located. In its report, the USGS said the largest lava flow was about 5.8 kilometers from the highway, and as of Thursday had slowed to about 24 meters per hour. The report said the flows are reaching a relatively flat area and are beginning to slow down. The USGS explained that as this happens, the lava flow will spread out and inflate. Forecasts indicate it may take two days for the lava flows to reach the highway. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported Wednesday that lava from the eruption crossed the access road to NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory — which measures carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — and had taken out power lines to the site. The Associated Press reported that the federal government is looking for a temporary alternate site on the Hawaiian island, as well as considering flying a generator to the observatory to get its power back up. Mauna Loa began erupting Sunday for the first time since 1984, ending its longest quiet period in recorded history. It last erupted in March and April 1984, sending a flow of lava within 8.05 kilometers of Hilo, the Big Island’s largest city. Mauna Loa is 4,169 meters high and part of the chain of volcanoes that formed the Hawaiian Islands in the Pacific Ocean more than 5,800 kilometers from the U.S. mainland. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.
TRANSCRIPT: The Inside Story: Biden’s Road to Bali Episode 68 – December 1, 2022 Show Open: Unidentified Narrator: U.S. President Joe Biden meets world leaders in Indonesia, while Vice President Kamala Harris visits Thailand for the APEC Summit. as the United States shifts focus to the Asian continent. How will the U.S. hedge China’s growing influence in the region? And what does it mean for Russia’s war on Ukraine? Now on The Inside Story: Biden’s Road to Bali. The Inside Story: PATSY WIDASKUSWARA, VOA White House Bureau Chief: From Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I’m Patsy Widakuswara, VOA White House Bureau Chief. I traveled here with President Joe Biden, the first stop in his trip to Southeast Asia. From Phnom Penh, I’ll take you to Bali, then Bangkok, following Biden and vice president Kamala Harris as they attempt to navigate China’s influence in the region and broaden the coalition to isolate Moscow over its war on Ukraine. Stay with me, in this episode of The Inside Story. In his first stop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, at the U.S. – ASEAN summit, President Joe Biden reaffirmed to Southeast Asian nations that the U.S. is committed to “ASEAN Centrality” – the principle that regional engagements are driven by the ten-country bloc, not great power rivalry. U.S. President Joe Biden: ASEAN is the heart of my administration’s Indo Pacific strategy. And we continue to strengthen our commitment to work in lockstep with an empowered, unified ASEAN. PATSY WIDASKUSWARA: Political violence in Myanmar since last year’s military coup against Aung San Suu Kyi’s government is high on the agenda. Leaders have warned Myanmar’s junta to implement ASEAN’s peace plan or continue being barred from the bloc's meetings. Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, will assume ASEAN’s chair next year. He is expected to take a tougher approach than the current chair Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia: Indonesia proposed that the participation of non-political level representation of Myanmar should also be applied beyond summit and foreign ministers' meeting. PATSY WIDASKUSWARA: Biden met with Hun Sen, the region’s longest-ruling leader, in office since 1985. PATSY WIDASKUSWARA: Activists have urged Biden to hold Hun Sen accountable for the country’s democratic decline. But with Phnom Penh firmly in Beijing’s embrace, there may not be much that Biden can do. During his meeting with Hun Sen earlier this week, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged $27 million in development aid for Cambodia. Bunna Vann, The Thinker Cambodia: Whenever there’s pressure from the western country especially from the U.S., China will be at the back of the Cambodian government providing support. When the U.S. have put a sanction to the Cambodian government, China will provide the economic support to the Cambodian government. PATSY WIDASKUSWARA: There’s concern that Cambodia is secretly allowing Chinese warships to dock in its Ream Naval Base in the Gulf of Thailand. Earlier this year Beijing funded to revamp the base, heightening fears among some ASEAN members concerned about Chinese expansionist ambition in the South China Sea. From Phnom Penh, Biden traveled to Bali, Indonesia, for the G-20 summit with leaders of the world’s twenty largest economies. There too, divisions between major powers overshadowed talks. I flew with the president on Air Force One as radio pool reporter. While I’ve traveled on the presidential plane around three dozen times in the past four years on the White House beat, this trip was special. I was going home. As the first Indonesian American to return to her birth country with the U.S. president, I am incredibly proud and grateful for this milestone in my career. Plus, the kind crew of Air Force One gave me extra presidential candy for my family and friends! For President Joko Widodo, hosting the G20 summit was meant to showcase Indonesia’s progress under his presidency. But he faced initial boycott threats from Western leaders who insisted that President Vladimir Putin of Russia, a G-20 member, be excluded from the group as punishment for his invasion of Ukraine. Widodo resisted. In the end, Putin chose not to come in person, and sent foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in his place. I spoke with Indonesian finance minister Sri Mulyani, who was instrumental in navigating geopolitical tensions ahead of the summit, on the fallout of the war on Ukraine and the impact of the US-China rivalry in the region. Sri Mulyani, Indonesia Minister of Finance: From the very beginning we say that the theme of "Recover Together Recover Stronger" is very important. This is showing that the G 20 as the global economic forum, premier global economic cooperation forum should be able to address the issues [that are] economically important globally, that is how to recover together pick up stronger from the pandemic. The second one we also as a presidency we also [reminded] the membership especially the ones who tried to say that 'well, why don't we just disinvite Russia?' We said that the G20 was created to save the world from economic collapse during the global financial crisis. And that kind of cooperation certainly [is needed] not only [when] facing the global financial crisis back in 2008 but also when we are facing the pandemic in which our [countries] need to work together. No single country can actually address the issue [of the] pandemic which is actually borderless. And then also the issues regarding climate change, which also require a lot of cooperation definitely in order for us to address the issues of this global challenge. So we reminded all the members that this kind of cooperation is non-negotiable for us. This forum should not be breaking. PATSY WIDASKUSWARA: I want to move on to another meeting that was considered partly Indonesia's diplomatic success, which is the meeting between President Biden President Xi, which was some sort of modest lowering of tension in the region. From your point of view, from point of view of Indonesia and the region, what is the most concerning about the US China rivalry? Do you feel that there is a new cold war brewing in this region? Sri Mulyani, Indonesia Minister of Finance: So for all of us – I think ASEAN ten, the rest of the world – we have the interest to make the relationship work in a responsible way and that's exactly what was communicated by the two leaders. That is going to create less damage to the very fragile global economic recovery at this very moment. And at the same time, also creating a much better – if they have any differences or any political objective then they should have the ability to discuss. But for sure ASEAN and Asia in general, this is the region which is being seen as the brightest part of the world in terms of economic performance, relatively safe in terms of the security as well as the war or tensions in this case. And that's allowing many of the ASEAN countries to actually catch up and build and develop so that they are reducing the poverty, creating prosperity and creating also a net positive benefit to the world. PATSY WIDASKUSWARA: In a diplomatic compromise to U.S. and European leaders, Indonesia invited President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to speak virtually despite Ukraine not being a member of the G-20, group of the twenty largest economies in the world. VOA’s Ukrainian White House Correspondent Iuliia Iarmolenko spoke with U.S. National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby in Bali, about the peace plan that Zelesnkyy presented at the summit. Iuliia Iarmolenko, VOA Ukrainian White House Correspondent: One of the points in this 10-point peace plan was that after war ends, Ukraine wants to have a security guarantee, and one of the proposals is the so-called Kiev Security Compact. Does the United States support this format? John Kirby, U.S. National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications What the United States supports, again, right now is a Ukrainian armed forces that can continue to defend their sovereignty and defend their people to defend their country and gain back the territory that Russia has taken or attempted to take in some cases. I'm not going to get ahead of where we are right now. And I'm certainly not going to get a head and jump into what negotiations would look like. Obviously, we want the Ukrainian military to continue to succeed on the battlefield. And we are already talking with the Ukrainians about long term defense needs and what that might look like. But we're just not at a point now where we can say definitively exactly what that's going to look like. PATSY WIDASKUSWARA: Bali is world renowned as a tropical paradise. In another diplomatic win for Indonesia, this “island of the gods” was a fitting setting for the highly anticipated meeting between two superpowers – President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Amid heightened tensions both leaders stressed the need to manage differences and avoid conflict. Xi Jinping, Chinese President: We, as the leaders of China and the United States, should play a role in guiding and setting the directions so as to find the correct direction for the development of the relations between our two countries. PATSY WIDASKUSWARA: In the meeting that lasted over three hours Biden said he sought to lower tensions over Taiwan, a self-ruled island Beijing considers its breakaway province. U.S. President Joe Biden: I do not think there's any imminent attempt on the part of China to invade Taiwan and made it clear that our policy on Taiwan has not changed at all, it’s the same exact position we've had. I made it clear that we want to see cross strait issues peacefully resolved. PATSY WIDASKUSWARA: But just days after Biden and Xi met to lower tensions, Vice President Kamala Harris visited Palawan Island in the Philippines, underscoring that an attack on the Philippines would invoke U.S. mutual defense. Palawan sits just 330 km east of the disputed Spratly Islands claimed entirely by China and partly by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. Kamala Harris, U.S. Vice President: As the United States as long made clear, we support the 2016 ruling of the UN arbitral tribunal which delivered a unanimous and final decision firmly rejecting China's expansive South China Sea maritime claims. PATSY WIDASKUSWARA: China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam – have competing territorial claims in various parts of the sea, with Beijing claiming most of it. Skirmishes have often occurred. Phillipines President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.: Ferdinand Marcos Jr, Philippine President: The upheavals that we are seeing, especially, not only in the region, but especially in the region, these partnerships become even more important. PATSY WIDASKUSWARA: China shot back. Zhao Lijian, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson: We are not opposed to normal exchanges between the US and the Philippines, but such exchanges should not harm the interests of other countries. PATSY WIDASKUSWARA: As China increases military activity in the region, Washington is seeking to repair ties with Manila after fraught relations under previous President Rodrigo Duterte. Of Washington’s five treaty allies in the Indo-Pacific, the Philippines is closest to Taiwan and therefore central to U.S. plans to deter and respond to potential Chinese attack on the island. Just how convinced is Biden that Xi has no plans to invade Taiwan? VOA’s Mandarin White House Correspondent Paris Huang asked U.S. National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby in Bali. Paris Huang, VOA Mandarin White House Correspondent: Did Xi Jinping promise President Biden anything during the meeting to make him say that? John Kirby, U.S. National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications: As the President said, we don't want to see these tensions result in the use of force. We want to see tensions over the Taiwan Strait solve peace peacefully. And we don't want to see that status quo change unilaterally, we certainly don't want to see a change by force. The President feels very comfortable, that he had a candid, forthright conversation with President Xi. And again, we're gonna have our teams now move forward to work at a working level on some of these issues. PATSY WIDASKUSWARA: While Indonesian President Joko Widodo as host insists that the G-20 is an economic, not a political forum, he could not escape geopolitical fault lines. Those lines literally exploded on the last day of the summit. The mangrove planting ceremony by world leaders hosted by Indonesian President Joko Widodo during the Bali summit, was designed to highlight the G20’s climate agenda. But an event ten thousand kilometers away caused late arrivals of NATO and G-7 leaders due to a hastily arranged emergency meeting to discuss the explosion in Poland that killed two people. While the blast was not caused by a Russian missile, the threat of the war in Ukraine spilling over to neighboring Poland – a NATO member – triggering the alliance’s collective defense principle and escalating the war, is real. G-20 leaders concluded their summit with a statement that saying that “most” members “strongly condemned” the war in Ukraine, but that the forum was not the place for resolving security issues. But no tensions exist between VOA journalists who covered the summits. We sent our Russian, Ukrainian and Mandarin correspondents to Bali, as well as myself covering in English and Indonesian. And as you can see, there is no great power rivalry here, as we report for VOA’s global audience of 350 million. Thanks for the great teamwork, guys, it’s been such a pleasure working with you, and with our VOA Khmer service in Phnom Penh during the ASEAN summit. The G-20 Summit also boosted the Bali tourism industry that took a hit during the pandemic. Delegations from around the world, stayed at the island’s luxurious resorts, just like this one where we, the White House press corps stayed at. But the summit’s impact, is also felt by small business owners. Devianti Faridz, spoke with some of them. DEVIANTI FARIDZ, Reporting for VOA: Punia Giri, an owner of a batik clothing and textile company, traveled from Bandung, West Java, for a G-20 exhibit of 300 small and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs, from across the country. The “Future SME Village” is a designated area to promote Indonesian products within the enclave of five-star hotels where the summit is being held. The exhibit opened several days ago, but Punia said it hasn’t attracted the crowds and revenues she expected. Punia Giri, Kamisuka Batik Owner: Our revenues have not significantly increased, but we have gained brand awareness. Previously, our Kamisuka Batik brand wasn’t recognized by foreigners. In Indonesia alone, it is known within limited groups of people. Since the G-20 Summit, the governor’s wife and deputy governor have started to promote our brand to Indonesians across the country. DEVIANTI FARIDZ: Punia says many foreign delegates have exchanged information after buying her clothing, and she’s optimistic that more customers will come after the summit ends. The COVID-19 pandemic was hard for Ni Nyoman Sandat, who owns a small eatery in the Nusa Dua district. During the height of the pandemic, she had no customers. But as preparations for the G-20 Summit began, Sandat saw an increase in sales. Ni Nyoman Sandat, Local Business Owner: We felt a significant increase in our income after police officers, security personnel and event organizers started eating here. I’m not sure who exactly they were, but, apparently, my revenue rose because of them. DEVIANTI FARIDZ: Bali opened to international tourists several months ago, but the number has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. Wayan Suriawan, Ride-Share Driver: I hope the G-20 summit would run smoothly and further improve tourism development because Nusa Dua district relies heavily on the tourism sector. DEVIANTI FARIDZ: Despite safety precautions, many local residents say they are proud that Indonesia holds the presidency of the G-20. They hope, in the long run, the meeting will promote peace and prosperity in a world struggling with the pandemic, food insecurity and political tensions among the superpowers. Devianti Faridz, for VOA News, Bali. PATSY WIDASKUSWARA: With Biden returning to Washington, I left Indonesia for Bangkok, Thailand, where Vice President Kamala Harris led the U.S. delegation at APEC, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. She brought the message that the U.S. has an enduring economic commitment to the region. But with China a dominant trading partner and infrastructure investment force in the Indo-Pacific, how did that message land? In Bangkok, I asked Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute for Science and International Security at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Director, Institute for Science and International Security, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok: When it comes to trade and geo-economics the US is a little bit behind the curve because it pulled out of the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) and the TPP became the CP TPP excluding the US, but not including China. The RCEP does include China, and now China has stepped it up by proposing the China ASEAN Free Trade Agreement 3.0 which is an upgraded version of the RCEP building on the earlier China ASEAN free trade agreement. So this is something I think the US will be scratching its head, and it’s a big challenge to US policymakers of trying to match China's latest geo economic maneuver. But nevertheless, don't forget, the US is still a major investor in the region, the stock of us investments do immense, very close to China, they take turns going back and forth. And then in the high-tech industries, the US is a pretty dominant force reckoned with. And then on the flow of trade, investment, high tech, innovation, digital trade, you know, the US has a lot to offer. PATSY WIDASKUSWARA: It’s no secret that the common view in the region is that Beijing is your bankroller, and Washington is your security provider to maintain stability and peace. But its top leadership is warning that the U.S. military must change if it wants to stay ahead of China and Russia. Here’s more from VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb. CARLA BABB, VOA Pentagon correspondent: While the United States was busy fighting wars against Islamist extremists in Afghanistan and the Middle East, Russia and China steadily built up their military power. Russia now flexes those military muscles in neighboring Ukraine, and the Pentagon has dubbed China its greatest threat to national security. Speaking exclusively with VOA, Gen. C.Q. Brown Jr, the chief of staff of the Air Force, is warning the United States cannot be satisfied with its position as the world’s superpower if it wants to stay that way. C.Q. Brown Jr., US Air Force Chief of Staff: Our adversaries have continued to advance their capabilities at the same time we’ve been using some of the same capabilities we’ve been using for the past 30 years. The threat we were up against, it's not the threat we'll see in the future. And that's why we've got to, we've got to change. CARLA BABB: China has more active-duty military personnel than the United States and has spent decades advancing its weapons. In the last few years, the Chinese military has built new aircraft carriers, new fighter jets and a massive missile arsenal. Melanie Sisson, Brookings Institution: It's fair to acknowledge when progress is made by those potential adversaries, but that fact alone shouldn't induce any panic in the United States. We are still relatively very, very capable; the best military force in the world. CARLA BABB: Army veteran and defense analyst Bradley Bowman points out that China has methodically and deliberately chosen modernizations specifically designed to defeat the United States in East Asia, the most likely battlefield should war break over Taiwan. And that could make American ports and bases in the region vulnerable to Chinese attacks. Brad Bowman, Foundation for Defense of Democracies: The reality I see is in capability after capability the Chinese have developed capabilities that are as good, in some cases better than ours. America's military edge in the Pacific has absolutely eroded and I continue to see China sprinting, while it often seems like we in Washington are slumbering. CARLA BABB: The Air Force unveils its newest stealth bomber, the B-21, next month. The B-21 will replace America’s B-1 and B-2 bombers, which have been around since the 1980s. C.Q. Brown Jr., US Air Force Chief of Staff): This is why I'm going to modernize, because we have some aircraft that are, from a maintenance standpoint, are a little harder, more difficult to maintain (with) diminishing resources for parts. And that's the aspect of being able to modernize so we increase the aircraft availability and ensure we have a ready force. CARLA BABB: But ready also for what has yet to play out. U.S. officials say China wants the ability to invade and hold Taiwan by 2027. And China has said it aims to be a world-class military capable of "fighting and winning wars" by 2049. CARLA BABB, VOA NEWS, THE PENTAGON. PATSY WIDASKUSWARA: That ends our journey through three Southeast Asian countries – Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand on this episode of Inside Story, where I hope we’ve shown you how the region aims to navigate U.S. – China rivalry and geopolitical tensions from the war in Ukraine. For the latest news on the region, log on to VOA News dot com. For all things White House – related, follow me on twitter at P-Widakuswara... From Bangkok. I’m Patsy Widakuswara. We’ll see you next week, on the Inside Story. ###
Videos of hundreds protesting in Shanghai started to appear on WeChat on Saturday night. Showing chants about removing COVID-19 restrictions and demanding freedom, they would stay up only a few minutes before being censored. Elliot Wang, a 26-year-old in Beijing, was amazed. "I started refreshing constantly, and saving videos, and taking screenshots of what I could before it got censored," said Wang, who only agreed to be quoted using his English name, in fear of government retaliation. "A lot of my friends were sharing the videos of the protests in Shanghai. I shared them too, but they would get taken down quickly." That Wang was able to glimpse the extraordinary outpouring of grievances highlights the cat-and-mouse game that goes on between millions of Chinese internet users and the country's censorship machine. Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on the country's internet via a complex, multilayered censorship operation that blocks access to almost all foreign news and social media, and blocks topics and keywords considered politically sensitive or detrimental to the Chinese Communist Party's rule. Videos of or calls to protest are usually deleted immediately. But images of protests began to spread on WeChat, a ubiquitous Chinese social networking platform used by more than 1 billion, in the wake of a deadly fire November 24 in the northwestern city of Urumqi. Many suspected that lockdown measures prevented residents from escaping the flames, something the government denies. The sheer number of unhappy Chinese users who took to the Chinese internet to express their frustration, together with the methods they used to evade censors, led to a brief period in which government censors were overwhelmed, according to Han Rongbin, an associate professor at the University of Georgia's International Affairs department. "It takes censors some time to study what is happening and to add that to their portfolio in terms of censorship, so it's a learning process for the government on how to conduct censorship effectively," Han said. In 2020, the death from COVID-19 of Li Wenliang, a doctor who was arrested for allegedly spreading rumors following an attempt to alert others about a "SARS-like" virus, sparked widespread outrage and an outpouring of anger against the Chinese censorship system. Users posted criticism for hours before censors moved to delete posts. As censors took down posts related to the fire, Chinese internet users often used humor and metaphor to spread critical messages. "Chinese netizens have always been very creative because every idea used successfully once will be discovered by censors the next time," said Liu Lipeng, a censor-turned-critic of China's censorship practices. Chinese users started posting images of blank sheets of white paper, said Liu, in a silent reminder of words they weren't allowed to post. Others posted sarcastic messages like "Good good good sure sure sure right right right yes yes yes," or used Chinese homonyms to evoke calls for President Xi Jinping to resign, such as "shrimp moss," which sounds like the words for "step down," and "banana peel," which has the same initials as Xi's name. But within days, censors moved to contain images of white paper. They would have used a range of tools, said Chauncey Jung, a policy analyst who previously worked for several Chinese internet companies based in Beijing. Most content censorship is not done by the state, Jung said, but outsourced to content moderation operations at private social media platforms, who use a mix of humans and artificial intelligence, or AI. Some censored posts are not deleted, but may be made visible only to the author, or removed from search results. In some cases, posts with sensitive key phrases may be published after review. A search on Weibo on Thursday for the term "white paper" mostly turned up posts that were critical of the protests, with no images of a single sheet of blank paper, or of people holding white papers at protests. It's possible to access the global internet from China by using virtual private networks that disguise internet traffic, but these systems are illegal and many Chinese internet users access only the domestic internet. Wang does not use a VPN. "I think I can say for all the mainlanders in my generation that we are really excited," Wang said. "But we're also really disappointed because we can't do anything. … They just keep censoring, keep deleting, and even releasing fake accounts to praise the cops." But the system works well enough to stop many users from ever seeing them. When protests broke out across China over the weekend, Carmen Ou, who lives in Beijing, initially didn't notice. Ou learned of the protests only later, after using a VPN service to access Instagram. "I tried looking at my feed on WeChat, but there was no mention of any protests," she said. "If not for a VPN and access to Instagram, I might not have found out that such a monumental event had taken place." Han, the international affairs professor, said censorship "doesn't have to be perfect to be effective." "Censorship might be functioning to prevent a big enough size of the population from accessing the critical information to be mobilized," he said. China's opaque approach to tamping down the spread of online dissent also makes it difficult to distinguish government campaigns from ordinary spam.
A new European Union proposal for an international tribunal to try Russian aggression in Ukraine has received mixed reviews — prompting a thumbs up from Kyiv and rights advocates but doubts from experts about its feasibility and whether it will receive broad-based acceptance. "Russia must pay for its horrific crimes, including for its crime of aggression against a sovereign state,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen Wednesday, laying out arguments for establishing a new, United Nations-backed court. “We are ready to start working with the international community to get the broadest international support possible for this specialized court." The United Nations-backed International Criminal Court — also known as the ICC — in the Netherlands is already looking into alleged Russian war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine, as well as possible Ukrainian atrocities. Russia has denied committing war crimes and accused the international community of ignoring abuses by Ukrainian forces. Special U.N.-backed tribunals aren’t new. The body proposed by von der Leyen, if ever realized, would focus on Russian aggression in Ukraine. First lady points to thousands of crimes The Ukrainian government has been quick to support the idea. Visiting a London exhibition this week on alleged Russian war crimes, Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska called for justice. She said more than 40,000 Russian crimes had been registered in Ukraine. Look at the photos at the exhibition, she told her audience, and abstract ideas of war in Ukraine will become real. Moscow has dismissed the idea of a new war crimes tribunal as having no legitimacy. Experts suggest it would be challenging to establish one. “My reading of what Ursula von der Leyen said is that the EU doesn’t take for granted that there would be overwhelming international support — and that it recognizes there has to be a sort of campaign to win support for the idea," said Anthony Dworkin, a policy fellow specializing in human rights and justice at the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank. Proposal needs support from developing nations Brussels will especially need backing from developing countries in Africa and elsewhere, said Dworkin. “I think it’s very important that that should be done, rather than European countries kind of short-circuiting the attempt to win international legitimacy for the idea by just setting it up themselves,” he said. Even if it’s up and running, such a tribunal could face obstacles if, for example, Russian President Vladimir Putin or other Russian officials face war crimes charges yet are still welcome to visit some nations. That was the case with Sudan’s former leader, Omar al-Bashir, who traveled to multiple countries despite ICC arrest warrants. Charges against high-level Russian officials may also complicate any future Western efforts to end the war in Ukraine. “A court is supposed to be politically independent," said Dworkin. "And therefore, you wouldn’t for instance expect — if there is a kind of negotiation at the end of the conflict — that the charges would be somehow dropped as part of the negotiation. The charges will persist.”
Cameroonian health workers and people with HIV marched for World AIDS Day on December 1, calling for access to treatment for patients in conflict areas. About half a million Cameroonians have HIV, and at least 1,000 live in troubled western regions and the border with Nigeria. The protesters urged Cameroon's military, separatists, and militants to allow all HIV patients access to needed treatment. Marie Chantal Awoulbe, who belongs to the Cameroon Network of Adolescents and Positive Youths, which encourages those with AIDS to get regular treatment, took part in the protest and World AIDS Day activities at Chantal Biya International Research Centre in Yaounde. The center carries out research on AIDS, and supports programs to treat and support vulnerable people with HIV. Awoulbe said her network is asking both armed groups and government troops to stop deaths among people with AIDS where there are armed conflicts by allowing the patients access to regular treatment. Cameroon's public health ministry says similar protests and activities to encourage free screening took place in 70 hospitals, with at least 30 hospital workers and people with AIDS taking part at each of the hospitals. The Cameroon government accuses separatists in the country's west of attacking hospitals and abducting health care workers. Activists also accuse government troops of attacking and arresting hospital staff suspected of treating civilians the military believes are either fighters or sympathize with separatists. In April, medical aid group Doctors Without Borders suspended work in Cameroon's troubled Southwest region to protest the rearrest of four of its staff members. Authorities accused the staffers of cooperating with regional separatists, but the organization denied it. Medical staff members say intimidation and abduction of health workers, and ceaseless battles between government troops and separatist fighters make it impossible for medical supplies to reach the troubled English-speaking regions. Twenty-eight-year-old Betrand Lemfon said he and several dozen people with AIDS moved from Jakiri, an English-speaking northwestern town, to Bafoussam, a French-speaking commercial city. He said he and others with the disease were afraid of dying in Jakiri because they did not have access to regular treatment. "There are a lot of persons out there who are in need of medications, so if we could have the opportunity and chance for medications to always reach every interior part of the North-West region, South-West region who are hit by the crisis, it will help the adolescents, young persons and children living with HIV to take their ARVs [antiretroviral medicines] and stay healthy," he said. Lemfon spoke via the messaging app WhatsApp from Bafoussam. Cameroon's military says it will protect all health workers and civilians in the troubled regions. The government says the number of people with the disease in Cameroon has decreased from about 970,000 in 2010 to 500,000 in 2021. Health officials say the decline is due to increasing awareness of the disease and its consequences. The government says sexual behavior is changing, with the number of people using condoms or abstaining from sex increasing. Honorine Tatah, a government official in charge of AIDS control in Cameroon, said unlike in 2020 when there was resistance due to lack of awareness, many more civilians now accept systematic screening for HIV. "During antenatal care, a woman is screened for a number of diseases including hepatitis B, HIV and if you are tested positive, you are eligible for treatment and that treatment will reduce the chances of a child getting infected with HIV. The treatment is free of charge," Tatah said. World AIDS Day was the first international day for global health, starting in 1988. It allows people all over the world to join in the battle against HIV, to support those with HIV, and to remember those who have died from an AIDS-related illness.