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Vietnam sets record in island building in 2024: report

Vietnam’s island building in the South China Sea has reached a record with the total new land created in the first six months of this year equaling that of 2022 and 2023 combined, a U.S. independent think tank said. The Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) said in its latest report that since November 2023, Vietnam has created 692 new acres (280 ha) of land across a total of 10 features within the Spratly archipelago. In comparison, it created 404 acres (163.5 ha) of land in the first 11 months of 2023 and 342 acres (138.4 ha) in 2022. Vietnam has reclaimed a total area of about half the area that China has built up, with much of Vietnam’s work on reefs China also claims. Of the two main island groups in the South China Sea, China occupies the Paracels, while the  Spratlys, to the south, are contested by several  countries. Vietnam occupies 27 features and has been carrying out large-scale reclamation works on some over the past year. Among the 10 largest features in the Spratlys, five are being developed by Hanoi, AMTI said. Vietnam’s features are much smaller than any of China’s so-called Big Three – Fiery Cross Reef, Mischief Reef and Subi Reef – artificial islands that Beijing developed and fully militarized.  Vietnam’s overall dredging and landfill totaled about 2,360 acres (955 ha), roughly half of China’s 4,650 acres (1881.7 ha).  The research group said  Vietnam’s reclamation was a major change. Just three years ago, the total amount of Vietnamese dredging and landfill was less than a tenth that of China’s.   Vietnam’s work includes the Barque Canada Reef, or Bai Thuyen Chai in Vietnamese, where the area nearly doubled over six months, from 238 acres (96.3 ha) to 412 acres (166.7 ha),  the group said. Vietnam says little about its work at the features apart from it is to protect them but not to expand them or change structures. There was no immediate government response to the AMTI report. A Vietnamese outpost in the Spratlys, May 2024. RFA/str Runway potential Six months ago, Radio Free Asia reported on the rapid expansion of Barque Canada Reef from the end of 2021. Chinese think tank the South China Sea Probing Initiative had said Hanoi may be building a second airfield on the reef but the latest satellite imagery shows no sign of that. Vietnam has one  1,300-meter runway on the Spratly Island, or Truong Sa Lon in Vietnamese, which can handle medium-sized military aircraft. The Barque Canada Reef “measures 4,318 meters in length, which makes it the only Vietnamese outpost so far with the potential to host a 3,000-meter runway” like those that China has, the think tank said. China’s three largest artificial islands are all equipped with runways that can accommodate bigger military transport, surveillance, and bomber aircraft. Satellite image of Barque Canada Reef, May 11, 2024. AMTI/Maxar Technologies Other features under Hanoi’s control that have undergone significant development since November 2023 are Discovery Great Reef, South Reef, Namyit Reef and Pearson Reef, according to the report. Vietnam “has continued implementing a mix of cutter-suction and clamshell dredging”, AMTI researchers said. A cutter suction dredger cuts the seabed into fragments with a rotating head. Material is sucked up by dredge pumps and discharged through pipes across sea and land. Scientists say cutter suction dredgers are more environmentally destructive and China has been criticized for using them. The Vietnamese public seems supportive of the  island building. Many social media commentators hail “the right strategy” in the face of China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea. Six parties – Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam – claim parts of the South China Sea as well as the islands and reefs inside it but China’s claims are the most expansive. A Philippine official, asked about Vietnam’s dredging and landfill work, said that Hanoi was reclaiming features that it occupied before a 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. “Vietnam focuses on minding their own affairs,” Philippine coastguard spokesperson Jay Tarriela told reporters.  “They do not engage in harassing our fishermen or illegally deploying coast guard vessels and maritime militia in the waters surrounding our occupied maritime features,” he said. The Philippines has accused China of harassing fishermen and law enforcement agencies in Philippine waters, especially near the Scarborough and Second Thomas shoals. China says  it has “indisputable jurisdiction” over all the reefs and atolls in the Spratlys. Edited by RFA staff

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Hong Kong exiles in UK and Canada lack access to billions of their savings

In April 2023, Hong Kong Watch found that Hong Kongers were being denied access to up to £2.2 billion (US$2.8 billion) of their hard-earned Mandatory Provident Fund retirement savings. Fast forward one year, and the number has only increased to over £3 billion (US$3.8 billion).  This act of transnational repression is placing an unnecessary financial and mental strain on an estimated tens of thousands of Hong Kongers in the UK and Canada who moved abroad under British National (Overseas) (BNO) passports, set up to allow a permanent residence pathway for them.  The Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) is a compulsory retirement savings scheme for the people of Hong Kong. Hong Kongers can ordinarily withdraw their entire account early if they make a statutory declaration that they have departed Hong Kong permanently with no intention of returning to resettle.  However, the Mandatory Provident Fund Authority, which oversees the provision of MPF schemes, released a statement in March 2021 saying that because the BNO passport was no longer recognised by the Hong Kong government as a valid travel document and proof of identity as of Jan. 2021. This means that those trying to withdraw their savings early cannot rely on the BNO passport or visa to support an application for early withdrawal of their funds.  A protester raises his British National Overseas passports during a candlelight vigil to mark the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, in Hong Kong, June 4, 2020. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters) Despite this, the MPF-related legislation, regulations, and terms of the deeds governing entitlement to MPF benefits in Hong Kong remain unchanged. Under the MPF trust deed, trustees including those based overseas like HSBC, Standard Chartered, Manulife and Sun Life, have a legal obligation to release MPF to beneficiaries who are able to provide evidence of their right to reside in a foreign country.  There is no reason that a BNO passport or visa should be denied under this deed. However, the latest research from Hong Kong Watch includes case studies detailing how Hong Kongers continue to be denied access to their MPF on the grounds that they hold a BNO passport or visa.  This includes many Hong Kong families in the UK, from a single mother who is unable to afford a heater for her son due to being denied £57,000 (US$70,000) worth of her MPF, to a family of five that is unable to afford a wheelchair accessible property for their severely disabled child due to the withholding of their MPF.  Individual hardship Others with withheld savings struggle to adapt to their new environments for financial reasons, to assist relatives in escaping from increasing repression in Hong Kong, and to start desired business ventures in the UK or Canada. Since 2021 and as recently as last month, Hong Kong Watch has documented numerous rejection letters from MPF trustees to Hong Kongers denying the early withdrawal of their MPF on the grounds that the BNO visa or passport is not a valid form of identification per the Hong Kong government’s lawless declaration.  I have spoken with a Hong Konger who has £90,000 (US$114,000) frozen in MPF assets, and another who had obtained Canadian permanent residency and was still denied access to their MPF by Manulife for simply arriving in Canada with a BNO passport.  The latter case is especially concerning, particularly after Manulife’s Global Head of Government Relations for Canada, Maryscott Greenwood, testified before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on Monday and claimed that Manulife had never denied a Hong Konger access to their savings on the basis of holding a BNO visa.  Having seen a written transcript of a call between the Hong Konger who was denied access to their MPF and Manulife, in which Manulife said, “even if you hold Canadian PR, it’s ineligible to withdraw the fund as a BNO passport holder,” this is simply not true. Maryscott Greenwood, Manulife’s global head of Government Relations for Canada, testifies via video before the Canadian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, June 3, 2024. (Image from Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration video) Sun Life’s Head of Global Government Affairs and Public Policy, Laura Hewitt, also testified in the hearing.  It was unfortunate but unsurprising that despite having productive meetings with Hong Kong Watch prior to the hearing, both Manulife and Sun Life executives delivered cautious, pre-prepared answers and repeatedly failed to respond to direct “yes”  or “no” questions from the Canadian Parliament.  Fortunately, members of the Canadian Parliament including Tom Kmiec, Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, Greg McLean, Paul Chiang, Fayçal El-Khoury, and Jenny Kwan, who is herself a prior BNO visa holder, were not satisfied with these non-answers.  The MPs pressed the business representatives on why they have withheld Hong Kongers’ own savings from them since 2021. Tom Kmiec asked both companies: “Why are you still operating in an autocratic, totalitarian regime that is dominated by Beijing?” The question remains unanswered. Tasks for London and Ottawa The next UK government should vow to provide clarification to UK-based MPF trustees that the BNO visa is intended to lead to “permanent settlement and British citizenship” to show their support for Hong Kongers in Britain.  London  should also pledge to raise and condemn this form of transnational repression with their counterparts in Hong Kong. On the campaign trail, the future UK government has the opportunity to present these pledges to 140,000 eligible Hong Kong BNO voters. The Canadian government should work with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to change the designation of BNO passport and visa holders from GBN )Great Britain) to CHN (China) or HKG (Hong Kong) on Canadian permanent residency cards to prevent further retaliation from the Hong Kong government. A man waves to family members before leaving for the United Kingdom at the Hong Kong International Airport, June 30, 2021. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters) With a current backlog of 9,000 permanent residency applications for Hong Kongers in Canada, this will only become a greater administrative issue in the near future if IRCC labels the nationality of…

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Experiences & Aspirations of Foreign Students in the USA

In an era marked by globalization and cultural exchange, the experiences of international students studying abroad provide invaluable insights into cross-cultural dynamics, educational systems, and societal perceptions. This is the second survey in the series of “The Survey Reportika” presented by the Investigative Journalism Reportika. This iteration aims to delve into the multifaceted experiences and perspectives of students from China, India, and South Korea studying in universities across the United States of America. These three countries are among the top sources of international students in the USA, making their perspectives particularly significant. Conducted anonymously, this survey gathered responses from 1,500 students, with 500 each from China, India, and South Korea, enrolled in various universities throughout the USA. The participants, while representing diverse academic disciplines and backgrounds, shared their candid insights on a range of topics, including their academic experiences, cultural adjustment, perceptions of freedom, views on their home countries, and reflections on their decision to study abroad. By exploring the perspectives of these students, this report endeavors to offer a nuanced understanding of their academic journeys, cultural adaptation processes, and evolving perceptions of their home countries and the USA. Through their anonymity, participants were able to express themselves freely, contributing valuable insights that can inform future discussions on international education, cultural exchange, and global citizenship. In the following sections, we present a detailed analysis of the survey findings, categorized into relevant themes, accompanied by reflections and implications drawn from the data. It is our hope that this report serves as a resource for educators, policymakers, and stakeholders interested in fostering a more inclusive and enriching educational environment for all students, regardless of their cultural background or nationality. Download the complete Report : Click Here Survey Overview Conducted from February 1, 2024, to April 30, 2024, this extensive survey engaged 1,500 participants from diverse backgrounds, seeking to delve into the sentiments of students from China, India, and South Korea pursuing higher education in the USA. Utilizing a hybrid approach that blends offline and online methods, the survey ensures comprehensive representation across genders, religions, and ethnicities. Designed to explore motivations, challenges, and aspirations, this study aims to provide a nuanced understanding of the experiences of international students abroad, contributing valuable insights to ongoing conversations on global education, cultural adaptation, and international relations. (Click on the following questions and representational images to read the opinions and survey statistics.) Q1: What motivated you to pursue higher education in the USA instead of your home country? Q2: From your experience, how would you rate the academic environment in the USA compared to your home country? Q3: How do you foresee studying in the USA impacting your future career compared to studying in your home country? Q4: How challenging have you found adapting to cultural differences between your home country and the USA? Q5: How important is it for you to maintain your connection to your native identity while living in the USA? Q6: Do you feel more personally free in the USA compared to China? Q7: How would you rate the differences in political and social freedoms between your home country and the USA? Q8: What do you see as the major challenges facing your home country today? Q9: After completing your course in the USA, how likely are you to stay in USA and work towards your career aspirations? Q10: What misconceptions about your home country have you encountered while living in the USA? Conclusion The survey highlights key motivations for international students choosing the USA for higher education. Among Chinese students, 36% cite dissatisfaction with China’s political system and restrictions on freedom. For Indian students, 34% are concerned about the rigidity and outdated nature of education system. Among South Korean students, 32% seek a global perspective and exposure to international cultures. These percentages underscore the perceived drawbacks of their home countries’ systems and the benefits of studying in the USA. The survey also reveals that 42% of Chinese students, 39% of Indian students, and 13% of South Korean students find the academic environment in the USA much better than in their home countries, highlighting greater academic freedom, diverse opportunities, and advanced resources in the USA. The survey highlights varied perspectives on political and social freedoms among international students. For China, 51% of respondents find freedoms much greater in the USA due to censorship and surveillance in China. In comparison, 39% of Indian students believe the USA offers greater freedoms, citing discrimination and women’s rights issues in India. For South Korea, 42% view freedoms as comparable between the two countries, but 29% see the USA as offering somewhat or much greater freedoms due to broader speech rights and a less hierarchical societal structure. Meanwhile, a notable 33% of Indian respondents believe political and social freedoms are greater in India, highlighting social schemes and constitutional protections. The survey highlights the career aspirations of international students after completing their studies in the USA. Among Chinese students, 76% plan to return to China to contribute to its development, while 11% are very likely to stay in the USA for career opportunities in tech hubs like Silicon Valley. Indian students show a strong inclination to remain in the USA, with 40% very likely to stay, inspired by successful Indian CEOs in the West. However, 39% prefer to return to India to aid its progress. South Korean students are more moderate, with 32% very likely to stay in the USA, 45% somewhat likely, and 23% planning to return home to apply their skills. In summation, the comprehensive survey captures the intricate tapestry of experiences and perspectives among international students studying in the USA. From motivations for pursuing higher education abroad to assessments of academic environments and considerations for post-graduation career paths, the survey provides valuable insights into the dynamics of cross-cultural interactions, educational aspirations, and societal contributions. It underscores the pivotal role of international education in fostering global understanding, facilitating personal and professional growth, and driving socio-economic development worldwide. By shedding light on the complex interplay of individual…

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Tiananmen – 35 years later

Download the poster here   June 4 marks the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, in which the People’s Liberation Army killed hundreds, possibly thousands of civilians, stamping out weeks of protests in the heart of China’s capital. The government still suppresses mention and memorializing of the 1989 killings in Beijing.

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New school for overseas Tibetan kids aims to preserve language

In a bid to help preserve Tibet’s language and culture, a nonprofit organization in northern India is transforming one of its facilities into a boarding school where children of Tibetans living overseas can go to live and study. The Dharamsala, India-based school being created by the Tibetan Children’s Villages, or TCV, is accepting applications for the academic year starting Aug. 1 for children entering grades four to eight.  There are already several Tibetan boarding schools elsewhere in India, but this will be the first time one is being created for the children of overseas Tibetans. The Lower Tibetan Children’s Villages school (TCV) is seen in Dharamsala, India. (TCV) The move comes as China intensifies its policies to suppress — or even eradicate — Tibetan and other ethnic languages and cultures and replace them with Mandarin and Han Chinese customs. Chinese officials in Tibet and in Tibetan-populated areas in China’s western provinces are using government-run boarding schools to assimilate Tibetan children culturally, religiously and linguistically, rights groups say. Schools become ‘battleground’ Tibetan students are being forcibly removed from their homes and immersed in a Mandarin-language curriculum without an opportunity to learn the Tibetan language or culture. “Tibetan schools are the battleground for CCP ideology,” said Kai Mueller, the Berlin-based executive director and head of U.N. advocacy at the International Campaign for Tibet, referring to the Chinese Communist Party. “We have noted so many forms of indoctrination towards Tibetan children in school that it is quite astounding,” he said. The Lower TCV school in Dharamsala, India, is being renovated as a new boarding school for Tibetan children from abroad. (TCV) The types of indoctrination include poetry competitions on Chinese President Xi Jingping Thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics, field trips to Communist Party museums, and school visits by Chinese officials and members of the Chinese military who teach children about national unity, Mueller said. “The Chinese rulers are using ever new methods to try to transform young Tibetans into loyal Chinese,” he said.  “Their main starting point is language,” he said. In a two-pronged approach, Chinese officials work to dissuade children from learning their mother tongue by sending them to compulsory boarding schools and make Mandarin attractive to young Tibetans, Mueller said. “In this way, the Chinese leadership wants to destroy the youth’s connection to traditional Tibetan culture and language,” he said. Students learn about tuberculosis at the Tibetan Children’s Villages lower school in Dharamsala, India, in this undated photo. (TCV) Grassroots idea For this reason, many Tibetans both inside and outside Tibet urged Tibetan Children’s Villages to set up a boarding school for children from overseas, TCV Director Sonam Sichoe told Radio Free Asia. The proposal was then approved by the network’s board.  The school’s main priority will be to teach Tibetan language skills and cultural traditions, while simultaneously receiving a modern education that is on par with the West, Sichoe said. So far, about 15 students from the United States, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Germany have enrolled. Regardless of the numbers, the school will proceed as planned, he said. In the dormitories, the children from overseas will be mixed with students from India so that they don’t end up speaking only English, he added. The Lower TCV school in Dharamsala, India, is being renovated as a new boarding school for Tibetan children from abroad. (TCV) Tuition, room and board cost US$350 per child per month, Sichoe said.  Because the children are expected to come from different countries, the main medium of teaching academic subjects will be in English to ensure ease of understanding and communication, he said.  Studio Nyandak Dharamsala, a design company whose local employees are all TCV alumni, is working with school administrators to renovate the campus. Changes include the installation of Western toilets, single beds instead of bunk beds, water heating facilities and solar panels.  Expanded network Set up in 1960 as a nursery for Tibetan children, TCV was established after the Dalai Lama proposed a center to care for kids who had been orphaned or separated from their families while fleeing after China’s annexation of Tibet in 1959. Since then, the organization expanded its footprint across India to become a network of boarding schools caring for over 15,000 children. The Dharamsala-based Lower TCV campus — now being renovated into a residential school for overseas children — came about in the 1980s after the main TCV school was inundated with children who had been smuggled out of Tibet by Tibetan parents during China’s liberalization program of that period. Earlier this year, Jetsun Pema, the younger sister of the Dalai Lama who led the school for many years, received the Pearl S. Buck award from Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia, in recognition of her service. Students of the Tibetan Children’s Villages lower school perform a drum line in Dharamsala, India, in this undated photo. (TCV) Parents’ reactions Migmar Bhuti, a Tibetan in New York, welcomed the new boarding school, saying it would enable Tibetan children to more effectively learn and preserve the Tibetan language and culture at an early age. But she also expressed concern over whether math, English, science and the social sciences would be adequately taught. “Since the Lower TCV School is planning to only take in students from the fourth to eighth grades, I wonder if that will allow the children to catch up in their classes when they move back here from the ninth grade, or whether they will need to drop a grade,” she told RFA Tibetan. Given that academic and vacation schedules in the West differ from those in India, school officials are in discussions with parents about these concerns, said Choeying Dhondup, TCV’s general-secretary. The Lower TCV school in Dharamsala, India, is being renovated as a new residential school for Tibetan children from abroad. (TCV) Kalsang Dorji, a father of two children and principal of a Sunday school for Tibetan children in Berkeley, California, said Tibetans there have wanted a dedicated residential school to teach their language and culture to…

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US defense chief seeks to reassure Asia-Pacific partners

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has reconfirmed Washington’s strong commitment to the Indo-Pacific, as well as to working with allies and partners in the face of growing rivalry with China. Austin spoke at the Shangri-La Dialogue annual security forum on Saturday, just a day after meeting with his Chinese counterpart to open lines of communication between the two world powers. This was the secretary’s third time to speak at the forum and likely his last as a U.S. presidential election in November may bring changes in defense diplomacy. The Indo-Pacific “has remained our priority theater of operations,” Austin said, seeking to brush off concerns that other security challenges in Ukraine and Gaza may have shifted U.S. attention. He stressed that Washington is “deeply committed” to the region, adding “We are all in. And we’re not going anywhere.” He went on to list a number of cooperation projects between the U.S and countries including Australia, Japan, India and the Philippines.  Austin said that the U.S. “can be secure only if Asia is secure.”  “The defense secretary’s speech shows that the dynamics of U.S. strategic partnerships may have changed because Washington has to balance different world regions, but not so much,” said Alexander Vuving, professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii. Other factors that may have contributed to the slight shift, in Vuving’s opinion, are U.S. domestic politics and the “responses of regional states and non-state actors to the weakening of the current international order.” The Pentagon chief, meanwhile, emphasized what he called the “power of partnerships” amid a “new convergence” in the region. “This new convergence is about coming together, not splitting apart. It isn’t about imposing one country’s will,” Austin said in an apparent dig at China, “It isn’t about bullying or coercion. It’s about the free choices of sovereign states.” Beijing has been accused by some of its neighbors of acting aggressively in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. In his keynote speech on Friday, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. condemned “assertive actions that aim to propagate excessive, baseless claims through force, intimidation and deception,” believed to be committed by Beijing. The Philippines has accused Chinese coast guard vessels of harassing and preventing Filipino fishermen and law enforcement agencies from operating in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. While not mentioning China, Austin said that “the harassment that the Philippines has faced is dangerous” and the peaceful resolution of disputes should be achieved through dialogue and not coercion or conflict.  “And certainly not through so-called punishment.” Just 10 days ago, the Chinese military held large-scale “punishment” drills around Taiwan after Lai Ching-te was sworn in as the new president of the democratic island. Strengthening partnerships The U.S. House of Representatives last month passed a $8-billion defense package to help Taipei counter Beijing, which considers Taiwan a Chinese province that should be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary. China reacted angrily, saying this sends the wrong signal to “Taiwan independence separatist forces” and the “military collusion” between the U.S. and Taiwan would only push up tensions and the risk of conflict and confrontation in the Taiwan Strait. China has long said Washington is trying to build a NATO-like alliance in the Asia-Pacific, an accusation that was brought up and denied on Saturday by the U.S. defense secretary. Replying to a question by Chinese Senior Col. Yanzhong Cao about the U.S.’ “alliance system” in the region, Austin said that “like-minded countries with similar values and a common vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific are working together to achieve that vision.” “And we will continue to do those kinds of things going forward,” he said. The defense secretary, however, called for better communication with China, saying that “dialogue is not a reward, it is a necessity,” and that “there’s no substitute for open lines of communication to avoid misunderstanding and miscalculations.” U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin meets with Chinese Minister of Defense Adm. Dong Jun in Singapore, May 31, 2024. (U.S. Department of Defense) Austin and the Chinese minister of national defense, Adm. Dong Jun, held a one-hour meeting on Friday to discuss U.S.-China defense relations and other security issues. It was the first in-person meeting between the twos, marking a resumption of communication after then-defense minister Li Shangfu declined a meeting with Austin last year Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian told reporters afterwards that it showed the bilateral military relations were stabilizing. “The resumption of exchanges does not mean that differences and conflicts between the two countries have been resolved,” warned a Taiwanese analyst. “China is still conducting military exercises around Taiwan and the U.S. continues joint exercises with the Philippines and other allies,” said Shen Ming-Shih from the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taipei. He added that while both sides keep pursuing their own objectives, the best they can do is to “have more dialogue and exercise restraint.”  Edited by Mike Firn.

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‘We’ll never forget,’ Tiananmen massacre families write to Xi Jinping

The relatives of civilians killed by Chinese troops who crushed pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square with machine guns and tanks on the night of June 3-4, 1989, have written to President Xi Jinping calling for an official reckoning with the bloodshed on the 35th anniversary of the crackdown. “We will never forget the lives that were lost to those brutal bullets or crushed by tanks on June 4 35 years ago,” the letter said. “Those who disappeared, whose relatives couldn’t even find their bodies to wipe away the blood and bid them a final farewell,” the letter said. “It is too cruel that this happened along a 10-kilometer stretch of Chang’an Boulevard in Beijing in peacetime.” Public mourning for victims or discussion of the events of spring and summer 1989 are banned in China, and references to June 4, 1989, are blocked, filtered or deleted by the Great Firewall of government internet censorship. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, died when late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping ordered troops into the Chinese capital to clear protesters and hunger-striking students from Tiananmen Square.  While any account of the events of that summer have been scrubbed from the public record, younger people have been able to find out about it by visiting overseas websites, and have started taking part in annual commemorative activities around the world alongside exiled Hong Kongers. Campaigning for accountability The letter is the latest to be addressed to China’s highest-ranking leader in what has become an annual ritual for the Tiananmen Mothers, a group of bereaved relatives that campaigns for official accountability, transparency about the death toll and compensation for victims’ families. It said official rhetoric on the crackdown was “intolerable” to the families of victims because it “reverses right and wrong, and ignores the facts.” The letters have never gotten a reply, and bereaved relatives are typically asked to keep a low profile when the sensitive anniversary of the bloodshed rolls around. Calls to group spokesperson You Weijie and member Zhang Xianling rang unanswered on Friday after the letter was published. Former 1989 student protester Zheng Xuguang, who now lives in the United States, said he isn’t surprised by the deafening silence from Beijing, which has described the weeks-long student-led pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square as “counterrevolutionary rebellion,” or “political turmoil.” A military helicopter drops leaflets above Tiananmen Square, Beijing, on May 22, 1989, which state that the student protesters should leave the square as soon as possible on Monday morning. (Shunsuke Akatsuka/Reuters) “How can they admit that they were wrong to kill people?” Zheng said. “Xi Jinping and the Communist Party are co-dependent; if Xi were to reappraise the official verdict of June 4 … the Communist Party would fall from power.” “I don’t think he’s going to do that, because there’s no room in his ideology for these ideas.” Tseng Chien-yuen, an associate professor at Taiwan’s Central University, said today’s China is in sore need of some reflection on the massacre, however. “They need to look at it again and reappraise it, apologize and compensate the innocent students and others who were shot and killed back then, and think about whether to hold those responsible accountable,” Tseng said.  “I don’t think Xi Jinping would need to bear the historical responsibility for the legacy of [late supreme leader] Deng Xiaoping,” he said. Poll: What would you do? RFA’s Mandarin Service asked its followers and listeners in a poll on X whether they would join the 1989 student movement today, if they could travel back in time to 1989. Many listeners responded outright that they would, while others said their view of the tragedy was colored by the official view, and didn’t change until they left China. Others said they have become more radical than the 1989 protesters. “We were very naive back then, because we didn’t want to overthrow the Communist Party, but to reform it,” a person who gave only the nickname Matt responded. “Unfortunately, the Communist Party didn’t even give people the chance to do that.” “For our generation, June 4 is an unfamiliar expression,” wrote a high schooler from the northeastern city of Qingdao. “Growing up under the red flag of this fake party, we have been indoctrinated with the idea that loving the party and loving the country are the same thing.” Another responded by email that they hadn’t believed overseas media reports about the massacre at first, despite finding them on overseas websites. “Mainland Chinese were either misled by their pro-party stance, or they knew a little more than that, but still thought that the protests had to be brought to an end somehow,” they said.  A respondent who gave the nickname Key said he had learned about the massacre and the student movement from older people in his family, and said he admired the 1989 protesters, but added: “Times have changed, and the younger generation needs to fight for their rights in a peaceful and rational way.” User “wophb” wrote: “35 years on, the June 4 incident still has a profound impact on us and is worth reflecting on. Each generation has a unique mission.” Drawing a parallel with the “white paper” protests across China in 2022, the user said they would consider taking part in the 1989 movement if they could go back in time. Successful brainwashing Wu Heming, a Chinese student currently in California, said he is still noticing the after-effects of his education at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party two years after arriving on American soil. “This is mainly because the Chinese Communist Party’s brainwashing in education is very, very successful,” Wu said. “From childhood onwards, people have no other channels through which to access any other information, so all of your thought patterns get solidified by that rhetoric.” Another student and former “white paper” protester Zhang Jinrui said the two movements had a lot in common. “ “If you compare those who participated in the June 4 incident and those who participated in the white paper…

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Myanmar junta recruits thousands of soldiers: report

Myanmar’s junta has recruited nearly 4,000 men nationwide in its latest round of conscription as it seeks to reinforce the ranks of its army in the face of battlefield setbacks to insurgents battling to end military rule, a nonprofit group said.  Under the People’s Military Service Law, enacted by the junta in February,  men between the ages of 18 and 45 can be conscripted. The announcement has triggered a wave of killings of administrators enforcing the law and driven thousands of draft dodgers into neighboring Thailand.  A new round of conscriptions was undertaken in mid-April, according to the analysis and data group Burma Affairs and Conflict Study. Training for the nearly 4,000 new recruits began on May 14 in 16 schools across the country, the group said in a release on Wednesday.  One mother was relieved that her two sons were not selected in a raffle system used for the recruitment. She said all families with military aged men had to pay 10,000 kyats (US$ 2) to support the recruits. “I’m so worried that my sons will be picked in the next round,” she told RFA on Friday. The woman declined to be identified. About 5,000 people were recruited in the first round of conscription in early April, which brings the total number to about 9,000, according to the research group.  Spokesmen for the junta were not immediately available for comment on Friday but they said in state-backed media during the first round of recruitment that people were not being forced to join and only volunteers were allowed to begin training.  However, civilians reported mass arrests of young people in the Ayeyarwady and Bago regions, as well as village quotas that included adolescents and threats to burn residents’ houses down if recruits did not come forward. Senior junta official Gen. Maung Maung Aye, who is in charge of the national recruitment drive, said at a meeting in the capital of Naypyidaw on May 20 that the second round of recruitment had begun successfully. Those who failed to attend would  be dealt with according to the law, he said. Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn.     

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Cambodia’s traditional marble and sandstone sculptors still carve by hand

As they draw closer to Ko Koh commune, drivers and passengers traveling on National Road 6 can spot the thousands of marble and sandstone statues and sculptures set out along the highway in central Cambobia’s Kampong Thom province. The sculptures – mostly of Buddha, various animals and the Angkor-era’s King Jayavarman VII – come from the area’s numerous hand-carving businesses. The traditional art dates back centuries.  About 50 families in Ko Koh commune’s Samnak village are engaged in the local industry, which also provides employment opportunities to about 200 people from other nearby villages, commune chief Chap Thin told Radio Free Asia. Statues of the Buddha. (RFA) Stone sculptor Tep Thean said apprentices can earn from 600,000 (US$146) to 800,000 (US$195) riel a month, while skilled craftsmen are paid up to 100,000 riel (US$24) per day.  But the craft is less popular these days, he said.  “Carving is very difficult. It affects our health. Sometimes it breaks,” he said. “It is very dangerous if we are not careful.” For years, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has sent trainers to the area to help local sculptors hone their skills and to follow certain practices that make the works uniquely Cambodian, he said. Four steps by hand One has to go through four stages of stone processing. During the first stage, the sculptor trims a stone down into the desired shape of the sculpture, with outlines of the shoulders, arms, legs and face. The second step is to create six corners on the stone, and the third step is to sketch out the face of the sculpture. During the last stage, the sculptor polishes the face and cleans the sculpture before putting it out for sale.  A major selling point for the sculptures is that they are produced by hand, Chap Thin said. “Those who love Khmer sculptures will differentiate those made by hands and machines,” he said. “They won’t value those made by machines.” Undated video screenshot of Stone sculptor Em Ri Phon. (RFA) The sculptures are sold in Cambodia and in areas of southern Vietnam where ethnic Khmers live – often referred to as Kampuchea Krom. They are also shipped abroad to the United States, Canada and Australia.  Although Cambodian sculptors are skilled and meticulous, they can’t carve stone surfaces as smoothly as those made by computer-guided machines. Some of the sculptors in Ko Koh commune are worried that machine-operated stone carvings from Chinese and Vietnamese-owned companies could tarnish the reputation of Cambodian stone carvings. Master stone carver Em Ri Phon said his family is earning 50 percent less from orders than they did a year ago. “This artistic work – I want to promote our art culture as well as Khmer sculpture,” he said. “We want to preserve this culture for a long time.” Translated by Yun Samean. Edited by Matt Reed.

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Clashes displace 15,000 civilians in western Myanmar

Fighting in western Myanmar has forced thousands of people to flee from their homes, left parts of a town in smoldering ruins and killed three civilians, residents told Radio Free Asia, as opponents of military rule try to defeat the junta that seized power in 2021. The clashes between junta troops and insurgent groups in Chin State, which is on the border with India, displaced 15,000 people in two days and led to the destruction of parts of Tedim town, they said.  Anti-junta insurgents from Chin State control 10 towns in the state, while another ethnic minority rebel group, the Arakan Army, controls two others. A battle broke out on Sunday night and continued into the next day, said a resident who declined to be identified for security reasons. Two people fleeing by motorcycle from Tedim on Monday morning were hit by artillery fire. A 40-year-old woman was killed  while her male cousin was wounded. “She was taken to a nearby house after she was injured. That’s when she died. She was cremated in Tedim on Tuesday morning,” he said. “Her cousin, who was also hurt, has a broken leg and is now being treated at a hospital in Kale town.” On Sunday, the junta’s air force bombed nearby camps occupied by the Zoland People’s Defense Force, a Chin group opposed to the junta, residents said. Junta aircraft also bombed two villages controlled by the rebel group, killing two civilians. RFA called Chin State’s junta spokesperson, Aung Cho, to ask for information about the clashes, but the calls went unanswered. Most of the displaced people are taking shelter in Kale, a town in the neighboring Sagaing region, about 80 km (50 miles) away, said another resident who also asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. Others are sheltering in nearby forests.  “Most of the residents fled,” the second resident told RFA  “Most of them fled to Kale town. There are some who could afford to go to Champhai,” he said, referring to a town in India. At around noon on Monday, junta soldiers burned about 30 houses in Tedim, one of the residents said. “The burnt houses were the ones near the clock tower in Myoma neighborhood and down by the telecommunication office,” he said, asking to remain anonymous given security worries. “All the houses near the local administration office were also set on fire.” Dr Sasa, a senior official in a shadow civilian government, said the destruction in Tedim was a crime against humanity and the international community should help. “Tedim town in Chin State has been burned down by the brutal forces of Myanmar’s military junta … It is imperative to help Myanmar end this reign of terror and build peace,” Sasa, who goes by one name, said on the social media platform, X.  An official from Zoland People’s Defense Force, which occupies territory in Tedim township, told RFA that the allied Chin defense forces captured nine junta soldiers, as well as several military camps. “There are three places [we captured], including the junta’s Electric Power Corporation office,” he told RFA on Tuesday, declining to be identified for security reasons. “Some junta soldiers were killed during the battle, but those captured alive will be treated according to the law.”  One member of the anti-junta Chin force was killed and three were wounded, he said.  Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn.         

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