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Hong Kongers in UK ‘feeling nervous’ over ID card changes

Hong Kong residents will need to replace their ID cards over the next two years, authorities say, which could force those living in the United Kingdom or elsewhere to choose between going back and risking possible arrest, or being unable to return indefinitely. Smart ID cards issued before Nov. 26, 2018, will be invalidated in two phases in 2025, the government said on June 18. Cards belonging to people born in or after 1970 will expire on May 12, 2025, while cards issued to people born in 1969 or before will expire on Oct. 12 next year. Anyone outside of Hong Kong will be given a 30-day grace period to allow them to replace their old ID card on their return, the statement said. But overseas Hong Kongers who fled a political crackdown on dissent in the wake of the 2019 protest movement said they could be forced to choose between risking arrest on their return, and losing the ability to return to the city in future, where many still have families and property. Many Hong Kongers who settled in the United Kingdom on the British government’s lifeboat program for holders of the British National Overseas, or BNO, passport also hold a Chinese passport that is specific to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.  A first-generation Hong Kong ID card (left), with a second-generation Hong Kong smart ID card issued in 2018 (right). (Illustration/Photo: Matthew Leung/RFA) But anyone seeking to renew their Chinese passport without traveling back to Hong Kong could be stymied by a lack of valid ID card, a prerequisite for passport renewal applications. When the British government launched the BNO visa program, offering a pathway to long-term residency and citizenship, China reacted angrily, and announced it would no longer recognize the BNO passport. The catch While permanent residents won’t lose their right of abode in Hong Kong, and can get back into Hong Kong with a valid ID card alone, once the card expires returning Hong Kongers will effectively need a Hong Kong-issued SAR passport or another country’s passport to be allowed in through the immigration checkpoint. “There are always worries about going back to Hong Kong,” a said Hong Konger in the U.K. who gave only the nickname Ringo for fear of reprisals. “Some people weren’t planning to go back, while others may be waiting until after naturalization [as a British citizen].” “But now they’re going to feel a lot more nervous if they need to go back to Hong Kong before their ID cards expire,” she said. Hong Kong’s deputy director of immigration Eric Wong displays Smart ID Cards in his office, Feb. 20, 2002, in Hong Kong, as Hong Kong prepares to make its 6.9 million citizens carry “smart” identity cards. (Vincent Yu/AP) “And it’s more expense because they’ll need to spend money on a flight back to Hong Kong in the next year or so, which they might not have counted on doing,” Ringo said. A former Hong Kong immigration assistant who gave only the surname Chan for fear of reprisals said the announcement was likely an attempt to intimidate people who had fled the crackdown. “It’s obvious that they’re using the ID card replacement scheme to intimidate some Hong Kongers who emigrated to the U.K., making them feel as if they could face further difficulties if they go back to Hong Kong to renew their ID cards,” Chan said. The Hong Kong government slammed last week’s report from RFA Cantonese on the move, saying that the replacement of ID cards was part of measures to combat fraud and identity theft, and not to suppress or intimidate Hong Kongers. Police form a cordon at Causeway Bay on the 35th anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, near where a candlelight vigil is usually held, June 4, 2024, in Hong Kong, China, (Tyrone Siu/Reuters) “The invalidation of old ID cards will not affect one’s right of abode in Hong Kong and they could still travel in and out of Hong Kong as long as holding a valid travel document,” the government said in a June 21 statement. But the statement didn’t address the status of BNO passport holders whose Hong Kong SAR passports had expired. Passports revoked Exiled Hong Kongers also told RFA Cantonese that they are also concerned that the authorities have the power to revoke a person’s Hong Kong SAR passport at any time. Earlier this month, the city government announced it had revoked the Hong Kong SAR passports of six U.K.-based activists including former pro-democracy lawmaker Nathan Law, imposing financial sanctions on them and hitting back at the British government for “deliberately discrediting” the city with spying charges against one of its officials. Secretary for Security Chris Tang revoked the Chinese passports of U.K.-based activists Christopher Mung and Finn Lau, former pro-democracy lawmaker Nathan Law, former British consular employee Simon Cheng, who co-founded the advocacy group Hongkongers in Britain, and overseas YouTube hosts Johnny Fok and Tony Choi.  And many overseas Hong Kongers fear that they could be arrested under national security laws for social media activity carried out overseas. A man waves farewell to friends as departs for a permanent move to U.K. at the Hong Kong airport, June 30, 2021. (Vincent Yu/AP) Last November, a Hong Kong court handed down a two-month jail term to former overseas student Yuen Ching-ting, 23, after she pleaded guilty to “publishing online speech with seditious intent” to social media starting in September 2018, before the national security law took effect. The case against her was based on her posting of “inflammatory remarks” to social media platforms, including the banned 2019 protest slogan “Free Hong Kong! Revolution now!” while she was studying in Japan. Yuen was arrested in March after returning to Hong Kong from Japan, where she was studying. Local media outlets reported that she was in the city to change her Hong Kong identity card. She was initially arrested on suspicion of inciting secession, a…

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Thousands welcome Dalai Lama’s arrival in US for knee surgery

Updated at 18:40 ET on June 23, 2024. The Dalai Lama was greeted by a large crowd of chanting and flag-waving Tibetans and other supporters upon his arrival Sunday in the United States for knee surgery. It was the first trip to the United States for the 88-year-old Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader in seven years and his first overseas trip since November 2018, before the coronavirus pandemic. He lives in exile in Dharamsala, northern India,  After landing at Teterboro Airport, in New Jersey, he was greeted by people holding traditional khata white scarves, chanting, singing, waving flags and wishing him a quick recovery from the operation on his right knee. “It’s a moment of profound joy and spiritual fulfillment for us,” said Tsering Dickey, who traveled from New York with her family to see him at the airport. “Seeing His Holiness in person after such a long time brings hope and inspiration to our community and we hope and pray that his knee surgery goes well.” The Dalai Lama then traveled by car to New York, where thousands of well-wishers awaited him outside the Park Hyatt, lining up along 57th Street in Manhattan, where he will be staying. No public talks or engagements are currently planned for his visit.  The doctor suggested that successful right knee surgery would help his left knee function better as well, and that he may be able to walk properly within three weeks, Sikyong Pempa Tsering, the head of the Central Tibetan Administration, told RFA. Devotees wait for the arrival of the Dalai Lama outside of the airport in Teterboro, New Jersey, June 23, 2024. (RFA) The Dalai Lama enjoys strong support in the United States, where prominent lawmakers have spoken out about human rights issues in Tibet, though China considers him a separatist and has criticized those who meet with him.  The well-wishers included Tibetans and people from Himalayan regions, Mongolia, India, Vietnam, Bhutan and Nepal, as well as individuals from across the United States. “The presence of His Holiness here in the United States is a spiritual boon, as he is visiting after seven years,” said Tashi Kyiloe from New York. “It is a great opportunity for older people like me to receive his blessing.” The visit comes after the recent passage of a bill in the U.S. Congress that urgest the Chinese government to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives, or democratically elected Tibetan leaders, to resolve the China-Tibet dispute. The Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Dispute Act, also known as the Resolve Tibet Act, calls on China to cease its propagation of disinformation about the history of Tibet, the Tibetan people and the Dalai Lama. Additional reporting by Nordhey Dolma, Jolep Chophel, Yeshi Tashi and Tashi Wangchuk. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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What was Vietnam thinking, welcoming Putin?

Why did Hanoi welcome Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, for a state visit this past week?  Sure, invite him. Allow Russian state media to speculate on a visit. Meet with his underlings. But to actually unfurl the red carpet for a leader whose global travel has been sharply curbed by an International Criminal Court arrest warrant ?  From geopolitical, domestic, economic, and ideological points of view, it makes little sense – unless the rising security faction is dictating what happens within the Communist Party of Vietnam.  Some 15 deals on economic, educational, and political cooperation were signed. But those items could have been agreed upon without Putin’s presence. That was the smokescreen, however.    General Secretary of Vietnam’s Communist Party Nguyen Phu Trong, fourth from right, meets with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, center left, in Hanoi, June 20, 2024. (Vietnam News Agency via AFP) RELATED STORIES Putin visits Vietnam, aiming to renew Cold War ties Vietnam’s fraternal ties with Russia are put to the test Bear East: RFA Special report on Russia’s influence in Asia The deepening ‘securitization’ of Vietnamese politics Russia was the largest provider of military equipment to Vietnam until 2022, but that was before it invaded Ukraine and depleted much of its arsenal.  Sales to Vietnam have tanked since. Nobody should look at how Russian equipment is faring in Ukraine and conclude, “I need some of that.” However, that’s apparently what the Vietnamese military is thinking.  According to a finance ministry document leaked to the media last year, Vietnam thinks it can buy weapons from Russia via payments to a joint Vietnamese and Russian oil venture in Siberia, which would allow it to avoid U.S. sanctions.  Missiles in mind The New York Times cited a Vietnamese official saying the secret deal will be worth $8 billion over the next two decades. Some reckon this is now Vietnamese government policy, which might explain Putin’s visit.  Some observers believe Hanoi wants aircraft and new naval vessels from Russia. Its navy badly needs an upgrade. And it really wants BrahMos cruise missiles developed by a joint Russian and Indian venture.  Beijing has apparently pressured Moscow not to sell to Hanoi. Given that Russia is now utterly dependent on China, it’s unlikely that Moscow would agree to the sale.  Maybe Hanoi thought that by giving Putin some international publicity and support through the visit, Putin would return the favor with missiles. Maybe Hanoi thought it needed Putin to be there in person to drive a hard bargain: “If you don’t give us what we want, we’ll go to South Korea for military equipment.” Cargo containers are seen in Quy Nhon port in Vietnam’s Binh Dinh province on March 29, 2024. (Tran Thi Minh Ha/AFP) But it’s a risky business. It’s hard to imagine the U.S. not responding to any such deal to buy Russian weapons, however cleverly it’s designed to get around sanctions, with very forceful sanctions.  Indeed, it’s hard to imagine this not impacting Vietnam’s economy more generally. The economy isn’t spectacular at the moment, and Hanoi really cannot afford to jeopardize relations with the U.S., its second-largest trade partner and primary export destination. It certainly cannot afford to do so when Donald Trump, who famously remarked that Vietnam is the “worst abuser” of the U.S. on trade, could soon return to the presidency.  ‘Securocrats’ in charge But this risk-taking may be the consequence of the “securocrats” having taken over the Communist Party of Vietnam, having used party chief Nguyen Phu Trong’s signature anti-corruption campaign to purge their rivals over the past 12 months.  Trong, now 80, did not look very well in his meeting with Putin. It’s still uncertain if he’ll make it to the next party congress in early 2026. My guess is that Trong is no longer the arbitrator he seemed to be until very recently. In this vacuum, the “securocrats” – officials of the security ministry  – have quickly forged a stranglehold over the party.  After last month’s changes to the Politburo, there are now just two economics-minded technocrats in the 16-member elite decision-making body, the lowest number in decades.  Vietnam Communist Party official Dinh Tien Dung, left, meets with Chinese Communist Party official Wang Huning in Beijing, Sept. 28, 2023. (Yan Yan/Xinhua via Getty Images) To Lam, the former public security minister and now president, is tipped to become the next party chief.  There is talk that the securocrats aren’t yet finished purging the party of their economic-minded rivals—those who would put up a fight within the party against any major military deal with the Russians.  Dinh Tien Dung, the Hanoi party chief and former finance minister, “resigned” this week and will likely soon exit the Politburo. It was probably the securocrats who lobbied hard for the Putin visit to happen, silencing those who we know from leaks were dead against it.  Flow of information The anti-graft campaign has certainly weakened the bureaucracy. Civil servants are so petrified of being reprimanded for potentially making mistakes, especially when it comes to using state money, that they’ve simply stopped making hard choices, leading to a bureaucratic slowdown and major problems in state capacity. The bigger concern should be whether bureaucratic fear has also impacted the flow of information within the party. Are underlings still willing to give their superiors unwelcome but honest news?  According to Nguyen Khac Giang, of the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, “the new [politburo] leaders…are more ‘thinkers’ than ‘doers,’ lacking significant achievements that justify their promotions. This reinforces the belief that in the uncertain context of the anti-corruption campaign, it is wiser for bureaucrats to play safe by doing less and surviving rather than taking risks.” To Lam is sworn in as Vietnam’s president at the National Assembly in Hanoi, May 22, 2024. (Nghia Duc/National Assembly via AP) Look north of the border and Xi Jinping, China’s paramount leader, has fully centralized power and thoroughly purged anyone competent or honest from the bureaucracy. It’s not that he has surrounded himself with…

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Collapse at notorious Myanmar rare earth mine kills 15 people

Rescuers recovered the bodies of 15 mine workers in northern Myanmar on Friday after a landslide at a rare earths mine, residents said, the latest deaths in an unregulated industry feeding surging demand for the minerals in China and beyond. Thirty workers, most of them young men, were trapped in the Pang War mine in Kachin state when the collapse occurred at around midnight on Wednesday, a relative of one of the missing miners told Radio Free Asia. “Fifteen bodies have been found so far. Two women were among them,” said the resident who declined to be identified in fear of reprisals for talking to the media. “The rest haven’t been found.” It was the second major disaster at the mine this month. A June 4 landslide killed more than 20 people, including three Chinese nationals. A surge in the illegal mining of rare earth metals in northern Myanmar is being driven by demand from neighboring China for terbium and dysprosium – elements that are used in the production of electric vehicles, environmental activists say. Pang War is in an area under the control of junta forces but the mining and the pollution it generates are largely unregulated. RFA called Kachin state’s junta spokesperson, Moe Min Thein, for information on the landslide but he did not respond.  Environmentalists say companies from China, where mining has become increasingly regulated due to safety and environmental concerns, fund the mining and ship the ore across the nearby border for processing and sale on into global supply chains. Chinese nationals are increasingly seen working at the mines, residents say. RFA contacted China’s embassy in Myanmar for comment but it did not reply by the time of publication. The number of rare earth mines in resource-rich Kachin state grew by 40% between 2021 and 2023, the environmental group Global Witness said in a recent report. There are more than 300 mines in the state’s Special Region 1 of the township, it said. There has also been a surge of fighting in the state between junta forces and the autonomy-seeking Kachin Independence Army, at times over access to resources and trade routes. The increase in fighting this year has displaced and killed civilians and comes as forces of the junta that seized power in a 2021 coup have faced setbacks in several parts of the country including Kachin state. Environmental activists say all sides in Myanmar’s northernmost state seek profits from its resources, including the rare earths. Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Taejun Kang.  

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Xi Jinping visits Mao’s caves

President Xi Jinping has led top military brass on a pilgrimage of caves that were a key revolutionary base for the late supreme leader Mao Zedong, state media reported, a move analysts said was aimed at strengthening grip over the People’s Liberation Army. The cave complex of Yan’an, in northeast China, where Mao spent the formative years of the Chinese Communist Party leadership during the war with Japan, has become a symbol of ideological purity in China, and has been described by commentators as one of the “holy sites” of the Chinese revolution. The Yan’an conference marks “a return to the roots of the military,” state news agency Xinhua paraphrased Xi as saying. It comes after Xi fired Li Shangfu from his post as defense minister on Oct. 24, 2023, with no explanation given. A number of senior leaders of the People’s Liberation Army’s Rocket Corps, including the head of China’s nuclear arsenal, had also been fired by Xi in July. Yan’an is also where Mao launched a major “rectification” campaign, purging his opponents from party ranks. Newly elected Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Li Shangfu takes his oath during a session of China’s National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 12, 2023. (Andy Wong/AP) Commentators told RFA that the choice of Yan’an as a venue for Xi’s speech sent out a strong symbolic message. Xi told the political work conference in Shaanxi province that “the armed forces must always be led by those who are reliable and loyal to the party,” Xinhua reported. He warned of “deep-seated problems” in the military due to a “lack of ideals and beliefs.” Useful propaganda tool Communist troops arrived in Yan’an, on the poverty-stricken loess plateau of the Yellow River, in 1935, making their homes in caves and eating millet gruel every day until the tide swung their way in the civil war in 1948. The Yan’an period of Chinese history is a useful propaganda tool, because it came before the power struggles and political campaigns launched by Mao against his opponents threw the country into years of turmoil and cost millions of lives, and still carries a message of hope for many Chinese people. During a government-organized media tour, tourists visit the former residence of Chinese leader Mao Zedong at the Yangjialing Revolutionary Site in Yan’an, the headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party from 1936 to 1947, in Shaanxi province on May 10, 2021. (Hector Retamal/AFP) Current affairs commentator Cai Shenkun said Xi’s message was clear. “He is emphasizing the importance of who it is holding the gun,” Cai said. “It used to be said that the party should command the gun, but the key question is, who is actually holding it?” “Mao Zedong ruled the party with guns, Deng Xiaoping did the same,” he said in a reference to Mao’s successor who ordered the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre by People’s Liberation Army forces in Beijing. Wife promoted Meanwhile, Xi has reportedly promoted his wife Peng Liyuan, a former military singer who holds the rank of major-general, to a senior position in the Central Military Commission’s Cadre Assessment Committee, which approves appointments, according to senior political commentator Willy Lam. “Peng’s increasing public profile and potential elevation within the military hierarchy invites comparisons to Mao Zedong’s reliance on his fourth wife, Jiang Qing, during the Cultural Revolution,” Lam wrote in a commentary last month for the Jamestown Foundation . Cai said it is significant that the conference is being held ahead of the third plenum of the Central Committee next month, and can be seen as a message that Xi is strengthening his grip on the military. During a government-organized media tour, figures are displayed representing the former Chinese leader Mao Zedong at Dongfanghong Theatre in Yan’an, the headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party from 1936 to 1947, in Shaanxi province on May 10, 2021. (Hector Retamal/AFP) Current affairs commentator Guo Min agreed, saying that party control over the armed forces is a recurrent concern for Xi. “He’s talking about the absolute leadership of the party over the military, which basically means, his absolute command over the military,” Guo said. “Political work is actually about toeing the line, the same line as [Xi],” he said. Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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Putin visits Vietnam aiming to renew Cold War ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin was given a grand welcome with a 21-gun salute on Thursday after arriving in old ally Vietnam on a trip that is likely to be promoted by Moscow as more evidence of the West’s failure to isolate him over the invasion of Ukraine. Presiding over the ceremony was Vietnam’s new president, To Lam, and not the Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, due to the latter’s ailing health.  The two presidents saluted their countries’ flags before inspecting the guard of honor, who cheered “We wish the president good health!” In later talks, Lam congratulated Putin on his re-election and praised Russia’s achievements, including “domestic political stability,” Reuters reported.  The Vietnamese president told a press briefing that both Vietnam and Russia were committed to the principle of “not forming alliances nor agreements with third parties to take actions that harm each other’s independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and fundamental interests.” Putin arrived in Hanoi in the early hours from Pyongyang, where he and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed an agreement that pledges “mutual assistance in the event of aggression” against one of them. He was met at Hanoi’s airport by the head of Communist Party’s external affairs commission and a deputy prime minister in a much more low-key reception compared with the lavish fanfare laid on for him in North Korea. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Vietnam’s President To Lam at the welcome ceremony hosted at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Vietnam, June 20, 2024. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters) No major agreement is expected during the Russian president’s 24 hours in Hanoi but he’s scheduled to meet with, besides President To Lam, the general secretary of the Communist Party, the prime minister and the National Assembly’s chairman. Putin, who has been on a U.S. sanction list since 2022 for ordering the invasion of Ukraine, is also wanted by the International Criminal Court, or ICC. Vietnam is not a member of the ICC and so is under no obligation to act on its arrest warrant.  “Few countries now welcome Mr. Putin,” Australian Ambassador to Vietnam Andrew Goledzinowski wrote on social media platform X in a rare post by a foreign envoy. “But he needs to demonstrate that he is still a ‘world leader’. So Vietnam is doing him a huge favour and may expect favours in return.” No nuclear power, for now Ahead of his arrival in Hanoi, Putin praised the close ties between the two countries, who he said share “the same, or similar approaches” to current issues on the international agenda. “We are grateful to our Vietnamese friends for their balanced position on the Ukrainian crisis and for their desire to help find tangible ways to resolve it peacefully,” he wrote in an article on Vietnamese Communist Party’s mouthpiece Nhan Dan. Hanoi has declined to denounce the Russian invasion of Ukraine and did not take part in last weekend’s Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland, to which Russia was not invited. The Russian president said that trade and investment, especially in the energy industry sectors, were the two governments’ priorities.  Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom is “ready to help Vietnamese partners develop their national nuclear power industry,” he said. Russia maintains a strong global influence in nuclear power and is the world’s leading exporter of nuclear power plants. Yet Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh told Rosatom’s Director General Alexey Likhachev on Wednesday that his country “has not had any policy to return to developing nuclear power but will continue to research and consider nuclear energy as an important solution to achieve net zero emissions by 2050,” according to the Vietnam News Agency. Hanoi shelved a plan to build its first nuclear power plant  in 2016, citing lack of resources and concerns of safety. Vietnam’s President To Lam welcomes Russia’s President Vladimir Putin at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Vietnam, June 20, 2024. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters) Rosatom, however, is helping construct a nuclear science and technology research center in the southern province of Đồng Nai. Putin’s visit is generally seen as symbolic and could help strengthening interactions in traditional areas such as economy and investment, science and technology, education and training, culture and tourism, and also defense and security. Vietnam is one of the largest buyers of Russian arms and still relies on Moscow to maintain and upgrade its arsenal but no contract signing is envisaged during the visit. Russia is a traditional ally and supported Vietnam throughout the Cold War but the dynamics of the relationship have changed as Vietnam adopts a new multilateral, diversified foreign policy that enabled it to forge new partners such as the U.S. and Japan. “Russia will never again be a strategic partner for Vietnam. Moscow has chosen a different partner and a different strategic destiny,” the Australian Ambassador Goledzinowski wrote, apparently referring to Vietnam’s neighbor China. Hanoi and Beijing are at odds over their sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, an important waterway shared by several countries but China claims  having historic rights to more than 80% of it. Russia has maintained a neutral position in the South China Sea and is involved in many oil and gas projects in the region but it has recently voiced support for China’s rejection of “external interference”, or in other words, the role of the U.S. and its allies, in the region’s maritime disputes. Edited by Taejun Kang. 

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Ecuador ends visa-free entry for Chinese nationals fleeing country

Authorities in Ecuador have suspended visa-free entry to Chinese nationals starting July 1, citing a jump in arrivals, half of whom either overstay the terms of their entry or leave the country via “irregular routes” to other destinations, making them vulnerable to human traffickers. Ecuador’s capital Quito has become a well-known jumping off point for Chinese nationals planning to make the dangerous journey overland to Mexico prior to claiming political asylum in the United States, a grueling journey known as “walking the line.” The move, which was announced ahead of World Refugee Day on June 20, is a heavy blow for the “run” movement — a buzzword describing the mass exodus of people from China following the lifting of pandemic restrictions in late 2022. The meme took off during the grueling lockdowns, mass incarceration in quarantine camps and compulsory testing of Xi Jinping’s zero-COVID policy, which the government ended abruptly, following nationwide protests, in December 2022. Ecuador’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility said it was suspending visa-free entry to Chinese nationals due to “an unusual increase in irregular migratory flows of Chinese citizens … who would be using Ecuador as a starting point to reach other destinations.” Chinese migrants navigate thick brush after being smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico in Fronton, Texas, April 5, 2023. (Reuters) “In recent months, there has been a worrying increase in migratory flows from China,” the Ministry said in a June 18 statement posted to its official X account.  “50% of these entries have not left through regular routes and within the times established by law,” it said, adding that the ban will “[prevent] them from being victims of human trafficking or migrant smuggling.” Chinese border crossings Since last year, a total of 66,000 Chinese citizens have entered Ecuador, but only 34,000 have left the country through official routes, according to the ministry. The U.S. government has also reported a huge increase in the number of Chinese citizens seeking political asylum last year. More than 37,000 Chinese nationals were arrested at the U.S. southern land border in 2023, 10 times the number of the previous year. There was a small dip in the first three months of 2024, but numbers rebounded to 3,282 in April, according to U.S. government statistics. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said the visa-free arrangement had been in place since August 2016, and had “played an important and positive role in promoting cross-border travel and practical cooperation in various fields between the two countries.” While he didn’t directly address the mass exodus of Chinese nationals via Ecuador since the lifting of COVID-19 travel bans in 2022, he said the Chinese government continues to “work with relevant countries to jointly tackle human smuggling activities.” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lin Jian speaks on June 18, 2024, in Beijing. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, PRC) “The Chinese government firmly opposes all forms of human smuggling,” Lin told a news briefing in Beijing on Tuesday. “Chinese law enforcement departments are working with relevant countries to jointly tackle human smuggling activities, repatriate illegal immigrants and maintain a good order in cross-border travel,” he said. Trekking through the rainforest Performance artist and social media personality Chen Shaotian, also known as Brother Tian, documented his hazardous trek through the Central American rainforest after touching down in Quito in May 2023, via a video sharing platform. Chen, who has previously served a 14-month jail term for criticizing the Communist Party on social media, said his trip took him and a party of 200 other Chinese citizens through bus stations, border checkpoints, refugee camps and other facilities that have sprung up to serve the constant stream of people heading for the United States through Central America. Along the way, they were fleeced by corrupt police, paid fees to the “snakehead” people smuggling gangs, who charged extra for a more comfortable trek involving tents and horses, and robbed repeatedly along the way, Chen told RFA Mandarin after arriving in the United States. Chen said he flew to Turkey, then to Ecuador, before making his way northwards along the coast through Peru and Venezuela. Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

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Putin to visit Vietnam to affirm traditional partnership

On the afternoon of March 2, 2001, the packed hall at Hanoi’s Vietnam-Russia Friendship Palace erupted in cheers and applause as President Vladimir Putin walked in. The energetic 49-year-old shook hands and chatted with members of the audience before delivering a warm address.  A similar gathering of alumni of Russian universities and institutes is planned in Hanoi on Wednesday for Putin, who is in his fifth term as Russia’s president, and will be on his fifth visit to Vietnam.  Yet it’s hard to expect an equally enthusiastic welcome for the Russian leader this time in a country where, though fondness for Russia remains strong, its invasion of Ukraine has eroded some support, analysts say. A crowd of Hanoi’s residents try to reach visiting Russian President (L) for a hand-shake as the Russian leader leaves the temple of the Literature in Hanoi on March 2, 2001. (Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP) Russia has a close, long-standing relationship with Vietnam and is one of Hanoi’s few comprehensive strategic partners. However, after more than 20 years, the relationship between the old allies has changed substantially. Vietnam has adopted an open-door policy since the mid-1980s and has since normalized relations with countries it fought in the past, including China and the United States.   Hanoi takes great pride in its so-called bamboo diplomacy, that enables it to befriend  former foes while maintaining old friendships. “Putin’s visit is highly symbolic,” said Nguyen Ngoc Truong, a senior Vietnamese diplomat turned foreign affairs analyst. “It reflects Vietnam’s independent, self-reliant and multilateral foreign policy.” RELATED STORIES North Korea’s Kim promises Putin full support for Russia’s Ukraine war Vietnam’s fraternal ties with Russ are put to the test Bear East: RFA Special report on Russia’s influence in Asia “Vietnam invited U.S. and Chinese top leaders to visit last year so this visit shows once again that Hanoi is pursuing its foreign affairs principles without exception,” Truong told RFA. “There is still a part of Vietnam’s society that is deeply Russophile, but it is shrinking. The Ukraine war has also led to a shift in the way the Vietnamese public view Russia, and Putin personally,” the analyst added. ‘Low expectations’ Putin is set to arrive in Hanoi from Pyongyang where he held talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to boost the ties of two countries both at odds with the West. The Russian president is expected to spend about 24 hours in Hanoi and to meet the four most senior Vietnamese leaders – the general secretary of the Communist Party, the state president, the prime minister and the National Assembly’s chairman. Putin’s delegation will discuss cooperation projects in various areas, including energy and defense, but no major agreements are expected. Vietnamese police officers stand guard near the Opera House in preparation for the security rehearsal ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Vietnam, in Hanoi, Vietnam, June 19, 2024. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters) Trade between Vietnam and Russia stands at just US$3.7 billion, lagging far behind that with the United States — to the tune of US$97 billion — and with China — US$131 billion. Russia is still Vietnam’s biggest supplier of weapons but purchases have decreased markedly over the past five years and Hanoi did not place any new orders last year.  U.S. sanctions have also made payment to Russia difficult so the two sides would have to “discuss a new financial mechanism,” according to Nguyen The Phuong, a Vietnamese political scientist at the University of New South Wales in Australia. “It is impossible for Vietnam to wean off Russia’s weapons overnight,” Phuong said. “It still has to rely on Russia for a long time to come as it’s very hard to find alternative sources.” Russian experts said Vietnam will also be mindful not to irk the United States too much with Putin’s trip. “Vietnam as an export-oriented economy depends much more on the U.S. so it will act with an eye on Washington, and Beijing as those countries are much more important for Vietnam than Russia these days,” Kirill Kotkov, head of the Center for Far Eastern Countries Studies in St. Petersburg, told Russian media. “If there is a conflict with China, for instance, Russia will not be able to support Vietnam like we did in 1979 and the Vietnamese know that,” Kotkov added, referring to a brief but bloody Sino-Vietnam border war. Valuable partner Vietnam is not a member of the International Criminal Court, or ICC,  and so has no obligation to act on an arrest warrant it issued for in 2023 over alleged war crimes in Ukraine. Still, a spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Hanoi, voiced disapproval of Putin’s visit. “No country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression and otherwise allow him to normalize his atrocities,” the spokesperson told Reuters when asked about the impact of the visit on ties with the U.S. “If he is able to travel freely, it could normalize Russia’s blatant violations of international law.” Despite such U.S. misgivings, Hanoi remains a steadfast friend and partner to Moscow, analysts say. “Vietnam has never joined any anti-Russian forces and blocs, nor has it supported any embargoes or sanctions aimed at isolating Russia,” Russian analyst Grigory Trophymchuk, told the Vietnam News Agency. “For the Russian Federation, this is particularly valuable from a geopolitical point of view.” Vietnamese children play near Lenin statue in Hanoi, Vietnam, June 29, 2023. (Tran Viet Duc/RFA) Putin’s visit comes as Vietnam is going through an unprecedented upheaval in its domestic politics, largely because of an anti-corruption campaign, called “blazing furnace”, initiated by Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong. The campaign, and the infighting it has generated, has led to the departure of six members of the party’s Politburo and the ascent of To Lam, a former minister of public security, to state president. General Secretary Trong – and not Vietnam’s president – is the host of Putin’s trip, as well as of the previous trips by U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi…

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Thai Senate adopts historic bill legalizing same-sex marriage

People rejoiced in the streets of Bangkok and other Thai cities on Tuesday after the Senate passed a bill that puts Thailand on the cusp of becoming the first Southeast Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage. With the two houses of the Thai legislature having now adopted legislation that provides equal marriage rights to LGBTQ people, the bill will become law within 120 days after the king signs it and it is published in the Royal Gazette. The legislation is expected to unlock previously denied legal rights for Thai same-sex and non-traditional couples, such as adoption or the ability to make health care decisions for their partners’ behalf, human rights activists said.  A majority of senators attending the session voted in favor of its passage. About 100 of the 250-member Senate were not present for the vote. Out of 152 voters, 130 approved, four disapproved and 18 abstained, said Gov. Singsuk Singprai, the first vice president of the Senate, who chaired Tuesday’s session. The scene outside Government House in Bangkok was filled with rainbow colors of the Pride flag as gay people and others gathered to celebrate this landmark moment for Thailand’s LGBTQ community.      “As an LGBTQ person who is in love and wants to marry another woman, we have long hoped that we would have equal rights and dignity, just like the heterosexual couples who can marry and start families,” Ann “Waaddao” Chumaporn, an LGBTQ organizer and community spokesperson, said during Tuesday’s Senate deliberations on the Marriage Equality Bill.    _________________________________RELATED STORYTogether three decades, Thai same-sex couple hopes for legal recognition _________________________________ The bill proposes replacing terms such as “husband” and “wife” with “spouse” in Section 1448 of Thailand’s Civil and Commercial Code.  “We hope that changes in Thailand will ignite a spark for other countries in Asia. Although this law is not 100% perfect, from an international human rights organization’s perspective, it makes Thai law more aligned with international standards,” Mookdapa Yangyuenpradorn, a Southeast Asian human rights associate at Fortify Rights, told BenarNews, an affiliate of Radio Free Asia. If and when the bill becomes law, Thailand would join Taiwan and Nepal as the only countries in Asia to recognize the rights of same-sex couples to wed. Members of the LGBTQ+ community celebrate after Thailand’s Senate passed a marriage equality bill to legalize same-sex unions, outside Government House in Bangkok, June 18, 2024. (Patipat Janthong/Reuters) Isa Gharti, a public policy researcher at Chiang Mai University, said the vote demonstrates progress in accepting sexual diversity. “This shows the societal advancement in Thailand in terms of accepting sexual diversity and safeguarding the rights of the LGBTQ community to equality both legally and in human dignity. This is a positive sign that will make Thai society more open, although there are still some voices of opposition,” Isa said. “Going forward, Thailand must also address deeply entrenched gender discrimination and biases in education, employment, and public health,” Isa said. “It’s essential to educate the public to foster understanding and reduce stigmatization of sexual diversity.” ‘Beautiful and powerful’ In Thailand, a Buddhist-majority politically conservative country, legislation around same-sex marriage has been more than two decades in the making.  An earlier marriage equality bill, introduced by opposition lawmakers from the progressive Move Forward Party, reached its second reading in November 2022, but didn’t move beyond that because of a series of legislative delays. It died when Parliament dissolved in March 2023 ahead of the general election two months later.  This year, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the current bill, with 400 of 415 lawmakers present endorsing it at its final reading in March. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who is a backer of marriage equality, has said his government was working toward Bangkok hosting World Pride 2028. “We have fought a long time because we believe in all equal rights,” Srettha wrote on his X account after the vote. “Today is our day. We celebrate to ‘diverse’ love, not ‘different’ [love]. Love is beautiful and powerful.’ Supporters of LGBTQ+ rights march toward Government House in Bangkok as they celebrate the Senate’s approval of a same-sex marriage bill, June 18, 2024. (James Wilson-Thai News Pix/BenarNews) The movement for legal recognition of same-sex marriage began during the Thaksin Shinawatra government in 2001. At the time, the Ministry of Interior proposed amendments to the marriage law, but dropped them because of public opposition. A military coup forced Thaksin from the prime minister’s office in 2006. In 2012, the government of Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, introduced the Civil Partnership Bill for consideration. While this bill did not grant full marriage rights to same-sex couples, its progress was halted by another military coup in 2014 that drove her from the same office. The Move Forward Party proposed the Marriage Equality Bill in the lower House in 2022. Simultaneously, the administration of then-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha submitted the Civil Partnership Bill for consideration.  While the two bills shared similarities, the Civil Partnership Bill would have established a “life partnership” status for same-sex couples, granting them fewer legal rights than “marriage.” The House term ended before either bill could be passed. After Tuesday’s Senate vote, Plaifah Kyoka Shodladd, an 18-year-old who identifies as non-binary, took the floor and thanked everyone who supported the legislation, calling it a “force of hope” that will help Thailand become more accepting of diversity, the Associated Press reported. “Today, love trumps prejudice,” Plaifah said. BenarNews is an online news outlet affiliated with Radio Free Asia.

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Former top Tibet official under probe for corruption

The Chinese Communist Party’s former top boss in Tibet is being investigated for “severe violations of discipline and law,” according to a statement from China’s anti-corruption body, using a euphemism commonly used to describe corruption.  Wu Yingjie, former party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region, is one of several top officials recently dismissed from the Chinese Communist Party amid a crackdown on officials past and present who have engaged in graft.  The move was praised by Tibetans on Chinese social media in a rare display of public opinion about such measures in China. “It is very good that this man has been arrested,” said one person. “This is good news for Tibetans,” said another.  “This enemy of the Tibetans has been captured and it will eliminate harm from the Tibetan people,” said a third. In 2022, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Wu, 67, for his policies in Tibet that “involved serious human rights abuse, including extrajudicial killings, physical abuse, arbitrary arrests, and mass detentions” in the far-western region. Additional abuses cited included forced sterilization, coerced abortion, restrictions on religious and political freedoms, and the torture of prisoners. Wu, who now serves on the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, is the first former party secretary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, or TAR, to be placed under investigation and the eighth ministerial-level official to face a probe since the Communist Party’s National Congress in 2022.  The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the National Supervisory Commission announced the investigation on June 16.    Other officials under investigation include Dong Yunhu, chief of the Shanghai legislature; Sun Zhigang, a former medical reform official; Han Yong, former chairman of the Shaanxi Provincial Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference; Gou Zhongwen, former sports minister; Tang Yijun, former justice minister; Tang Renjian, agriculture minister; and Li Yuefeng,  executive vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League. Tibetans react Tibetans inside Tibet took to Chinese social media to express their scorn for Wu Yingjie, known for his crackdowns and repressive policies, a source inside Tibet told Radio Free Asia on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.  More than 760 comments appeared on a WeChat channel in response to a story about Wu’s investigation, all expressing support for the probe. Members of the Tibetan community in Belgium hold a demonstration to mark the celebration of the 57th Tibetan Uprising Day in front of the EU headquarters in Brussels on March 10, 2016. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP) But at least one activist predicted the investigation would do nothing to change the plight of Tibetans. “Despite Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s investigation of  Wu Yingjie and other officials as part of the nation’s anti-corruption campaign, there will be no positive impact on Tibet and its related issues,” said Sangay Kyap, a Tibetan rights analyst. Shortly after Wu was promoted to party secretary in 2016, he issued a statement stressing the need for officials to “expand positive propaganda” and to “thoroughly expose and criticize” the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Wu also urged officials to “eliminate the negative influence” of the Dalai Lama’s use of religion and to guide believers to treat religion rationally. Under President Xi Jinping, Wu also intensified repressive measures in Tibet, including the establishment of Chinese-run boarding schools with a curriculum focused on the Chinese language that undermines Tibetan culture and language, said Bawa Kelsang Gyaltsen, representative of the Office of Tibet in Taiwan. “Wu Yingjie had been the CCP party secretary for the region, implementing severe and oppressive policies in Tibet for over 20 years,” he said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party. Another official, Jiang Jie, 58, a former senior political advisor in the TAR, was also indicted on charges of taking bribes by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate following an investigation, the body announced on June 14. Jiang Jie is shown in a Jan. 17, 2024 post on X. (@globaltimesnews via X) Prosecutors in Tianjin allege that Jiang, who is also a former vice chairman of the TAR’s Regional Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, misused his various positions, including serving as mayor of Dongying in Shandong province and deputy head of the regional government, to unlawfully gain advantages for others in exchange for significant sums of money and valuables. Xinjiang official expelled In a related development, Li Pengxin, a former deputy secretary of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the region north of Tibet, has been expelled from the Communist Party and dismissed from public office for “serious violations of Party discipline and laws,” official Chinese media reported Monday. An investigation found that Li, 63, had lost his ideals and convictions, was dishonest about his problems, accepted money and valuables, took advantage of his former position to seek benefits for others, and was suspected of accepting bribes, according to a statement issued Monday by China’s anti-corruption body and the National Commission of Supervision. Li Pengxin is shown in a June 17, 2024 post on X. (@PD China via X) When Li was deputy secretary in Xinjiang from September 2016 to July 2021, he oversaw a crackdown on Uyghur educators, sending them to prison  At a meeting of party cadres in 2017, Li announced that prominent Uyghur scholar Tashpolat Teyip had been removed and replaced as president of Xinjiang University.  Afterwards, Teyip disappeared from public view, leading Uyghurs to believe he had been detained. Uyghurs interviewed by RFA in 2018, after news about his disappearance came to light, said they believed Teyip was removed amid an unprecedented ideological purge in Xinjiang against so-called “two-faced” Uyghur officials. The term is used by authorities to describe Uyghurs who do not willingly follow directives and exhibit signs of disloyalty. Additional reporting and translation by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA Tibetan and Alim Seyoff for RFA Uyghur. Edited by Tenzin Pema, Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

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