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China’s ‘monster’ ship lingers in Philippine waters: Manila

Chinese coast guard vessel 5901, dubbed “The Monster” for its size, has maintained an “illegal presence” in Philippine waters for a week, said a spokesperson for the country’s navy. Roy Vincent Trinidad told reporters on Tuesday that the CCG 5901 has been near Sabina Shoal, known in the Philippines as Escoda Shoal, since July 3. Manila’s biggest and most modern coast guard ship – the BRP Teresa Magbanua – has been shadowing the movements of the Chinese vessel, he said. The 2,260-ton Philippine multi-role response vessel, however, is dwarfed by “The Monster” which is five times its size. At some points, the Chinese ship was only about 500 meters (1,640 feet) from the BRP Teresa Magbanua, according to Trinidad. While under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, foreign vessels can conduct so-called innocent passage and freedom of navigation operations, the spokesperson said, adding: “We are monitoring them because they should not be conducting any maritime research, they should not be doing anything detrimental to the security of the state.” The Philippine coast guard first spotted “The Monster” anchored near Sabina Shoal last Saturday. The shoal, claimed by China, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan, is less than 90 nautical miles (167 km) off the coast of Palawan island inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, where Manila has jurisdiction over natural resources. (Google Maps) Philippine coast guard spokesperson Jay Tarriela said at the time that his forces radio challenged the Chinese vessel, warning that it was operating inside the Philippine EEZ but “The Monster” did not respond. “It’s an intimidation on the part of the China coast guard,” Tarriela said. The 12,000-ton CCG 5901 is the largest coast guard vessel in the world and is heavily armed. When asked about the statement, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said the shoal belonged to China. Lin Jian said that it is part of Chinese Nansha islands, also known as the Spratly islands, not the Philippines’ EEZ.  “To patrol and conduct law enforcement activities by Chinese military and coast guard vessels in the waters near Xianbin Jiao is within China’s domestic law and international law, including UNCLOS,” Lin said, referring to Sabina Shoal by its Chinese name. Suspected land reclamation China lays claim to most of the South China Sea and draws a so-called nine-dash line on its maps to mark its “historic rights.” An international arbitration tribunal in a case brought by the Philippines in 2016 ruled that China’s claims are unlawful but it has refused to recognize the ruling. “The Monster” last month conducted a 10-day patrol along the nine-dash line to reinforce it before returning to the Philippines’ EEZ this month. China has also been sending research vessels, naval vessels and other ships to Sabina Shoal, leading to suspicion that it is attempting to build an artificial island there. The Philippine coast guard said that crushed corals had been dumped on the shoal – an indication of the early stage of land reclamation. China’s foreign ministry dismissed the accusation as “groundless and pure rumor.” Chinese ‘monster’ ship reinforces nine-dash line in South China Sea China deploys ‘monster’ ship near disputed shoal Manila accuses Beijing of island building in South China Sea Manila: Philippines, China agree to ‘de-escalate’ South China Sea tensions Sabina Shoal is also important to the Philippines as it serves as the meeting point for vessels resupplying troops stationed at the nearby Second Thomas Shoal. The Philippine and Chinese coast guards have been confronting each other near the shoal, where Manila ran aground an old warship – the BRP Sierra Madre – to exert its control. In an incident on June 17, a Filipino sailor lost a finger during an altercation  between Philippine military and Chinese coast guard personnel there. Manila and Beijing have since held talks and agreed to “de-escalate tensions” but the situation remains largely unchanged. In the latest development, the Chinese navy’s Shandong carrier strike group has been spotted passing the northern Philippines on its way to drills in the Pacific. The carrier group includes China’s second aircraft carrier Shandong, cruiser Yan’an, destroyer Guilin and frigate Yuncheng. Philippine armed forces  spokesperson Francel Margareth Padilla told reporters on Wednesday that the Philippines noted the deployment of the Chinese carrier strike group in the Philippine Sea “with concern.” “We emphasize the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the region and urge all parties to adhere to international laws and norms,” he said. Jason Gutierrez in Manila contributed to this report. Edited by Mike Firn and Taejun Kang.

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Beijing, Manila trade blame over coral damage

The Philippines on Tuesday rejected criticism by China that the military vessel it grounded on a disputed reef in the South China Sea had damaged its  coral  ecosystem. The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea – Manila’s name for the part of the South China Sea within its exclusive economic zone – said in a statement that the accusation against the Philippines “is false and a classic misdirection.” “It is China who has been found to have caused irreparable damage to corals,” it said, “It is China that … jeopardized the natural habitat and the livelihood of thousands of Filipino fisherfolk.” In 1999, Manila deliberately ran an old warship aground – the BRP Sierra Madre – to serve as a military outpost on Second Thomas Shoal, which it refers to as Ayungin. Confrontations there between the Philippine and Chinese coast guards have intensified in recent months. On Monday, China released a survey report on the supposed damage caused by the Philippines to the  reef at the Second Thomas Shoal, which China calls Ren’ai Jiao, and is claimed by both countries. The report commissioned by China’s Ministry of Natural Resources said that the “illegally grounded” BRP Sierra Madre has gravely damaged “the diversity, stability and sustainability of the coral reef ecosystem”. It added that Chinese scientists conducted a survey through satellite remote sensing and field investigation in April and found that not only had the ship grounding process inflicted “fatal damage” on the coral reef, but its prolonged grounding also “has greatly inhibited the growth and recovery of corals in the surrounding area.” Supposed dead corals underneath the Philippine BRP Sierra Madre military vessel in an undated photo released by China’s Ministry of Natural Resources. (Handout via Xinhua) China said photos released with the report showed dead corals underneath the Philippine warship, with researchers calculating that the aggregate coverage of reef-building corals at the reef has declined by 38.2%. The report proposed that the Philippines promptly remove its ship from the shoal, “thereby eliminating the source of pollution, and preventing further sustained and cumulative damage to the coral reef ecosystem.” China claims most of the South China Sea and all the islands and reefs within the so-called nine-dash line that it draws on maps to mark “historic rights” to the waters. An international arbitral tribunal in 2016 ruled against all of China’s claims but it refuses to accept it. ‘Fake news and disinformation’ The Philippine task force called China’s survey report an attempt to “spread fake news and disinformation,” as well as to conduct “malign influence operations” against the Philippines. It cited the 2016 arbitral award, which found that Chinese authorities were aware that their fishermen were harvesting endangered species on a substantial scale in the South China Sea using methods that inflicted severe damage on the coral reef environment. Additionally, they had not fulfilled their obligations to stop such activities, the task force said.  The Philippines has collated evidence that China has been responsible for severe damage to corals at a number of reefs in the disputed waters, it said, calling for an independent, third-party marine scientific assessment by impartial recognized experts. It also invited neighboring countries to join the Philippines in “pushing for a more united, coordinated, and sustained multilateral action to protect and preserve the marine and land biodiversity in our region.” RELATED STORIES South China Sea coral reefs under severe threat: report Vietnam rapidly builds up South China Sea reef Overfishing fuels South China Sea tensions, risks armed conflict, researcher says The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, or AMTI, at the U.S. Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in a report last December that China had caused the most reef destruction through dredging and landfill while developing artificial islands in the South China Sea. More than 6,200 acres (25 square km) of coral reef have been destroyed by island building efforts in the South China Sea, with 75% of the damage – equivalent to roughly 4,648 acres (19km2) – being done by China, according to AMTI. Another 16,353 acres (66 square km) of coral reef were damaged due to giant clam harvesting operations by Chinese fishermen, it said. China dismissed the AMTI report as “false” and said it was based on old satellite images. Chinese officials maintain that China continues to give importance to protecting the environment in the South China Sea. Jason Gutierrez in Manila contributed to this report. Edited by Mike Firn and Taejun Kang.

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Philippines, Japan sign groundbreaking defense pact as ‘counterweight’ to China

The Philippines and Japan signed a defense pact Monday that will allow troops to be deployed in each other’s country, a landmark agreement seen as a counterweight to China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea. The Reciprocal Access Agreement, or RAA, was signed by Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa in Manila at a ceremony witnessed by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.  Japan’s foreign and defense ministers are in the city for “two-plus-two” meetings with their Philippine counterparts. The RAA serves as a framework for security operations and training between the two nations, including joint military drills and maritime patrols in the parts of the South China Sea claimed by Beijing but within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.  Japan has pursued similar agreements with a handful of countries, such as the United Kingdom and Australia, but this is a first in Asia.  It also signifies the first time Japanese troops will be allowed to return to Philippine soil since the Imperial army’s occupation during World War II. Speaking after the signing, Kamikawa hailed the pact as a great achievement that would help “maintain and strengthen a free and open international order based on the rule of law.” Teodoro said the deal was a step forward for the region and would add another layer to bilateral and defense relations. It would also help create a “global architecture which will ensure sustainable peace and stability in our area,” he said. Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations were strategically important for Japan, as they are situated at a key junction of its sea-lanes. He added Japan was keen to deepen trilateral and quadrilateral ties, with the Philippines, United States and Australia. Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo (left) and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro (right) meet with their Japanese counterparts in Manila on July 8, 2024. (Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews) The signing of the RAA comes amid escalating tensions between Manila and Beijing in the South China Sea. On June 17, Philippine officials said China Coast Guard personnel, armed with pikes and machetes, punctured Philippine boats and seized firearms during a resupply mission to an outpost on Second Thomas Shoal. One Filipino sailor lost a finger in the clash, the third such encounter this year in which Philippine personnel have been hurt. Earlier on Monday, Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo thanked Japan for standing by the Philippines in its maritime dispute with China. He also praised Tokyo for supporting the rules-based international order, including a 2016 international arbitration ruling that found China had violated Manila’s sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone. “Our meeting today is an auspicious time for frank and candid discussions on issues of utmost importance to both our nations in an increasingly diverse dynamic geopolitical environment,” Manalo said during the two-plus-two meetings. Chester Cabalza, president of Philippine-based think tank International Development and Security Cooperation, said the defense deal was “groundbreaking” and would serve as a counterweight to China in the region.  “The significance of the military pact enlivens the agility and deterrence of Manila with the quantum leap support of a strategic and technologically advanced neighbor like Japan,” Cabalza told RFA affiliate BenarNews. Don McLain Gill, a political analyst at the international studies department of De La Salle University, said the agreement would act as an independent stabilizing force. At the same time, it would be compatible with U.S. efforts to form a network of alliances in the Asia-Pacific region.  “Japan has played a significant role in crafting a more robust framework for Manila-Tokyo ties, and Japan has also demonstrated its steadfast commitment in being the Philippines’ major economic and defense partner,”  he said. “In a scenario where the U.S. may dial down its support for Manila, our partnership with Japan is likely to remain steadfast and consistent.” Manila has a similar deal with Washington, the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement, which sets the terms under which American military personnel can operate on Philippine soil.  The U.S. now has access to nine military bases across the archipelago and has pledged U.S. $100 million for upgrades. Jojo Riñoza and Gerard Carreon contributed to this report from Manila. BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news organization.

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Laos can feed itself, but its food security is complicated

Can Laos feed itself?  The short answer: Yes. It can grow enough rice.  Per capita rice consumption is one of the highest in the world, at 206 kilograms (453 pounds) per person per year. The Lao Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry reckons the country can produce, at maximum, 3.7 million tons of rice annually. That’s around 510 kilograms (1,222 pounds) of rice per person.  However, when it comes to other foods, things become a little more complicated.  A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone laid out new plans for self-sufficiency, the latest buzzword in Vientiane – and most Southeast Asian capitals. It’s a very optimistic goal, but what else can the Lao government do?  A tree is seen in rice fields in Laos, July 16, 2022. (Reuters) RELATED STORIES Weak governance, poor economy drive the hollowing out of Laos Lao central bank governor removed amid economic crisis China’s dependency on potash imports could give tiny Laos rare leverage Lao farmers worry about upcoming rice season as heat wave kills crops A monetary crisis since 2021 has kept inflation rates among the highest in Asia and seen the kip, the local currency, depreciate by as much as half against the U.S. dollar. Much of this crisis stems from Laos’ dependency on imports — mainly fuel — and because it foreign currency reserves are almost depleted.  Sonexay wants Laos to be self-sufficient in finance and energy — an unlikely prospect. His third pillar is food. A joint report by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program warned that food insecurity affected more than a million people out of the 7.2 million population in 2022. The situation could have been worse.  Geography and transport Since the economic crisis began in 2021, Laotians have responded in two ways: many have left for Thailand, where work is more plentiful and better paid, while others have returned to their family farms.  If Laos wants to industrialize and raise GDP per capita above the current $US 2,600, de-urbanization isn’t a long-term solution. And the policy ideas Vientiane is now talking about come up against structural problems.  First, consider geography. Most of Laos is mountainous and forested—there’s a reason why it has been a buffer region between the Thais, Burmese, and Vietnamese for centuries.  Never able to sustain a large population, Laos remains the least densely populated country in Southeast Asia, with 33 people per square kilometer (.38 square miles). Cambodia is the next least densely populated, with around 98 people per square kilometer (.38 square miles). A vendor, right, fills rice in a plastic bag for her customer, January 27, 2024, in Luang Prabang, Laos. (Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP) Only Laos’ southern panhandle and some northern provinces – chiefly Xayaburi – are suitable for agriculture. The country has just 0.16 hectares (0.4 acres)of arable land per person, below the world average and well below what Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar have.  Geography and poor government management create the second problem: transport. For centuries, because the terrain made it difficult to move around, farms were small, serving only the immediate vicinity.  That remains so today, with four out of every five people still engaged in low-productivity, smallholder rice cultivation. This prevented the formation of larger farms, meaning not enough capital was generated for private-funded infrastructure works, namely roads or railways. Moreover, the Mekong River flows along the Thai-Lao border, so it has never been feasible to ship food by waterway from the hinterland to population centers.  Selling to China In more recent decades, the Lao government has barely invested in rural infrastructure. Only 12 percent of the cultivated rice area is irrigated, so the remainder can only be planted once a year during the rainy season. Irrigation would allow for two harvests a year. By 2019, it was cheaper to import rice than grow it domestically, primarily due to transport costs. In 2022, Laos exported $US44 million worth of rice but imported $US 29 million worth.  Laos needs more capital for farmers to expand, irrigate, and diversify, and more investment to build roads or rail networks in the hinterland. But Laos is far less self-sufficient in capital than in anything else. The national debt is now around 130 percent of GDP.  The Lao state simply cannot afford to finance these projects itself. Vientiane must instead rely on external capital. Indeed, massive Chinese investment has recently flooded into Laos, but this creates two big problems.  A farmer and his son harvest their rice field on a Chinese made tractor, Oct. 13, 2009, in Muang Sing, northern Laos. (Voishmel/AFP) Chinese firms invest in agricultural production in Laos to grow products for export to China, where prices are higher and food insecurity is a more pressing issue.  Why would Chinese firms invest hundreds of millions of dollars in building roads in, say, Phongsaly Province, the least accessible region, when they can lease Laos’ most fertile farms in regions like Xayaburi and Vientiane provinces, which already have great transport links to China? There are now excellent transport links from Laos to China, like the Vientiane-Kunming railway. This has made it easier for farmers to sell their produce in China than within Laos. Because of this export potential, many farms, including the most productive ones in the more arable provinces, have shifted to cash crops, mainly cassava. In January alone, Laos exported $98 million worth of cassava, making it the second-largest export after energy. Rising fertilizer imports Yet, because Laos’ soil is so poor, tons of artificial fertilizers and pesticides need to be dumped on it to achieve even minimum production standards. Until recently, Laos used barely any artificial fertilizers. In 2010, per hectare of land, Laos used less than a tenth of what Thailand used. Now, it uses about half.  Laos now uses more fertilizers per hectare than Cambodia, which produces far more food— around 2 to 3 times more rice per year. Phosphate fertilizer use per hectare of cropland rose from 2.4 kg in 2000 to around 3.2…

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Dalai Lama marks 89th birthday, allays concerns about his health

In a video released Saturday on his 89th birthday, the Dalai Lama said he was recovering from his recent knee replacement surgery, felt “physically fit” and thanked Tibetans around the world for praying for him. “I am nearly 90 now, except for the issues with my knee, I am basically in good health,” the Tibetan spiritual leader said in the five-minute video, his first public statement since undergoing successful knee surgery on June 28 at a top New York City hospital. “Despite the surgery, I feel physically fit,” the Dalai Lama said, allaying concerns about his overall health. “So, I wish to ask you to be happy and relaxed.”  “Today, Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet are celebrating my birthday with much joy and festivity,” he said, speaking in Tibetan. “I would like to thank all my fellow Tibetans, inside and outside Tibet, for your prayers on my birthday.”  Several global leaders, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, sent birthday greetings. “Through his promotion of nonviolence and compassion, as well as his commitment to advancing human rights for all, His Holiness serves as an inspiration for the Tibetan community and many around the world,” Blinken said in a statement. Modi wrote on X: “Sent my greetings to His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the occasion of his 89th birthday. Pray for his quick recovery after his knee surgery, good health, and long life.” The Nobel Peace Prize winner enjoys strong support in the United States, where prominent lawmakers have spoken out about human rights issues in Tibet.  China, however, considers him a separatist and has criticized those who meet with him, including a delegation of U.S. lawmakers who recently met with him in Dharamsala, India. Last month, the U.S. Congress passed a bill urging China to re-engage with the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan leaders to resolve its dispute over the status and governance of Tibet. China-Tibet talks ground to a halt in 2010. “We stand by His Holiness and the Tibetan community as they seek to preserve Tibetans’ distinct cultural, religious, and linguistic heritage,” said U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Uzra Zeya, in a birthday greeting. Thousands converge At the Park Hyatt Hotel in New York, where the Dalai Lama is recovering, a steady stream of Tibetans and Buddhist devotees have gathered every day since his arrival in the United States on June 23, braving the heat to walk around the hotel and offer prayers. On Saturday, to mark his birthday, devotees converged in even larger numbers to offer hundreds of katags, white Tibetan silk scarves, and bouquets of flowers outside the hotel, which many referred to as their “temple.” Billboards in New York’s Times Square flash birthday greetings to the Dalai Lama just after midnight on July 6, 2024. (RFA/Nordhey Dolma) On Friday evening, on the eve of his 89th birthday, at least a thousand Tibetans gathered in New York’s Times Square to witness two giant billboards carrying birthday messages written in Tibetan and English. As the messages flashed at midnight, the crowd – many of whom were decked out in Tibetan dress and waving the Tibetan flags – cheered, sang, danced and chanted prayers. Reflecting on his life so far, the Dalai Lama said in the video he was resolved to continue to give his best to promote Buddhism and the well-being of the Tibetan people. He also acknowledged the “growing interest” in the Tibetan cause in the world today, and felt he had made a “small contribution” toward that. ‘Year of Compassion’ In Dharamsala, India, Sikyong Penpa Tsering, the leader of the Central Tibetan Administration, the Tibetan government-in-exile, announced plans to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 90th birthday next year as the “Year of Compassion” marked by a series of year-long events starting in July 2025. The Dalai Lama has said that he will provide clarity around his succession, including on whether he would be reincarnated and where, when he turns 90. Sikyong Penpa Tsering and Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang cut the birthday cake at the official Central Tibetan Government-led ceremony to commemorate the Dalai Lama’s 89th birthday in Dharamsala, India on Saturday, July 6, 2024. China – which annexed Tibet in 1951 and rules the western autonomous region with a heavy hand – says only Beijing can select the next spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, as it seeks to control the centuries-old selection process for religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama. Tibetans, however, believe the Dalai Lama chooses the body into which he will be reincarnated, a process that has occurred 13 times since 1391, when the first Dalai Lama was born.  The 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet amid a failed 1959 national uprising against China’s rule and has lived in exile in Dharamsala, India, ever since. He is the longest-serving Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader in Tibet’s history. Ever since, Beijing has sought to legitimize Chinese rule through the suppression of dissent and policies undermining Tibetan culture and language.  Beijing believes the Dalai Lama wants to split off the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan-populated areas in China’s Sichuan, Qinghai, Yunnan, and Gansu provinces – which Tibetan refer to as “Amdo” and “Kham” – from the rest of the country. However, the Dalai Lama does not advocate for independence but rather proposes what he calls a “Middle Way” that accepts Tibet’s status as a part of China and urges greater cultural and religious freedoms, including strengthened language rights. Blinken said in his statement Saturday that the “The United States reaffirms our commitment to support efforts to preserve Tibetans’ distinct linguistic, cultural, and religious heritage, including the ability to freely choose and venerate religious leaders without interference.” Additional reporting by Tashi Wangchuk, Dolkar, Nordhey Dolma, Dickey Kundol, Yeshi Dawa, Sonam Singeri, Dorjee Damdul, Tenzin Dickyi for RFA Tibetan. Written and edited by Tenzin Pema, edited by Malcolm Foster.

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Prominent Chinese dissident Xu Zhiyong cut off from other inmates

Prominent Chinese dissident Xu Zhiyong is being held separately from fellow prisoners under a number rather than his name, and subjected to round-the-clock monitoring by his cell-mates, according to U.S.-based legal scholar Teng Biao. Xu, who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in February, is also being forced into labor at the unnamed prison where he is currently serving a 14-year jail term for “subversion of state power,” Teng said. His trial alongside rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi was widely criticized by rights activists as resulting from a trumped-up charge. Activists and rights lawyers say Xu has never advocated violence, and has paid a very heavy price for advocating for his personal ideals. Normally, inmates are held in cells with about 12 beds. But Xu is being held in a four-bed cell separately from the other prisoners, Teng said, citing information that emerged during a visit by Xu’s family members on June 25. “I recently received news that Dr. Xu Zhiyong’s basic rights are being violated and abused in prison,” Teng said. “The worst of it is that Xu Zhiyong has moved to a cell with just three cell-mates, who are responsible for guarding him constantly and monitoring him continuously round the clock.” Related stories Tortured dissident Xu Zhiyong stands trial for ‘subversion’ China sentences 2 prominent activists after attending 2019 dissident gathering US lawmakers nominate Uyghur professor, Chinese dissident for Nobel Peace Prize “Xu Zhiyong has also been deprived of his name during forced labor, and is referred to by a code name, 003,” Teng told RFA Mandarin. The cell-mates are acting as proxies for prison guards, preventing him from talking to anyone, and Xu has to be escorted to the bathroom by one of them, Teng said. Xu is also being deprived of phone calls and reading and writing materials, and his family say they’ve never received any of the letters he writes to them, Teng said, adding that Xu is allowed to read only prison-approved books on Chinese culture. Detained after Xiamen dinner Xu, who has already served jail time for launching the New Citizens’ Movement for greater official accountability, was detained in early 2020 and held on suspicion of “subversion of state power” alongside Ding and other activists who held a dinner gathering in the southeastern port city of Xiamen on Dec. 13, 2019. Jailed human rights activists Xu Zhiyong [left] and Ding Jiaxi are seen in an undated photo. (Credit: China Human Rights Defenders) Rights groups say the case against him has been marred by rights violations. Both men were held incommunicado, denied permission to meet with either family members or a lawyer for two years.  On April 10, 2023, the Linshu County People’s Court in the eastern province of Shandong handed down a 14-year jail term to Xu Zhiyong and a 12-year sentence to Ding. Police continue to put pressure on Xu’s family members, Teng said. “The family members who visit have been harassed, threatened and intimidated by state security police,” Teng said. On May 4, state security police from Henan province followed Xu’s sister to ensure she has had no contact with the outside world, as required by the authorities, he said. “It’s very common for the Chinese Communist Party to abuse political prisoners and prisoners of conscience,” Teng said. “They particularly target prisoners of conscience like Xu Zhiyong who have had some impact at home and overseas.” Called for Xi to quit Teng said one of the reasons for the harsh treatment was Xu’s letter calling on Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping to step down, which is believed to be the trigger for his 2020 arrest. He called on Western governments to put diplomatic pressure on Beijing over the authorities’ treatment of Xu. “If this kind of abuse continues, it will do great harm to Dr. Xu Zhiyong’s physical and mental health,” Teng said. Jailed dissident Xu Zhiyong, second from left, was nominated by the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China for a Nobel Peace Prize in February 2024. (CECC) Swedish political commentator Zhang Yu, who campaigns for jailed writers for Independent Chinese PEN, said Xu’s treatment is even harsher than that meted out to late 2010 Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo. “I didn’t expect them to go this far,” Zhang said. “This is much worse than the way Liu Xiaobo was treated.” Zhang called on the international community to call for the release of Chinese prisoners of conscience like Xu, and for him to receive humane treatment in line with international human rights standards. Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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Reflecting on 15 Years Since the Urumchi Massacre: A Call for Justice

By Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress Fifteen years have passed since the Urumchi massacre of July 5, 2009, a tragic event that left deep scars on the Uyghur community and brought international attention to the plight of our people. As we reflect on this somber anniversary, it is crucial to acknowledge the enduring impact of the violence and to renew our commitment to justice, human rights, and accountability. The Urumchi massacre was a culmination of escalating tensions between the Uyghur population and Han Chinese settlers in East Turkistan. What began as a peaceful protest by Uyghur demonstrators, seeking justice for the deaths of two Uyghur factory workers in Guangdong, quickly descended into chaos. The Chinese government’s heavy-handed response, involving mass arrests and violent crackdowns, resulted in the deaths of hundreds and the arrest of thousands. Official figures report 197 fatalities, though Uyghur advocacy groups and independent observers suggest the number could be significantly higher. Following these tragic events, the Chinese government cut off communications channels with the outside world, and blocked internet access for almost a year, making it impossible for information to circulate. Uyghur editors, journalists, web administrators, professors and students were arrested and sentenced in the following months and years. One of those cases include Gulmire Imin, a web-administrator who was accused of organising the July 5th protests, as well as posting an announcement on Salkin and leaking state secrets. She is currently still in prison, serving a 19-year sentence, in Urumchi. In the aftermath, the Chinese authorities imposed stringent security measures across East Turkistan, further marginalizing the Uyghur population. Surveillance systems were intensified, and policies aimed at cultural assimilation and genocide, such as restrictions on religious practices and the use of the Uyghur language, were rigorously enforced. Reports of arbitrary detentions, forced labour, and re-education camps have since surfaced, painting a grim picture of the human rights situation in the region. The Urumchi massacre and the subsequent treatment of Uyghurs are not merely domestic issues; they are matters of international human rights that demand global attention and action. The lack of international accountability on that occasion paved the way for the further crackdown against Uyghurs in the years that followed. The international community has expressed concern and condemnation, but meaningful action has been limited. Economic and geopolitical considerations often temper responses from global powers. However, the principles of human rights and justice should transcend such interests. As we mark the 15th anniversary of the Urumchi massacre, it is vital to amplify the voices of those who have suffered and continue to suffer. We must listen to the testimonies of survivors and the families of victims. Their stories are a powerful reminder of the human cost of ethnic violence and repression. The international community, including governments, non-governmental organizations, and human rights advocates, must work together to hold the Chinese government accountable for its actions. The recent propaganda attempts by the Chinese government to portray a ‘’harmonious’’ life of Uyghurs should not distract the international community from seeking accountability. Real people are still separated from their families, and have disappeared relatives. In conclusion, the 15th anniversary of the Urumchi massacre is a moment for reflection, remembrance, and renewed resolve. It is a time to honour the memory of those who lost their lives and to stand in solidarity with the Uyghur community in their quest for justice and dignity. The international community must act decisively to ensure that the events of July 5, 2009, are not forgotten.

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Philippine military chief demands China pay US$1 million in damages for clash

The Philippines’ military chief on Thursday demanded that China pay 60 million pesos (US$1 million) in damages incurred during a violent confrontation between its coast guard and Filipino troops in the South China Sea last month. China Coast Guard personnel, armed with pikes and machetes, punctured Philippine boats and seized firearms in the June 17 incident near Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin and called Ren’ai Jiao by Beijing. One Filipino sailor lost a finger in the clash, the third such encounter this year in which Philippine personnel have been hurt on missions to rotate and resupply troops stationed at Second Thomas Shoal. “I demanded the return of seven firearms that were taken by the Chinese coast guard,” said Gen. Romeo Brawner at a press conference. “They destroyed our equipment and when we estimated the cost of the damage it’s 60 million pesos.” The compensation does not include the cost of surgery for the Filipino soldier who lost a finger, said Brawner, who outlined his demand for compensation in a letter to Beijing. Brawner made the comments after a command conference between military officials and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in which security challenges and threats facing the Southeast Asian nation were discussed. Marcos called for de-escalation of tension with China in the South China Sea, the Philippine military chief said. However, rotation and resupply missions to the BRP Sierra Madre would continue, Brawner added.  On Tuesday, Manila and Beijing agreed to reduce hostilities “without prejudice to their respective positions” at a regular bilateral meeting. China asserts sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes each year, putting it at odds with the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and Taiwan.  In 2016, an international tribunal refuted the legal basis for nearly all of China’s expansive maritime and territorial claims in the waterway. It said that Beijing’s insistence on holding “historic rights” to the waters were inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. Beijing has never recognized the 2016 arbitration or its outcome. BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news organization.

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Police host activities for Uyghurs in Xinjiang on Islamic holiday

On an important Muslim holiday last month, police and security officials in China’s far-western region of Xinjiang set up camps to keep an eye on Uyghurs, took Uyghurs to see communist-themed films, and visited Uyghur homes to make sure they weren’t practicing Muslim religious activities. The moves around the Qurban Eid, also known as Eid al-Adha or the Feast of the Sacrifice, which fell on June 17 this year in Xinjiang — one of two official Muslim holidays in China — appeared to be attempts to undermine the observation of the Muslim holy day, outside experts said.  Chinese authorities are trying to weaken Uyghurs’ ethnic and religious identity and forge their loyalty to the Chinese state and the Communist Party, while maintaining security, the experts said. “It looks like they are trying to Sinicize Eid,” said Erkin Ekrem, a professor at Hacettepe University in Ankara, Turkey, and vice president of the World Uyghur Congress. “The Chinese government is trying to change the Eid customs, prayers and traditions [by] making Uyghurs consume food along with Chinese people [and] adding Chinese elements to the Eid festivals, thereby removing the Muslim Eid elements,” he added. RELATED STORIES China pushes ‘Sinicization of Islam’ in Xinjiang as Ramadan arrives Most Uyghurs banned from praying on Islamic holiday, even in their homes Chinese use Muslim holiday for propaganda purposes, celebrating with Uyghurs Before 2017, when the Chinese government started cracking down on religious activities in the predominantly Muslim region, men would observe the holiday by visiting mosques for special prayers, cooking meals, spending time with relatives and welcoming guests to their homes.  Since then, authorities have also forbidden Islamic dress for women, beards for men, and Muslim names for children. They have also prevented Uyghurs from fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and encouraged the consumption of pork and alcohol, which Islam forbids. Chinese national consciousness On the eve of Eid, Ma Xingrui, Communist Party secretary of Xinjiang, visited communities in Urumqi, the region’s capital, and asked residents to strengthen Chinese national consciousness and insist on the Sinicization of Islam. Public security officers celebrated the holiday with Uyghurs and other ethnicities in Xinjiang and promoted “the common consciousness of the Chinese nation,” the Xinjiang Daily reported on June 19. A screen displays Chinese President Xi Jinping near a mosque in Kashgar, northwestern China’s Xinjiang region, June 4, 2019. (AFPTV) The Keriye County Public Security Bureau in Hotan invited teachers at area primary schools, students and parents on June 16 to participate in social activities at a police camp to “build strong Chinese national consciousness and celebrate Eid,” the report said. On the same day, police in Qitai county in the Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture invited Uyghur “relatives” with whom they had been paired up under a previous monitoring program to visit a museum to watch communist-themed films. On June 17, members of the Public Security Bureau in the prefecture’s Manas county visited Uyghur homes and danced with residents, who had no choice but to join in, the news report said.  “The police showed their concern for the public by their actions and also planted the seeds of national unity deep in everyone’s hearts,” it said. Assimilation policies Henryk Szadziewski, director of research at the Uyghur Human Rights Project, said public security agents interfere in Muslim holidays like Eid al-Adha to push assimilationist policies in Xinjiang. Uyghur identification with Turkic culture along with a belief in Islam and related social and political values are considered a threat because they are outside the control of the Chinese state, he told Radio Free Asia.  Attendees watch video of a Muslim praying during a government reception held for the Eid al-Fitr holiday in Beijing, China, May 13, 2021. (Ng Han Guan/AP) “China’s policies are intended to weaken those kinds of affinities outside which are beyond the borders of China and to ensure Uyghurs allegiances are pinned to the Chinese state and, of course, the Chinese Communist Party,” Szadziewski said. But the Chinese government separates Islam in China from Islam in the rest of the world, Erkin Ekrem of the World Uyghur Congress said.  “In China, the Sinicization of Islam is being carried out vigorously,” he told RFA. “They are trying to create a nation away from Islamic beliefs and customs.” “Deemphasizing the religion adding in this secular Chinese national consciousness [is] meant to delink Eid al-Adha from its religious origin,” he said. “That is one of the aims here.” Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

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Seven dead, including 3 children, killed in Myanmar clash

Shelling during a clash in northern Myanmar killed seven civilians on Wednesday, including three children, residents told Radio Free Asia, as fighting between junta troops and ethnic minority insurgents escalated following the breakdown of a ceasefire. Fighters from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and their junta army rivals blamed each other for the death of the civilians when shells hit their homes in the town of Lashio in northern Shan state. Fighting between the junta soldiers from the Northeast Command and the autonomy-seeking rebels resumed on June 25 after the collapse of a ceasefire brokered by Chinese officials in a series of meetings that began in January.  The Ta’ang National Liberation Army announced the capture of 26 junta camps in the days following the end of the ceasefire. RELATED STORIES Junta troops destroy roads in northern Myanmar as renewed fighting looms China awaits junta approval to resume border trade with Myanmar’s Shan state Talks between Myanmar rebel alliance and junta focus on Chinese interests The fighting in Lashio escalated on Wednesday with one shell killing a family of six in their house, said a resident, who declined to be identified in fear of reprisals.  “It happened while they were eating in the kitchen. The dead bodies have been sent to the morgue,” he said. “We’ve heard the sound of heavy guns firing all morning but I’m not sure if the junta army or the revolutionary group was responsible.” Those killed were Zel Zaung, 14,  Dwel Aung and Zel Nwel, both 15, Sai Khon and May Yi, both 30, and  Mar Gyi, 70. A shell hit another Lashio house early in the day, killing a woman and wounding two men, residents said. RFA could not confirm their identities.  The Ta’ang National Liberation Army and civilians blamed the junta for the deaths but the junta blamed the rebels in posts on its Telegram channels. RFA called Shan state’s junta spokesperson Khun Thein Maung for more information on the attacks but calls went unanswered. Fighting between the two groups has also affected Namhu and Nampawng villages near Lashio town. Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn. 

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