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Uyghur groups urge resignation of UN rights chief for ‘Potemkin-style’ Xinjiang tour

Uyghur rights groups are calling for the United Nations human rights chief to resign after they said she reiterated Chinese talking points in a news conference about her trip to northwestern China’s Xinjiang region and failed to denounce the repression Uyghurs face there as a genocide. Michelle Bachelet, a former Chilean president who has served as the U.N. high commissioner for human rights since 2018, paid a six-day visit to China last week, including spots in the coastal city of Guangzhou and Urumqi (in Chinese, Wulumuqi) and Kashgar (Kashi) in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). At a May 28 press conference in Beijing to mark the end of the visit, Bachelet said she had “raised questions and concerns about the application of counter-terrorism and de-radicalization measures and their broad application” and their impact on the rights of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in the XUAR.  Bachelet, who said before her trip that she wouldn’t be conducting an investigation like Uyghur rights groups had pushed for, told reporters that she had been unable to assess the full scale of what China calls “vocational education and training centers” (VETC) in Xinjiang, but which the human rights community and scholars call internment camps.  Uyghur rights groups took issue with her references to “deradicalization,” “anti-terrorism” and “vocational education and training centers,” which they said mimic the words Beijing uses to describe its campaign in Xinjiang. Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Uyghurs said Bachelet provided no transparency about the trip and that a prison visit in Xinjiang was a “Potemkin-style sham.” “The high commissioner has disgraced herself and her office by refusing to investigate China’s genocide and adopting, repeating the Chinese regime’s narrative, further cementing their propaganda in the U.N.,” Rushan Abbas, the organization’s executive director, told RFA on Tuesday. “Her comments seem custom-made for Beijing’s propaganda machine, and she neglects the duties of her office and the founding principle of the U.N.,” she said. Abbas called on Bachelet to step down from her post. ‘In bed with communist China’ Bachelet she said she raised with the government the lack of independent judicial oversight in the region, the reliance on 15 indicators to determine tendencies towards violent extremism, allegations of the use of force at the institutions, and reports of severe restrictions on religious practices. “During my visit, the government assured me that the VETC system has been dismantled,” she said. “I encouraged the government to undertake a review of all counter terrorism and deradicalization policies to ensure they fully comply with international human rights standards, and in particular that they are not applied in an arbitrary and discriminatory way.” In 2017, authorities began illegally detaining thousands of Uyghurs and others in “re-education” camps in an effort, they said, to prevent religious extremism and radicalism, later calling the facilities “closed training centers” or “vocational training centers.” But evidence quickly emerged that inmates had been deprived of their freedom under the pretense of political education and were in some case subjected to severe abuse. It is believed that authorities have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and others accused of harboring “strong religious” and “politically incorrect” views in a vast network of “re-education” or internment camps in Xinjiang. The United States and the legislatures of several Western countries have deemed China’s mistreatment of the mostly Muslim Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in the XUAR as genocide and crimes against humanity. Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress based in Germany, said Bachelet missed a historic opportunity to hold China accountable for the Uyghur genocide. “The impression is that now the U.N. is in bed with communist China, a regime that has been committing the Uyghur genocide for the past five years,” he said Tuesday. “It is truly stunning to see that Ms. Bachelet did not act as the highest human rights official at the U.N. but rather as a mouthpiece of the Chinese communist government during and after her trip. “She has completely discredited the role of her office and the authority of the United Nations as a champion of human rights in the world,” Isa said.   Isa also called for Bachelet’s immediate resignation. US expresses concern The same day Bachelet held a press conference about her trip, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. remained concerned about her visit and efforts by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to restrict and manipulate it. “While we continue to raise our concerns about China’s human rights abuses directly with Beijing and support others who do so, we are concerned the conditions Beijing authorities imposed on the visit did not enable a complete and independent assessment of the human rights environment in the PRC, including in Xinjiang, where genocide and crimes against humanity are ongoing,” Blinken said in a statement. The U.S. was also troubled by reports that authorities had warned Uyghurs and others in the XUAR not to complain or speak openly about conditions in the region, that no insight was provided into the whereabouts of missing Uyghurs and the conditions of those in detention, he said. “The high commissioner should have been allowed confidential meetings with family members of Uyghur and other ethnic minority diaspora communities in Xinjiang who are not in detention facilities but are forbidden from traveling out of the region,” Blinken said.    In response to Blinken’s statement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a press conference on Monday that the U.S. rehashed false claims that had been debunked countless times to try to smear and attack China. “Ridiculously, this time they made up new lies that China has restricted and manipulated the visit,” he said. “In fact, all the activities and arrangements of High Commissioner Bachelet during her stay in China were decided in accordance with her will and based on full consultation of the two sides.” “The high commissioner also said at the press conference that she had unsupervised and extensive meetings during the visit,” Zhao said. “Where is restriction and manipulation to speak of? To find the one…

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China faces diplomatic setback in its push for influence in Pacific islands

China and 10 small Pacific island nations have failed to sign a Beijing-initiated agreement amid concerns in the region about geopolitical power play. An analyst said that was a diplomatic setback to China. It followed expressions of concern to Pacific nations from the U.S. and regional powers, but it was unlikely to diminish Beijing’s ambitions to expand its influence in the region. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was seeking to conclude the sweeping security and trade pact, dubbed the China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision, at a meeting with Pacific counterparts in Fiji on Monday.  Wang is on an unprecedented 10-day, Pacific tour that includes the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste.  A draft copy of the pact seen by news agencies covers multiple sectors from security to data communication to fisheries.  Monday’s meeting, however, ended without an agreement because participating ministers couldn’t reach a consensus, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was quoted as saying by Australian broadcaster ABC. Bainimarama, who is also Fiji’s foreign minister, posted on Twitter afterward: “The Pacific needs genuine partners, not superpowers that are super-focused on power.” What Fiji was looking for in the cooperation with China was “stronger Chinese commitment to keep 1.5 alive, end illegal fishing, protect the #BluePacific’s ocean, and expand Fijian exports.” By “keep 1.5 alive” the prime minister was referring to the commitment to prevent global warming from exceeding more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Before that, Bainimarama also tweeted that “our greatest concern isn’t geopolitics – it’s climate change.” Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama speaks at a press conference at the Pacific Islands Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Suva, Fiji, May 30, 2022. Credit: Fiji government. Australia’s diplomatic efforts Fiji has just accepted a U.S. invitation to become a founding member of the newly-launched Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that comprises a dozen countries in the region. Several Pacific island nations have expressed concern about being caught up in superpower competition. Federated States of Micronesia’s President David Panuelo earlier urged “serious caution” about signing the agreement with China, which he said “is demonstrative of China’s intention to shift Pacific allegiances in their direction.”  Panuelo warned that “the Common Development Vision threatens to bring a new Cold War era at best, and a World War at worst.” The United States, Australia and New Zealand have been expressing concerns about China’s growing influence and security foothold in the Pacific. On the same day that Wang Yi started his eight-nation tour, Australia sent its new foreign minister, Penny Wong, to Fiji with promises that the new Labor government will renew the focus on climate change and continued economic support for the region. Alexander Vuving, a professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, a U.S. Department of Defense institute based in Hawaii, said: “I think the shelving of the China-Pacific Islands deal at the last minute resulted from pressure by the United States, Australia, and maybe some other regional powers. Penny Wong’s visit is part of this effort.”  “This is a diplomatic victory for these ‘China-wary’ nations and a diplomatic defeat for China,” he said, but added that China “will not accept a defeat.” The Chinese Ambassador to Fiji, Qian Bo, while admitting that some Pacific countries had “some concerns on some specific issues” said that there has been general support for the plan. China’s Foreign Ministry also hailed the foreign ministers’ meeting as a “success” and “an important step towards reaching the final agreement.” ‘Greater harmony, greater progress’ Foreign Minister Wang was telling his counterparts after Monday’s meeting: “Don’t be too anxious and don’t be too nervous.”   “Because the common development and prosperity of China and all the other developing countries would only mean great harmony, greater justice and greater progress of the whole world,” he was quoted by news agencies as saying. Meanwhile Global Times, a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, condemned “a few people” in the Pacific island countries, who “under the pressure and coercion of the U.S. and former colonizer, may be willing to serve American interests at the cost of their national and people’s interests.” During the foreign minister’s visits to Kiribati and Samoa, China signed separate bilateral deals with the two nations. The agreements signed in Kiribati last Friday focus on a range of areas including development planning, infrastructure, health and pandemic response, climate change, and maritime affairs. In Samoa on Saturday, China and Samoa signed an economic and technical cooperation agreement and two smaller cooperation projects, including for the construction of a police academy, according to a Samoan government statement. “The agreements China is signing with the Pacific Islands nations today represent the early steps on the road toward more ambitious goals,” said Vuving. “They may just talk about security cooperation in vague terms, but they are to pave the way for China’s ultimate military presence,” he said.

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Philippines summons Chinese diplomat over ship’s ‘harassment’ in South China Sea

Manila summoned a senior Chinese diplomat to protest the China Coast Guard’s alleged “harassment” of a joint Filipino-Taiwanese research ship in the South China Sea in April, officials here said Tuesday, in a fresh dispute as a new president prepares to take power in the Philippines.   The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also said it was taking diplomatic action against other recent incidents of Chinese ships allegedly accosting Philippine and Philippine-commissioned ships in the contested waterway. Manila issued the statement days after the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think-tank, published a report on “three rounds of coercion in Philippine waters” by Chinese ships. In one of the incidents, a China Coast Guard (CCG) tailed the Legend, a research vessel with the Taiwan Ocean Research Institute under the Ministry of Science and Technology, as it mapped undersea fault lines in the waters northwest of Luzon Island in the Philippines from late March to early April, AMTI reported. The Legend was jointly deployed by the University of the Philippines National Institute of Geological Sciences and the National Central University in Taiwan. “The Department summoned a senior official of the Chinese Embassy in Manila to protest the harassment by CCG on RV Legend, which had been conducting an authorized marine scientific research (MSR) activity, with Philippine scientists on board,” the Philippine foreign office said in a statement. On Tuesday, the Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a BenarNews request for comment. In another incident in April, a CCG ship allegedly followed a pair of Philippine-commissioned ships conducting a seismic survey of an area within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and extended continental shelf (ECS). That incident prompted Manila to halt all oil and gas exploration in both those areas in the South China Sea, the Department of Foreign Affairs said. In April, Manila’s energy department ordered Philippine company PXP Energy to suspend exploration by contractors in SC 75 and SC 72, an area where it had planned to drill an appraisal well. The ships were forced to survey a different area to the east, and they left the Philippines several days later, the DFA said. “The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs takes appropriate diplomatic action for violations of Philippine sovereignty [and] sovereign rights within our maritime jurisdiction,” the department said in its Tuesday statement. “Only the Philippine Coast Guard has enforcement jurisdiction over these waters. The presence of foreign vessels following tracks that are neither continuous nor expeditious, that are not consistent with Article 19 of UNCLOS on innocent passage, are against the interests of the Philippines,” it said, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. “The detailed reports of these activities are being reviewed for the filing of appropriate diplomatic action.” ‘Our territorial right’ These protests come on the heels of yet another DFA protest filed Monday on China’s “unilateral imposition” of a 3½-month fishing moratorium in areas of the South China Sea. They also come as President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. gets set to take over as leader of the country after President Rodrigo Duterte’s term ends on June 30. Under Duterte, Manila and Beijing had a cozy relationship with the Philippine leader overlooking a 2016 international tribunal ruling affirming Manila’s sovereign rights to an EEZ and ECS in the South China Sea, and declaring Beijing’s sweeping claims to much of the entire sea invalid under international law. Beijing has rejected the ruling. Manila has, in recent years, filed a series of diplomatic protests with Beijing over the presence of Chinese ships in Philippine-claimed waters. Last week, Marcos vowed that he would assert the international tribunal’s ruling after taking office. He said there was “no wiggle room” on the issue of sovereignty – his strongest public comments so far about the dispute that involves China, the Philippines’ biggest Asian neighbor. “We will use it to continue to assert our territorial rights. It’s not a claim, it is already our territorial right and that is what the arbitral ruling can do to help us,” he said. “Our sovereignty is sacred and we will not compromise it in any way. We are a sovereign nation with a functioning government, so we do not need to be told by anyone how to run our country.” BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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UN: 1 billion meth pills seized in East, Southeast Asia last year

Tons of methamphetamine have been produced, trafficked and used in East and Southeast Asia where a record 1 billion methamphetamine tablets were seized in 2021, a United Nations agency says in a new report, warning that the synthetic drug trade has expanded and diversified. Regional law enforcers seized more than 170 metric tons of methamphetamine in tablets and crystal form, an all-time high, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a report, “Synthetic Drugs in East and Southeast Asia.” In addition, the record 1 billion tablets were seven times more than the 143 million seized a decade ago, UNODC said, adding that more than 90 percent of the recent tablet seizures occurred in Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam. “The region is literally swimming in methamphetamine and I think it’s high time that the region starts taking a hard look at policies in place to address the problem,” Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia regional representative for the UNODC, told reporters at a news conference in Bangkok on Monday to announce the report. “So, there’s going to have to be a radical policy shift to address this problem or it’s just going to continue to grow.” The 1 billion tablets, which would weigh about 91 tons, were part of a regionwide seizure of 171.5 tons of methamphetamine, the UNODC report said, adding that about 79 tons of crystal methamphetamine, which is smoked by users, were seized last year. Methamphetamine is the region’s most popular drug. Douglas said the “scale and reach of the methamphetamine and synthetic drug trade … is staggering, and yet it can continue to expand.” Law enforcers display bags of seized methamphetamine tablets during the 50th Destruction of Confiscated Narcotics ceremony in Ayutthaya province, Thailand, June 26, 2020. Credit: Reuters. The so-called Golden Triangle – Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar – has long been a hotspot for drug production and trafficking, primarily because of lax policing, porous borders and political instability, authorities have said. “Organized crime syndicates and armed groups have exploited the pandemic and political instability in the Golden Triangle and border areas of Myanmar to expand production the past year,” Douglas said in a statement, referring to COVID-19 and the February 2021 junta overthrow of the Myanmar government. “There are very few drug labs found in the region outside the Triangle anymore, the supply continues to surge and governments and agencies continue to report the same source.” According to UNODC, Laos “has become a major transshipment point for trafficking into Thailand and other parts of the Mekong and the Asia Pacific.” At the same time, Malaysia “has also been used extensively for transit and trafficking to Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.” The increase in methamphetamine supply resulted in wholesale and street prices falling to all-time lows, especially in Malaysia and Thailand, the UNODC said. The drop in price “is particularly concerning as it has become much more accessible and available to those that could not afford it before,” said Kavinvadee Suppapongtevasakul, a UNODC regional drugs analyst. “The social consequences of increased use are significant, and health and harm reduction services remain limited across the region,” she said. “It is also likely that use has been seriously underestimated for years as most countries in the region do not monitor or study drug demand.” In a news release on Monday, a Thai official said addressing “the methamphetamine situation is a top priority” for the government. “We are working with UNODC and international and regional partners to update our laws and policies, develop important forensic, data and operational capacities, and address priorities including chemical trafficking,” said Thanakorn Kaiyanunta, deputy secretary-general at the Thai Narcotics Control Board. Primary meth source The report noted that Myanmar’s northern Shan state remains the region’s primary source of methamphetamine. Laos, dubbed “a soft target for traffickers” by Douglas, registered a more than a 669 percent jump in interceptions of meth tablets in 2021. In October 2021, police seized more than 55.6 million meth pills and 1,500 kg of crystal meth in a single raid in one of Asia’s biggest drug busts, according to state media. In January, authorities seized more than 36 million tablets and 590 kg of crystal methamphetamine. “Drug control authorities in the region have indicated that organized crime groups have also targeted Lao PDR for tableting of the drug,” the report said referring to the country by its proper name, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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Analysts: US notches win in wooing ASEAN countries to join economic deal

The United States has scored a win in its efforts to counter Beijing’s influence in Southeast Asia by getting most members of the ASEAN bloc to join the Biden administration’s new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity deal, analysts say. Although IPEF lacks the heft of a formal international trade agreement, according to analysts, the interest that seven members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have shown in it reflects their desire for greater U.S. engagement to balance out a regional economy dominated by China. Even in the weeks before President Joe Biden unveiled the deal at a conference in Tokyo, few ASEAN states were expected to join it, said one expert. “Well, I was surprised that so many ASEAN countries were initially part of the deal. This is a coup for the United States in a way,” Elina Noor, deputy director at the Asia Society Policy Institute in Washington, told BenarNews. The Biden administration has touted the framework as the bulwark of its economic strategy in the Indo-Pacific region. IPEF’s stated goals are ensuring the smooth and supple flow of goods, the use of the same digital economy standards, green and clean work processes and fair and honest business. “IPEF will strengthen our ties in this critical region to define the coming decades for technological innovation and the global economy,” the White House said in a statement launching IPEF on May 23. In addition to Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – all members of the 10-nation ASEAN bloc – Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea also signed up as initial members. Hunter Marston, an international affairs analyst at Australian National University, had expected Singapore and Thailand to join the IPEF at the start, but that other ASEAN members would join later. “[I]t did surprise me a bit [that others joined initially]. … It was a major policy win for Biden,” Marston told BenarNews. “It shows that the region still supports the U.S. It is a signal there is a lot of interest in Washington’s continued engagement in the region. They see Washington’s engagement as critical to maintaining balance of power in the region.” China’s economic reach in Southeast Asia eclipses that of the U.S. China has been ASEAN’s largest trading partner for 12 consecutive years, with 2020 trade reaching nearly U.S. $517 billion, according to the regional bloc’s statistics, and $685 billion according to China’s statistics. By contrast, in 2020 U.S-ASEAN trade stood at $362 billion. Meanwhile, a regional survey of policy experts in ASEAN states conducted late last year showed that China is still seen as the most influential economic and political power, but that “has created more awe than affection.” Trust in Beijing dropped by about three percentage points, while trust in the U.S. rose by 18 percent compared with the previous year. “China is the only major power that has increased its negative ratings … the majority worry that such economic heft, combined with China’s military power, could be used to threaten their country’s interest and sovereignty” according to the State of Southeast Asia 2021 Survey published by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. In such a scenario, “if there is one thing the U.S. could do to reassure a Southeast Asia worried about U.S. commitment to the region, it is expand economic ties,” analyst Anne Marie Murphy at Seton Hall University told BenarNews before Biden launched IPEF. According to Marston, a security partnership alone would make ASEAN uncomfortable.  “It is less appealing without an economic component because an economic role gives ASEAN the pretense of working with the U.S. on other fronts not aimed at containing China,” he said. Four pillars But does the IPEF go far enough? “The framework doesn’t have a lot of substance,” Marston said. He was referring to how the IPEF is not a trade deal like the CPTPP, or Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or its predecessor, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The U.S. once belonged to and had led negotiations on the latter until President Donald Trump pulled the superpower out of the agreement. China isn’t part of the CPTPP, but has applied to join, and Singapore, an influential economic member of ASEAN, has backed Beijing’s bid. The major trading bloc in the region is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which the U.S. isn’t part of, but which includes China, most ASEAN states, as well as other big Indo-Pacific economies. IPEF is no RCEP or CPTPP, in Marston’s view. “This is definitely not a trade deal,” he said. “Calling it an economic framework is better, as watery as it sounds. It’s like the COP 26 – a pledge to participate that doesn’t require any enforcement,” he said, referring promises to reduce carbon emissions that were made at the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference. That means the U.S. doesn’t offer its partners in the agreement access to its markets or any tariff breaks. Therefore, any business deal under IPEF – whether one insists on green protocols or anti-corruption mechanisms – has no binding clauses, unlike in a trade agreement where in exchange for market access, partners have to adhere to certain standards. IPEF is the opposite of a multilateral trade agreement, “the traditional grail of free-traders,” according to Robert Kuttner, a professor at Brandeis University. “Countries can decide which areas they want to join; and not all deals with all participating countries will be the same,” he wrote in an article in Prospect magazine. Some critics say that is the reason Washington found so many Southeast Asian takers as initial partners in IPEF. Analyst Robert Manning, who calls walking away from what was called the TPP “a major strategic mistake,” is one of them. “I wasn’t surprised [so many countries joined]. The U.S. lowered the bar on all four pillars. No one had to sign on to any standards,” Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, told BenarNews. The four pillars Manning referred to are resilient economy, or the creation of a…

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China tightens grip on activists, dissidents ahead of Tiananmen massacre anniversary

Authorities across China are tightening security and ramping up surveillance of dissidents ahead of the Tiananmen massacre anniversary, RFA has learned. Ten years after the death of prominent labor movement leader Li Wangyang in police custody prompted suspicions of foul play, activists in the central province of Hunan said they will be marking that anniversary, as well as the 33rd anniversary of the June 4, 1989 massacre, at least in private. “It’s the 10th anniversary of Li Wangyang’s death,” Hunan activist Ouyang Jinghua told RFA. “He passed away on June 6, which happened to be close to June 4 [the massacre anniversary].” “He suffered a lot for the cause of democracy,” Ouyang said. “Everyone still remembers him.” Ouyang said there had been some attempt to organize a collective commemoration for Li, but said it was unclear if it would go ahead, given the tightened security. “Some people from Changsha, Hengyang and Zhuzhou are supposed to be coming, but we don’t know how many people will make it, due to the obstacles placed by the authorities,” he said. “It’s possible that none of them will be allowed to come.” Ouyang said rights activists and democracy campaigners still hope for posthumous justice for Li. “We have a lot of doubts about the explanation of the cause of his death,” Ouyang said. “The authorities should explain it clearly, but I don’t think they will, because to do so would shake their basis to hold power; the whole regime.” The grave of of prominent labor movement leader Li Wangyang, whose death 10 years ago in police custody prompted suspicions of foul play, in the central province of Hunan. Credit: Citizen journalist. ‘Stability maintenance’ Prominent dissident and Hunan native Zhu Chengzhi has also been a major focus for the local authorities’ “stability maintenance” operations. Zhu, who was detained in April 2018 after visiting the grave of Mao-era dissident Lin Zhao, was released from Jiangsu’s Dingshan Prison on Jan. 26 after serving a three-year, nine-month jail term for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” a charge frequently used to target peaceful critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Zhu became one of China’s most prominent rights activists after he spoke out Li Wangyang’s death in 2013, and had previously been held on suspicion of subversion after he questioned the official verdict of suicide. “Zhu Chengzhi recently arrived in Changsha, Hunan, and some friends in the city met up with him,” Ouyang told RFA. “Anyone who met with him was called in to ‘drink tea’ with the state security police.” “When Zhu Chengzhi arrived in Loudi, a friend from Guangxi came to visit him … [but then] Guangxi [officials] immediately rushed to Loudi and took away my friends from Guangxi,” he said. Dissidents in Beijing said that fewer of them are being forced to leave town ahead of the anniversary this year, owing to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Political commentator Ji Feng said he had been forced to leave, however, as his registered household is in the southwestern province of Guizhou. “They’re taking me away [on Tuesday] morning,” Ji told RFA. “I will have the same state security bureau chief with me, eating and drinking with me, around June 4.” “If they keep me drinking and chatting, I won’t be able to do anything else.” Warnings, forcible relocations He said outspoken veteran political journalist Gao Yu, dissident artist Yan Zhengxue and writer Jiang Qisheng were all staying in Beijing due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Meanwhile, a dissident in the southern province of Guangdong said many activists in the province had been warned off talking about sensitive topics around the anniversary, with some forcibly relocated. “State security police moved me into a basic house about 20 kilometers from Enping,” the dissident said. “It’s pretty remote; there’s nobody else living round there, but there are surveillance cameras everywhere.” “As soon as I leave my house, my phone will ring, and they’ll ask me where I’m going,” they said. Li Wangyang, 62, died at a hospital in Shaoyang city in the custody of local police. When relatives arrived at the scene, his body was hanging by the neck from the ceiling near his hospital bed, but was removed by police soon afterwards. Police took away Li’s body after his death was discovered and kept it in an unknown location, Li’s relatives said. Relatives, friends, and rights groups have all called into question several details of both circumstance and timing which they say point to the possibility of foul play, including photographs distributed on the Chinese microblog service Sina Weibo, which showed Li’s feet touching the floor. Li, a former worker in a glass factory, was jailed for 13 years for “counterrevolution” after he took part in demonstrations inspired by the student-led protests in Beijing, and for a further 10 years for “incitement to overthrow state power” after he called for a reappraisal of the official verdict on the crackdown. He was blind in both eyes and had lost nearly all his hearing when he was finally released from prison in May 2011, his family said. Li’s death came as Chinese authorities moved to crack down on dissidents and rights activists around the country, in a bid to prevent any public memorials on the 23rd anniversary of the June 4, 1989 bloodshed. The authorities have refused to make public the results of an autopsy on Li’s body. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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Taiwanese pilot dies in military training exercise

A Taiwanese air force pilot died on Tuesday morning during a training exercise in the south of the island, the military said. 23-year-old 2nd Lt. Hsu Ta-chun, a trainee from the Air Force Academy, was on only his second solo flight on board a AT-3 Tzu Chung jet trainer. The aircraft went missing from radar minutes after it took off. Kaohsiung City Fire Bureau personnel found the pilot’s body at the crash site near the city. The air force said Hsu was among a group of five pilots who were conducting exercises using AT-3 trainers. The other four returned safely. The AT-3 Tzu Chung is a Taiwan-made jet trainer, first brought into service during the 1980s. The air force operates over 60 AT-3s for training purposes. This is the third air accident reported this year by the Taiwanese military. A Mirage 2000-5 fighter jet crashed into the sea off Taiwan’s southeastern coast during a routine training mission in March, leading to the grounding of the whole fleet of French-built planes. The pilot ejected safely and the Mirages have since gone back to operation. In mid-January a F-16V, one of the most advanced fighters in Taiwan’s possession, crashed in the sea off the west coast, killing its sole pilot. The Taiwanese air force suspended combat training for its U.S.-made F-16 fleet for over a week but put them back in action in late January. Surge in Chinese incursions Meanwhile 30 Chinese airplanes flew into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) on Monday, making it the second highest number of daily incursions since the beginning of the year. An ADIZ is an area where foreign aircraft are tracked and identified before further entering into a country’s airspace. Taiwan’s military provided a list of Chinese aircraft spotted on Monday inside the island’s ADIZ, including eight Shenyang J-11 fighter jets, six Shenyang J-16 fighter jets, four Chengdu J-10 fighter jets, two Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets, two Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets, one Shaanxi Y-8 anti-submarine warfare plane, one Shaanxi Y-8 electronic warfare plane, four Shaanxi Y-8 electronic intelligence spotter planes and two KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft. Taiwan responded by scrambling combat patrol aircraft, issuing radio warnings, and deploying air defense missile systems. The incursions by Chinese warplanes happened shortly after two U.S. aircraft carriers, the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Ronald Reagan, reportedly held drills on Saturday and Sunday in waters to the southeast of Okinawa. The record number of incursions this year so far was reported on January 23 when 39 Chinese military aircraft intruded into Taiwan’s ADIZ. The all-time single-day record for the most Chinese warplanes spotted inside the island’s ADIZ was 56 on Oct. 4, 2021. U.S. senator meets Taiwan president The surge of the incursions coincided with the arrival of a U.S. delegation led by Senator Tammy Duckworth. She is in Taipei for three days to discuss regional security, trade and investment and global supply chains with Taiwanese leaders, according to the American Institute, the U.S. de facto embassy. Duckworth met with President Tsai Ing-wen on Tuesday, saying she wanted to  “emphasize our support for Taiwan security,” according to comments obtained by the Associated Press. Duckworth has put forward a bill to the U.S. Congress calling for cooperation between Taiwan’s military and the U.S. National Guard. The National Guard is a reserve component of the U.S. Army and Air Force under the control of  state governors and the president. Tsai thanked Duckworth for “keeping a close watch on Taiwan related security issues,” and praised the U.S. government for the importance it places “on peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” Taiwan has operated as a self-governing state formally named the Republic of China since the ROC regime fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists. Taiwan has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, but Beijing has repeatedly called for “unification” and threatened to annex the island, whose 23 million residents regard themselves as Taiwanese, and, having democratized in the 1990s, have no wish to live under China’s authoritarian rule. The United States, recognizes Beijing as the government of China, but does not endorse Beijing’s claim over Taiwan, and opposes using force to change the status quo. Washington is obliged by U’S. laws to sell arms to Taiwan to maintain its defense against China.

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Hong Kong leader-in-waiting John Lee officially anointed by Beijing

Hong Kong’s leader-in-waiting John Lee received the blessing of ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping at the weekend following the former security chief’s selection for the role in a one-horse poll earlier this month. Xi received his letter of appointment in Beijing, and along with congratulations from Xi, who lauded the new system of “elections” that ensures only candidates with proven political loyalty to Beijing may stand. Xi “praised Lee for his patriotism, love for Hong Kong, and daring to take responsibility,” the CCP-backed Global Times newspaper reported. Xi said Hong Kong’s new electoral system had played a decisive role in ensuring “patriots” govern Hong Kong, the paper reported. Current affairs commentator Johnny Lau said the rhetoric during Lee’s Beijing trip indicates that the CCP under Xi has no intention of relaxing its grip on Hong Kong. “The suppression of Hong Kong has already had a negative impact on economic growth, people’s income and employment, international confidence and foreign investment,” Lau said. ‘Indistinguishable from other cities in China’ Political commentator Sang Pu said the national security law and the changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system were all Xi’s idea. “The new electoral system is about hands-on governance [from Beijing] and patriots ruling Hong Kong,” Sang told RFA. “It is Xi Jinping’s alone, because Xi Jinping made the final decision.” “The aim is to turn Hong Kong into a city that is indistinguishable from other cities in China, with its special characteristics and autonomy destroyed,” he said. Lee takes office on July 1, the anniversary of the 1997 handover to Chinese rule, amid speculation that Xi will make a visit to Hong Kong to mark the occasion. Analysts said the one-horse poll that returned Lee as successor to incumbent Carrie Lam wiped out any distinction between the city and the rest of mainland China, despite Beijing’s promises that Hong Kong would maintain its existing rights and freedoms and transition to fully democratic elections. Lee, a former police officer who oversaw a violent crackdown on the 2019 protest movement, was “elected” by a Beijing-backed committee under new rules imposed on the city to ensure that only those loyal to the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) can hold public office. Ninety-nine percent of the 1,500-strong committee voted for Lee, who was the only candidate on the slate. ‘National security education’ Lee has vowed to “start a new chapter” in Hong Kong, which has seen waves of mass, popular protest over the erosion of the city’s promised freedoms in recent years. He has also denied that anyone has been detained or imprisoned for “speech crimes” under a draconian national security law imposed on the city by Beijing from July 1, 2020, despite dozens of arrests amid an ongoing crackdown on rights activists, peaceful protesters and opposition politicians. The crackdown has seen several senior journalists, pro-democracy media magnate Jimmy Lai and 47 former lawmakers and democracy activists charged with offenses from “collusion with a foreign power” to “subversion.” “National security education” — a CCP-style propaganda drive targeting all age-groups from kindergarten to university — is also mandatory under the law, while student unions and other civil society groups have disbanded, with some of their leaders arrested in recent months. Eleven defendants including Cantopop singer Leslie Chong pleaded not guilty in a Hong Kong court on Monday to charges of “rioting” in connection with the siege by armed riot police of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The defendants’ transit records and WhatsApp messages are being used to show that they went to nearby Yaumatei district during the siege in defiance of a police statement telling people to stay away. Protesters converged on the district to distract riot police and support protesters holed up inside the university campus. A video clip shown in court showed around 250 Molotov cocktails being thrown at police during the standoff, the prosecution told the court. Police later arrested more than 200 people at the scene, including Chong and his 10 co-defendants, who are aged 19-28 and include students, teachers and service sector workers. The prosecution alleged that the defendants’ presence in the vicinity constituted the crime of “rioting.” Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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From Chinese detainee to Cambodian diplomat: the radical rebirth of Wang Yaohui

Wang Yaohui has taken an unconventional career path for a Cambodian diplomat. For one thing, he was born in China and lived there for most of his life. For another, he has a very checkered past in the business world, tainted by bribery scandals over a copper mine in Zambia and a state-run bank in China for which he was detained and an associate was sentenced to life in prison. But following a path well-trodden by other Chinese tycoons with reputational problems, Wang used connections among the Cambodian elite to land himself a new nationality, a new name and a new career. Using his adopted Khmer name, Wan Sokha, he rapidly became an “advisor” to Prime Minister Hun Sen and landed a plum post at Cambodia’s embassy in Singapore, a position he still holds. That diplomatic posting has not prevented him from furthering his business interests. Untangling the web of those interests which stretch from Asia to Europe is no easy task. Wang has gone to great lengths to conceal his enormous but undeclared commercial footprint. A key piece in this complex puzzle are the Singaporean holdings of a Cambodian power couple: Sen. Lau Ming Kan and his wife Choeung Sopheap, who has been instrumental in Wang’s progress. This story explores those ties, using documentary evidence and also flight manifests from aircraft owned by Wang. It is part of a wide-ranging RFA investigation into more than $230 million in financial and property interests that figures linked to Cambodia’s ruling party have in the prosperous city state of Singapore. The documents not only show how Sopheap helped transform Wang from a fugitive to an accredited Cambodian diplomat. They also show how Wang has become the apparent beneficial owner of an energy company granted an exclusive 10-year license to import liquified natural gas by the Cambodian government. The documents also show that Wang has concealed from the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and the English Football League his substantial stake in a major English soccer team, Birmingham City Football Club. That is potentially a criminal offence, punishable by up to two years in prison. Additionally, the documents shed light on how Sopheap has been embroiled in a real estate deal in Cyprus involving Wang that is the subject of a European police investigation. Mired in mining scandal Wang was born in June 1966 in Heilongjiang, China’s northernmost province bordering Russia, soon after the start of the Cultural Revolution, which saw millions die as the Communist Party sought to purge society of traditional and capitalist elements. That’s in stark contrast to the dynamics of Wang’s adult life which associates say has been spent in single-minded pursuit of money. From the late 1990s onwards, his zest for profits saw him invest in everything from African mining operations to the Chinese art market and he did so with gusto. By the end of each venture, however, his business partners almost invariably felt that they had been wronged. A truck leaves the Chibuluma copper mine after collecting ore from 1,693 feet (516 meters) below the surface in the Zambian copper belt region, Jan. 17, 2015. (Reuters) In 2009, Wang signed an agreement with the government of Zambia on behalf of his Zhonghui Mining Group, pledging to invest $3.6 billion in a copper mine in the central African nation. The deal – which was hailed by Zambia’s then-President Rupiah Banda as a “positive development” – would quickly come undone, according to By All Means Necessary: How China’s Resource Quest is Changing the World, a 2013 book by Elizabeth Economy and Michael Levi, who would go on to be a special assistant to U.S. President Barack Obama. Economy and Levi recount how in 2011 Zhonghui “began building the mine without conducting an environmental impact assessment, violating Zambia’s 1997 EIA regulations.” The year also saw a new party take power in Zambia, which set about scrutinizing land and mining deals overseen by its predecessors. While the move was viewed by the government’s supporters as a marker of improved governance, others “believed that the new administration simply wanted to nullify previous deals to reap its own payments and bribes as the various concessions were sold anew.” Zhonghui was ordered to stop work immediately pending its production of an EIA. The company failed to do so and was charged alongside Zambia’s former minister of mines and minerals with corruption. The government alleged that Zhonghui had paid close to $60,000 of Zambian customs duties for 5,000 bicycles the minister had imported from China in 2011. Reuters reported that prosecution witnesses, “testified that with the minister’s influence, the Chinese firm was awarded the licenses within three days when such a process normally lasted months.” The minister was found guilty in 2015 and sentenced to one year in jail with hard labor (although in 2019 he received a presidential pardon). The court ruled Zhonghui had no case to answer. But by that time, Wang had bigger problems closer to home. A bribes for loans scandal In June 2012, the South China Morning Post reported that Wang had been detained late the previous month in Beijing by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Chinese Communist Party’s anti-corruption watchdog. Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper claimed the party was investigating allegations of “bribery and money laundering” within a “complex network run by low-profile but well-connected businessman Wang Yaohui.” Photograph of Wang widely distributed around the time of Agricultural Bank of China Vice President Yang Kun’s arrest for allegedly receiving bribes from Wang. (Photo: Supplied by source) In particular, the authorities were examining Wang’s relationship with Yang Kun, the vice-president of the state-owned Agricultural Bank of China. Sources told the South China Morning Post that together Wang and Yang had “lost several hundred million yuan during their gambling trips to Macau.” Moreover, the sources added, Yang had overseen loans from the bank to one of Wang’s companies, putatively intended to support property development, but which, “may have been misused to cover gambling losses in Macau.” Yang was…

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China’s ‘White Guards’ gain reputation for brutal enforcement of Shanghai lockdown

Police officers, neighborhood committee members and community volunteers dressed in head-to-toe white PPE have been a ubiquitous feature of China’s zero-COVID policy, often shown on social media video uploads surrounding people, beating and dragging them away, or knocking on their door to put pressure on them to submit to a PCR test, to leave home for an isolation camp. Dubbed White Guards in a nod to the Red Guards, the often violent and arbitrary enforcers of political decrees during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the “dabai,” or “big whites” have gained themselves a reputation for Kafkaesque orders, physical violence and abuse of power. Yet many didn’t sign up for grueling disease control prevention measures that left some of them isolated from friends and family and others loathed by the residents they had thought they were mostly there to help. Constant political sloganeering, changing criteria and orders from higher up, and incomprehensible containment processes left many neighborhood committee members and healthcare workers emotionally drained, under constant psychological stress and liable either to lash out physically or verbally. Others grabbed any opportunity to improve their lives with both hands, as in the case of the Shanghai neighborhood committee who barricaded themselves into a room to gorge themselves on a secret stash of cake while their residents were having trouble getting any food at all. A community doctor surnamed Chen was among the army of White Guards drafted in to carry out mass, compulsory PCR testing throughout the Shanghai lockdown, getting up in the middle of the night to start swabbing thousands of mouths and nostrils a day. “We were originally doctors in regular private clinics,” Chen told RFA. “When lockdown started a while back, all non-essential facilities were shut down, and staff called in to assist with disease control and prevention work.” “We didn’t volunteer for this work, and we received no compensation for it,” he said. A worker in a protective suit looks out through a gap in barriers at a closed residential area during lockdown, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Shanghai, China, May 25, 2022. Credit: Reuters. A political task Chen was pressured into joining the “dabai” by his manager, who said PCR testing was now a political task, under ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping’s ongoing insistence on a zero-COVID strategy to deal with the omicron variant of COVID-19. “If we hadn’t gone, the powers-that-be would have given our clinic trouble in future, making it hard to stay in business,” Chen said. In return for wearing full body PPE for five hours straight, making bathroom breaks well nigh impossible, Chen, who lives in Handan city in the northern province of Hebei, said the “dabai” could expect three meals a day and drinks provided by the authorities, at a time when many families are struggling to buy enough food because of lockdown restrictions on businesses and delivery drivers. Many would save their meals and bring them home to their families after work, Chen said, adding that this was a key motivation for him to keep doing the work. Chen said there was scant scientific basis for the seemingly endless rounds of mass PCR testing he helped to implement. “This isn’t really disease control and prevention at all,” Chen said. “The most important thing in disease control work is to prevent clusters, but many communities had zero infections.” “The whole thing was more of a political show, using Handan as a line of defense to protect Beijing,” he said. “Everyone is in danger right now, and a lot of people are afraid to talk about the trauma the pandemic has caused them, but … it won’t stay hidden,” Chen said. A health worker (C) wearing personal protective equipment conducts a swab test for the Covid-19 coronavirus in a compound during a Covid-19 lockdown in Pudong district in Shanghai on April 19, 2022. Credit: AFP Depression and trauma He said he has seen a number of patients with depression, as well as patients presenting with mysterious abdominal pain with unknown cause, which he attributed to the effects of trauma on the body. A temporary worker surnamed Wang who was drafted onto a community disinfection team in Shanghai’s Pudong district said he did it out of desperation, after his source of work was cut off by the pandemic. “I still have to pay the mortgage, so there was a lot of pressure,” Wang said. “I was actually scared at first and thought it was a bit dangerous, because I came into contact with so many people,” said Wang, who normally makes a living cutting people’s hair, Huang Kuang-kuo, professor of psychology at National Taiwan University, said the psychological concept of depersonalization could go some way to explaining the behavior of people, particularly the faceless “dabai,” during the Shanghai lockdown. “This makes sense, because when we can’t identify people, then they behave differently,” Huang told RFA. “A more authoritarian personality comes to the fore.” A community volunteer wearing personal protective equipment stands as residents line up during a test for the Covid-19 coronavirus in a compound during a Covid-19 lockdown in Pudong district in Shanghai on April 19, 2022. Credit: AFP. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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