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Category: Asia (page 1 of 379)

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TikTok Threatens to Sue after US Moves to Ban App  

TikTok reacted to President Donald Trump’s executive order barring U.S. companies and individuals from doing business with its parent company, ByteDance, by threatening to take legal action and urging its U.S. users to lobby on its behalf.  Trump ordered sweeping bans late Thursday prohibiting U.S. companies from doing business with ByteDance and Tencent, the owner of the messenger app WeChat. The executive orders targeting the Chinese companies go into effect in 45 days.  “We are shocked by the recent Executive Order, which was issued without any due process,” ByteDance said in a statement released Friday.  The company suggested that the executive order was illegal and that it might be challenged in court. “We will pursue all remedies available to us in order to ensure that the rule of law is not discarded and that our company and our users are treated fairly — if not by the Administration, then by the U.S. courts,” the company said.  In the meantime, Tencent responded by saying it was evaluating the situation. “The company is reviewing the potential consequences of the administrative order in order to fully understand its impact,” Tencent said in a brief statement issued through Hong Kong Stock Exchange.  In addition to its hugely popular messaging feature, WeChat also links to finance and other services. It claims that the app has more than 1 billion users.  The Trump administration and U.S. lawmakers have expressed concerns that the Chinese social media services could provide American users’ personal information to the Chinese government. Both companies have said they do not share their data with the Chinese government.  The twin executive orders Thursday added new contention to growing U.S.-Chinese conflict over technology and security. The Chinese foreign ministry accused Washington of “political suppression” and said the moves would hurt American companies and consumers.  “The United States is using national security as an excuse, frequently abuses national power and unreasonably suppresses companies of other countries,” Wang Wenbin, a ministry spokesman, said.  Wang, who did not mention TikTok or Tencent by name, said China strongly opposed the move but gave no indication of how Beijing might retaliate.  The Trump administration has previously threatened to shut TikTok down if it remains under the ownership of Beijing-based ByteDance.  According to a memo sent Monday by Chief Executive Officer Zhang Yiming, ByteDance is exploring all possibilities to ensure that its subsidiary can continue operating in the United States. Without naming Microsoft directly, the company said Friday, “We even stated that we could sell our U.S. business to a U.S. company.”  The statement ended by calling on its 100 million U.S. users to put pressure on the Trump administration.  “As TikTok users, creators, partners and family members, you have the right to express your opinions to all levels of lawmakers, including the White House government,” the statement said.   

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How Philippines Got Runaway COVID-19 Caseload, an Outlier in Asia

The Philippines has become a COVID-19 outlier in East Asia with a runaway caseload because initial stay-home orders ended early and people struggle to practice social distancing despite strict rules, local observers say.New reported cases spiked during the past month, leaving the archipelago with a cumulative total of about 120,000. Daily cases set a record Tuesday of 6,277. Now cities have shut down again, threatening access to workplaces in a country where many people depend on daily labor to survive.“A lot of it is because people don’t follow the protocols,” said Rhona Canoy, president of the International School of CDO in the southern Philippine city Cagayan de Oro.“They don’t wear masks,” she said, “and the biggest issue of all is that people don’t observe social distancing.”People wearing masks shop for fresh food at a market in Manila on Aug. 6, 2020.So dire is the situation in the Philippines that on Tuesday the United Nations and 50 nonprofit partners began carrying out a $122 million response plan to help about 5.4 million of the country’s “poorest and most marginalized people” with a focus on protecting women, according to Canoy.Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, only Indonesia still struggles with daily COVID-19 caseload surges. Most of Northeast Asia, including the disease’s apparent source, China, has recovered, despite isolated flare-ups.Stay-home orders in much of the Philippines began easing in June before hospitals could deploy equipment and coordinate with each other to handle the disease, said Maria Ela Atienza, political science professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman.Among hospitals, she said, “things were so bureaucratic and top-down, and when they decided to open up the economy little by little, it turned out that much of the supposed things that should have been done during the strict lockdown period have not been done.”A child reacts after getting swabbed for a free coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test at a gymnasium in Navotas City, Metro Manila, Philippines, Aug. 7, 2020.A lot of people still fear getting tested for COVID-19 at hospitals in case they test positive, Canoy said. She said some parts of the country lack bed space for any local surge in cases.Not everyone wears a face mask in shopping malls, often because they find them uncomfortable or because they left them at home, Canoy said. In restaurants, she said, diners sit “bunched up” at bigger tables, even if the next table is only a meter away.Crowded slum housing pushes people into streets, basketball courts and tiny stores where air circulates better despite stay-home orders, said Eduardo Araral, a Philippine native and associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s public policy school.“You cannot force poor people to be staying inside because, all the more, they are congested,” Araral said. “It makes more sense to just be outside where there’s more space.”Stay-home measures resumed this week in metro Manila and other parts of the country affecting about 27 million of the country’s 109.5 million population.A worker disinfects chairs at the airport in Manila on Aug. 4, 2020.Public transport has noticeably slowed, making it hard for even medical staffers to reach their jobs, Araral said. Prolonged shutdowns will keep poorer people away from work too long, said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at IHS Markit in Singapore.“This is always the problem in low-income countries where a lot of people are dependent on daily work and there’s no government support, so I think this is the problem in places like in the Philippines that you can’t really keep people locked down for long periods of time because many have very little savings, if any,” Biswas said.Remote parts of the Philippines, a group of some 7,100 islands, still report few cases, however. They can keep local economies on track because they get little traffic from metro Manila or Cebu, the country’s two most infected spots.Cagayan de Oro, the southern Philippine city of 753,000 people where Canoy’s school is located, recorded just 140 cases from March through July.It is hard to know, however, when a flight arrives with an infected passenger, she said, so she chastises her rice vendor who doesn’t use a mask, and cringes at people gathering outside convenience stores where they go to spend economic relief money.

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US Sanctions Hong Kong Leaders

The United States has imposed sanctions on Hong Kong’s pro-China government leader and other Hong Kong officials for allegedly suppressing freedom in the former British colony.  The Treasury Department announced the sanctions against Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other government leaders on Friday, the latest in a series of moves the Trump administration has taken against China amid rising tensions over the coronavirus and trade disputes. The sanctions are aimed at penalizing Beijing for curtailing anti-government demonstrators in Hong Kong. There was no immediate response from Hong Kong or Beijing. FILE – Protesters hold up blank papers during a demonstration in a mall in Hong Kong on July 6, 2020, in response to a national security law which makes political views, slogans and signs advocating Hong Kong’s independence or liberation illegal.Hong Kong citizens have enjoyed civil liberties that don’t exist in mainland China since Britain relinquished control of the territory to China in 1997. Earlier this year, however, China imposed a new national security law that undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy, drawing criticism from pro-democracy activists and Western countries. “The recent imposition of draconian national security legislation on Hong Kong has not only undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy, it has also infringed on the rights of people living in Hong Kong,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.   In addition to Lam, the sanctions target Hong Kong’s current and former police chiefs and eight other officials for orchestrating a campaign to curtail political liberties in the territory. The penalties also freeze any U.S. assets the Hong Kong officials hold and generally prohibits Americans from conducting business with them. Because of a surge in coronavirus cases, Lam recently announced a one-year delay to a legislative election in which pro-democracy activists hoped to win a majority of the seats. The U.S. denounced the postponement, declaring it was another move by China to undermine democracy in Hong Kong. 

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China Threatens Retaliation for US Denial of Journalist Visas

China has threatened to retaliate after the United States did not renew visas for some 40 Chinese journalists, whose 90-day permit to work in the U.S. expired Thursday.No retaliatory move, however, was immediately announced Friday, after Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of state tabloid Global Times previously warned that the “Chinese side will retaliate, including targeting U.S. journalists based in Hong Kong.”Instead, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin Friday denounced the U.S. action as “a unilateral provocation” during a routine media briefing, urging the U.S. “to correct its mistakes and cease its oppression of Chinese media workers.”Tell right from wrong?Prior to that, the ministry’s office in the former British colony also released a written statement, urging Hong Kong-based foreign journalists “to understand the consequences and tell right from wrong.”The ministry reiterated that “if the U.S. persists with escalating its actions against Chinese media, China will take a necessary and legitimate response.” China Threatens Countermeasures over US Visa Rule for Chinese JournalistsCiting China’s treatment of the reporters, the US Homeland Security Department issued new regulations limiting visas for Chinese journalists to a maximum 90-day stay, with the possibility to request an extension The official statement came as a response to an open letter issued one day earlier by the city’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club, which called on both the U.S. and Chinese governments to stop “using journalists’ visas as a weapon in international disputes and…taking action against journalists for the decisions made by their home countries.”“This downward spiral of retaliatory actions aimed at journalists helps no one, not least of all the public that needs accurate, professionally produced information now more than ever,” said the letter.Unusual delays in issuance of visasThe club added that several media outlets in Hong Kong have experienced unusual delays in getting new or renewed visas for journalists working in the city. The latest journalist visa drama will surely escalate U.S.-China tensions and invite retaliation from China, which will pose a new threat to American journalists working in China, two analysts told VOA.Since early this year, the two countries have clashed over media exchanges.  In mid-February, the U.S. State Department listed five U.S.-based Chinese media outlets as foreign embassies since they work for the Communist government’s propaganda efforts and in March ordered them to reduce the number of Chinese journalists on staff from 160 to 100.  China later retaliated by expelling Beijing-based U.S. journalists working at three American newspapers — The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.  US Newspapers Call on China to Reverse Expulsion of JournalistsPublishers of three US newspapers urge China to reverse the expulsion of an about a dozen of their journalists, calling the move ‘uniquely damaging and reckless’ at a time when the world is sharing the burden of fighting the coronavirusJournalistic tit-for-tatIn May, the U.S. hit back by shortening the validity period of visas for Chinese journalists to a maximum of 90 days.According to Global Times, one of its U.S.-based reporters has filed to extend the 90-day limit after her visa expired on Thursday. Her application is neither rejected nor approved.The journalist said she is allowed to stay in the U.S. for another 90 days until early November, but not allowed to work unless her visa is renewed, the report added.  Ross Feingold, a Taipei-based political analyst, described the media tit-for-tat as just one facet of escalating Sino-U.S. tensions.“Like everything else in the bilateral relationship, it’s one among many different issues whether it’s trade, or human rights in China or Taiwan, South China sea, technology industries, being one that’s in the news in recent days as well,” Feingold said.  Change is required“So, it’s on the agenda that the United States identifies as something that requires a change,” he added.Feingold said the U.S. actions are based on years of frustration over unequal restrictions China has placed on American diplomats and journalists working in China while China’s government-funded media propagandists face no such restrictions in the U.S.There is, however, little sign that the Communist government in Beijing is interested in taking in criticism or changing its journalistic practice, said Cédric Alviani, head of Reporters Without Borders’s (RSF) East Asia bureau in Taipei.  While denouncing U.S. President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on journalists, Alviani added that any government’s move to limit the influence of state propaganda and disinformation – which the Chinese state media are openly engaged in – isn’t an erosion of press freedom.Reporter’s Notebook: Press Freedom is First Casualty in US-China Media War American journalists lose a vital resource as Beijing retaliates against Washington and bans Chinese from working for US media Media as collateral?But an anticipated media war, in which the U.S. and Chinese governments simply use journalists as a collateral to fight each other, should not be encouraged, he said.  “It’s normal that the U.S. democracy would try and limit the influence of the propaganda media within its borders. But by using the impression that it is some kind of war using the media as a collateral, somehow, it’s posing a new threat to foreign journalists based in China,” Alviani told VOA.The level of hostility between the Chinese and Americans over recent media exchange policies is also rising.  Most Chinese netizens on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging site, expressed negative views toward the U.S. actions against Chinese media.For example, one netizen wrote, “What’s there to be afraid of. Let’s take the opportunity to kick all American journalists in Hong Kong out since they are very mean” in response to a news report on Thursday.In a Twitter post, famed U.S. author Gordon Chang, author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” Tuesday responded to Hu’s threat of China’s retaliation by saying, “Retaliate all you want…Your China can’t get along without us. We, however, can get along without you. In fact, we would be far better off without you. So leave.”   

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Thai Protesters Demand Drastic Changes in Political System

Protesters in Thailand are pressing on with their demands for the dissolution of parliament, new elections and changing the constitution.Leaders said Friday they would step up pressure on the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha if it failed to act on changes.”(Our demands) are clear enough for the government to hear and follow,” said protest leader Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree. “To set up a committee to have hearings is like an act. It’s like a show with no meaning. Is it to buy time? They think that we will disappear. They believe that we will fade away. So, they set up this committee to buy time. But the fact is we want real change. We want to send our demands to those with powers to make decisions, not to some rubber stamp committee.”Meeting in front of Bangkok’s iconic Democracy Monument, eight leaders of the Free People Movement, formerly known as Free Youth, announced plans for a big rally on August 16.Protesters held signs reading: “Constitution needed to be amended. Democracy must come from the people” and “We don’t hate our nation. We hate dictatorship. No coup.”Prayuth said early this week he will consider protester’s demands, but protest leader Tattep suggested the premier’s statement was just a delaying tactic, as the prime minister is unlikely to agree to dissolve parliament or call new elections.After more than five years of relative calm since a military coup in 2014, anti-government protests have erupted again, mostly on school and university campuses in the capital Bangkok and other Thai cities.Protesters, majority of them young people, are highly dissatisfied with the current administration.A former army chief, Prayuth first took power in 2014, then held a tight grip on it through the 2019 elections, widely seen as manipulated in his favor. 

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Tensions Mount over China’s Industrial Espionage in US

Tensions between the U.S. and China are escalating at a dizzying pace, with July 24 marking the lowest point of bilateral relations in decades. On that day, the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, was closed and taken over by U.S. officials.FILE – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, July 15, 2020.“We announced the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston because it was a hub of spying and intellectual property theft,” said Secretary of State FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies during an oversight hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, on Capitol Hill, Feb. 5, 2020 in Washington.The FBI created a special economic espionage unit in 2010, and currently has over 2,000 active cases related to Chinese counterintelligence operations in the U.S. FBI director Christopher Wray recently said the bureau is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 minutes.Economic espionage is certainly nothing new. When the U.S. passed the Economic Espionage Act of 1996, the focus was on Israel and France, and China wasn’t really in the picture.Hvistendahl said the shift of focus started in the mid-2000s, when the business community decided to join the intelligence community to address the issue. These U.S. companies had previously hoped that if they kept their mouths shut, they could eventually break into the Chinese market and begin to see significant market growth.“By the mid-2000s, it became clear to many companies that it was just not going to happen, they were going to get shut out of the market eventually,” Hvistendahl told VOA. “So many CEOs started to be more vocal about some of the problems that they have received with China.”The impact on the U.S. economy through loss of intellectual property (IP) is one of the main concerns among U.S. policy makers. According to a 2017 report by the Intellectual Property Commission, the cost of IP theft for the United States is somewhere between $225 billion and $600 billion. And China is responsible for 71% to 87% of that figure. (The percentage varies annually.) Apart from economic loss, there is also loss of domestic production capabilities, loss of industries, and loss of jobs along the way.Eric Zhang, former chief representative of the Oklahoma Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Office in China, told VOA that America is also realizing the potential security threat posed by these China-related industrial espionage activities.“Espionage activities in other countries are mainly for economic gain, but China is different. Since Xi Jinping came to power, China has started to deem the United States as a competitor, especially in terms of military,” said Zhang. “In this sense, the purpose of Chinese industrial espionage is different from that of other countries. This is why the U.S. is very concerned now.”Full-scale effortUnder the Trump administration, federal authorities have launched full-scale efforts to ferret out economic espionage.In some high-profile cases, the FBI has recently arrested four Chinese research scientists in the U.S. who concealed their relations with Chinese military during their visa applications. Apart from the FBI, the Justice Department has also launched the China Initiative in 2018, with the goal of identifying and prosecuting those engaged in economic espionage, trade secret theft, hacking and other related crimes. Yet Zhang said that although there has been ample pushback, China has not slowed down its pace of stealing innovative technologies and trade secrets from developed countries.“Innovative technology is key to China’s economic growth, which is the top reason to legitimize CCP (Chinese Communist Party) rule. So if they can’t get anything from the U.S., I think Beijing will strengthen its economic espionage efforts in other developed countries,” Zhang said.Hvistendahl warns that when addressing the issue of industrial espionage and IP theft, the U.S. needs to be careful and avoid discrimination.“You have to keep in mind that much of the research force in the U.S. is ethnic Chinese. So you have to deal with the issue in a way that it’s fair, that doesn’t give way to allegations of racial profiling, ethnic bias,” she said.She added that it’s to America’s own benefit to keep the U.S. as an innovative place to which researchers from all over the world would want to come and study. 

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Heavy Rain in South Korea Brings Flooding, Landslides

Days of torrential rain have pounded South Korea, closing parts of highways, officials said.  Authorities issued a rare flood alert Thursday near a key bridge in the city of Seoul.The Han River Flood Control Office said its alert issued near one of its bridges is the first such measures since 2011.South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports the Han river reached a record level of 11.3 meters, submerging the Jamsu Bridge linking the southern and northern parts of the city.The swollen river also forced the flood control office to cut off access to riverside roads in Seoul’s Yeouido neighborhood and other areas. Officials said riverside parks have been flooded.The rainfall stopped near that Han River bridge late Thursday, but the flood alert remains effective, according to the agency.South Korea’s interior ministry said landslides and floods killed 16 people, left 11 missing, and at least 1,600 are displaced from their homes.Yonhap reports in the hardest hit provinces more than 5,000 houses and facilities were reported flooded or damaged. More than 8,000 hectares of farmland have been inundated.

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Tokyo Governor Urges Residents to Refrain from Summer Holiday Travel

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike called on residents Thursday to refrain from traveling outside the capital as Japan enters its summer holiday period because of a recent surge in COVID cases.At a Thursday news briefing, Koike said she understands that it is the “Obon” festival, a period during which Japanese people customarily travel to visit family, but she urged residents to refrain from travel or even going out to restaurants to protect “loved ones, family and medical fields.”Reported coronavirus cases have been surging recently, totaling 360 new cases for Thursday. Koike noted the number of new cases surpasses the levels from April, when the city was under a state of emergency.She said she does not believe they need to make a similar declaration at this time, but said, “if the situation worsens further, we may have no choice but to issue a state of emergency in Tokyo. In order to avoid such a situation, we must do everything possible to curb infections this summer.”Japan has never had a total lockdown but asked businesses to close and people to work from home after the government issued a national state of emergency in April. The restrictions were lifted in late May.Japan has more than 43,400 confirmed coronavirus cases and about 1,000 deaths according to Johns Hopkins University. 

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