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U.S. Issues Travel Warning for Mainland China and Hong Kong

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(BEIJING) — The U.S. on Tuesday issued a sweeping new advisory warning against travel to mainland China and Hong Kong, citing the risk of “arbitrary detention” and “arbitrary enforcement of local laws.”

The advisory is likely to heighten tensions between the sides that have spiked since Beijing’s imposition on Hong Kong of a strict new national security law in June that has already been met with a series of U.S. punitive actions.

The new advisory warned U.S. citizens that China imposes “arbitrary detention and exit bans” to compel cooperation with investigations, pressure family members to return to China from abroad, influence civil disputes and “gain bargaining leverage over foreign governments.”

“U.S. citizens traveling or residing in China or Hong Kong, may be detained without access to U.S. consular services or information about their alleged crime. U.S. citizens may be subjected to prolonged interrogations and extended detention without due process of law,” the advisory said.

In Hong Kong, China “unilaterally and arbitrarily exercises police and security power,” the advisory said, adding that new legislation also covers offenses committed by non-Hong Kong residents or organizations outside of Hong Kong, possibly subjecting U.S. citizens who have publicly criticized China to a “heightened risk of arrest, detention, expulsion, or prosecution.”

When in Hong Kong, U.S. citizens are “strongly cautioned to be aware of their surroundings and avoid demonstrations,” the advisory said.

Last month, the Trump administration suspended or terminated three bilateral agreements with Hong Kong covering extradition and tax exemptions, citing Beijing’s violation of its pledge for Hong Kong to retain broad autonomy for 50 years after the former British colony’s 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

Other Western nations have also suspended their extradition treaties with Hong Kong following the national security’s law’s passage.

The U.S. has also acted to end special trade and commercial privileges that Hong Kong had enjoyed and has imposed sanctions on Hong Kong and Chinese officials, including Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam, involved in enforcing the new security law.

Tensions between Beijing and Washington have hit their lowest point in decades amid simmering disputes over trade, technology, Taiwan, Tibet, the South China Sea, the coronavirus pandemic and, most recently, Hong Kong. The impact of the tensions has been felt in the tit-for-tat closures of diplomatic missions as well as visa restrictions on students and journalists.

The latest travel advisory did not offer any new warnings regarding COVID-19 in mainland China and Hong Kong, but referred travelers to earlier notices advising Americans to avoid the regions and return home from them if possible.

President Donald Trump has assigned full blame to Beijing for the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., deflecting criticism of his own handling of the pandemic that threatens his reelection.

The virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, leading to the global pandemic. Critics have accused Beijing of an initial cover-up attempt, although Trump himself has admitted to downplaying the severity of the virus as early as February.

China appears to have contained the virus within its borders, reporting no new cases of domestic infection in a month, while Hong Kong has also radically brought down its numbers of new cases.

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Transgender Controversy Over Rowling’s “Troubled Blood” Book

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The last 48 hours have been full of conflicting emotions for Marieke Nijkamp. A New York Times bestselling author, Nijkamp’s new novel, a YA thriller titled Even If We Break, was published Tuesday. It’s Nijkamp’s third novel, and their first to include a non-binary protagonist, which makes the book “very special” to them, as Nijkamp is a non-binary, disabled person. “Mainly I want to reflect the world that I see and live in and am a part of,” Nijkamp says. “I think fiction doesn’t do that enough as it is.”

One example of fiction they feel is unlikely to do that: J.K. Rowling’s new novel, Troubled Blood, also publishing on Tuesday. It quickly faced criticism for allegedly leaning into portrayals of trans people as villains.

Nijkamp, who says they’ve mostly tried to ignore Rowling’s previous comments on trans issues, found the controversy impossible to avoid this week. The juxtaposition was a painful one. “We’re generally not perpetrators of violence, we’re victims,” Nijkamp says. “I can’t imagine going back and explaining to my teenage self, ‘Hey, this author you love so much blatantly hates people like you.”

Author Marieke Nijkamp

Author Marieke Nijkamp

Courtesy of JLF

Troubled Blood is the fifth in a series featuring the private detective Cormoran Strike, which Rowling, a cisgender woman, penned under the male pseudonym Robert Galbraith. In an early review published on Sunday, British newspaper The Telegraph called Troubled Blood “a book whose moral seems to be: never trust a man in a dress,” citing a plotline featuring a male serial killer dressing up in women’s clothing to commit murders.

A subsequent review from The Guardian describes this character as “just one of many suspects” in the novel’s primary narrative, however; while the killer is apparently written to fetishize lingerie, he uses a stolen women’s coat and a wig solely as a disguise to aid his crimes. The review adds that, “he is not the main villain, nor is he portrayed as trans or even called a ‘transvestite’ by Rowling.”

Still, given Rowling’s previous comments on transgender people and gender identity, the plotline is “disappointing, but not surprising,” says Mason Deaver, author of I Wish You All the Best. The novel, Deaver’s debut, follows the journey of a character coming out as non-binary, and their newly-forged friendships along the way. Writing, Deaver says, is a way to create what would have mattered to them as a child.

They are concerned about the impact of Rowling’s latest work, particularly on those who are trans fans of Harry Potter and had previously admired her work. “I think the harm it’s going to do to them is tragic,” they say.

Trans and non-binary writers believe that narratives relying on transphobic tropes have a harmful impact on their community, and reinforces both transphobic sentiments and misinformation at large. As outlined in this year’s Netflix documentary Disclosure, which analyzed transgender representation on screen, narratives of mentally ill men dressing in women’s clothing and committing violence towards women have long existed in popular media, like the films Psycho and Silence of the Lambs.

“It might not seem obvious at first, but it’s very harmful to portray that being trans adjacent is somehow connected to your mental health,” says Deaver. “I think for the people who hate us, or don’t like us, it’s going to help add more fuel to the fire.”

It’s not the first time that Rowling has been criticized for her treatment of trans issues within her fiction writing. As journalist Katelyn Burns noted in a review of The Silkworm, another of Rowling’s books published under the Galbraith moniker, a trans character’s appearance was also described using problematic stereotypes. And Rowling’s choice of pen name has also been subject to controversy—Robert Galbraith Heath was the name of a mid-20th century anti-LGBTQ conversion therapist. (Rowling has previously said that the name was a conflation of her political hero, Robert F. Kennedy, and a childhood fantasy name ‘Ella Galbraith’.)

For many authors, the focus on trans characters in Rowling’s work detracts from what they see as the authenticity—and inclusivity—their writing can provide. Fiction should reflect the world we live in and speak to the full experience of life that doesn’t solely focus on identity or on traumatic experience, says Lizzie Huxley-Jones, a non-binary autistic author of children’s fiction living in London. “I want to put stories out there that feature trans and disabled kids, that aren’t specifically about them experiencing transphobia or ableism, or their family learning to love them and come to terms with who they are. I want to make a space for people to see a facet of themselves that’s also safe and comforting, an escape. We need that right now.”

Read more: I’m a Nonbinary Writer of Youth Literature. J.K. Rowling’s Comments on Gender Identity Reinforced My Commitment to Better Representation

That sense of escapism is something Rin Chupeco, a non-binary YA author based in Manila, also weaves into their sci-fi and fantasy novels. “I’ve always felt, in many ways, trapped within my own body, and being able to write about fantastical worlds with magic, dragons and demons always feels freeing” they say.

And the attention focused on uplifting their work amid controversies has felt conflicting at times. “We want to be remembered for our books, and not because a rich white author chose to attack us,” says Chupeco. “It gets really tiring to only be remembered if someone else does something to make it terrible for us. This is not to say I don’t appreciate the support, but at the same time, it’s exhausting to be constantly put through this specific loop, where we’re only remembered when someone does something to us, and then forgotten by the time it blows over.”

For Nijkamp, who is spending Tuesday celebrating publication day, the feelings are similarly complicated. “It’s great to see that people are taking this as a jumping off point, but I don’t necessarily want a transphobic person to say and do stuff for my work to be noticed.” Over the last day, Nijkamp has had several readers reach out and express excitement about feeling represented in their work, but hopes that the energy is more long-lasting, and that cis authors too take responsibility for making their work more inclusive.

“I don’t think that I would have gotten to the realization that I am non binary without fiction, and without fiction for young people in particular,” Nijkamp explains. “Ideally figuring out what it means to be me, or what it means to be you shouldn’t be this much of a struggle. What I’m hoping for in response to this entire situation is that in raising awareness of the work of trans and non-binary authors, readers will be able to not just find hatred in books, but also find welcoming.”

Contact us at [email protected].

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Yoshihide Suga Elected Prime Minister of Japan

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TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 14: Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga acknowledges as he is elected as new head of Japan’s ruling party at the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) leadership election on September 14, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Eugene Hoshiko - Pool/Getty Images)

Japanese ruling party leader Yoshihide Suga was elected prime minister in a parliamentary vote Wednesday, becoming the country’s first new premier in nearly eight years.

Suga’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party used its majority in the powerful lower house of parliament, which is empowered to pick the premier, to elect him to lead the world’s third largest economy as it tries to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Following the vote, Suga is due to enter the Prime Minister’s Office as the new leader and name his cabinet later in the day.

Suga’s appointment, two days after he was selected as LDP leader, brings the curtain down on outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s record run of almost eight consecutive years in the country’s top job. The 71-year-old Suga, who previously served as Abe’s right-hand man, has pledged to keep in place his former boss’s flexible fiscal stance and ultra-easy monetary policy known as “Abenomics.”

Any sign of a departure from Abenomics could send the yen surging and stocks sliding, triggering a re-evaluation of the outlook for the nation. The Topix index briefly fell when Abe announced on Aug. 28 his intent to resign, but quickly steadied itself since then, with market players seeing Suga as embracing continuity.

In contrast with Abe’s rarefied political pedigree, Suga hails from a rural area in northern Japan and took a job in a cardboard box factory when he first moved to Tokyo. He worked his way through university, before starting his political career as a secretary to a politician. He was first elected to parliament in 1996.

Suga’s home of Akita prefecture, where his family farmed strawberries, is one of the areas most affected by the economic malaise born of Japan’s shrinking and aging population.

While Suga has pledged to pick reformers for his cabinet, Kyodo News and other media reports say he has already decided to retain key players Finance Minister Taro Aso and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi. LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, a veteran political broker, will also stay in place under the new administration, the party announced Tuesday.

The role of chief cabinet secretary — which Suga held for a record term — will be given to Katsunobu Kato, a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat who most recently served as health minister, according to public broadcaster NHK.

Abe’s younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, will become defense minister, NHK reported, while current Defense Minister Taro Kono will take over as minister for administrative reform.

Speculation about an early general election has simmered following a surge in support for the cabinet. Suga has repeatedly said it would be difficult to hold a vote while the coronavirus outbreak is still spreading. The power to dissolve parliament for a general election lies with the prime minister, and none need be held for another year.

Suga has been outspoken on some specific issues, including the need for more competition among mobile phone providers to reduce costs for households. He has said Japan has too many regional financial institutions, and he is a strong proponent of introducing casino resorts to bolster tourism.

While Suga has little direct experience in diplomacy, he has said that Japan’s alliance with the U.S. will remain the cornerstone of its foreign policy and that he wants to maintain stable ties with China, his country’s biggest trading partner.

–With assistance from Takashi Hirokawa, Shoko Oda and Chris Kay.

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UAE and Bahrain Forge Ties With Israel at White House

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan stand on the Blue Room Balcony after signing the Abraham Accords during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday. AP Photo

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed agreements on Tuesday to establish formal ties with Israel, becoming the first Arab states in a quarter century to break a longstanding taboo, in a strategic realignment of Middle East countries against Iran.

U.S. President Donald Trump hosted the White House ceremony, capping a dramatic month when first the UAE and then Bahrain agreed to reverse decades of ill will without a resolution of Israel’s dispute with the Palestinians.

In front of a crowd of several hundred people on the White House lawn, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed accords with Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani.

The deals, denounced by the Palestinians, make them the third and fourth Arab states to take such steps toward normalizing relations since Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

Meeting Netanyahu earlier in the Oval Office, Trump said,”We’ll have at least five or six countries coming along very quickly” to forge their own accords with Israel.

Later Trump told reporters a third Gulf Arab state, Saudi Arabia, would strike an agreement with Israel “at the right time.” The Saudi cabinet stressed in a statement the need for a”just and comprehensive solution” to the Palestinian issue.

Saudi Arabia is the biggest Gulf Arab power. Its king is custodian of Islam’s holiest sites and rules the world’s largest oil exporter. Despite its own reluctance, the kingdom’s quiet acquiescence to the agreements was seen as crucial.

‘CHANGE THE COURSE OF HISTORY’

The ceremony provided Trump with valuable imagery as he tries to hold on to power in a Nov. 3 presidential election. Flags of the United States, Israel, the UAE and Bahrain were in abundance.

“We’re here this afternoon to change the course of history,” Trump said from the White House balcony.

Trump called the deals “a major stride in which people of all faiths and backgrounds live together in peace and prosperity” and declared that the three Middle East countries”are going to work together, they are friends.”

The back-to-back agreements mark an improbable diplomatic victory for Trump. He has spent his presidency forecasting deals on such intractable problems as North Korea’s nuclear program only to find achievements elusive.

Bringing Israel, the UAE and Bahrain together reflects their shared concern about Iran’s rising influence in the region and development of ballistic missiles. Iran criticized both deals.

All three of the Middle East leaders hailed the agreements and Trump’s role in glowing terms, with Netanyahu saying it gave hope to “all the people of Abraham.”

But the UAE and Bahraini officials both sought to reassure the Palestinians that their countries were not abandoning them or their quest for statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, despite the Palestinian leadership having decried the deals as a betrayal of their cause.

In a sign that regional strife is sure to continue while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved, Palestinian militants fired rockets from Gaza into Israel during the ceremony, the Israeli military said.

Israel’s Magen David Adom ambulance service said paramedics treated two men for light injuries from flying glass in Ashdod, and four others suffered shock.

“This is not peace, this is surrender in return for the continuation of the aggression,” read a tweet posted on the Twitter account of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

TRUMP’S EVANGELICAL SUPPORT

With Trump seeking four more years, the accords could help shore up support among pro-Israel Christian evangelical voters, an important part of his political base.

Another target of the White House plans, in addition to Saudi Arabia, is Oman, whose leader spoke with Trump last week. Oman sent its ambassador to Tuesday’s ceremony, a senior U.S. official said. No Saudi representative attended.

Meeting the Emirati foreign minister before the ceremony, Trump thanked the UAE for being first in the Gulf to agree on normalizing ties with Israel and left little doubt the Iran issue was overhanging the event.

Trump predicted that Iran, under heavy U.S. sanctions, would want to reach a deal with Washington, which has been trying to get it to renegotiate an international nuclear accord. Tehran shows no sign of budging.

Israel’s pact with the UAE, titled “Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations, and Full Normalization,” was more detailed and went further than the Bahraini document, declaring peace between countries that never fought a war against each other.

Israel’s agreement with Bahrain called for “full diplomatic relations” but avoided the term normalization.

Both documents cited the need to justly resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but neither specifically mentioned a two-state solution.

In a nod to the coronavirus, the White House encouraged but did not require participants to wear masks. It was left to the leaders whether to shake hands, and they did not do so in public. Most people in the crowd did not wear masks.

Some differences remain despite warming ties. Trump said on Tuesday he would have no problem selling advanced stealth F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, which for years has sought to obtain them. Israel, which has the F-35, objects to such a sale.

Frustrated by the Palestinians’ refusal to take part in Trump’s Middle East peace initiative, the White House has sought to bypass them in hopes they will see the deals with the UAE and Bahrain as incentives, even leverage, for peace talks.

Speaking to Fox News hours before the ceremony, Trump predicted the Palestinians would eventually forge peace with Israel or else be “left out in the cold.”

The Palestinian leadership has long accused Trump of pro-Israel bias and denounced the Arab rapprochement with Israel, even though Netanyahu agreed, in return for normalization with the UAE, to suspend a plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

Although Israeli-Palestinian negotiations broke down in 2014, some Gulf Arab states and several other Arab countries have long had quiet, informal contacts with Israel. © Thomson Reuters 2020.

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