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U.S. sanctions two Myanmar generals over coup

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The United States on Monday imposed sanctions on two members of Myanmar’s military junta over the country’s Feb. 1 coup.

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The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said the move took aim at Lieutenant General Moe Myint Tun and General Maung Maung Kyaw.

“The military must reverse its actions and urgently restore the democratically elected government in Burma, or the Treasury Department will not hesitate to take further action,” the department said in a statement.

The move freezes any U.S. assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.

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China punishes those who question ‘martyrs.’ A sleuth keeps track.

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In China, don’t question the heroes.

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At least seven people over the past week have been threatened, detained or arrested after casting doubt over the government’s account of the deaths of Chinese soldiers during a clash last year with Indian troops. Three of them are being detained for between seven and 15 days. The other four face criminal charges, including one man who lives outside China.

“The internet is not a lawless place,” said the police notices issued in their cases. “Blasphemies of heroes and martyrs will not be tolerated.”

Their punishment might have gone unnoticed if it wasn’t for an online database of speech crimes in China. A simple Google spreadsheet open for all to see, it lists nearly 2,000 times when people were punished by the government for what they said online and offline.

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The list — which links directly to publicly issued verdicts, police notices and official news reports over the past eight years — is far from complete. Most punishment takes place behind closed doors.

Still, the list paints a bleak picture of a government that punishes its citizens for the slightest hint of criticism. It shows how random and merciless China’s legal system can be when it punishes its citizens for what they say, even though freedom of speech is written into China’s Constitution.

The list describes dissidents sentenced to long prison terms for attacking the government. It tells of petitioners, those who appeal directly to the government to right the wrongs against them, locked up for making too loud a clamor. It covers nearly 600 people punished for what they said about COVID-19, and too many others who cursed out police, often after receiving parking tickets.

The person behind the list is a bit of a mystery. In an interview, he described himself as a young man surnamed Wang. Of course, if the government found out more about him, he could end up in prison.

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Wang said he decided to compile the list after reading about people who were punished for supposedly insulting the country during celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, in October 2019. Although he is young, he told me, he remembers more freedom of expression before Xi Jinping became the Communist Party’s leader in late 2012.

“I knew that there were speech crimes in China, but I’ve never thought it’s so bad,” Wang posted in August on his Twitter account, where he writes in both English and Chinese. He wrote that he had become depressed after reading more than 1,000 verdicts.

“Big Brother is watching you,” he wrote. “I tried to look for the eyes of Big Brother and ended up finding them everywhere.”

The list, bluntly titled “An Inventory of Speech Crimes in China in Recent Years,” detailed what happened to those who questioned Beijing’s official account of the June clash between Chinese and Indian forces at their disputed border in the Himalayas. The Indian government said then that 20 of its soldiers had died. Last week, the Chinese government finally said four of its troops had died.

State-run media in China called them heroes, but some people had questions. One, a former journalist, asked whether more had died, a question of intense interest both in and out of the country. According to the notice the spreadsheet linked to, the former journalist was charged with picking quarrels and provoking trouble — a common accusation by the authorities against those who speak up — and faces up to five years imprisonment.

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Crates of oranges are seen in front of a poster of Chinese leader Xi Jinping at a warehouse in central China's Hunan province on Jan. 12. | AFP-JIJI
Crates of oranges are seen in front of a poster of Chinese leader Xi Jinping at a warehouse in central China’s Hunan province on Jan. 12. | AFP-JIJI

Reading the list, it becomes clear how well Xi and his government have tamed the Chinese internet. People once thought the internet was uncontrollable, even in China. But Xi has long seen the internet as both a threat to be contained and a tool for guiding public opinion.

“The internet is the biggest variant we’re facing,” he said in a 2018 speech. “Whether we can win the war over the internet will have a direct impact on national political security.”

Liberal-leaning voices and media were among the first to be silenced. Then internet platforms themselves — the Chinese versions of Twitter and YouTube, among many others — were punished for what they allowed.

Now, Chinese internet companies brag about their ability to control content. Nationalistic online users report speech they deem offensive. Out of the seven people who were accused of insulting the heroes and martyrs, six were reported by other users, according to the police notices. In some ways, the Chinese internet polices itself.

China’s police, who are widely disliked for their broad powers to lock people up indefinitely, are big beneficiaries. According to the spreadsheet, people have been detained for calling the police “dogs,” “bandits” and “bastards.” Most are locked up for only a few days, but one man in Liaoning province was sentenced to 10 months in jail for writing five offensive posts on his WeChat timeline.

Petitioners are among those who suffer the most. In one case on the spreadsheet, a woman in Sichuan province whose son died suddenly at school and whose husband committed suicide was sentenced to three years in prison for charges that included spreading false information. The verdict listed the headlines of 10 articles she posted and the page views they garnered. The most got 1,615 views, while the least got only 18.

Perhaps the most depressing items are those about people who were punished for what they said about the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of the list is Dr. Li Wenliang, who was reprimanded Jan. 1, 2020, along with seven others for trying to warn the country about the coronavirus. He died in early February last year of the virus and is remembered as the whistleblower who tried to warn the world about the coronavirus outbreak. But the spreadsheet lists 587 other cases.

Posters in memory of late doctor Li Wenliang and other doctors are seen on a street near the Central Hospital in Wuhan, China, on the anniversary of Li's death on Feb. 7. | REUTERS
Posters in memory of late doctor Li Wenliang and other doctors are seen on a street near the Central Hospital in Wuhan, China, on the anniversary of Li’s death on Feb. 7. | REUTERS

Even cheesy skits by aspiring online influencers can be deemed offensive. Two men in northwestern Shaanxi province livestreamed a funeral they held for a sheep. In the video, one man cried over a photo of the sheep while the other dug the grave. They were detained 10 days for violating social customs.

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The spreadsheet also highlights inspiring cases in which people spoke out to challenge authority.

In 2018, a 19-year-old man in the northwestern city of Yinchuan decided to test the newly passed law that prohibits questioning and criticizing heroes and martyrs. He posted on Weibo that two famous martyrs died meaningless deaths and that he wanted to see if he would be arrested, showing a lack of free speech in China. He was detained for 10 days and fined $70.

One man, Feng Zhouguan, criticized Xi and was charged with picking quarrels by the local police in the city of Xiamen. He was detained for five days but appealed after his release, arguing that the police had improperly interfered in a potential libel case between two individuals. The local police, he argued, are “not the military bodyguards or family militia of the national leader.” The court upheld the sentence.

Many people pay a steeper price.

Huang Genbao, 45, was a senior engineer at a state-owned company in the eastern city of Xuzhou. Two years ago he was arrested and sentenced to 16 months in jail for insulting the national leader and harming the national image on platforms like Twitter. He shared a cell with a large group and had to follow a strict routine, including toilet breaks. He and his wife lost their jobs, and he delivers meals to support his family.

“My life in the detention center reminded me of the book ‘1984,’” he said in an interview. “Many of the experiences are probably worse than the plots in the book.”

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NYSE to suspend trading of China’s Cnooc next month

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The New York Stock Exchange is to start delisting proceedings against China National Offshore Oil Corporation to comply with an executive order from Donald Trump that bans Americans from investing in companies with ties to the Chinese military.

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The NYSE on Friday said it would suspend trading in Cnooc’s American depository shares on March 9, after determining that the company was “no longer suitable for listing” following the order that the former US president signed in November.

The order banned investing in several dozen Chinese groups that were last year put on a Pentagon blacklist of companies that are accused of working with the People’s Liberation Army and threatening US security. Trump set a January 28 deadline for the ban to take effect, but President Joe Biden pushed the deadline back to May 27.

The NYSE move comes as Biden evaluates a number of assertive actions that Trump took against China during his last year in office. The commerce department last year put Cnooc on a separate blacklist — called the “entity list” — that makes it hard for US companies to sell products and technology to the Chinese oil group.

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The Biden administration has not made clear whether it intends to keep Trump’s executive order in place. But the new president and his officials have so far adopted a tough stance towards China over everything from its economic “coercion” to concerns about its clampdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong to the repression of more than 1m Uighur Muslims in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang.

Earlier this month, Biden used his first conversation with Chinese president Xi Jinping since assuming office to raise concerns about Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and aggressive Chinese actions towards Taiwan. Antony Blinken, secretary of state, also described the detention of Uighurs in labour camps as “genocide”.

Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, has said the administration was conducting a number of “complex reviews” of the China actions that Trump took. The former president put dozens of other Chinese companies on the Pentagon and commerce department blacklists, including Huawei, the Chinese telecoms equipment group.

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Tech giants make the internet their own

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When Facebook disabled Australians’ access to news articles on its platform and blocked sharing of articles from Australian news organizations, the company moved a step closer to killing the World Wide Web – the hyperlink-based system of freely connecting online sites created in 1989 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

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Though the social media giant has said it will return to the negotiating table and restore news for now, the company has shown its hand – and how it is continuing to reshape the web.

As a social media scholar, I see clearly that the internet in 2021 is not the same open public sphere that Berners-Lee envisioned. Rather, it is a constellation of powerful corporate platforms that have come to dominate how people use the internet, what information they get and who is able to profit from it.

Paying for news

The Australian government’s legislative efforts aim to support the news industry by helping to broker a deal whereby Facebook would pay Australian news organizations for content posted on its platform by users. Right now, Facebook isn’t required to pay for news in any way, and the company objected to this new potential cost of business.

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Berners-Lee warned the Australian government the proposed law could undermine free linking, which he called a “fundamental principle of the web.” Facebook’s own statement of self-defense focused on Berners-Lee’s argument, saying Facebook provides value to news organizations by linking to them. But their statements show that neither has acknowledged that Facebook has, for many people, effectively become the web.



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Indonesia Encourages Nuclear Diplomacy for the Interest of the People

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Thermal power stations, when discussing sustainable energy, logistical considerations and resource availability, have made nuclear power a popular choice for developed countries. GETTY IMAGES
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International cooperation in the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes needs to be continuously campaigned, it is intended to provide direct benefits for national development and orientation to the people’s welfare. This is an action that is in line with the vision of a national foreign policy launched by the Indonesian government.

Bilateral and multilateral diplomacy is directed at providing a concrete and direct impact on society in the form of increasing economic levels and supporting various strategic sectors of national development. This was conveyed by the Indonesian Ambassador to Austria and the United Nations, Darmansjah Djumala in the webinar of the Indonesian Nuclear Society/HIMNI with the theme “Grounding Nuclear Diplomacy”

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The webinar was attended by members of the Indonesian nuclear community (HIMNI), government agencies related to nuclear and the academic community of various universities.

“Currently there has been a paradigm shift in nuclear use in line with the expansion of the concept of security. Previously nuclear was understood only in the narrow (traditional) context of security, namely for weaponry purposes. Now nuclear applications are being developed in a broader context, namely the scope of security that is broader (non-traditional), namely to build various strategic sectors such as food security, energy security and a stronger economic foundation, “said Darmansjah Djumala, in his official statement, Friday (26/02/2021).

The Indonesian Ambassador to Austria and the United Nations, Darmansjah Djumala.

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“Indonesia’s active role in carrying out diplomacy on nuclear utilization cooperation is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),” he explained.

Through a down-to-earth diplomacy approach, Indonesia encourages IAEA cooperation with its member countries to be able to answer real challenges in various development sectors at the national level.

“The role of Indonesia’s leadership in the capacity of the Chairmanship of the IAEA Board of Governors in 2017-2018 has had a real impact on strengthening nuclear application technical cooperation which has a much greater priority than other IAEA technical programs that are supervisory in nature,” he explained.

 

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As is well known, Indonesia has benefited from this diplomacy of nuclear technical cooperation, in the form of mastery of technology and the ability to produce various research products for nuclear technology applications such as superior varieties of rice and soybeans that have the potential to strengthen national food security, radiopharma products for cancer treatment that can improve the quality of public health, providing irradiation services for food products that increase the competitiveness of national export products, to nuclear use for controlling the Aedes Aegypti mosquito population using sterile insect techniques.

Indonesia was appointed by the IAEA to host two Collaborating Centers in the field of plant mutation and non-destructive testing, which regularly provide training services for human resources in other countries under the support of the IAEA program. This training program is a form of South-South cooperation regulated in the Indonesia-IAEA Practical Arrangement since 2018.

“As a member country that has the ability to master nuclear technology, Indonesia contributes to assisting other member countries in utilizing technology that has been mastered, including by facilitating the development of human resource capacity for researchers from other countries through training, fellowships and scientific visits, as well as providing assistance in implementing technical cooperation projects. IAEA in other developing countries,” said Djumala.

It is necessary to note that Indonesia is currently supporting various new initiatives in the use of nuclear technology in the IAEA, such as becoming a pilot country for the plastic waste management program (NUTEC Plastic) and actively participating in collaborative networks for handling zoonotic (animal) diseases which have become new challenges in the century. -21.

All of the nuclear cooperation programs with the IAEA and fellow members that have been carried out so far are believed to be in line with the down-to-earth diplomacy strategy that provides direct benefits to the Indonesian people.

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Liberals and security hawks can find common green ground

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Defence hawks and liberal progressives do not typically make easy political bedfellows. And yet there is an issue where their interests may align almost perfectly: climate change.

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President Joe Biden has once again made this most pressing of global problems an American priority. Addressing it involves bolstering the resilience and security of energy infrastructure, improving skills training and education, investing in high-tech manufacturing, and moving business models away from “efficiency” and towards “resiliency”.

All of these things appeal to the type of leftwing voters who support Democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, populariser of the idea of a “Green New Deal”. But they also appeal to security-conscious conservatives worried about the rise of China. Both groups are interested in connecting the dots between sustainable energy, jobs, and economic and geopolitical security. What if there was common ground on how to do so?

That idea is being put forward by a group of Navy technologists and scholars who recently came up with a proposal for a national resilience strategy that builds on the overlapping interests of these two camps. It evokes some of the bipartisan co-operation that happened during the great-power competition of a half-century ago.

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In the run-up to the second world war, public and private sector actors worked together on economic strategy geared towards preparing for battle. Bill Knudsen, chairman of General Motors, was tapped by Franklin Roosevelt to lead the retooling of civilian industry for wartime production. The production lines that were created not only helped win the war but also increased productivity and bolstered growth and competitiveness in the postwar period.

In the wake of a new geopolitical challenge from China, pandemic-related supply chain shortages, and increasing fallout from climate change, Republicans and Democrats alike fear that decades of focus on economic efficiency rather than resiliency has left the US ill-prepared to cope with national disaster.

At the same time, clean energy presents the clearest path to a more sustainable economic model. History has shown that productivity and jobs tend to grow in tandem when government underwrites private sector involvement in a new, paradigm-shifting technology — like railroads, or the internet.

The transition to clean energy is the obvious opportunity today, and it is not only environmentalists who think so. Defence officials would love to see the US lead in areas such as lithium battery technology, which powers clean cars and unmanned military vehicles. That would require investments in the kinds of high-tech research and development and worker training programmes that progressives advocate for. It might also require protecting domestic supply chains in strategic areas such as computers and electric cars. Last week, Biden signed an executive order mandating a review of where the US obtains semiconductors, rare-earth minerals, large capacity batteries and some pharmaceuticals.

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Such measures could create new middle-class jobs, something that both sides are interested in. Progressives have ideological reasons: they want to see the balance between capital and labour tip more towards the latter; defence hawks see national security and economic security as indivisible. “We look at diplomacy, the military, the economy and information as different elements of national power,” says Jeff Kline, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. “You can’t separate them.”

While conservative, such a view reflects the kind of political realism espoused by military theorists such as Carl von Clausewitz rather than the laissez-faire economics of David Ricardo. It’s also tracks the enthusiasm for industrial policy and stakeholder capitalism increasingly espoused by parts of the pro-labour left and the security-conscious right.

Defence scholars have long been fans of economic resiliency. But the 2008 financial crisis, the Covid pandemic and a number of smaller crises have convinced people across the political spectrum that the public and private sector need to work more closely together. The goals include re-mooring wealth and prosperity in local communities and solving the most complex — and potentially rewarding — problems of the day.

Imagine a national dialogue in which business leaders, security experts, educators, labour advocates and others came together to find ways to transition to clean energy, while also bolstering jobs, security and relationships with allies. They would want to explore how the public sector could best send signals to private investors to enable funding to flow to the right places. The discussion should encompass how best to connect the needs of job creators and educators of a 21st-century workforce.

The challenge would be national. But given the size and diversity of the US, solutions should be local, coming from the ground up and by necessity involving individuals from all over the political spectrum. “The overlap between social priorities and defence priorities is actually quite compelling,” says Garth Jensen, director of innovation at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Maryland. After years of division, perhaps America can find some productive common ground.

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rana.foroohar@ft.com

 



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China leaves Pope without power to choose bishops

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A September 2018 agreement between China and the Vatican on selecting Roman Catholic bishops in China may not be as historic as it was described when announced.

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The way the government of President Xi Jinping views it, nothing really changed.

The accord was supposed to end decades of disagreement between the church and Beijing by making the appointment of bishops a joint decision of the Pope and Chinese authorities. A few days after the accord was reached, the Pope declared the agreement a breakthrough. He told reporters: “What is there is a dialogue on potential candidates, but Rome nominates, the Pope nominates, that’s clear.”

Instead, regulations issued this month by China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs make no mention of a papal role. Only state agencies, including the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, are involved.

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This appears to be a direct slap at Pope Francis, who extended the agreement last September for another two years. The Vatican has yet to react to the latest news from Beijing.



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