Beijing no longer requires COVID test results to enter supermarkets, buildings

A woman gets tested at a nucleic acid testing site, as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreaks continue in Shanghai, China, December 5, 2022. (REUTERS)
A woman gets tested at a nucleic acid testing site, as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreaks continue in Shanghai, China, December 5, 2022. (REUTERS)
Short Url
Updated 06 December 2022

Beijing no longer requires COVID test results to enter supermarkets, buildings

Beijing no longer requires COVID test results to enter supermarkets, buildings

BEIJING: China’s capital Beijing no longer requires people that enter supermarkets and commercial buildings to show negative COVID-19 tests on their mobile phones, the city government said in a statement on Tuesday.
However, the city still requires negative test results to enter Internet cafes, schools, bars, KTV lounges, indoor gyms and elderly care institutions.

 


UK officials who oversaw funding of extremist Muslim groups must be sacked: counterterrorism expert

UK officials who oversaw funding of extremist Muslim groups must be sacked: counterterrorism expert
Updated 11 min 46 sec ago

UK officials who oversaw funding of extremist Muslim groups must be sacked: counterterrorism expert

UK officials who oversaw funding of extremist Muslim groups must be sacked: counterterrorism expert
  • Report: Prevent program provided millions to controversial organizations

LONDON: UK Prevent program officials who have overseen the public funding of Muslim groups that promote extremism should be sacked, a counterterrorism expert has said in The Times newspaper.

Prof. Ian Acheson, a senior adviser to the Counter Extremism Project, which contributed to the long-delayed Shawcross review of the government’s anti-extremism Prevent program due to be released this week, called for a stricter approach to Muslim groups that “undermine social cohesion.”

The review, led by William Shawcross, is expected to criticize Prevent for using its $48 million fund to provide money to controversial groups, ostensibly to support religious and community moderation in the UK.

Acheson, a former prison governor who published a review of Islamist extremism in UK jails in 2016, criticized Prevent’s “mission creep,” arguing that “‘securitizing’ growing numbers of young people for thoughts that will not translate into actions is a waste of time and scarce resources.”

He cited statistics showing that despite a surge in referrals in recent years — including 2,127 boys classed as “vulnerable” — a majority of terror attacks in the UK since the program’s launch were carried out by individuals known to the program.

Acheson wrote in The Times: “There will be huge concern at the Home Office with Shawcross detailing how Prevent funding has been given to those who have used it to undermine the effectiveness of the program.

“Inexplicably we lag behind other European governments — Austria for one example — who take a much dimmer view of non-violent Islamist groups who undermine social cohesion. Delegitimizing our counterterror strategy is an article of faith with some of these groups.

“We need to trace these funding decisions right back to the officials who made them.

“There must be accountability, if only on behalf of the huge numbers of British Muslims in this country who are wrongly associated with those who preach division and attack moderate Islam.

“We need to return to fundamentals here: Prevent exists to stop terrorists in the making — prioritizing stopping harm — not to provide a creche for an ever-widening cohort of disaffected young adults.

“Shawcross has done the state some service at some cost to his reputation, maligned by some figures. Politicians must not let him down.”


British workers stage largest strike in history of health service

British workers stage largest strike in history of health service
Updated 06 February 2023

British workers stage largest strike in history of health service

British workers stage largest strike in history of health service
  • Biggest strike in 75-year history of National Health Service
  • Government urges workers to call off walkouts

LONDON: Health workers in Britain began their largest strike on Monday, as tens of thousands of nurses and ambulance workers walk out in an escalating pay dispute, putting further strain on the state-run National Health Service (NHS).
Nurses and ambulance workers have been striking separately on and off since late last year but Monday’s walkout involving both, largely in England, is the biggest in the 75-year history of the NHS.
Nurses will also strike on Tuesday, while ambulance staff will walk out on Friday and physiotherapists on Thursday, making the week probably the most disruptive in NHS history, its Medical Director Stephen Powis said.
Health workers are demanding a pay rise that reflects the worst inflation in Britain in four decades, while the government says that would be unaffordable and cause more price rises, and in turn, make interest rates and mortgage payments rise.
Around 500,000 workers, many from the public sector, have been staging strikes since last summer, adding to pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to resolve the disputes and limit disruption to public services such as railways and schools.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) trade union wrote to Sunak over the weekend asking him to bring the nursing strike “to a swift close” by making “meaningful” pay offers.
“We’ve got one of the busiest winters we have ever had with record levels of funding going into the NHS to try and manage services,” Maria Caulfield, the minister for mental health and women’s health strategy, told Sky News on Monday.
“So every percent of a pay increase takes money away.”
The government has urged people to continue to access emergency services and attend appointments during the strikes unless they had been canceled but said patients would face disruption and delays.
NURSES LEAVING
The NHS, a source of pride for most Britons, is under extreme pressure with millions of patients on waiting lists for operations and thousands each month failing to receive prompt emergency care.
The RCN says a decade of poor pay has contributed to tens of thousands of nurses leaving the profession — 25,000 over just the last year — with the severe staffing shortages impacting patient care.
The RCN initially asked for a pay rise of 5 percent above inflation and has since said it could meet the government “half way,” but both sides have failed to reach agreement despite weeks of talks.
Meanwhile, thousands of ambulance workers represented by the GMB and Unite trade unions are set to strike on Monday in their own pay dispute. Both unions have announced several more days of industrial action.
Not all ambulance workers will strike at once and emergency calls will be attended to.
In Wales, nurses and some ambulance workers have called off strikes planned for Monday as they review pay offers from the Welsh government.
Sunak said in a TalkTV interview last week he would “love to give the nurses a massive pay rise” but said the government faced tough choices and that it was funding the NHS in other areas such as by providing medical equipment and ambulances.


Hong Kong’s largest national security trial opens

Hong Kong’s largest national security trial opens
Updated 06 February 2023

Hong Kong’s largest national security trial opens

Hong Kong’s largest national security trial opens
  • Rights groups and observers say the trial illustrates how the legal system is being used to crush what remains of the opposition
  • The trial is being heard in an open court but without a jury, a departure from the city’s common law tradition
HONGKONG: Hong Kong’s largest national security trial opened Monday with dozens of pro-democracy figures accused of trying to topple the government in a case critics say reflects the criminalization of dissent in the Chinese territory.
The 47 defendants, who include some of the city’s most prominent activists, face up to life in prison if convicted.
Sixteen have pleaded not guilty to charges of “conspiracy to commit subversion” over an unofficial primary election.
The other 31 have pleaded guilty and will be sentenced after the trial.
A rare, small protest erupted before the court convened, despite the large police presence.
One man was seen raising his fist in solidarity.
The defendants maintain they are being persecuted for routine politics, while rights groups and observers say the trial illustrates how the legal system is being used to crush what remains of the opposition.
Most of the group have already spent nearly two years behind bars.
They now face proceedings expected to last more than four months, overseen by judges handpicked by the government.
The case is the largest to date under the national security law, which China imposed on Hong Kong after huge democracy protests in 2019 brought tear gas and police brawls onto the streets of the Asian financial hub.
Wielded against students, unionists and journalists, the law has transformed the once-outspoken city.
More than 100 people had queued outside the court, some overnight, hoping to see the trial begin on Monday.
Chan Po-ying, a veteran campaigner and wife of defendant “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, joined supporters carrying a banner that read “Crackdown is shameless” and “Immediately release all political prisoners.”
“This is political persecution,” she said outside the court.
Inside, Leung repeated his not-guilty plea, adding: “Resisting tyranny is not a crime.”
Those on trial represent a cross-section of Hong Kong’s opposition — including activists Joshua Wong and Lester Shum, professor Benny Tai and former lawmakers Claudia Mo and Au Nok-hin.
Most — 34 out of 47 — have been denied bail, while the few released from custody must abide by strict conditions, including speech restrictions.
Families of the accused have called these measures “social death.”
The group was jointly charged in March 2021 after organizing an unofficial primary a year earlier.
Their stated aim was to win a majority in the city’s legislature, which would allow them to push the protesters’ demands and potentially force the resignation of Hong Kong’s leader.
According to prosecutors, this was tantamount to trying to bring down the government.
“This case involves a group of activists who conspired together and with others to plan, organize and participate in seriously interfering in, disrupting or undermining (the government)... with a view to subverting the State power,” the prosecution said in its opening statement.
More than 610,000 people — about one-seventh of the city’s voting population — cast ballots in the primary. Shortly afterwards, Beijing brought in a new political system that strictly vetted who could stand for office.
The case has attracted international criticism, and diplomats from 12 countries including the United States, Britain, Australia and France were seen at the court Monday.
“This is a retaliation against all the Hong Kongers who supported the pro-democratic camp,” Eric Lai, a fellow of Georgetown University’s Center for Asian Law, told AFP of the trial.
“Beijing will go all out — even weaponizing the laws and court — to make sure democratic politics in Hong Kong cannot go beyond the lines it drew.”
The trial is being heard in an open court but without a jury, a departure from the city’s common law tradition.
“It is as if the national security law is now the new constitution for Hong Kong and the judges are playing their role in making sure that happens,” said Dennis Kwok, Hong Kong’s former legal sector legislator.
Weeks before the hearing began, Hong Kong’s Chief Justice Andrew Cheung defended the courts against accusations of politicization.
“Whilst inevitably the court’s decision may sometimes have a political impact, this does not mean the court has made a political decision,” Cheung said.

China accuses US of indiscriminate use of force over balloon

China accuses US of indiscriminate use of force over balloon
Updated 06 February 2023

China accuses US of indiscriminate use of force over balloon

China accuses US of indiscriminate use of force over balloon

BEIJING: China on Monday accused the United States of indiscriminate use of force when the American military shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon Saturday, saying that had “seriously impacted and damaged both sides’ efforts and progress in stabilizing Sino-US relations.”
The US shot down a balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military sites across North America. China insisted the flyover was an accident involving a civilian aircraft.
Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng said he lodged a formal complaint with the US Embassy on Sunday over the “US attack on a Chinese civilian unmanned airship by military force.”
“However, the United States turned a deaf ear and insisted on indiscriminate use of force against the civilian airship that was about to leave the United States airspace, which obviously overreacted and seriously violated the spirit of international law and international practice,” Xie said.
The presence of the balloon in the skies above the US dealt a severe blow to already strained US-Chinese relations that have been in a downward spiral for years. It prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to abruptly cancel a high-stakes Beijing trip aimed at easing tensions.
Xie repeated China’s insistence that the balloon was a Chinese civil unmanned airship that blew into US mistake, calling it “an accidental incident caused by force majeure.”
China would “resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies, resolutely safeguard China’s interests and dignity and reserve the right to make further necessary responses,” he said.
US President Joe Biden issued the shootdown order after he was advised that the best times for the operation would be when it was over water, US officials said. Military officials determined that bringing down the balloon over land from an altitude of 60,000 feet (18,000 meters) would pose an undue risk to people on the ground.
“What the US has done has seriously impacted and damaged both sides’ efforts and progress in stabilizing Sino-US relations since the Bali meeting,” Xie said, referring to the recent meeting between Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Indonesia that many hoped would create positive momentum for improving ties that have spiraled to their lowest level in years.
The sides are at odds over a range of issues from trade to human rights, but Beijing is most sensitive over alleged violations by the US and others of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Beijing strongly protests military sales to Taiwan and visits by foreign politicians to the island, which it claims as Chinese territory to be recovered by force if necessary.
It reacted to a 2022 visit by then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by firing missiles over the island and staging threatening military drills seen as a rehearsal for an invasion or blockade. Beijing also cut off discussion with the US on issues including climate change that are unrelated to military tensions.
Last week, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson warned Pelosi’s successor, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, not to travel Taiwan, implying China’s response would be equally vociferous.
“China will firmly defend its sovereignty, security and development interests,” Mao Ning said. McCarthy said China had no right to dictate where and when he could travel.
China also objects when foreign military surveillance planes fly off its coast in international airspace and when US and other foreign warships pass through the Taiwan Strait, accusing them of being actively provocative.
In 2001, a US Navy plane conducting routine surveillance near the Chinese coast collided with a Chinese fighter plane, killing the Chinese fighter pilot and damaging the American plane, which was forced to make an emergency landing at a China naval air base on the southern Chinese island province of Hainan.
China detained the 24-member US Navy aircrew for 10 days until the US expressed regret over the Chinese pilot’s death and for landing at the base without permission.
The South China Sea is another major source of tension. China claims the strategically key sea virtually in its entirety and protests when US Navy ships sail past Chinese military features there.
At a news conference Friday with his South Korean counterpart, Blinken said “the presence of this surveillance balloon over the United States in our skies is a clear violation of our sovereignty, a clear violation of international law, and clearly unacceptable. And we’ve made that clear to China.”
“Any country that has its airspace violated in this way I think would respond similarly, and I can only imagine what the reaction would be in China if they were on the other end,” Blinken said.
China’s weather balloon excuse should be dismissed outright, said Oriana Skylar Mastro, an expert on Chinese military affairs and foreign policy at Stanford University.
“This is like a standard thing that countries often say about surveillance assets,” Mastro said.
China may have made a mistake and lost control of the balloon, but is was unlikely to have been a deliberate attempt to disrupt Blinken’s visit, Mastro said.
For the US administration, the decision to go public and then shoot down the balloon marks a break from its usual approach of dealing with Beijing on such matters privately, possibly in hopes of changing China’s future behavior.
However, Mastro said, it was unlikely that Beijing would respond positively.
“They’re probably going to dismiss that and continue on as things have been. So I don’t see a really clear pathway to improved relations in the foreseeable future.”


Landmark Hong Kong national security trial starts 2 years after arrests

Landmark Hong Kong national security trial starts 2 years after arrests
Updated 06 February 2023

Landmark Hong Kong national security trial starts 2 years after arrests

Landmark Hong Kong national security trial starts 2 years after arrests
  • The 31 who pleaded guilty, including former law professor Benny Tai and activist Joshua Wong, will be sentenced after the trial
  • Western governments have criticized the 2020 national security law as a tool to crush dissent in the former British colony

HONG KONG: Sixteen Hong Kong pro-democracy figures face trial on Monday, more than two years after their arrest, in what some observers say is a landmark case for the city’s judicial independence under a national security law imposed by Beijing.
The defendants are those who pleaded not guilty out of 47 arrested in a dawn raid in January 2021 and charged with conspiracy to commit subversion for participating in an unofficial primary election in 2020.
Thirteen of those arrested were granted bail in 2021, while the other 34 — including 10 who pleaded not guilty — have been in pre-trial custody on national security grounds.
Western governments have criticized the 2020 national security law as a tool to crush dissent in the former British colony. Chinese and Hong Kong authorities say the law, which punishes subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism with up to life in prison, has brought stability to the Asian financial hub after huge pro-democracy protests in 2019.
Prosecutors have described the primary election — held to select the strongest candidates to contest an upcoming legislative election — as a “vicious plot” to subvert the government and to wreak “mutual destruction” on the city by taking control of the city’s parliament.
The lengthy, high-profile case has drawn international criticism, as government prosecutors repeatedly requested more time to prepare legal documents and gather more evidence.
“This trial is not simply a trial against the 47 opposition leaders but also a trial for the population who has been supporting the pro-democracy movement for decades,” Eric Lai, a fellow at Georgetown Center for Asian Law in Washington, told Reuters.
The trial is expected to last 90 days, with three defendants expected to testify against the others, prosecutors say.
Those who have pleaded not guilty include former journalist Gwyneth Ho, activist Owen Chow, former lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, and labor unionist Winnie Yu.
“The actual people who need to go on trial are absolutely not us,” Chow wrote on his Facebook page in September. “We’re not guilty at all.”
The 31 who pleaded guilty, including former law professor Benny Tai and activist Joshua Wong, will be sentenced after the trial.
Among a number of departures from established common law procedures, Secretary for Justice Paul Lam refused the defendants a jury trial. The case will be heard by three High Court judges designated under the national security law: Andrew Chan, Alex Lee and Johnny Chan.
Pretrial proceedings were largely kept out of the public eye until Judge Lee agreed to lift reporting restrictions in August.