After Jeddah summit, Ukraine’s peace formula only way forward, says Kyiv’s FM Dmytro Kuleba

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Updated 16 August 2023

After Jeddah summit, Ukraine’s peace formula only way forward, says Kyiv’s FM Dmytro Kuleba

After Jeddah summit, Ukraine’s peace formula only way forward, says Kyiv’s FM Dmytro Kuleba
  • Ukraine’s top diplomat says the world is moving towards a global peace summit
  • Commends Saudi Arabia’s “constructive role in international politics”
  • Says the Global South has suffered as a result of Russian aggression

RIYADH: The world is moving closer to a peace summit, but an end to the conflict with Russia can only be achieved if Ukraine’s peace plan is adhered to, Dmytro Kuleba, the Ukrainian minister of foreign affairs, has told Arab News.

In an exclusive interview, conducted via Zoom, Kuleba said it was “premature” to discuss specific locations or dates for a global summit, but said the dialogue is moving in the right direction — provided the Ukrainian peace formula is implemented.

Senior officials from 42 countries met in Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah on August 5 and 6 in an attempt to draft key principles on ending war with Russia. The summit followed a similar forum in Copenhagen, Denmark, earlier this summer.

“Following the meeting in Jeddah, I can conclude that we’re definitely moving in that direction at a good pace and this is going to happen,” Kuleba said. “We are working hard with Saudi Arabia and other countries involved in arranging this summit, proposed by Ukraine.

“And the deliverable of this summit is very clear — that the peace formula of Ukraine, which is a comprehensive way to solve the conflict, will deliver, and all of the issues covered by this peace formula will begin to be implemented.

“This is the only way forward based on the UN Charter and international law.”

Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, has said he is hopeful that the diplomatic initiative will lead to a peace summit of world leaders in the autumn to endorse the principles, based on his own 10-point formula for a settlement.

He first presented the blueprint at the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, last November.

“Following the meeting in Jeddah, I can conclude that we’re definitely moving in that direction at a good pace and this is going to happen,” Kuleba said. (SPA)

It covered nuclear safety, food and energy security, the release of prisoners, the restoration of territory, the cessation of hostilities, accountability for war crimes, environmental safety, the prevention of future aggression, and confirmation of war’s end.

For its part, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova recently commented that Moscow appreciated the “mediating and humanitarian initiatives” of friends of Russia, but reiterated her country’s rejection of Ukraine’s “peace formula.”

“By promoting Zelensky’s formula, the Kiev regime and the West are attempting to belittle the great importance of peace initiatives proposed by other countries and to monopolize the right to their advancement,” she told a press conference last week. 

The Jeddah meeting concluded without a closing press conference, but the Kingdom has maintained its desire to serve as a neutral intermediary between Russia and Ukraine. On Tuesday, the Saudi Cabinet described the Jeddah summit as a continuation of the Crown Prince’s initiatives and efforts to contribute to the achievement of a lasting peace and reducing the impact and humanitarian impact of the crisis.

At the Copenhagen meeting in June, Ukraine’s demand that all Russian troops withdraw before peace talks could start was seen by some participating countries as an unrealistic demand.

Russia, which controls swathes of Ukrainian territory, including Crimea and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk, has said any negotiations need to take into account the “new territorial realities.”

Asked whether this means the positions of the two nations are irreconcilable, Kuleba said Ukraine had “truth” on its side.

“From all perspectives, legal and political and economic and also historical, Russia must respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders,” he said.

“Its borders were recognized by Russia, as well as by the rest of the world, including Saudi Arabia and other countries. So the difference between our position and the position of Russia is that our position is legitimate and the Russian position is illegitimate.

Assistant Editor in Chief of Arab News Noor Nugali spoke with Ukraine’s Dmytro Kuleba in an exclusive interview. (AN photo)

“And the truth in this case is on our side. So why should we not be pursuing the truth?”

Commenting on the Jeddah summit, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had said “any attempt to promote a peaceful settlement deserves a positive evaluation.”

Asked whether this was a sign that Russia might be open to alternative avenues to peace, Kuleba said Kyiv does not trust Moscow’s words — only actions.

“I think it would be premature and naive to make any conclusions from one comment of the spokesperson of President Putin,” said Kuleba.

“On different occasions, not only him but also other senior Russian officials have stated that the Russian aggression against Ukraine will continue until Russia meets the objectives of this aggression.

“So, we do not trust Russian words. We want to see specific Russian actions and deeds on the ground to draw a conclusion that they are willing to restore peace. As of now, this does not seem to be the case.”

Arab News reached out to the Russian Embassy for comment, but was unsuccessful.

Kuleba acknowledged the prominent role Saudi Arabia has played in efforts to resolve the Ukraine crisis, starting from the prisoner swap it brokered in September 2022 to Zelensky’s address to the Arab League in Jeddah in May this year and, most recently, as the host of this month’s summit.

“I believe Saudi Arabia has been playing a very constructive role in the matters related to the Russian aggression against Ukraine,” he said.

"When Russia unlawfully attacked Ukraine and installed the blockade of Ukrainian sea export of grain. This was illegal and unlawful, by definition,” Kuleba said. (AP)

“We understand that your leadership has recognized an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to play a truly global, constructive role in international politics.

“And I can only commend the vision and the leadership of your country in these matters because to solve global problems, you need global ambition. Saudi Arabia has clearly demonstrated that it has the ambition.

“As a result, it has also demonstrated it has the capacity to deliver, which can only be welcomed and commended.”

Ukrainian officials have lately shifted their diplomatic emphasis toward building support beyond Kyiv’s core Western backers by reaching out to the countries of the Global South.

Commenting on why Ukraine suddenly views the Global South as such an important constituency, Kuleba said many of these nations had suffered as a result of Russia’s aggression.

“Although the Russian aggression against Ukraine takes place in Europe, it has global repercussions and it’s the countries of the Middle East, of Asia, of Africa, of South America, who feel the consequences of the Russian aggression,” said Kuleba.

“This is why it is important to have all of these countries on board in a joint effort to end this conflict, to ease pressure on our economies, on global food security and, of course, to restore respect for international law, which is in everyone’s interest.”

Asked whether he believes nations like Turkiye, India, Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil and even China have sufficient incentives or influence to convince the Kremlin to change course, Kuleba said it would be a gradual process, but one that is moving in the right direction.

“If I look at the list of the countries who took part in the similar meeting of national security advisers and representatives of foreign ministries in Copenhagen slightly more than a month ago, and then at the follow-up meeting in Jeddah, I see that the number of countries participating is growing — including China, who joined the format for the first time — which speaks for the very simple fact that they do see value and their incentive is growing,” he said.

“It doesn’t happen in a day but the overall dynamics of this process is positive. And I would like to once again thank Saudi Arabia for playing a very constructive role in helping other countries to join the process and to realize their interests in this process.”

Kuleba said it was the collective voice of the Global South, as opposed to individual nations, that would ultimately bring Russia to the table.

(Saudi Arabia) has the capacity to deliver, which can only be welcomed and commended, Kuleba said. (AFP)

“If you take China, they enjoy a special relationship with Russia,” he said. “If you take Turkiye, they have a very deep relationship with Russia. If you take Saudi Arabia, you can say the same.

“So, perhaps every country acting on its own doesn’t have a sufficient amount of energy that could make Russia change its position. But if you take all of these countries together, the cumulative effect on Russia can be a game changer.

“And that is the purpose, to bring together everyone who is willing to change the situation for the good. Because together we can stop this war, we can implement a peace formula and restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity, in the interests of the entire international community.”

There are nevertheless concerns among countries of the Global South about jeopardizing ties with Russia by siding with Ukraine. Indeed, even NATO itself seems unsure of how far to go in antagonizing Russia, refusing to offer a clear path for Ukraine to join the military alliance.

“I think these are two separate tracks,” said Kuleba. “Ukraine is steadily moving toward its integration into the EU and NATO for economic and security reasons. This is a very natural choice for our country, given our history and geography.

“Countries of the Global South have lost a lot as a result of the Russian aggression against our country. But this has nothing to do with our aspirations to become members of the EU or NATO.

“What countries of Asia, Africa, Middle East and South America want to see are stable global food markets, prospects of trade with Ukraine, and tapping the full potential of education for their students in Ukraine. All of these functioned perfectly before Russia attacked.

“So, I don’t have the impression that the countries of the world see the situation through the prism of Ukraine’s regional interests, which are about close integration with the EU and NATO.”

Ukraine appears to view Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative in July as an issue with which it could possibly rally support from the Global South.

Ukraine and Russia are among the world’s top grain exporters. The grain deal was brokered by the UN and Turkiye in July 2022 to help combat a global food crisis that had been worsened by the invasion.

Ukraine’s army is attempting to regain swathes of territory, including Crimea and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk, which Russia now controls. (AP)

Russia said not enough grain had reached poor countries under the terms of the deal — a claim disputed by the UN. Moscow also felt that the part of the deal allowing for greater Russian agricultural exports was not being honored by the West owing to sanctions.

Responding to the Kremlin’s argument, Kuleba said Russia has no right to demand preferential terms amid a crisis of its own making.

“We have to go back to February 2022, when Russia unlawfully attacked Ukraine and installed the blockade of Ukrainian sea export of grain. This was illegal and unlawful, by definition,” he said.

“So, when Russia tries to bargain something for itself as a result of its own illegal actions, we cannot talk about accommodating Russia’s legitimate concerns and interests under these circumstances.

“Russia created the problem, and it has to make every effort to solve this problem, instead of trying to keep the blockade of Ukrainian ports, and while trying to secure its own interests in global affairs. This is just not how it works.

“If this kind of Russian behavior is tolerated, then other actors across the globe will be tempted to follow suit, to create problems and then try to solve these problems at the expense of others instead of just removing the initial reason — the fundamental reason for the problems that we all are facing.”

• Noor Nugali is the assistant editor in chief of Arab News

ASEAN says ‘deeply concerned’ over escalating Myanmar violence

ASEAN says ‘deeply concerned’ over escalating Myanmar violence
Updated 35 sec ago

ASEAN says ‘deeply concerned’ over escalating Myanmar violence

ASEAN says ‘deeply concerned’ over escalating Myanmar violence
  • ASEAN foreign ministers urge ‘all parties for an immediate cessation of violence’ in Myanmar
BANGKOK: Regional bloc ASEAN said it is “deeply concerned” about a recent upsurge in fighting in Myanmar, after fierce clashes over a key trading hub near the Thai border.
The foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations urged “all parties for an immediate cessation of violence” in Myanmar, which has been roiled by conflict since the military seized power in a February 2021 coup.
The ministers’ statement issued late Thursday said ASEAN was “deeply concerned over the recent escalation of conflicts, including in the area of Myawaddy.”
The military was last week forced to pull its troops out of positions in the valuable trading post after days of battling with the Karen National Union (KNU) — a long-established ethnic minority armed group — and other anti-junta fighters.
It was the latest blow suffered by the junta, which has suffered a string of battlefield losses in recent months, with some analysts warning it is its most significant threat to date.
Myawaddy is Myanmar’s main trade link to Thailand, and usually sees over a billion dollars worth of trade annually.
The clashes saw people flee across the border into Thailand — from where gunfire and the boom of artillery barrages could be heard.
Thailand has said it is ready to receive people from Myanmar, though the kingdom’s foreign minister warned it would not tolerate any violation of its sovereignty.

India starts voting in the world’s largest election as Modi seeks third term as PM

India starts voting in the world’s largest election as Modi seeks third term as PM
Updated 6 min 4 sec ago

India starts voting in the world’s largest election as Modi seeks third term as PM

India starts voting in the world’s largest election as Modi seeks third term as PM
  • Nearly 970 million voters will elect 543 members to lower house of Parliament 
  • The staggered elections will run until June 1, votes will be counted on June 4

NEW DELHI: Millions of Indians began voting Friday in a six-week election that’s a referendum on Narendra Modi, the populist prime minister who has championed an assertive brand of Hindu nationalist politics and is seeking a rare third term as the country’s leader.
The voters began queuing up at polling stations hours before they were allowed in at 7 a.m. in the first 21 states to hold votes, from the Himalayan mountains to the tropical Andaman Islands. Nearly 970 million voters — more than 10 percent of the world’s population — will elect 543 members to the lower house of Parliament for five years during the staggered elections that run until June 1. The votes will be counted on June 4.
One voter said she came early to avoid the summer heat later in the day.
Prime Minister Modi urged people to vote in record numbers. “I particularly call upon the young and first-time voters to vote in large numbers. After all, every vote counts and every voice matters!” he said in a message on the social media platform X.
This election is seen as one of the most consequential in India’s history and will test the limits of Modi’s political dominance.
If Modi wins, he’ll be only the second Indian leader to retain power for a third term, after Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister.
Most polls predict a win for Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, who are up against a broad opposition alliance led by the Indian National Congress and powerful regional parties.
It’s not clear who will lead India if the opposition alliance, called INDIA, wins the election. Its more than 20 parties have not put forward a candidate, saying they will choose one after the results are known.
The BJP is facing the toughest challenge in southern Tamil Nadu state with 39 seats where the voting is being held on Friday. The BJP drew a blank in 2019 and won one seat in the 2014 elections with the region dominated by two powerful regional groups, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
Modi focussed on the state this time and visited it more than a dozen times, holding several rallies and roadshows.
P. Chidambaram, an opposition Congress party leader and the country’s former finance minister, said after voting in Tamil Nadu state that people would not vote for the BJP in the state as “It is imposing one language, one culture, one system and one kind of food.”
The voting also is taking place in the northeastern state of Manipur that was ravaged by a near-civil war for a year caused by fighting between the majority Meitei and tribal Kuki-Zo people. Mobs have rampaged through villages and torched houses.
The election authority has set up voting stations for nearly 320 relief camps where more than 59,000 men, women and children are living. The state stands divided between a valley controlled by the Meiteis and the Kuki-dominated hills.
More than 150 people were killed and over 60,000 displaced. The voting for two seats will be completed on April 26.
In the 2019 elections, the BJP and its allies had won 39 of 102 seats where the voting is taking place on Friday. These include Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and West Bengal states.
The election comes after a decade of Modi’s leadership, during which the BJP has consolidated power through a combination of Hindu-first politics and economic development.
Modi has ratcheted up Hindu nationalist rhetoric on the campaign trail, and has sought to present himself as a global leader. His ministers tout him as the steward of a surging India, while his supporters celebrate his campaign promise to make India a developed nation by 2047, when it marks 100 years of independence.
But while India’s economy is among the world’s fastest-growing, many of its people face growing economic distress. The opposition alliance is hoping to tap into this, seeking to galvanize voters on issues like high unemployment, inflation, corruption and low agricultural prices that have driven two years of farmers’ protests.
Critics warn that Modi has turned increasingly illiberal and that he could use a third term to undermine India’s democracy. His Hindu nationalist politics, they argue, has bred intolerance and threatens the country’s secular roots.
The alliance has promised to arrest the democratic slide it says India has witnessed under Modi’s rule. They accuse Modi of sidelining elected ministers in favor of trusted bureaucrats and using tax authorities and the police to harass critics and opposition parties.
“Modi has a very authoritarian mindset. He doesn’t believe in democracy. He doesn’t believe in Parliamentarianism,” said Christophe Jaffrelot, who has written about Modi and the Hindu right.
Modi insists that India’s commitment to democracy is unchanged. He told a Summit for Democracy meeting in New Delhi in March that ‘“India is not only fulfilling the aspirations of its 1.4 billion people, but is also providing hope to the world that democracy delivers and empowers.’’
The Indian leader enjoys vast popularity among India’s 1.4 billion people. His BJP dominates in Hindi-speaking northern and central parts of India, and is now trying to gain a foothold in the east and south to capture a two-thirds majority. Modi and other BJP candidates have repeatedly vowed to take at least 400 seats.
The party hopes for a landslide win powered by its popular welfare programs, which it says have improved access to clean toilets, health care and cooking gas, as well as providing free grain to the poor. Moves like the construction of a controversial temple to Ram on the site of a demolished mosque, and the scrapping of the disputed Muslim-majority region of Kashmir’s former autonomy, may resonate with supporters who hail him as the champion of the Hindu majority.
“Any party that comes back for a third term, and with a brute majority, is a scary prospect for democracy,” said Arati Jerath, a political commentator.
Modi’s two terms have seen civil liberties in India come under attack and it implementing what critics say are discriminatory policies. Peaceful protests have been crushed with force. A once free and diverse press is threatened, violence is on the rise against the Muslim minority, and government agencies have arrested opposition politicians in alleged corruption cases.
The BJP has denied its policies are discriminatory and says its work benefits all Indians.

Once a fringe Indian ideology, Hindu nationalism is now mainstream, thanks to Modi’s decade in power

Once a fringe Indian ideology, Hindu nationalism is now mainstream, thanks to Modi’s decade in power
Updated 19 April 2024

Once a fringe Indian ideology, Hindu nationalism is now mainstream, thanks to Modi’s decade in power

Once a fringe Indian ideology, Hindu nationalism is now mainstream, thanks to Modi’s decade in power
  • While Mahatma Gandhi preached Hindu-Muslim unity a few decades earlier, the RSS advocated for transforming India into a Hindu nation
  • RSS, which stands for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is paramilitary, right-wing group founded nearly a century ago
  • Modi joined the political wing of the RSS in the late 1960s in their home state, Gujarat, when he was a teenager

AHMEDABAD, India: Hindu nationalism, once a fringe ideology in India, is now mainstream. Nobody has done more to advance this cause than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, one of India’s most beloved and polarizing political leaders.

And no entity has had more influence on his political philosophy and ambitions than a paramilitary, right-wing group founded nearly a century ago and known as the RSS.
“We never imagined that we would get power in such a way,” said Ambalal Koshti, 76, who says he first brought Modi into the political wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the late 1960s in their home state, Gujarat.
Modi was a teenager. Like other young men — and even boys — who joined, he would learn to march in formation, fight, meditate and protect their Hindu homeland.
A few decades earlier, while Mahatma Gandhi preached Hindu-Muslim unity, the RSS advocated for transforming India — by force, if necessary — into a Hindu nation. (A former RSS worker would fire three bullets into Gandhi’s chest in 1948, killing him months after India gained independence.)
Modi’s spiritual and political upbringing from the RSS is the driving force, experts say, in everything he’s done as prime minister over the past 10 years, a period that has seen India become a global power and the world’s fifth-largest economy.
At the same time, his rule has seen brazen attacks against minorities — particularly Muslims — from hate speech to lynchings. India’s democracy, critics say, is faltering as the press, political opponents and courts face growing threats. And Modi has increasingly blurred the line between religion and state.
At 73, Modi is campaigning for a third term in a general election, which starts Friday. He and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party are expected to win. He’s challenged by a broad but divided alliance of regional parties.
Supporters and critics agree on one thing: Modi has achieved staying power by making Hindu nationalism acceptable — desirable, even — to a nation of 1.4 billion that for decades prided itself on pluralism and secularism. With that comes an immense vote bank: 80 percent of Indians are Hindu.
“He is 100 percent an ideological product of the RSS,“in said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, who wrote a Modi biography. “He has delivered their goals.”

In this Feb. 23, 2014 file photo, Indian Muslims shower flower petals as volunteers of Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, (RSS), march on the concluding day of their three-day meeting in Bhopal, India. For the RSS, Indian civilization is inseparable from Hinduism. (AP Photo/Rajeev Gupta, File)

Uniting Hindus
Between deep breaths under the night sky in western India a few weeks ago, a group of boys recited an RSS prayer in Sanskrit: “All Hindus are the children of Mother India ... we have taken a vow to be equals and a promise to save our religion.”
More than 65 years ago, Modi was one of them. Born in 1950 to a lower-caste family, his first exposure to the RSS was through shakhas — local units — that induct boys by combining religious education with self-defense skills and games.
By the 1970s, Modi was a full-time campaigner, canvassing neighborhoods on bicycle to raise RSS support.
“At that time, Hindus were scared to come together,” Koshti said. “We were trying to unite them.”
The RSS — formed in 1925, with the stated intent to strengthen the Hindu community — was hardly mainstream. It was tainted by links to Gandhi’s assassination and accused of stoking hatred against Muslims as periodic riots roiled India.
For the group, Indian civilization is inseparable from Hinduism, while critics say its philosophy is rooted in Hindu supremacy.
Today, the RSS has spawned a network of affiliated groups, from student and farmer unions to nonprofits and vigilante organizations often accused of violence. Their power — and legitimacy — ultimately comes from the BJP, which emerged from the RSS.
“Until Modi, the BJP had never won a majority on their own in India’s Parliament,” said Christophe Jaffrelot, an expert on Modi and the Hindu right. “For the RSS, it is unprecedented.”
Scaling his politics
Modi got his first big political break in 2001, becoming chief minister of home state Gujarat. A few months in, anti-Muslim riots ripped through the region, killing at least 1,000 people.
There were suspicions that Modi quietly supported the riots, but he denied the allegations and India’s top court absolved him over lack of evidence.
Instead of crushing his political career, the riots boosted it.
Modi doubled down on Hindu nationalism, Jaffrelot said, capitalizing on religious tensions for political gain. Gujarat’s reputation suffered from the riots, so he turned to big businesses to build factories, create jobs and spur development.
“This created a political economy — he built close relations with capitalists who in turn backed him,” Jaffrelot said.
Modi became increasingly authoritarian, Jaffrelot described, consolidating power over police and courts and bypassing the media to connect directly with voters.
The “Gujarat Model,” as Modi coined it, portended what he would do as a prime minister.
“He gave Hindu nationalism a populist flavor,” Jaffrelot said. “Modi invented it in Gujarat, and today he has scaled it across the country.”
A few decades earlier,
In June, Modi aims not just to win a third time — he’s set a target of receiving two-thirds of the vote. And he’s touted big plans.
“I’m working every moment to make India a developed nation by 2047,” Modi said at a rally. He also wants to abolish poverty and make the economy the world’s third-largest.
If Modi wins, he’ll be the second Indian leader, after Jawaharlal Nehru, to retain power for a third term.
With approval ratings over 70 percent, Modi’s popularity has eclipsed that of his party. Supporters see him as a strongman leader, unafraid to take on India’s enemies, from Pakistan to the liberal elite. He’s backed by the rich, whose wealth has surged under him. For the poor, a slew of free programs, from food to housing, deflect the pain of high unemployment and inflation. Western leaders and companies line up to court him, turning to India as a counterweight against China.
He’s meticulously built his reputation. In a nod to his Hinduism, he practices yoga in front of TV crews and the UN, extols the virtues of a vegetarian diet, and preaches about reclaiming India’s glory. He refers to himself in the third person.
P.K. Laheri, a former senior bureaucrat in Gujarat, said Modi “does not risk anything” when it comes to winning — he goes into the election thinking the party won’t miss a single seat.
The common thread of Modi’s rise, analysts say, is that his most consequential policies are ambitions of the RSS.
In 2019, his government revoked the special status of disputed Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority region. His government passed a citizenship law excluding Muslim migrants. In January, Modi delivered on a longstanding demand from the RSS — and millions of Hindus — when he opened a temple on the site of a razed mosque.
The BJP has denied enacting discriminatory policies and says its work benefits all Indians.
Last week, the BJP said it would pass a common legal code for all Indians — another RSS desire — to replace religious personal laws. Muslim leaders and others oppose it.
But Modi’s politics are appealing to those well beyond right-wing nationalists — the issues have resonated deeply with regular Hindus. Unlike those before him, Modi paints a picture of a rising India as a Hindu one.
Satish Ahlani, a school principal, said he’ll vote for Modi. Today, Ahlani said, Gujarat is thriving — as is India.
“Wherever our name hadn’t reached, it is now there,” he said. “Being Hindu is our identity; that is why we want a Hindu country. ... For the progress of the country, Muslims will have to be with us. They should accept this and come along.”

Legislation that could force a TikTok ban revived as part of House foreign aid package

Legislation that could force a TikTok ban revived as part of House foreign aid package
Updated 19 April 2024

Legislation that could force a TikTok ban revived as part of House foreign aid package

Legislation that could force a TikTok ban revived as part of House foreign aid package

WASHINGTON: Legislation that could ban TikTok in the US if its China-based owner doesn’t sell its stake won a major boost late Wednesday when House Republican leaders included it in a package of bills that would send aid to Ukraine and Israel. The bill could be law as soon as next week if Congress moves quickly.
The TikTok legislation, which passed the House in March and has widespread support in both chambers, was included in the House package as leaders have worked to win votes for the foreign aid bills and after negotiations with the Senate over how long the Chinese technology firm ByteDance Ltd. would have to sell its stake in the app to continue operating in the United States. President Joe Biden has said he would sign the TikTok legislation if it reaches his desk.
The new version of the legislation won a key endorsement from Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, who said in a statement that she had successfully pushed to extend the period from six months to a year to give the company enough time to find a buyer. While the original bill had a six-month deadline for TikTok to be sold, the revised legislation would give nine months and a possible three-month extension if a sale was in progress.
“Extending the divestment period is necessary to ensure there is enough time for a new buyer to get a deal done,” said Cantwell, who had previously expressed doubts about the bill. ”I support this updated legislation.”
If Congress passes the TikTok bill, it would be an extraordinary and unusual moment in which both parties unite against one company – something lawmakers are usually reluctant to do. But the popular social media app has prompted widespread outrage on Capitol Hill, where there is bipartisan concern about Chinese threats to the United States and where few members use the platform themselves.
Opponents say they believe the ban would be unconstitutional, and there would be likely court challenges if it passes. There has been aggressive pushback from the company, content creators who make money on the app and some of the platform’s 170 million US users, many of whom are young. In some cases, lawmakers have received profanity-laced calls from users who were prompted by the app to call their representatives in Congress.
To date, the US government has not provided evidence that shows TikTok shared US user data with the Chinese government, or that Chinese authorities have tinkered with the company’s popular algorithm, which influences what Americans see.
Since mid-March, TikTok has spent $5 million on TV ads opposing the legislation, according to AdImpact, an advertising tracking firm. The ads have included a range of content creators, including a nun, extolling the positive impacts of the platform on their lives and arguing a ban would trample on the First Amendment.
TikTok has also spent money on Facebook and Instagram ads that, among other things, talk about investments in data safety. In addition, the company has mounted a lobbying campaign in Washington that included flying in content creators who rely on the platform for income.
Alex Haurek, a spokesman for the company, said in a statement Thursday that “It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans, devastate 7 million businesses, and shutter a platform that contributes $24 billion to the US economy, annually.”
Nadya Okamoto, a content creator who has roughly four million followers on TikTok, said she’s been having conversations with other creators who are experiencing “so much anger and anxiety” about the bill and how it’s going to impact their lives. The 26-year-old, whose company “August” sells menstrual products and is known for her advocacy around destigmatizing menstrual periods, makes most of her income from TikTok.
“This is going to have real repercussions,” she said.
Dan Ives, a tech analyst at the financial advisory firm Wedbush Securities, said such a sale would be very complex to carry out, even with an extended timeline.
The platform would come with a hefty price tag that only the biggest tech companies could afford, something that’s likely to raise antitrust concerns. Then, there’s the issue of TikTok’s algorithm, the app’s secret sauce that recommends videos to users. The bill bars ByteDance from controlling TikTok’s algorithm, and a potential sale is likely to face opposition from China, which has been clamping down on exports of recommendation algorithms by Chinese tech companies.
“Buying TikTok without the algorithm would be like buying a Ferrari without the engine,” said Ives.
Some investors, including former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and “Shark Tank” star Kevin O’Leary, have already voiced interest in buying TikTok’s US business. If a sale isn’t approved and the platform does get banned, Ives said it would be a “dream scenario” for Snapchat, Meta and YouTube, which have faced stiff competition from TikTok the past few years.
If the bill does pass, it would be the most significant step Congress has taken in decades to regulate the tech industry. For years Congress has failed to act on legislation that would protect users’ privacy, protect children online, make companies more liable for their content and put loose guardrails around artificial intelligence, among other things.
Still, it is a narrow shot at one company when many lawmakers would like to see broader change.
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been pushing for years for tech regulation. If the TikTok bill passes, he said, “it will be the first guardrail we put on anything on social media.”
Warner said there are a lot of other things that Congress needs to do, “but you’ve got to start someplace.”
While most lawmakers support the TikTok bill, some have said it would set a dangerous precedent.
“The passage of the House TikTok ban is not just a misguided overreach; it’s a draconian measure that stifles free expression, tramples constitutional rights, and disrupts the economic pursuits of millions of Americans,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul posted on X after the House passed it.
Others are defending the app’s loyal users.
“I am a NO on the TikTok bill we are about to vote on,” Florida Rep. Maxwell Frost posted on X before the House vote. At 27, Frost is much younger than most of his colleagues.
“I believe the bill does set TikTok up to be banned,” Frost said. “There are first amendment issues I see with taking away a platform that over 170 million Americans use, and this won’t fix the serious issues we have with data privacy.”
Jenna Leventoff, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, previewed potential First Amendment challenges to the bill.
“Congress cannot take away the rights of over 170 million Americans who use TikTok to express themselves, engage in political advocacy, and access information from around the world,” she said.

Over 100 pro-Palestinian protesters arrested from New York’s Columbia campus

Over 100 pro-Palestinian protesters arrested from New York’s Columbia campus
Updated 19 April 2024

Over 100 pro-Palestinian protesters arrested from New York’s Columbia campus

Over 100 pro-Palestinian protesters arrested from New York’s Columbia campus
  • University President Nemat Minouche Shafik said she authorized police to remove tents set up by protesters for the safety of the campus
  • Protesters clashed with police, bringing back memories of the demonstrations against the Vietnam War at Columbia more than 50 years ago

More than 100 pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested on Wednesday on the campus of Columbia University after its president authorized New York police to clear an encampment set up by students demonstrating against Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Columbia University President Nemat Minouche Shafik, who a day earlier came under fire from Republicans at a House of Representatives committee hearing on antisemitism on campus, said she had authorized police to clear an encampment of dozens of tents set up by protesters on Wednesday morning.
“Out of an abundance of concern for the safety of Columbia’s campus, I authorized the New York Police Department to begin clearing the encampment ... ” Shafik said in a statement.
Shafik said the protesters had violated the school’s rules and policies against holding unauthorized demonstrations, and were not willing to engage with administrators.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams said police made over 108 arrests, adding “there was no violence or injuries during the disturbance.” Adams added students had the right to free speech but not the right to violate university policies. Police officials said the arrests were related to trespassing.
Columbia said it had started to suspend students who had participated in the tent encampment, which the school considers an unauthorized protest.
“We are continuing to identify them and will be sending out formal notifications,” a spokesperson of the university said in an email.
At least three students have already received suspension notices from Barnard College, an affiliate of Columbia, for participating in the encampment, Institute for Middle East Understanding, a pro-Palestinian advocacy group, said.
The three students were Isra Hirsi, Maryam Iqbal, and Soph Dinu, the institute said. Hirsi is the daughter of US Representative Ilhan Omar, who had expressed support for protesters during the hearing at which Shafik testified on Wednesday.
“Those of us in Gaza solidarity encampment will not be intimidated,” Hirsi said on social media after being suspended.
The clash, reminiscent of the demonstrations against the Vietnam War at Columbia more than 50 years ago, is the latest in a series of demonstrations on US university campuses since the latest escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began on Oct. 7. Anti-war protests have been staged near airports and on bridges in New York, Los Angeles and other cities, while vigils and marches have taken place in Washington and elsewhere.
Alongside the proliferations of protests, human rights advocates have also pointed to a rise in bias and hate against Jews, Arabs and Muslims in recent months.
The congressional committee on Wednesday accused Shafik of failing to protect Jewish students on campus, echoing accusations leveled against three other elite university leaders at a hearing last year that sent shockwaves through higher education.
She responded by saying the university was facing a “moral crisis” with antisemitism on campus, and Columbia had taken strong actions against suspected perpetrators.
Protesters at Columbia have demanded a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza enclave and an end to US military assistance for Israel, as well as divestment by the university from companies that profit from Israel’s incursion into Gaza.
The encampment was organized by a student-led coalition of groups, including Columbia University Apartheid Divest, Students for Justice in Palestine, and Jewish Voice for Peace.
Separately on Thursday, a march was also planned at the University of Southern California in support of Asna Tabassum, a Muslim student whose valedictorian speech was canceled by the university, which cited safety concerns.
Tabassum and her supporters say the university sought to silence her because of her opposition to the Israeli assault on Gaza, which has killed over 33,000 people, according to the Gazan health ministry, and displaced nearly all its 2.3 million population.
Israel’s assault was triggered by the Oct. 7 cross-border attack by Hamas militants that killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies.