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House Passes Bill to Sanction China for Treatment of Uighurs

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  • The House passed a bill condemning the Chinese treatment of Uighurs and recommending sanctions on top Chinese officials.
  • The Senate passed a version of the bill in September. The two chambers must now come up with a unified version to pass on to President Trump.
  • China responded by condemning the legislation, and saying it “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs.”
  • The move comes as the U.S. is already in hot water with China following Trump’s decision to sign an act last week authorizing the U.S. to impose sanctions on Hong Kong for human rights abuses, among other things.

House Passes Uighur Bill

The House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would place sanctions on top Chinese officials involved in perpetrating human rights abuses against China’s Muslim Uighur minority, as well as formally condemn the country’s treatment of the Uighurs.

The bill, which was passed with an overwhelming vote of 407-1, also details the efforts of the Chinese government in recent years to ramp up control of the Xinjiang region where the Uighurs reside.

In addition to implementing advanced AI surveillance systems all over the region, the Chinese government has also detained upwards of one million Uighurs in internment camps.

Numerous reports, as well as both public and leaked Chinese government documents, show that the Uighurs are detained against their will in the camps, where they are forced to learn Mandarin, swear loyalty to President Xi Jinping, and renounce their faith.

There have also been multiple reports of torture and other human rights abuses, prompting rights groups and countries all over the world to argue that the camps are systems of mass-incarceration for an ethnic minority and a violation of human rights.

China, which originally denied the existence of the camps, now claims that they are vocational boarding schools where they help the Uighurs by giving them job training and education skills. They also claim that it is a safe way to combat terrorism.

Contents of House Bill 

The House bill comes a few months after the Senate passed a similar version of the legislation back in September.

According to the text of the bill, the purpose of the Act is to “direct United States resources to address gross violations of universally recognized human rights, including the mass internment of over 1,000,000 Uighurs” and other Muslim minorities in the region.

The Act also accuses the Chinese government having policies that have “systematically discriminated” against the Uighurs, including:

  • “Pervasive, high-tech surveillance across the region, including the arbitrary collection of biodata, such as DNA samples from children, without their knowledge or consent.”
  • “The use of QR codes outside homes to gather information on how frequently individuals pray.”
  • “Facial and voice recognition software and ‘predictive policing’ databases.”
  • And “severe restrictions on the freedom of movement across the region.”

The bill also accuses China of using the threat of terrorism as a justification for “pervasive restrictions on, and gross human rights violations against, the ethnic minority communities.”

If implemented, the legislation would direct the president to “condemn abuses against” the Uighurs and call on President Xi to “recognize the profound abuse and likely lasting damage” of China’s policies, “immediately close” the camps, and “lift all restrictions on and ensure respect for internationally guaranteed human rights across the region.”

Perhaps most significantly, the bill would also “impose targeted sanctions” on members of the Chinese government and other officials who have been involved in these abuses.

This would include officials who have been “credibly alleged to be responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang and elsewhere.”

Among other things, the Act would also direct the Secretary of Commerce to consider prohibiting the sale of U.S. products and services to state agents in Xinjiang.

China Responds

China condemned the House’s actions in a statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

“This bill deliberately smears the human rights condition in Xinjiang, slanders China’s efforts in de-radicalization and counter-terrorism and viciously attacks the Chinese government’s Xinjiang policy,” the statement said.

“It seriously violates international law and basic norms governing international relations, and grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs.”

The statement went on to say that the situation is not about human rights, but “fighting violence, terrorism and separatism.” The ministry also claimed that “the international community speaks highly” of its policies in Xinjiang. 

“We urge the US to correct its mistakes at once, prevent this bill from becoming law, and stop using Xinjiang-related issues to interfere China’s internal affairs,” the statement concluded. “China will take further reactions according to how the situation develops.”

Congress and U.S.-China Relations

Now, the House and Senate will have to work together to decide on a final version before passing it off to President Donald Trump, who has not said if he will sign the bill.

Despite the legislation’s bipartisan nature, whether or not Trump will sign it up in the air.

The president is already in hot water with China after signing an Act last week, which, among other things, authorizes the U.S. to impose sanctions on Hong Kong for human rights abuses.

Trump had initially been hesitant to sign the Act because he was worried it would complicate trade talks with China, but he ultimately went forward with it after pressure from Republican leaders.

China responded by imposing sanctions on several U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations.

With the Uighur bill almost certain to further disrupt trade negotiations, it remains unclear if Trump will risk sacrificing a possible deal to approve the legislation. 

Trump may find himself stuck in double-bind if Congressional leaders again pressure him to sign this bill, and especially if Congress has a veto-proof majority, as was the case with the Hong Kong legislation. 

As divided as Congress is right now, they have recently worked together to push through a number of bills targeting China with huge bipartisan support in both chambers.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC) (Al Jazeera)

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Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion

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  • Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
  • The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
  • The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.

Ever Given Still in Egypt

An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.

The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.

The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.

Pushing Back Against The Claim

While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”

“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”

It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.

See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
  • The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
  • Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Radioactive or Bad Publicity?

After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”

While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.

According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.

Something Had To Eventually Be Done

Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.

The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.

The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.

“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.

To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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Greta Thunberg To Skip U.N. Climate Change Conference, Citing Vaccine Inequality

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  • Young environmental activist Greta Thunberg will not attend the U.N.’s climate change conference set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland this November.
  • “Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem,” the 18-year-old tweeted Friday, adding, “Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions.”
  • Since rollouts began late last year, 40% of vaccines have been administered in wealthy and Western countries, according to The Washington Post.
  • Scientists have warned that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg Points To Vaccine Inequality

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she is skipping the UN’s climate change conference.

The COP26 summit is set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November, but 18-year-old Thunberg told BBC she won’t attend because she’s concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on attendance.

In a Twitter thread Friday, she responded to a headline about her plans to miss the summit.

“Of course I would love to attend…But not unless everyone can take part on the same terms. Right now many countries are vaccinating healthy young people, often at the expense of risk groups and front line workers (mainly from global south, as usual…),” she wrote.

“Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem.”

“Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions,” the teen continued.

Thunberg went on to say that if the summit is delayed, it doesn’t mean urgent action should too.

“We don’t have to wait for conferences nor anyone or anything else to dramatically start reducing our emissions. Solidarity and action can start today,” she added before noting that digital alternatives for the conference would also be insufficient.

“High speed internet connection and access to computers is extremely unequal in the world. In that case we would lack representation from those whose voices need to be heard the most when it comes to the climate crisis,” she wrote.

Data on Global Vaccine Distribution Efforts

According to The Washington Post, nearly 20% of people in the United States are now vaccinated, but many other countries are unlikely to hit that same metric by the end of the year, even with international assistance through the Covax program.

Current projections predict it could be years before developing countries distribute enough doses to come close to herd immunity, which scientists say requires inoculating around 70-80% of a population.

Since rollouts began late last year, enough shots have been distributed to fully vaccinate about 5% of the world’s population, but The Post reported that the vast majority have been administered in wealthy and Western countries.

Around 40% of vaccines have been given in 27 wealthy nations that include only 11% of the world’s population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

That’s pretty concerning because scientists also warn that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg’s comments are a blow for U.K. organizers, who have already postponed the conference once from last November because of the pandemic. Even now, there has been speculation that it could be delayed again this year.

Thunberg would not play a formal role at the conference but her decision not to attend is a significant symbolic moment.

At COP25, the young climate change activist gave a headline speech and she typically attends major climate events of this nature. On top of that, reports say this summit was slated to be one of the most consequential climate conferences since the 2015 Paris accord.

On the agenda for this year’s conference discussions were country-level plans for cutting carbon emissions, along with progress on the Paris agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (CNBC) (The Washington Post)

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