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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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Pope Francis Names First Woman to Senior Vatican Diplomatic Role

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  • Pope Francis appointed a woman to a management role in the Vatican’s most powerful department for the first time on Wednesday.
  • Dr. Francesca Di Giovanni, a Vatican official of 27 years, will now serve as the undersecretary for multilateral affairs in the Secretariat of State. 
  • Among other duties, Di Giovanni will oversee the coordination of the Vatican’s relationships with multilateral organizations, including the United Nations. 
  • While several other women hold high-ranking positions in the city-state, Di Giovanni’s leadership role in the Vatican’s most powerful branch is unparalleled. 

Appointment of Di Giovanni

Pope Francis made an unprecedented move on Wednesday by appointing a woman for the first time to a managerial position in the Secretariat of State, the most powerful department of the Vatican.

Dr. Francesca Di Giovanni, an Italian lawyer and Vatican official of 27 years, was named the undersecretary for multilateral affairs in the Secretariat of State. Among other responsibilities, Di Giovanni will oversee a division that coordinates the Vatican’s relations with multilateral organizations, including the United Nations.  

“The Holy Father has made an unprecedented decision, certainly, which, beyond myself personally, represents an indication of an attention towards women,” Di Giovanni told the Vatican’s in-house media

“But the responsibility is connected to the job, rather than to the fact of being a woman,” she added.

Milestone for Women in Catholic Church

Several women hold leadership positions in other Vatican offices, but the Secretariat of State is the most powerful branch, making Di Giovanni’s career shift extra significant. 

Pope Francis’ appointment of Di Giovanni is the latest development in his ongoing open support of women having more say in the Roman Catholic Church. Currently, women cannot be ordained as priests and the Church’s leadership is almost entirely male-dominated.

On New Year’s Day, the pope expressed praise for womankind. 

“Women are givers and mediators of peace and should be fully included in decision-making processes,” Pope Francis said. “Because when women can share their gifts, the world finds itself more united, more peaceful. Hence, every step forward for women is a step forward for humanity as a whole.”

Di Giovanni referenced these words in her interview with the Vatican News calling them the pope’s “tribute” to the role of women.

“A woman may have certain aptitudes for finding commonalities, healing relationships with unity at heart,” Di Giovanni said. “I hope that my being a woman might reflect itself positively in this task, even if they are gifts that I certainly find in my male colleagues as well.”  

See what others are saying: (Vatican News) (NPR) (BBC)

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Protests Erupt in Iran After Military Admits to Shooting Down Plane

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  • Protests broke out across Iran over the weekend after the military admitted that it shot down a Ukrainian airline’s passenger jet, killing 176 people when mistaking it for a hostile aircraft.
  • Officials originally said there was no evidence of the plane being struck down by one of their missiles but ultimately admitted fault three days later.
  • Protesters are demanding leaders be held accountable. 
  • There are reports of tear gas and gunfire being used against demonstrators, but Tehran’s head of police has denied claims of shots being fired.

Backlash from the Plane Strike

Monday marked the third straight day of Iranian protests since Iran’s military admitted it shot down a passenger jet last week, mistaking it for a threat and killing all 176 people on board. 

Videos emerged on Sunday of protesters running from tear gas and in others, which could not be immediately verified, gunfire could be heard.

It has been a tumultuous couple of weeks for Iranians—last week, hundreds of thousands were rallying in the streets to publicly mourn Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s Quds Force commander who was killed by a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3.

During those rallies, cries of hate against the United States and Donald Trump—who ordered the strike— were heard. This week there is a sharp contrast, as protesters seem to be targeting the Iranian government and military.

According to The Washington Post, demonstrators were filmed late on Sunday in at least two locations ripping down posters of Soleimani. In Iran’s capital, Tehran, a billboard mourning the victims of the plane crash replaced one of the deceased military leader.

In retaliation for Soleimani’s death, Iran fired missiles at an Iraqi military base that houses American troops on Wednesday. The plane was shot down by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps just hours later after taking off from Tehran. 

After maintaining for days that there was no evidence the aircraft was struck down by one of their missiles, Iran admitted that its military had shot down the jet by mistake.

The military initially claimed in a statement that the plane took an unexpected turn that brought it close to a sensitive military base, but an Iranian official later backtracked on that notion. 

“The plane was flying in its normal direction without any error and everybody was doing their job correctly,” Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ airspace unit, said on Saturday. “If there was a mistake, it was made by one of our members.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the incident an “unforgivable mistake” and said that investigations are continuing to “identify and prosecute this great tragedy.”  

A mix of individuals from multiple countries was onboard the aircraft, including dozens of Canadians. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the incident “a national tragedy” and publicly called for further investigation.

“I want to assure all families and all Canadians: We will not rest until there are answers,” he said at a memorial event on Sunday.

Escalating Protests

Protesters are demanding that leaders be held responsible for the fatal mistake. Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency reported that up to 1,000 people were protesting at various points in the capital city. Some videos posted to social media show crowds demanding the resignation of Ayatollah Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader.

One of the scenes of protest was the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, which said that 13 of its students and alumni were killed in the plane crash. Iranian security forces stepped in and escalated the demonstration.

They “started dragging people away. They took a number of people and put them in cages in police vans,” said 35-year-old Soudabeh told The Washington Post, keeping her full name anonymous.

“At one point, the protesters freed one of the men who was detained. I saw his face and it was covered in blood — his family carried him away,” she told the news outlet.

Iran’s security forces have a history of taking extreme action to contain protesters. In November, after protests broke out in response to the spike in Iran’s gas prices, about 1,500 demonstrators were killed by security forces, according to the Trump administration. 

Iranian media quoted Brig. Gen. Hossein Rahimi as saying “Police treated people who had gathered with patience and tolerance,” according to reports by the Associated Press. 

Rahimi denied claims that police were shooting at protesters and said that tear gas was only being used in certain areas.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (BBC) (CNN)

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Japanese Billionaire Gives Away $9 Million as Social Experiment

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  • Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese entrepreneur, is giving away 1 billion yen—about $9.1 million—to 1,000 of his Twitter followers, with each to receive just over $9,000.
  • Users had to follow his account and retweet his giveaway announcement post before late Jan. 7 to qualify.
  • Maezawa is treating the giveaway as a social experiment and plans to evaluate how money will affect people’s lives and happiness levels.
  • Once randomly selected, he will contact the winners directly via a Twitter direct message.

The Giveaway

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is giving away 1 billion yen—about $9.1 million—to a randomly-selected group of his Twitter followers to see if the money boosts their happiness.  

The entrepreneur/art collector announced the news of his “serious social experiment” in a tweet on Jan. 1. In the post, he explained that he will be divvying up the money amongst 1,000 people evenly, each person will receive about $9100. 

In order to qualify for the giveaway, Twitter users had to follow Maezawa’s account and retweet his post. They also must be a Japanese resident, and over the age of 13, per Twitter’s Service Terms and Conditions, according to translated rules tweeted by Maezawa. 

Eligible contenders had until just before midnight on Jan. 7 to apply for the money, and over 4.1 million people heeded the call by retweeting the giveaway post. The winners will be drawn randomly and notified by Maezawa via a direct message on Twitter.

Social Experiment

In his initial post, Maezawa linked to a YouTube video in which he describes the experiment. On Friday, he tweeted that he added English subtitles to his YouTube video, writing his hopes viewers can understand the real reason he is doing this giveaway.

In the video, Maezawa explained that he wants to see how this chunk of money will affect people’s lives and if it will give them a chance to be happier. He intends to follow up with the winners via surveys to evaluate if and how their circumstances have changed.

He also encouraged social scientists and economists to contact him if interested in what he is doing. 

Maezawa has likened his experiment to the idea of basic income, the theory of a periodical fixed amount of money distributed to all citizens with no strings attached. Some Twitter users have argued that his giveaway is not the same because he is only distributing money to a relatively small group of people. 

Nonetheless, Maezawa is using his giveaway to propel the conversation about the possibilities of basic income in Japan. 

Additionally, in his YouTube video, he mentioned his giveaway of 100 million yen last year and expressed regrets for not clarifying its purpose at the time or remaining in contact with the people he gave the money to. 

Though Maezawa’s 2019 giveaway had inconclusive results, it did break a record. At the time, his giveaway tweet was the most retweeted ever.

Maezawa made a name for himself by founding Zozotown, Japan’s largest fashion retail website. He also made headlines in 2018 for being the first paying customer on SpaceX’s proposed moon trip.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (NBC) (ABC)

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