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EU Leaders Agree to $859 Billion Coronavirus Relief Package Under Larger Economic Budget Deal

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  • After talks ran long at a European Union summit, EU leaders agreed to a massive $859 billion stimulus plan which will address economic impacts from the coronavirus.
  • The plan will provide a mix of grants and loans over the next four years to help businesses recover, roll out new measures to reform economies, and invest in protecting against “future crises.”
  • The original plan would have provided more grant money to struggling countries, but richer nations rejected that idea and only agreed to the current plan after an additional series of concessions.
  • Those concessions include cuts made to projects covering health, refugees, and the climate.

What’s in the Deal?

The European Union agreed to a massive $859 million stimulus package on Monday meant to address the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The package is part of a $2.1 trillion budget the EU approved for 2021-2027. While $1.3 trillion of that goes directly to the EU’s budget and is part of its normal negotiations every seven years, the portion provided for coronavirus relief is quite extraordinary. 

In fact, this package is so important that it’s expected to help Europe avoid what could be its worst economic blow since World War 2.

According to the final agreement, the package will largely be spent over the next four years and will include both loans and grants that will be sent to member nations. It will also focus on providing funding in three main ways: helping businesses recover, rolling out new measures to reform economies, and investing in a goal to protect against “future crises.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she had “no regrets” on the concessions given to reach an agreement, saying, “We think we’ve acted responsibility in agreeing to these compromises,”

Others, however, were less pleased, and one anonymous official described the agreement as a “bittersweet victory” because, in order to reach a compromise, cuts were made to projects covering healthcare and refugees. The finished deal also doesn’t include expenditure on many research and climate projects.

Long Road to Reaching This Deal

While EU leaders have lauded the passage of the deal, the process of reaching an agreement was tedious at best. 

For one, talks ran long. The summit to discuss the package began on Friday and was only scheduled to last through the weekend, but it ended up stretching into Monday.

That’s because a number of rich, northern countries known as the “Frugal Four” slowed down those talks after opposing the EU’s original plan. The “Frugal Four” include the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, and Sweden. Over the weekend, Finland also allied with their opposition to the original plan.

That plan would have allocated €500 billion in grant money, meaning the “Frugal Four” would have had to pay in more as net contributors to the EU.

Their main objection was over how much should be given to countries like Italy and Spain—countries that have been hit inordinately hard by the coronavirus. They also questioned how much control those countries should have over how the funds distributed to them will be spent. 

During the summit, Dutch leaders argued that Italy and Spain were to blame for struggling to recover because they had other economic difficulties prior to the pandemic. The Dutch then added that they did not want to send money to those countries without guarantee that such a move would provide economic reform to the EU in the long run.

Much of the specifics of the debate boiled down to two questions: How much should be given in grants, and how much should be given in loans? 

More grant money, for example, would mean less debt for countries receiving aid as they wouldn’t have to repay the money given to them. On the other hand, countries would be expected to repay loans. 

After denouncing the original plan, the “Frugal Four” returned with a counter-offer that proposed only handing out €375 billion in grants.

The situation in itself was already quite unique. Typically, in times of crisis, the EU has only offered loans. Still, Spain argued that the EU couldn’t afford to give out less than €400 billion in grants for this specific emergency. 

As a basis for that argument, it said that any failure to reach an agreement would result in a “two-speed” economic recovery, with richer countries bouncing back faster than struggling countries. In turn, Spain stressed that such a failure would place further strain on the EU as a whole. 

From there, European Council President Charles Michel proposed a compromise of €390 billion in grant money ($446 billion USD).

The rest of that overall $859 billion would then go to low-interest loans.

Notably, the compromise also included billions in rebates to the “Frugal Four” for their contribution and with that, the four agreed to the deal. 

EU Leaders Praise the Deal

Michel described the agreement, which was the single-biggest joint borrowing plan ever agreed to by the EU, as the first time that EU member countries were “jointly enforcing our economies against the crisis.”

“We did it! We have reached a deal on the recovery package and the European budget,” he said. “This is a strong deal. And most importantly, the right deal for Europe right now.” 

French president Emmanuel Macron describing the deal as a “historic day for Europe.” 

Hard hit countries like Spain, Italy, and even Portugal also appeared to be content with the final grant figure.

“While it’s true that it could have had a slightly bigger dimension, the recovery plan is robust enough to respond to the current estimates of the coronavirus crisis,” Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa said. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN Business) (BBC)

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Leaked Documents and Photos Give Unprecedented Glimpse Inside Xinjiang’s Detention Camps

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The so-called vocational schools, which China claims Uyghurs enter willingly as students, oversee their detainees with watchtowers armed with machine guns and sniper rifles, as well as guards instructed to shoot to kill anyone trying to escape.


Detained for Growing a Beard

The BBC and a consortium of investigative journalists have authenticated and published a massive trove of leaked documents and photographs exposing the Chinese government’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims in unprecedented detail.

According to the outlet, an anonymous source hacked several police computer servers in the northwestern Xinjiang province, then sent what has been dubbed the Xinjiang police files to the scholar Dr. Adrian Zenz, who gave them to reporters.

Among the files are more than 5,000 police photographs of Uyghurs taken between January and July 2018, with accompanying data indicating at least 2,884 of them were detained.

Some of the photos show guards standing nearby with batons.

The youngest Uyghur photographed was 15 at the time of their detention, and the oldest was 73.

One document is a list titled “Relatives of the Detained,” which contains thousands of people placed under suspicion for guilt by association with certain family members. It includes a woman whose son authorities claimed had “strong religious leanings” because he didn’t smoke or drink alcohol. He was jailed for ten years on terrorism charges.

The files also include 452 spreadsheets with information on more than a quarter of a million Uyghurs, some of whom were detained retroactively for offenses committed years or even decades ago.

One man was jailed for ten years in 2017 because he “studied Islamic scripture with his grandmother” for a few days in 2010.

Authorities targeted hundreds more for their mobile phone use, like listening to “illegal lectures” or downloading encrypted apps. Others were punished for not using their phones enough, with “phone has run out of credit” listed as evidence they were trying to evade digital surveillance.

One man’s offense was “growing a beard under the influence of religious extremism.”

The Most Militarized Schools in the World

The files include documents outlining conditions inside Xinjiang’s detention camps, or so-called “Vocational Skills Education and Training Centers.”

Armed guards occupy every part of the facilities, with machine guns and sniper rifles stationed on watchtowers. Police protocols instruct guards to shoot to kill any so-called “students” trying to escape if they fail to stop after a warning shot.

Any apprehended escapees are to be taken away for interrogation while camp management focuses on “stabilizing other students’ thoughts and emotions.”

The BBC used the documents to reconstruct one of the camps, which data shows holds over 3,700 detainees guarded by 366 police officers who oversee them during lessons.

If a “student” must be transferred to another facility, the protocols say, police should blindfold them, handcuff them and shackle their feet.

Dr. Zenz published a peer-reviewed paper on the Xinjiang police files, in which he found that more than 12% of Uyghur adults were detained over 2017 and 2018.

“Scholars have argued that political paranoia is a common feature of atrocity crimes,” he wrote. “Here, it is suggested that the pre-emptive internment of large numbers of ordinary citizens can be explained as a devolution into political paranoia that promotes exaggerated threat perceptions.”

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Newsweek) (The Guardian)

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Biden Vows to Defend Taiwan if Attacked by China

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Some praised the remarks for clarifying U.S. foreign policy, while others feared they could escalate tensions with China.


Biden’s Remarks Create Confusion

During a Monday press conference in Tokyo, U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would intervene to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

The remark caught many off guard because it contradicted decades of traditional U.S. foreign policy toward China.

A reporter said, “You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”

“Yes,” Biden answered. “That’s a commitment we made. We are not — look, here’s the situation. We agree with a One China policy. We signed onto it and all the attendant agreements made from there.”

“But the idea that it can be taken by force — just taken by force — is just not appropriate,” he continued. “It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”

Beijing considers the Taiwanese island to be a breakaway province, but Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, has claimed to represent the real historical lineage of China.

Since 1972, the U.S. has officially recognized only one China, with its capital in Beijing. However, Washington maintains extensive informal diplomatic ties with Taipei and provides military assistance through weapons and training.

Successive U.S. presidents have also committed to a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” refusing to promise or rule out a direct military intervention in case China attacks Taiwan.

The strategy is meant to deter China while avoiding a hard commitment to any action.

Biden Sparks Controversy

The White House quickly sent a statement to reporters appearing to walk back Biden’s remark.

“As the president said, our policy has not changed,” the statement said. “He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”

Monday was not the first time Biden made similar remarks regarding China and Taiwan.

Last August, he promised that “we would respond” if there was an attack against a fellow member of NATO and then added, “same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan.”

In October, he again told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the U.S. would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, prompting the White House to hurriedly walk back his statement.

Monday’s remark was received with support as well as criticism.

“Strategic ambiguity is over. Strategic clarity is here,” Tweeted Matthew Kroenig, professor of government at Georgetown University. “This is the third time Biden has said this. Good. China should welcome this. Washington is helping Beijing to not miscalculate.”

“It is truly dangerous for the president to keep misstating U.S. policy toward Taiwan,” historian Stephen Wertheim wrote in a tweet. “How many more times will this happen?”

“The West’s robust response to Russian aggression in Ukraine could serve to deter China from invading Taiwan, but Biden’s statement risks undoing the potential benefit and instead helping to bring about a Taiwan conflict,” he added. “Self-injurious and entirely unforced.”

Biden also unveiled the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a trade agreement signed by the U.S. and 12 Asian nations.

The agreement appeared to many like another move to cut off China from regional trade pacts and supply chains in Washington’s strategic competition with Beijing.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (The South China Morning Post)

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Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders

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Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.


Azovstal Waves the White Flag

Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.

A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.

The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.

It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.

Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.

Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.

Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.

Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands

After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.

The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.

Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.

The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.

The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.

It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)

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