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China Orders U.S. to Close Chengdu Consulate in Retaliation for Houston

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  • In a retaliatory move, China has ordered the United States consulate in the city of Chengdu to shut down.
  • On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department ordered China’s consulate in Houston to close by Friday over concerns that it was engaging in intellectual property theft. 
  • Cai Wei, the Chinese Consul General in Houston, told POLITICO that his mission will refuse the U.S. order, though that decision is most likely up to Beijing. 
  • Both moves represent a growing divide between the two nations that encompasses a trade war, disputes over Hong Kong’s reversion of democratic freedoms, and the persecution of Chinese Muslims, among other actions.

China Order U.S. Consulate to Shut Down 

China has ordered the United States to close its consulate office in the city of Chengdu, a retaliatory move spurred by the Trump administration’s previous order to close a Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas.

On Tuesday, employees at China’s Houston-based consulate were spotted burning documents. Hours later, the U.S. State Department officially announced that it had ordered the consulate to close its doors by Friday at 4 p.m. CDT.

Almost immediately after, China vowed to retaliate against the U.S. for the closure, and many media outlets speculated that it would likely close the U.S. consulate in Wuhan—a consulate that drew the ire of China after the U.S. evacuated its employees in January at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, on Friday, it chose Chengdu, and like the consulate in Houston, Chengdu was given three days to shut down.

The Chengdu American Center, along with three other U.S. consulates in China and the embassy in Beijing, has remained open with skeleton crews. Reportedly, the Chengdu mission is staffed by about 15 U.S. diplomats and boasts political, economic, and agricultural departments. It also issues visas.

When China announced the Chengdu consulate’s closure, the office was met with a flurry of police outside its building. In fact, the situation drew so much curiosity that 13 million people watched state broadcaster CCTV’s live stream from outside the consulate. 

In a statement, China’s Foreign Ministry called the move “legitimate and necessary,” blaming the Trump administration for widening the scope of the two countries’ dispute to include diplomatic offices. 

“The current situation between China and the United States is something China does not want to see, and the responsibility rests entirely with the United States,” the statement reads. “We once again urge the U.S. to immediately revoke the erroneous decision to create necessary conditions for the return of bilateral relations to normal.”

As to why Chengdu was chosen over the seemingly likely candidate of Wuhan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday that U.S. staff in Chengdu had “interfered in China’s internal affairs and harmed China’s national security interests.” 

Wang’s comments likely refer to U.S. interest in the Tibet Autonomous Region, a region covered by the Chengdu consulate’s area of responsibility. It’s also a region populated by non-ethnic Chinese minorities that are especially vulnerable to Beijing’s rule.

Notably, Beijing has placed tight restrictions on Tibet and currently prohibits access to American diplomats, journalists, and tourists. 

Is China Refusing to Close the Houston Consulate?

In an interview with POLITICO, Cai Wei, the Chinese Consul General in Houston, said that his mission will refuse to close by the Friday deadline. 

“Today, we are still operating normally, so we will see what will happen tomorrow,” he said to the outlet.

Beijing has asked the Trump administration to rescind its order to close the Houston consulate, though that outcome remains unlikely. Still, the Chinese government alleges that the move violates international law. In fact, both sides have now accused the other of acting against the Vienna convention, which governs diplomatic relations between states.

Even though Cai is the head of Houston’s consulate, he is likely unable to make the call on whether or not his mission will remain open and disobey U.S. orders. According to experts, that authority falls to Beijing. 

“I would be very surprised if the consulate itself can decide without listening to Beijing,” Ho-Fung Hung, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told POLITICO. “They must be waiting for orders from Beijing with respect to what to do, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Beijing and the U.S. have been [talking] through the backchannels, discussing the situation.”

“Beijing might give instruction to the consulate at the last minute on what to do,” he added. 

Chinese Nationals Accused of U.S. Intellectual Property Theft

The same day the State Department ordered China’s Houston consulate to close, the Justice Department charged two former Chinese students with attempting to steal coronavirus vaccine research in Texas. 

In fact, the Justice Department even alleges that those nationals were instructed to steal U.S. intellectual property by the Chinese Ministry of State Security, the counterintelligence agency of the People’s Republic of China.

Following the announcement of the charges, China reissued a travel advisory for Chinese students in the U.S., warning them that they could face arbitrary interrogations, the confiscation of personal belongings, and potential detentions.

On Friday, the U.S. released a nearly identical message for Americans in China, warning that Americans are at a “heightened risk of arbitrary detention.”

“U.S. citizens may be subjected to prolonged interrogations and extended detention for reasons related to ‘state security,’” the message said.

Additionally, the Justice Department has charged four other Chinese researchers with visa fraud for concealing government ties. Those charges, filed Thursday, have already resulted in the arrests of three of the researchers. The other is believed to be taking refuge at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, California.

The Justice Department has accused these researchers of being part of a larger plot by the Chinese government to steal American research.

U.S.-China Deteriorating Relationship 

Both moves come amid a deepening divide between the two powerhouses, one that encompasses a trade war, sanctions on lawmakers and journalists, the deterioration of freedoms in Hong Kong, forced labor camps and abuse against Chinese Muslims, and even TikTok of all things. 

In fact, analysts claim the relationship between the U.S. and China—the world’s two largest economies—is the worst it has been since before 1979, the year the U.S. formally recognized the People’s Republic of China. 

“The old paradigm of blind engagement with China simply won’t get it done,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday at California’s Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. “We must not continue it. We must not return to it. Today, China is increasingly authoritarian at home, and more aggressive in its hostility to freedom everywhere else. . . . If the free world doesn’t change Communist China, Communist China will change us.”

In that same speech, Pompeo accused the consulate of being “hub of spying and [intellectual property] theft.” 

Foreign Minister Wang responded on Friday, saying that Pompeo was “filled with ideological bias and a Cold War mentality.”

Also on Friday, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tx.) said that the State Department’s decision to close the Houston consulate because of concerns over intellectual theft is a reminder that the Chinese are “not good actors.”

“What we know is that the Chinese have used consulates like this one, and this one might have been their primary hub, to engage in intellectual property [theft], hacking, influence operations, all of the above,” Crenshaw told Fox News.

“…the burning of documents is what occurs after the fact. Once you decide to close an embassy or a consulate like that, they’re going to burn all the evidence and that’s exactly what they did,” he added. 

Cai, however, has rejected such claims, telling POLITICO, “We have never done this. What we have done is very legal and follows the law and normal practice.”

See what others are saying: (POLITICO) (Associated Press) (BBC)

International

Giorgia Meloni Claims Victory in Far-Right Shift for Italy

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Her party has neofascist roots, and she has praised Mussolini in the past.


An Election Without Precedent

Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party grabbed the largest share of votes in Italy’s national election by a wide margin, giving the post of prime minister to the first woman and most right-wing politician since Benito Mussolini.

She declared victory early Monday morning after exit polls showed her party overwhelmingly in the lead with at least 26% of the vote, making it the dominant faction in the right-wing coalition, which got 44%.

The other two parties in the alliance — Mateo Salvini’s far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia — took 9% and 8% of the vote, respectively.

The center-left alliance only garnered 26% of the vote, with 63% of votes counted, according to the interior ministry.

Voter turnout dropped to a record low at only 63.91%, nine points below the rate in 2018, with turnout especially dismal in southern regions like Sicily.

Meloni is set to become prime minister in the coming weeks as a new government is formed, and the rest of Europe is bracing for what many see as a neofascist demagogue to take power in the continent’s third largest economy.

Speaking to media and supporters following the preliminary results, Meloni said it was “a night of pride for many and a night of redemption.” She promised to govern for all Italians and unite the country.

But her relatively extreme politics — opposed to immigration, the European Union, and what she calls “gender ideology” — unsettles many who fear she will roll back civil rights and form a Euroskeptic alliance with other far-right leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

The Next Mussolini?

During the election, Meloni stressed that she is a conservative, not a fascist, but opponents point to her rhetoric, past statements, and party’s history as evidence to the contrary.

“Either you say yes or you say no,” she howled to Spain’s far-right Vox party earlier this year. “Yes to the natural family, no to the LGBT lobby. Yes to sex identity, no to gender ideology. Yes to the culture of life, not the abysm of death. Yes to the university of the cross, no to the Islamist violence. Yes to secure borders, no to mass migration. Yes to the work of our citizens, no to big international finance. Yes to the sovereignty of peoples, no to the bureaucrats in Brussels. And yes to our civilization.”

Meloni co-founded Brothers of Italy in 2012 as an alternative to the more mainstream right-wing parties. It has roots in the Italian Social Movement (MSI), a neofascist party that sprouted in the wake of World War II to continue Mussolini’s legacy after his party was banned. The Movement’s symbol — a tricolor flame — remains on the Brothers of Italy’s Flag today, and Meloni has refused to remove it.

She joined the MSI’s youth branch in the 1990s and went on to lead it after the party was renamed the National Alliance.

“I believe that Mussolini was a good politician, which means that everything he did, he did for Italy,” Meloni said at the time.

For the first decade, Brothers of Italy struggled to win more than a single-digit percentage of the vote, and it only garnered 4% in the 2018 election.

But in 2021 and 2022, it distinguished itself as the only opposition party to the unity government that fell apart last July, causing its popularity to inflate.

But the party still wrestles with its fascistic roots; last week, it suspended a member who was running for parliament because a local newspaper revealed that he had made comments supporting Adolf Hitler.

In an August video, Meloni promised to impose a naval blockade in the Mediterranean to interdict Libyan refugees from crossing to Southern Europe on boats. She has also discussed pulling Italy out of the Eurozone or even the E.U. entirely, but she moderated her rhetoric toward Europe during the election.

Italy has received some 200 billion euros in European pandemic recovery funds, and it is set to receive more unless the Union punishes Meloni’s government for democratic backsliding.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Associated Press) (NPR)

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Iranian Protests Sparked by Death of Mahsa Amini Spread Internationally

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Anger initially directed at the police has now shifted to the Islamic regime itself, with Iranian-Americans protesting outside the U.N. Headquarters as their country’s president spoke inside.


Hijabs Go Up in Flames

The largest protest movement in recent years has gripped Iran since the so-called morality police allegedly beat 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for violating the dress code last week, leading to her later death.

Demonstrations spread from the capital Tehran to at least 80 other cities and towns, with videos on social media showing women burning their hijabs and cutting their hair in defiance.

In response, the government has gradually extended a virtual internet blackout across the country, blocking access to What’s App and Instagram.

To prevent protests from spreading, Iran’s biggest telecom operator largely shut down mobile internet access again Thursday, Netblocks, a group that monitors internet access, said in a statement, describing the restrictions as the most severe since 2019.

Clashes between police and protestors have killed some, but death toll reports on Thursday were conflicted. The Associated Press tallied at least nine people dead, while Iran’s state television put the number at 17, and a human rights group estimated at least 31 deaths.

The violence began on Saturday, shortly after the news that Amini had died the day prior in the hospital where she was comatose for three days.

Previously, the morality police arrested her for violating Islamic law requiring women to cover their hair with a head scarf and wear long, loose-fitting clothing.

Multiple reports and eyewitness accounts claimed that officers beat her in the head with batons and banged her head against one of their vehicles, but authorities have denied harming her, saying she suffered a “sudden heart failure.” Her father told BBC that she was in good health and that he had not been allowed to view her autopsy report.

“My son was with her. Some witnesses told my son she was beaten in the van and in the police station,” he said.

Surveillance footage was released showing Amini collapsing inside the hospital after grabbing her head, seemingly in pain.

From Anti-Hijab to Anti-Regime

Although the protests began in reaction to Amini’s death and Iran’s repressive policing, they quickly flowered into a mass opposition movement against the Islamic regime as men joined ranks of demonstrators and chants of “Death to the dictator!” broke out.

The anger was directed at the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as President Ebrahim Raisi, who attended the United Nations General Assembly this week. Iranian-Americans rallied outside the U.N. Headquarters Wednesday to voice their discontent as Raisi addressed the assembly.

“The hijab is used as a weapon in Iran,” one woman told CBS in Los Angeles. “It is a weapon against the West, and women are used as pawns.”

“Let this be the George Flloyd moment of Iran,” she added.

There have also been demonstrations of solidarity in countries such as Lebanon, Germany, and Canada.

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

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Queen Elizabeth II Dies at 96

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“I know her loss will be deeply felt throughout the country, the Realms and the Commonwealth, and by countless people around the world,” her eldest son and successor, King Charles III said.


The Passing of a Historic Monarch

Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in Britain’s history, passed away on Thursday afternoon, per an announcement from Buckingham Palace.

According to the Palace’s statement, The Queen “died peacefully” while at her Balmoral estate in Scotland. Reports say she was surrounded by family members, including her eldest son and successor, who announced in the hours after her passing that he will go by King Charles III. Several of her other children and grandchildren were also present. 

Early on Thursday morning, Buckingham Palace announced that the Queen was under medical supervision as doctors were concerned for her health. Soon after, BBC One suspended its programming to focus on coverage of the Queen. Anchors donned black attire while other media outlets and royal circles began to prepare for the 96-year-old monarch’s passing. 

The Queen took the throne at the age of 25 following the death of her father, King George VI. She served her tenure for 70 years, becoming not only the longest-serving monarch in the U.K., but also the second-longest serving monarch in world history. 

As the world changed drastically over the course of those seven decades, the Queen became a symbol of reliability and security for many. During her reign, 15 Prime Ministers took office in the U.K. She met regularly with leaders both in the country and abroad.

“She is unlike any other monarch in our history – she’s our longest-lived, longest-serving, longest-reigning monarch,” royal biographer Robert Hardman told BBC News. “She just stands for this constancy, this sense of permanence and stability. And I think over the years people have probably taken her for granted often. Suddenly, at times like this, we all realise… how precious she is.”

Charles Becomes King

In addition to King Charles III, she is survived by her other three children, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward. Her grandson Prince William is now the heir to the throne, followed by his children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis. 

The Queen’s husband Prince Philip died last year. 

According to the palace, King Charles III and his wife will remain in Scotland and return to London on Friday. Over the next ten days, the family will enter a period of grieving and succession. 

“We mourn profoundly the passing of a cherished Sovereign and much-loved Mother,” The King said in a statement. “I know her loss will be deeply felt throughout the country, the Realms and the Commonwealth, and by countless people around the world.”

“During this period of mourning and change, my family and I will be comforted and sustained by our knowledge of the respect and deep affection in which the Queen was so widely held.”

See what others are saying: (BBC News) (New York Times) (NBC News)

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