- New cases of COVID-19 appeared in New Zealand last week, after 102 days without any known community transmission. So far, at least 69 active cases have been reported.
- Now the country is on lockdown, with the most strict measures set in the city of Auckland.
- The lockdowns sparked concerns about the upcoming general election, with citizens and politicians arguing that the delays in campaigning would not allow for a fair vote.
- In response, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern moved the election back by four weeks, from Sept. 19 to Oct. 17.
New Coronavirus Cases Spark Concerns
New Zealand is postponing its national election by four weeks in response to new coronavirus cases that have suddenly appeared.
Last week, a new cluster of cases were reported in Auckland, the country’s largest city. As of Monday, there are believed to be at least 69 active cases.
Citizens quickly received confirmation of an outbreak and by last Wednesday the government had enacted a strict level three lockdown. Under it, people are required to stay home unless for essential activities, and public venues like museums, playgrounds and gyms are to remain closed. This was a huge deal for New Zealanders because they had just made it through 102 days without any known community transmission.
When the virus first appeared in New Zealand in March, the country spent five weeks under one of the world’s strictest lockdowns. That quick action and public cooperation allowed New Zealand to effectively eliminate the virus. While border controls remained in place, the country was able to return to fairly normal life, so this new wave of cases has caught many by surprise.
While Auckland has the most strict measures in place, the rest of the country was put into a level two lockdown, which caps gatherings at no more than 100, among other things. Both were extended until at least August 26 based on the most recent confirmed cases. However, that news made a lot of people concerned because the country’s general election was supposed to be just around the corner.
The election was set for September 19, with campaigning expected to really pick up in the weeks before, following the dissolution of parliament. Because of the outbreak, both citizens and politicians felt it would be impossible to proceed with a vote in a way that was fair. Among the list of concerts were arguments that there wouldn’t be enough time to rebook venues, print materials, and reorganize the election workforce.
Last week, National Party Leader Judith Collins, who is the leader of the opposition, called for the election to be delayed until November or potentially even until next year. Meanwhile, Winston Peters, deputy prime minister and leader of the New Zealand First Party, sent a letter to his coalition partner, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, also calling for a delay.
At the time, he said that until the alert level is dropped, the “playing field is hopelessly compromised.”
Prime Minister Delays Election
In a live-streamed press conference Monday, Prime Minister Ardern announced that she was delaying the election by four weeks, to October 17.
Ardern said that while she had the sole authority to determine when people cast ballots, she did consult with all the major parties in the country before making such a major decision.
“In the end what matters most is what is in the best interests of voters and our democracy,” she said. “Any decision to review the election date must be as free from partisan political interests as possible.”
Ultimately, she said that this compromise “provides sufficient time for parties to plan around the range of circumstances we could be campaigning under, for the electoral commission to prepare and for voters to feel assured of a safe, accessible and critical election.”
The new date keeps Election Day within the time frame set under New Zealand law, with the latest date possible being Nov 21. However, Ardern added that even if the outbreak gets worse, “we will be sticking with the date we have.”
The government can reassess if a further delay is needed, but there is currently no evidence to suggest it will be.
Public Opinion of Ardern
With the election delayed, now the New Zealand government can focus primarily on the coronavirus cases. According to local reports, health officials are moving quickly to test thousands of workers at airports and other points of entry to figure out how the virus reemerged.
So far, it seems that all of the cases appear to be linked through family or work connections and the infections outside Auckland were traced back to relatives in the city. Still, questions remain about whether or not this new wave could hurt Ardern.
According to the New York Times, Ardern’s approval ratings skyrocketed after the country’s first lockdown. However, Ardern is facing some scrutiny as officials try to determine what recently went wrong and how long this new set of restrictions will last.
Richard Shaw, a politics professor at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand told the Times: “If it transpires that there was a considerable oversight, lax regulation or flawed implementation, that could have a very significant impact on the narrative.”
Still, he noted that there “is a deep reservoir of good will toward the prime minister,” and it is possible that her handling of the upcoming election will actually help her stay in many’s good graces.
“She might have just added 5 percent to her polling by making an announcement that many New Zealanders will think is reasonable, fair and sensible,” Shaw added.
In fact, a poll taken over the weekend from the New Zeland Herald-Kantar showed that 60% of New Zealanders favored a delay and early opinion polls indicate that Arbern’s Labour party is favored to win a second term.
Arderns response to the newest outbreak and any major decisions she makes in the next coming weeks could prove to be crucial for the Labour party.
Leaked Documents and Photos Give Unprecedented Glimpse Inside Xinjiang’s Detention Camps
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)
Biden Vows to Defend Taiwan if Attacked by China
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)
Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders
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.