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African nations mend and make do as China tightens Belt and Road

African nations mend and make do as China tightens Belt and Road

African nations mend and make do as China tightens Belt and Road

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By Duncan Miriri

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Deep in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, members of the National Youth Service tirelessly swing machetes to clear dense shrubs obscuring railway tracks more than a century old.

It’s a distinctly low-tech phase for China’s Belt and Road drive in Africa to create the trade highways of the future.

There’s not enough money left to complete the new 1,000-km super-fast rail link from the port of Mombasa to Uganda. It ends abruptly in the countryside, 468 km short of the border, and now Kenya is resorting to finishing the route by revamping the 19th-century colonial British-built tracks that once passed that way.

China has lent African countries hundreds of billions of dollars as part of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which envisaged Chinese institutions financing the bulk of the infrastructure in mainly developing nations. Yet the credit has dried up in recent years.

On top of the damage wrought to both China and its creditors by COVID-19, analysts and academics attribute the slowdown to factors such as a waning appetite in Beijing for large foreign investments, a commodity price crash that has complicated African debt servicing, plus some borrowers’ reluctance to enter lending deals backed by their natural resources.

“We are not in the go-go period anymore,” Adam Tooze, a Columbia University historian, said about China’s overseas investment projects. “There is definitely a rebalancing from the China side,” said Tooze, whose new book Shutdown examines how COVID-19 affected the world economy, adding that Beijing’s current account surplus was “dwindling somewhat”.

Chinese investments in the 138 countries targeted by BRI slid 54% from 2019 to $47 billion last year, the lowest amount since the BRI was unveiled in 2013, according to Green BRI, a China-based think-tank that focuses on analysing the initiative.

In Africa, home to 40 of those BRI nations, Chinese bank financing for infrastructure projects fell from $11 billion in 2017 to $3.3 billion in 2020, according to a report by international law firm Baker McKenzie.

This is a blow for governments who were anticipating securing Chinese loans to build highways and rail lines linking landlocked countries to sea ports and trade routes to Asia and Europe. The continent is facing an estimated annual infrastructure investment deficit of around $100 billion, according to the African Development Bank.

“The pandemic has actually made things worse. Those numbers will go up,” said Akinwumi Adesina, the president of the bank, citing the need for additional infrastructure to support health services.

Hold-ups have hit some other BRI projects across the continent, such as a $3 billion Nigerian rail project and a $450 million highway in Cameroon.

China’s ministry of foreign affairs did not respond to a request for comment.

Beijing officials have said that the two sides have a mutually beneficial and cooperative relationship and that lending is done openly and transparently.

“When providing interest-free loans and concessional loans, we fully consider the debt situation and repayment capacity of the recipient countries in Africa, and work in accordance with the law,” Zhou Liujun, vice chairman of China International Development Cooperation Agency told reporters in late October.

Another Chinese official, who declined to be named as they are not authorised to speak to the media, said Beijing always intended to implement BRI gradually to manage debt default risks by countries or projects.

‘RAILWAY WILL BE BUILT’

Officials in Kenya said its rail route were long-term projects that would be seen through over time, without giving any specific timeframe. The COVID-19 has presented the world with unforeseen and unprecedented challenges, they added.

“Eventually, this standard gauge railway will still be complete because it is part of what we call the Belt and Road Initiative,” said James Macharia, Kenya’s transport minister.

The government has already spent about $5 billion on its new rail link, and can’t currently afford the additional $3.7 billion needed to finish it. The last station hooked up is only accessible by dirt roads.

Hence engineers in the Rift Valley are no longer building new infrastructure, but rather shoring up colonial-era viaducts and bridges in an operation that the government estimates will cost about 10 billion shillings ($91 million).

There are knock-on effects and, over the border in Uganda, construction on a modern railway line has been delayed because it’s supposed to link to the Kenyan one.

That has been one factor in the hold-up in a $2.2 billion loan from the Export-Import Bank of China (Exim Bank), David Mugabe, spokesperson for Uganda’s Standard Gauge Railway project, told Reuters.

In Nigeria, the government turned to London-headquartered Standard Chartered Bank this year to finance the $3 billion railway project https://www.reuters.com/article/nigeria-railway-funding-idUKL5N2OE43A initially slated to receive Chinese backing. Standard Chartered declined to comment on the deal, citing confidentiality agreements.

In Cameroon, the $450 million highway linking the capital Yaounde and the economic hub of Douala, whose funding was secured from China’s Exim Bank in 2012, stalled in 2019 as the bank stopped disbursing further tranches of the loan.

Exim Bank did not respond to a request for comment on its loans to Uganda and Cameroon.

MALAYSIA TO BOLIVIA

Zhou Yuyuan, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for West Asian and African Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said the COVID-19 crisis had strained Chinese lending institutions and African finances alike.

In future, he added, Beijing was likely to encourage more corporate Chinese investment in the continent, to fill the role of state-backed financing. “Once the pandemic is over, Africa’s economy is likely to recover,” he said. “That could drive China’s corporate investment.”

The pandemic has added to the obstacles facing President Xi’s self-described “project of the century”. After peaking at $125.25 billion in 2015, Chinese investments into BRI nations have dropped every year, apart from 2018, when they edged up 6.7%, the Green BRI data showed.

In 2018, Pakistan https://www.reuters.com/article/us-pakistan-silkroad-railway-insight-idUSKCN1MA028 balked at the cost and the financing terms of building a railway. The previous year, there were signs of growing problems for BRI, after China’s push in Sri Lanka https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sri-lanka-china-insight-idUSKBN15G5UT sparked protests.

AidData, a research lab at the College of William and Mary in the United States, said in a study https://www.reuters.com/world/china/chinas-belt-road-plans-losing-momentum-opposition-debt-mount-study-2021-09-29 at the end of September that $11.58 billion in projects in Malaysia had been cancelled over 2013-2021, with nearly $1.5 billion cancelled in Kazakhstan and more than a $1 billion in Bolivia.

“A growing number of policymakers in low and middle-income countries are mothballing high-profile BRI projects because of overpricing, corruption and debt sustainability concerns,” said Brad Parks, one of the study’s authors.

China’s foreign ministry said in response to the AidData report that “not all debts are unsustainable”, adding that since its launch the BRI had “consistently upheld principles of shared consultation, shared contributions and shared benefits”.

‘RESOURCES ARE FINITE’

A key problem is debt sustainability.

Copper producer Zambia became Africa’s first pandemic-era sovereign default last year after failing to keep up with payments on more than $12 billion of international debt, for example. A recent study suggested more than half of that burden is owed to Chinese public and private lenders.

In late 2018, Beijing agreed to restructure billions of dollars in debt owed by Ethiopia.

Some African governments are also growing more reluctant to take out loans backed commodities such as oil and metals.

“We can’t mortgage our oil,” Uganda’s works and transport minister Katumba Wamala told Reuters, confirming the country had refused to pledge untapped oil in fields in the west to secure the railway loan.

The finance squeeze means African governments must make more strategic investment decisions in terms of debt sustainability, said Yvette Babb, a Netherlands-based fixed income portfolio manager at William Blair.

“There is no infinite amount of capital,” she said.

($1 = 110.2500 Kenyan shillings)

(Additional reporting by Joe Bavier in Johannesburg, Elias Biryabarema in Kampala, Kevin Yao and Ella Cao in Beijing; Editing by Katharine Houreld, Karin Stohecker and Pravin Char)

China’s Central Bank Signals Easing as Economic Risks Mount

China’s Central Bank Signals Easing as Economic Risks Mount

China’s Central Bank Signals Easing as Economic Risks Mount

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·4 min read
 
 

(Bloomberg) — China’s central bank signaled possible easing measures to aid the economy’s recovery after a sharp downturn in recent months fueled by a property slump.

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In its latest quarterly monetary policy report published Friday, the People’s Bank of China removed from its policy outlook a few key phrases cited in previous reports, including sticking with “normal monetary policy.”

 

That suggests a shift in stance toward more supportive measures, several major banks like Citigroup Inc., Nomura Holdings Inc. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said.

The report dropped previous phrases to “control the valve on money supply” and vowing not to “flood the economy with stimulus,” signaling more credit support in coming months.

“We expect Beijing to soon significantly step up its monetary easing and fiscal stimulus to counteract the increasing downward pressure,” Nomura’s Lu Ting wrote in a Sunday note.

China’s CSI 300 Index gained as much as 0.5% Monday morning on expectations of potential loosening, while the 10-year government bond futures contracts gained as much as 0.3%.

Stagflation Risk

The PBOC’s more dovish outlook follows growing concerns about the economy flagged by several officials recently. Premier Li Keqiang told a seminar on Friday that China still faces “many challenges” in keeping the economy stable, although this year’s goals will likely be achieved.

Liu Shijin, who sits on the central bank’s monetary policy committee, said in an online forum Sunday that the economy could enter a period of “quasi-stagflation,” which needs close attention if it happens.

“The concern for growth slowdown is clearly rising among technocrats at different government agencies,” said Macquarie Group Ltd.’s Larry Hu. “But the key is whether the top leaders share such a view.” The Politburo meeting in December and Communist Party’s Central Economic Work Conference due in the same month, will provide more clues, he said.

Growth could weaken to below 5% next year, according to some forecasts, testing authorities’ resolve to cut the economy’s reliance on the highly-leveraged property sector. In the quarterly report, the PBOC said the economic recovery faces restrictions from “temporary, structural and cyclical factors,” and it’s become more difficult to maintain a stable economy.

What Bloomberg Economics Says…

While investors’ expectation for near-term monetary easing is low, our view is that the People’s Bank of China needs to take action to cushion the economy’s slowdown. We maintain our call for a 50-basis-point cut in banks’ required reserve ratio in the coming months.

David Qu, China economist

For the full report, click here.

Any easing steps would likely be targeted toward small businesses and green finance, according to economists, similar to measures the PBOC has already taken in recent weeks, including 200 billion yuan ($31 billion) of financing for coal projects announced last week.

The State Council, China’s equivalent of a cabinet, said Monday more financial support should be given to smaller businesses to cope with rising supply costs. It urged the PBOC and the banking and insurance regulator to use various policy tools in a flexible and targeted way to boost liquidity to smaller firms.

Goldman Sachs’ Hui Shan and colleagues said policy interest rates would likely remain unchanged, while Nomura’s Lu said the chance of a reduction in the reserve requirement ratio will rise in coming months.

The PBOC’s report also addressed a number of other factors:

Property

The central bank reiterated it won’t use the property market to stimulate growth, adding that it will work with local governments to maintain the “stable and healthy development” of the market and protect consumers’ rights.

That suggests marginal structural easing in coming months, according to Tommy Xie, head of Greater China research at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp Ltd.

Currency

There are signs Beijing is becoming more uncomfortable with the rally in the yuan, the best performer in emerging markets this year, with warnings to banks to cap speculation in the foreign exchange market.

In its quarterly report, the PBOC said it will better manage market expectations, help small businesses improve risk management and develop the offshore yuan market. The PBOC may gradually allow a more flexible currency, Xie said in a report Monday.

Fed Policy

The PBOC said the normalization of monetary policy in overseas countries, including the U.S., will have limited impact on China, partly because of its cross-cyclical policies and increasing flexibility in the exchange rate. The central bank will continue to base its policy on domestic conditions and strengthen its autonomy, it said.

Inflation

The PBOC reiterated that inflation pressures are controllable overall. China is a major producer in the world with relatively high self-sufficiency, and this will help it cope with the global commodities surge and rising inflation overseas, according to the report.

(Updates with statement from State Council.)

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Olympic Committee: Tennis Star Peng Shuai Told Us She’s ‘Safe’ in 30-Minute Call

Olympic Committee: Tennis Star Peng Shuai Told Us She’s ‘Safe’ in 30-Minute Call

Olympic Committee: Tennis Star Peng Shuai Told Us She’s ‘Safe’ in 30-Minute Call

·5 min read
 
 
In this article:
Reuters
 
Reuters

New video of missing #metoo tennis star Peng Shuai released by Chinese state media on Sunday stoked further skepticism about her well being— which apparently led her to call the president of the International Olympics Committee by video on Sunday.

The IOC has been noticeably silent on the global concern for the missing athlete, who disappeared after accusing a former vice president of sexual harassment. The winter games are to be held in Beijing in February next year and the IOC has said they would refrain from commenting, saying instead, “We support the quiet diplomacy approach that is being taken and hope it will lead to the release of information about the whereabouts of Peng Shuai and confirmation of her safety and well-being.”

Why Peng called them instead of the Women’s Tennis Association, which has been lobbying for people to put pressure on China and who have been trying to reach her, remains unclear.

In a statement issued Sunday, the IOC said the athlete held a 30-minute video call with President Thomas Bach, during which she thanked the IOC for its concern for her well-being. “She explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time,” the IOC statement said. “That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now. Nevertheless, she will continue to be involved in tennis, the sport she loves so much.” No mention of her allegations or whether they were being investigated were made.

The call came after new video footage was tweeted by the editor of state newspaper Global Times—even though Twitter is banned in China—shows Peng signing giant tennis balls held by children and waving to what may or may not be a crowd in front of her.

Immediately, the spokesperson for the World Tennis Association, which Friday said it would boycott China if she is not heard from soon, called the footage “insufficient.” Steve Simon, the WTA chief, said they have tried unsuccessfully to reach her since she made stunning allegations of sexual harassment against the former vice president Zhang Gaoli Nov. 2.

“While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference,” Simon said. “This video alone is insufficient. As I have stated from the beginning, I remain concerned about Peng Shuai’s health and safety and that the allegation of sexual assault is being censored and swept under the rug. I have been clear about what needs to happen and our relationship with China is at a crossroads.” The WTA did not immediately comment on her call with the IOC.

A second clip appeared several hours later on another state media channel—again via Twitter, which implies it is meant for the global audience rather than Chinese population who may know nothing about her allegations. In the second image, she is seen signing giant tennis balls for young aspiring players with a caption saying she was doing so as “a way of inspiring more kids to play tennis.”

Sunday’s footage followed the release of photos and video of Peng in a restaurant in Beijing where she cannot be heard speaking but her dining partners somewhat awkwardly discuss the date to try to prove it is recent— including one person saying, “Tomorrow is November 20th” before being corrected by another who said, “It is the 21st.” A photo supposedly from her Chinese social media account, also released on Friday, was met with suspicion after a cursor was seen in the screenshot.

Concern for Peng, 35, has gained international attention with White House press secretary Jen Psaki expressing President Joe Biden’s “deep concern” and demanding China provide “independent, verifiable proof” of the missing star’s whereabouts and freedom of expression.

The UK Foreign Office also demanded that China address the issue of her safety and her allegations. “Everyone should be allowed to speak out without fear of repercussions,” it said in a statement. “All reports of sexual assault, anywhere in the world, should be investigated.”

 
 

Peng Shuai having dinner in this screen grab of a video in a Twitter post.

Hu Xijin/Twitter/Reuters

The United Nations Human Rights office has also weighed in, calling for a response from the Chinese Communist party. “It would be important to have proof of her whereabouts and well being,” UN Human Rights spokesperson Liz Throssell told reporters. “We are calling for an investigation with full transparency into her allegation of sexual assault.”

Peng made her original allegations in a post on Chinese social media platform Weibo, but it was removed within 30 minutes by Chinese censors who also scrubbed the Chinese internet of her name and even references to tennis. She said the former vice president forced her to have sex with him and to carry out a sexual relationship.

“I know that for someone of your eminence, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you’ve said that you’re not afraid,” Peng wrote in the deleted post. “But even if it’s just me, like an egg hitting a rock, or a moth to the flame, courting self-destruction, I’ll tell the truth about you.”

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Six massive reasons why Biden should boycott Beijing Olympics

Six massive reasons why Biden should boycott Beijing Olympics

Six massive reasons why Biden should boycott Beijing Olympics

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President Biden says he’s “considering” a diplomatic boycott of next year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing. In fact, that’s the least that’s called for.

The Chinese Communist Party aims to make the Games a propaganda triumph to put Leni Riefenstahl’s “Olympia” to shame. In reality, it deserves the world’s scorn, far beyond simply not sending an official US government delegation.

One: The CCP has violated every provision in the UN Genocide Convention in its horrific, horrific abuse of the Uighurs in the far-west region of Xinjiang. It’s holding roughly 2 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities in some 260 secretly built, high-security concentration camps and other detention centers. The handful who’ve gotten out say they were subjected to indoctrination, sexual abuse and even forced sterilization.

Two: Beijing utterly refuses to cooperate in any real investigation into the origins of the pandemic that’s taken more than 5 million lives. In fact, as David Asher noted, “the scientific and circumstantial evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted from a lab accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology is close to dispositive.”

The CCP has done everything in its power to muddy the waters from the pandemic’s first days. From scrubbing whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang’s name from the Internet to blaming the US for bringing it to China’s shores via frozen-food packaging to muscling the World Health Organization into supporting its lies.

Three: China harvests the organs of prisoners of conscience, a nearly two-decades-long practice, mainly from Falun Gong practitioners and Uighur Muslims. Beijing insists all organs are from “voluntary” donors after death, but the raw numbers render that an impossibility.

Four: The crackdown on freedom in Hong Kong, contrary to Beijing’s promises in the accord handing over the island city. Not only has the CCP squashed any semblance of democracy, it’s now arresting anyone and anything that stands in its way.

Five: Beijing’s war on churches. President Xi Jinping wants no other gods before him: He has been cracking down on China’s Christians for years, refusing to allow children to attend worship, tearing down churches, replacing images of Jesus with his mug, imprisoning pastors and editing the Bible so that it adheres to the CCP line.

Six: In its latest bit of rank tyranny, the regime has “disappeared” a three-time Olympian of its own, tennis star Peng Shuai, after she accused Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier, of sexual assault. That’s how the CCP rolls, but it’s reason enough for a boycott by the athletes themselves if the world’s governments and the International Olympic Committee turn a blind eye.

Letter: China is persecuting Uyghurs

Letter: China is persecuting Uyghurs

Letter: China is persecuting Uyghurs

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The Herald-Times
 
Typing on a keyboard
 

Do you know a Uyghur (wee-gur)? Several families who fled China live in central Indiana after requesting asylum in the United States. China is systematically eradicating anyone practicing religion or cultural practices, including Turkish ancestry, Muslim, Christian, to exploit the cotton producing and mineral rich region in northwest China.

A new report by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial highlights labor camps, rape, sterilization and removal of Uyghur children. People participating in ethnic or religious activities are sent to prison camps along with their families, where hard labor and starvation result in survival rate under 50% at one year. Over 2 million of the 12 million Uyghurs are in camps. To hide this genocide, China locked down all communications into and out of this region. 

This Chinese persecution of Uyghurs continues in the U.S., trying to trace and imprison refugees’ family members back home. What can you do? Learn about this issue. Google: “Uyghur: To make us slowly disappear.” Write your congressman, asking for stronger measures. Investigate sources for the products you buy. Most cotton used in China’s exported clothing, as well as many precious metals, come from the Uyghur region. Please pray for these people in unbelievably ugly and harsh conditions.

Top US admiral warns about China threat at Halifax forum

Top US admiral warns about China threat at Halifax forum

Top US admiral warns about China threat at Halifax forum

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Adm. John Aquilino, center, Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, arrives for a meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, not shown, at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. (Issei Kato/Pool Photo via AP)
 
·3 min read

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (AP) — The head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said Saturday the United States and its allies need to operate with a greater sense of urgency amid rising tensions and China’s increasingly assertive military actions.

Adm. John C. Aquilino reaffirmed America’s commitment to achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific region during meetings with allies at the Halifax International Security Forum.

“Look at what the Chinese have said. President Xi (Jinping) has tasked his forces to be at a level of military parity with the United States by 2027. Those are his words,” Aquilino said in a meeting with journalists.

Aquilino said the U.S. and its allies need to work together more frequently in international waters to build interoperability so they can operate together quickly if needed.

“We need to deliver capabilities sooner and faster,” he said

Tensions have heightened as the Chinese military has dispatched an increasing number of fighter jets near the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory. China has threatened to use force to unite with it if necessary.

This week Chinese coast guard ships also blocked and sprayed water at two Philippine boats carrying supplies to a disputed South China Sea shoal in a flare-up of long-simmering territorial disputes in the strategic waterway.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and has transformed seven shoals into missile-protected island bases to cement its assertions, ratcheting up tensions and alarming rival claimants and Western governments led by the U.S.

President Xi has overseen an assertive foreign policy and expansion of the party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army. It has the world’s second-largest military budget after the United States and is developing submarines, stealth aircraft and ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads.

“They are working at a very accelerated pace,” Aquilino said.

The U.S. and its allies have been promoting the goal of a free and open Indo-Pacific to ensure peace, free navigation and rule-based international order in the key international sea lanes, a move also joined by Japan, Australia and India in a framework known as the Quad. The strategic dialogue is seen as a move to counter China’s increasing influence in the region.

Britain and France, as well as some other nations, have also shifted their attention to the region and recently conducted joint military exercises.

China has defended its growing maritime activities, saying it has the right to defend its sovereignty, security and development interests.

“We are fighting for our values and our ability to be free. Those are the stakes,” Aquilino said.

“The difference between free and open or authoritarian and closed. Which Indo-Pacific would you like to be a part of? It’s clear for the like-minded nations,” he added

Aquilino met with the Canadian chief of defense along with Canada’s minister of defense on Friday.

In its 13th year, the Halifax International Security Forum attracts defense and security officials from Western democracies. About 300 people gather each year in an intimate setting at Halifax’s Westin hotel.

China Furious With Joe Biden As He Mulls Diplomatic Boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

China Furious With Joe Biden As He Mulls Diplomatic Boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

China Furious With Joe Biden As He Mulls Diplomatic Boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

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Team USA vs China Medal Race History At The Olympics Explained

China’s Foreign Ministry has lashed out at President Joe Biden after he said the U.S. is mulling a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics over the ruling communist regime’s human rights record.

“It’s something we’re considering,” Biden confirmed when pressed on the issue during a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Oval Office on Thursday.

A diplomatic boycott from the U.S. would mean that the Biden administration would not send dignitaries to the Beijing Winter Olympic Games in February 2022, but American athletes would still be allowed to compete.

 
 

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian hit back at Biden’s remarks on Friday, saying that it is wrong to politicize the Games.

“The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and the Paralympics are the stage for athletes from all over the world,” he said. “Politicizing sports is against the Olympic spirit and harms the interests of athletes from all countries.”

Biden’s remarks came amid growing calls by several lawmakers and human rights groups for the U.S. to boycott the Beijing Olympics over its human rights abuses, including against its Uyghur population in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where it is estimated that at least one million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are being held in a sprawling network of detention camps.

At a press conference on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the Biden administration was considering a diplomatic boycott of Beijing’s 2022 Olympics due to concerns over human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

“There are areas that we do have concerns: human rights abuses. We have serious concerns,” Psaki told reporters.

“Certainly there are a range of factors as we look at what our presence would be,” she said, adding that there is currently no timeline for a decision by Biden on the potential diplomatic boycott.

Traditionally, high-level delegations from the U.S., as well as other major nations, attend the Olympic Games. This year’s Tokyo Olympic Games were attended by first lady Jill Biden, while second gentleman Doug Emhoff led a delegation to the Paralympic Games.

Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping engaged in their first virtual summit on Monday, but the White House said the pair did not discuss the Games.

On Thursday, Republic Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas urged the Biden administration to commit to a complete boycott of the Beijing Olympics, with “no athletes, no administration officials, no corporate sponsors.”

Cotton cited the Chinese regime’s “crimes against the United States, and the civilized world, and its own people.”

“China runs a totalitarian slave state in which they keep hundreds of thousands, if not millions of religious and ethnic minorities in gulags,” he said, referring to the detention of Uyghurs and others in Xinjiang.

Blinken says US can benefit Africa amid rising Chinese influence

Blinken says US can benefit Africa amid rising Chinese influence

Blinken says US can benefit Africa amid rising Chinese influence

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that the United States considers Africa a “major geopolitical power” where it can deliver tangible benefits, seeking to boost US influence as rival China invests heavily.

Days before China holds a major meeting on Africa in Senegal, where Blinken heads later Friday, the top US diplomat said President Joe Biden plans to convene a summit of African leaders.

In an address at the headquarters of the West African bloc ECOWAS in Abuja, Blinken made no explicit mention of China but said he knew Africans have been “wary of the strings” that often come with foreign engagement.

“I want to be clear — the United States doesn’t want to limit your partnerships with other countries,” Blinken said.

“We don’t want to make you choose. We want to give you choices.

“Our approach will be sustainable, transparent and values-driven,” he said.

He said that other nations’ infrastructure deals can be “opaque, coercive, burden countries with unmanageable debt, are environmentally destructive and don’t always benefit the people who actually live there.”

“We will do things differently,” he said.

He said the Biden administration “firmly believes that it’s time to stop treating Africa as a subject of geopolitics –- and start treating it as the major geopolitical player it has become.”

He acknowledged reasons for cynicism, saying that Africans too often “have been treated as junior partners — or worse — rather than equal ones”.

“And we’re sensitive to centuries of colonialism, slavery, and exploitation that lead to painful legacies that endure today.”

Blinken, whose three-nation trip also included Kenya, promised cooperation on areas including fighting Covid-19 and climate change.

– Threats to democracy –

Biden — who next month holds a virtual summit of democracies — has vowed a new commitment not only to Africa but to democracy after perceptions that his predecessor Donald Trump was not focused on either.

A day after meeting Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Blinken met with religious and civil society leaders as part of an effort to move beyond dealings just with governments in Africa.

He praised grassroots efforts to defuse religious tensions, two days after he reversed the Trump administration’s decision, encouraged by evangelical Christians, to put Nigeria on a blacklist on religious freedom.

“Your leadership is one that we hope all will follow on, not just in Nigeria but beyond,” Blinken said, calling the diversity of Africa’s most populous country a “very wonderful and powerful thing”.

In a tone he has struck throughout the administration, Blinken in his speech acknowledged that the United States was not a perfect model on democracy in the wake of the January 6 mob attack by Trump supporters on the US Capitol.

“Democratic backsliding is not just an African problem -– it’s a global problem. My own country is struggling with threats to our democracy. And the solutions to those threats will come as much from Africa as from anywhere.”

“We need to show how democracies can deliver what citizens want, quickly and effectively,” he said.

Biden has identified China as the paramount US challenge of the 21st century with Beijing’s rapid growth and rising assertiveness at home and abroad.

China has ramped up involvement in Africa in its search for resources and an infrastructure-building blitz — and makes little fuss about democracy.

Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, speaking Thursday at a news conference with Blinken, dismissed concerns about China, saying that Beijing provided needed funding.

“We would have gone with anybody else that was providing something at a competitive rate for us,” he said.

“Sometimes it’s a good thing for you if you’re the attractive bride and everybody is offering you wonderful things.”

sct/pma/mbx

U.S. warns China after South China Sea standoff with Philippines

U.S. warns China after South China Sea standoff with Philippines

U.S. warns China after South China Sea standoff with Philippines

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FILE PHOTO: Philippine Marines fold a Philippine national flag during a flag retreat at the BRP Sierra Madre, a marooned transport ship in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Friday called Chinese actions in using water cannon against Philippine resupply boats in the South China Sea “dangerous, provocative, and unjustified,” and warned that an armed attack on Philippine vessels would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington stood by its treaty ally the Philippines amid an “escalation that directly threatens regional peace and stability.”

Beijing “should not interfere with lawful Philippine activities in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone,” he said in a statement.

“The United States stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order and reaffirms that an armed attack on Philippine public vessels in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments,” Price said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reaffirmed American defense commitments to Manila and pledged to “stand with our Philippine allies” in a call on Friday with his counterpart in the Philippines, Delfin Lorenzana.

“They agreed on the vital importance of peace and stability in the South China Sea and pledged to stay in close contact in the coming days,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

On Thursday, the Philippines condemned “in strongest terms” https://www.reuters.com/world/china/philippines-condemns-chinese-coast-guards-action-south-china-sea-2021-11-18actions of three Chinese coast guard vessels that it said blocked and used water cannon on resupply boats headed toward a Philippine-occupied atoll in the South China Sea.

The incident came days after U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping held a 3-1/2-hour virtual meeting https://www.reuters.com/world/biden-raised-concerns-over-xinjiang-tibet-hong-kong-xi-warns-taiwan-red-line-2021-11-16 this week aimed at ensuring that increasingly intense and acrimonious competition between the superpowers does not veer into conflict.

“The United States strongly believes that PRC actions asserting its expansive and unlawful South China Sea maritime claims undermine peace and security in the region,” Price added in his statement, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

Another State Department spokesperson, who did not want to be identified by name, called the actions of the Chinese coast guard “dangerous, provocative, and unjustified.”

“This is the latest in a series of Beijing-directed actions meant to intimidate and provoke other nations, undermining peace and security in the region as well as the rules-based international order,” the spokesperson said.

Washington has repeatedly condemned China’s assertive pursuit of its extensive territorial claims in the South China Sea, where Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims.

The United States has sailed regular naval patrols in the sea to challenge China’s claims. In February, the State Department said https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-coastguard/u-s-concerned-chinas-new-coast-guard-law-could-escalate-maritime-disputes-idUSKBN2AJ2GN it was concerned by language in a new Chinese law that tied potential use of force, including armed force, by the Chinese coast guard to the enforcement of China’s claims.

(Reporting by Akriti Sharma in Bengaluru, Susan Heavey, David Brunnstrom, Phil Stewart in Washington; Idrees Ali in Manama; editing by Philippa Fletcher and Jonathan Oatis)

The suspicious disappearance of tennis star Peng Shuai is straight out of China’s playbook for forcing rogue celebrities into submission

The suspicious disappearance of tennis star Peng Shuai is straight out of China's playbook for forcing rogue celebrities into submission

The suspicious disappearance of tennis star Peng Shuai is straight out of China’s playbook for forcing rogue celebrities into submission

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·6 min read
 
Jack Ma, Peng Shuai, and Fan Bingbing seen in a tryptic
 
From left to right: Alibaba founder Jack Ma, the tennis player Peng Shuai, and the actor Fan Bingbing.Clive Brunskill/Costfoto/Barcroft Media/CG/VCG via Getty Images
  • Peng Shuai seemingly vanished after accusing a former Chinese official of sexual assault on Nov. 2.

  • It’s common for China’s elites to disappear after displeasing or criticizing the government.

  • This ruthlessness shows that in China, no one is above the law or — more importantly — the Communist Party.

The tennis star Peng Shuai, “X-Men” actress Fan Bingbing, and Alibaba founder Jack Ma were darlings of the Chinese state, symbols that Beijing’s reach extended to Hollywood and Wall Street.

What the trio also have in common is that they vanished without notice after defying Beijing or embarrassing the nation.

This tactic — which comes alongside a mass, unopposed crackdown on lawyersactivistsand state critics — appears to be Beijing’s go-to strategy to tackle disloyalty and prevent rebellion.

Fan vanished for three months in 2018 following revelations that she dodged millions of dollars in tax, only to return with a grovelling apology. Ma vanished for the same period in late 2020 after he criticized China’s reluctance to innovate, coming back to say he had been “studying and thinking.”

Peng, meanwhile, has not been heard from since she accused the former vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her on November 2.

Shuai Peng of China severs during the match against Garbine Muguruza of Spain on Day 2 of 2019 Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open
 
Peng Shuai at the Wuhan Open tennis tournament in 2019.Getty/Wang He

These cases, and many others like it, follow the same arc: A high-profile individual brings China into disrepute, then vanish. They then either reemerge to repent or never return.

“They keep these people and they try to find some sort of arrangement,” Konstantinos Tsimonis, a lecturer in Chinese society at the Lau China Institute at King’s College London, told Insider.

“I think that’s what we had with Jack Ma and I think that’s what we’re going to get with Peng Shuai,” he said, adding that the Chinese government is likely thinking: “We want to make sure you don’t talk anymore, so we don’t have a reemergence of the #MeToo movement in the public sphere.”

Tsimonis also cited the 2011 disappearance of the dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who was detained for 81 days without charge.

“They made up some charges. The message was clear, and they only let him go when he agreed to stop talking,” Tsimonis said. “This [trend] is worrying.” (Ai left China in 2015 and has since openly criticized the Chinese government.)

Ai Weiwei.
 
Ai Weiwei waves from the entrance of his studio after being released on bail in Beijing.David Gray/Reuters

‘This is the norm, not the exception’

China can get away with doing this to celebrities, and countless others, thanks to the vagaries of its legal system, and its power to suppress information on the internet.

“Proximity to the top levels of power — fame, money, power, a Nobel peace prize — do not buy you any added protection,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, told Insider.

“This case has laid bare for yet another large global audience the truly arbitrary nature of power the Chinese government and party wield,” she said, referring to Peng. “This happens all the time, this is the norm, not the exception.”

Former China Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli and Saudi King Salman
 
Then-Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, whom Peng accused of sexual assault, photographed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in August 2017.Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via Reuters

In a way, Peng and Ma’s disappearances weren’t surprising, as criticism of the country and its officials are effectively attacks on the Communist Party.

“The state protects its own at the end of the day,” Roderic Wye, a former British Embassy official in Beijing, told Insider. “Accusing a senior state official is verging on, or is actually seen as, a serious crime against state security.”

Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at London’s School of African and Oriental Studies, agreed in his remarks.

“For a young female celebrity accusing a former PBSC of a sexual crime is just unacceptable, as it could set a precedent for others to be so challenged,” he said, referring to the Communist Party’s powerful Politburo Standing Committee.

How it ends

Peng is well known internationally, so, like with Ma and Fan, it is possible she will reemerge.

“It makes it more difficult for her to be completely disappeared or dealt with. There will be people asking questions” Wye said.

“She would have to make some sort of fulsome retraction” to return to public life, he said.

One of those who apologized to win back their freedom is Fan.

After China made Fan repay 479 million yuan ($70 million) in 2019, she issued a groveling apology on the microblogging site Weibo in which she said she was “deeply ashamed.” Then, in an interview with The New York Times, she practically thanked Beijing for vanishing her.

Since then, her social media posts have carried a nationalist tinge.

fan bingbing
 
Fan Bingbing at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2018, two months before her disappearance.Eric Gaillard/Reuters

That said, some disappearances in China remain a mystery.

In August, the actress Zhao Wei vanished abruptly, and Chinese streaming sites pulled down her TV shows and films. Though no reason was given for her disappearance, Chinese state media — which can be considered an extension of the state — said she was “surrounded with lawsuits” and noted she was banned in 2017 from trading in China’s securities markets for unspecified “market violations.”

Another member of China’s elite who vanished is Ren Zhiqiang, the former chairman of the property behemoth Huayuan.

In a March 2020 essay, Ren launched a thinly-veiled attack on Chinese President Xi Jinping, comparing him to “a clown who stripped naked and insisted on continuing being emperor.” The Chinese Communist Party expelled Ren as a member in June and he was subsequently sentenced to 18 years in prison over corruption charges.

On Wednesday, the Chinese state broadcaster CGTN published an English-language email claiming to be from Peng, which retracted the allegation against Zhang and said she was safe.

The email has not been verified and, instead of alleviating people’s fears, it only increased concerns for Peng’s safety.

Steve Simon, the chairman of the Women’s Tennis Association, said in a statement on Thursday: “Her allegation of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship.”

“The voices of women need to be heard and respected, not censored nor dictated to.”

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