China’s vast Xinjiang hit with COVID-19 travel restrictions

Xinjiang has been under special scrutiny over the government’s establishment of a series of prison-like re-education centers in which Muslim minorities have been taught to renounce their religion. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 06 October 2022

China’s vast Xinjiang hit with COVID-19 travel restrictions

  • Trains and buses in and out of the region of 22 million people have been suspended
  • The humanitarian costs to China’s COVID-19 pandemic approach have grown

BEIJING: Sprawling Xinjiang is the latest Chinese region to be hit with sweeping COVID-19 travel restrictions, as China further ratchets up control measures ahead of a key Communist Party congress later this month.
Trains and buses in and out of the region of 22 million people have been suspended, and passenger numbers on flights have been reduced to 75 percent capacity, reports said Thursday.
A notice from the regional government said the measures were enacted to “strictly prevent the risk of spillover” of the virus but gave no other details.
As is often the case with China’s draconian “zero-COVID” policy, the measures seemed out of proportion to the number of cases detected.
The National Health Commission announced just 93 cases in Xinjiang on Wednesday and 97 on Thursday, all of them asymptomatic. Xinjiang leaders on Tuesday conceded problems with detection and control measures but offered no word on when they planned to lift the restrictions.
Officials are desperate not to be called out for new outbreaks in their regions and Xinjiang has been under special scrutiny over the government’s establishment of a series of prison-like re-education centers in which Muslim minorities have been taught to renounce their religion and allegedly subjected to a range of human rights abuses.
Xinjiang’s vast surveillance system, relying on ubiquitous checkpoints, facial and even voice recognition software, and universal cell phone monitoring has made controlling travel among the population especially easy.
An earlier 40-day lockdown in Xinjiang left many residents complaining on inadequate food supplies.
“Zero-COVID” has been closely identified with Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, who is expected to receive a third five-year term in office at the congress beginning Oct. 16. That’s despite criticisms from the World Health Organization and massive disruptions to the economy, education and normal life in China.
Last month, a nighttime bus crash that killed 27 people who were being forcefully moved to a mass quarantine location in southwestern China set off a storm of anger online over the harshness of the policy. Survivors said they had been compelled to leave their apartments even when not a single case had been discovered.
“Zero-COVID” has been celebrated by the country’s leaders as evidence of the superiority of their system over the US, which has had more than a million COVID-19 deaths.
Xi has cited China’s approach as a “major strategic success” and evidence of the “significant advantages” of its political system over Western liberal democracies.
Yet even as other countries open up, the humanitarian costs to China’s pandemic approach have grown. With national and some provincial borders closed, tourism has all but dried up and the economy is forecast by the World Bank to grow by an anemic 2.8 percent this year. Xinjiang has been hit especially hard because of sanctions brought against some of its officials and products over human rights concerns.
Even without nationally identified criteria, testing and lockdowns have become the norm for tens of millions of people in China from the North Korean border to the South China Sea, as local officials desperately seek to avoid punishment and criticism.
Earlier this year in Shanghai, desperate residents complained of being unable to get medicines or even groceries during a two-month lockdown, while some died in hospitals from lack of medical care as the city restricted movement. All 26 million city residents in China’s largest city and financial hub have been ordered to undergo two additional days of testing this week, despite the announcement of just 11 new cases Thursday, none of which showed symptoms.


UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal

Updated 12 sec ago

UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal

  • United Nations: 339 million people worldwide will need some form of emergency assistance next year
  • UN aid chief Martin Griffiths: ‘next year is going to be the biggest humanitarian program’ the world has ever seen
GENEVA: The UN appealed for record funds for aid next year, as the Ukraine war and other conflicts, climate emergencies and the still-simmering pandemic push more people into crisis, and some toward famine.
The United Nations’ annual Global Humanitarian Overview estimated that 339 million people worldwide will need some form of emergency assistance next year — a staggering 65 million more people than the estimate a year ago.
“It’s a phenomenal number and it’s a depressing number,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told reporters in Geneva, adding that it meant “next year is going to be the biggest humanitarian program” the world has ever seen.
If all the people in need of emergency assistance were in one country, it would be the third-largest nation in the world, after China and India, he said.
And the new estimate means that one in 23 people will need help in 2023, compared to one in 95 back in 2015.
As the extreme events seen in 2022 spill into 2023, Griffiths described the humanitarian needs as “shockingly high.”
“Lethal droughts and floods are wreaking havoc in communities from Pakistan to the Horn of Africa,” he said, also pointing to the war in Ukraine, which “has turned a part of Europe into a battlefield.”
The annual appeal by UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations said that providing aid to the 230 million most vulnerable people across 68 countries would require a record $51.5 billion.
That was up from the $41 billion requested for 2022, although the sum has been revised up to around $50 billion during the year — with less than half of that sought-for amount funded.
“For people on the brink, this appeal is a lifeline,” Griffiths said.
The report presented a depressing picture of soaring needs brought on by a range of conflicts, worsening instability and a deepening climate crisis.
“There is no doubt that 2023 is going to perpetuate these on-steroids trends,” Griffiths warned.
The overlapping crises have already left the world dealing with the “largest global food crisis in modern history,” the UN warned.
It pointed out that at least 222 million people across 53 countries were expected to face acute food insecurity by the end of this year, with 45 million of them facing the risk of starvation.
“Five countries already are experiencing what we call famine-like conditions, in which we can confidently, unhappily, say that people are dying as a result,” Griffiths said.
Those countries — Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Haiti, Somalia and South Sudan — have seen portions of their populations face “catastrophic hunger” this year, but have not yet seen country-wide famines declared.
Forced displacement is meanwhile surging, with the number of people living as refugees, asylum seekers or displaced inside their own country passing 100 million — over one percent of the global population — for the first time this year.
“And all of this on top of the devastation left by the pandemic among the world’s poorest,” Griffiths said, also pointing to outbreaks of mpox, previously known as monkeypox, Ebola, cholera and other diseases.
Conflicts have taken a dire toll on a range of countries, not least on Ukraine, where Russia’s full-scale invasion in February has left millions in dire need.
The global humanitarian plan will aim to provide $1.7 billion in cash assistance to 6.3 million people inside the war-torn country, and also $5.7 billion to help the millions of Ukrainians and their host communities in surrounding countries.
More than 28 million people are meanwhile considered to be in need in drought-hit Afghanistan, which last year saw the Taliban sweep back into power, while another eight million Afghans and their hosts in the region also need assistance.
More than $5 billion has been requested to address that combined crisis, while further billions were requested to help the many millions of people impacted by the years-long conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
The appeal also highlighted the dire situation in Ethiopia, where worsening drought and a two-year-conflict in Tigray have left nearly 29 million people in desperate need of assistance.
Faced with such towering needs, Griffiths said he hoped 2023 would be a year of “solidarity, just as 2022 has been a year of suffering.”

Ten killed in bombing of Afghan religious school — Taliban official

Updated 30 November 2022

Ten killed in bombing of Afghan religious school — Taliban official

  • No group has claimed responsibility, though Daesh has been waging violence in Afghanistan
  • Samangan province, where the incident took place, has a majority population of ethnic Uzbeks

ISLAMABAD: A bomb blast hit a religious school in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing at least 10 students, a Taliban official said.

The explosion went off at around the time of afternoon prayers at the Al Jihad Madrassa in Aybak, capital of Samangan province, a resident of the city who heard the explosion told The Associated Press. Most of the students at the school are young boys, said the resident, speaking on condition of anonymity for his own safety.

Video distributed by the Taliban to the media showed the blast site, a hall littered with debris, mats and shoes, with dead bodies and bloodstains on the floor. Sirens can be heard in the background and men, some of them armed, move through the hall surveying the explosion’s aftermath.

Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafi Takor said a number of students were wounded in the attack. Samangan province has a majority population of ethnic Uzbeks.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the Afghan affiliate of the Daesh group has been waging a campaign of violence that escalated since the Taliban took power in August 2021.

Daesh has carried out bombings targeting in particular Afghanistan’s Shiite Muslim minority but has also targeted Sunni mosques and madrassas, especially ones connected to the Taliban. The Taliban and the Daesh group both adhere to a hard-line ideology but are bitter rivals.


EU proposal would send proceeds of frozen Russian funds to Ukraine

Updated 30 November 2022

EU proposal would send proceeds of frozen Russian funds to Ukraine

  • Moscow says seizing its funds or those of its citizens amounts to theft
  • "Russia must ... pay financially for the devastation that it caused," Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU's executive said

BRUSSELS: The European Commission proposed a plan on Wednesday to compensate Ukraine for damage from Russia’s invasion with proceeds from investing Russian funds frozen under sanctions.
Officials in the EU, United States and other Western countries have long debated whether Ukraine can benefit from frozen Russian assets, including around $300 billion of Russia’s central bank reserves and $20 billion held by blacklisted Russians.
Moscow says seizing its funds or those of its citizens amounts to theft.
“Russia must ... pay financially for the devastation that it caused,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU’s executive said in a statement.
“The damage suffered by Ukraine is estimated at 600 billion euros. Russia and its oligarchs have to compensate Ukraine for the damage and cover the costs for rebuilding the country.”
European Commission officials said that one short-term option for Western nations would be to create a fund to manage and invest liquid assets of the central bank, and use the proceeds to support Ukraine.
The assets would be returned to their owners when sanctions were lifted, which could be part of a peace agreement that ensured Ukraine received compensation for damages.
“It’s not easy so it will require strong backing from the international community but we believe it is doable,” one official said.
With regard to the frozen assets of private individuals and entities, seizing these is usually only legally possible where there is a criminal conviction.
The Commission has proposed that violations of sanctions could be classified as an offense that would allow confiscation.
Von der Leyen also said that the Commission was proposing the establishment of a specialized court, backed by the United Nations, “to investigate and prosecute Russia’s crime of aggression.”
Moscow denies its invasion, which it calls a “special military operation,” constitutes aggression, a war crime under international law.


French authorities rescue 61 migrants including Pakistanis in English Channel

Updated 30 November 2022

French authorities rescue 61 migrants including Pakistanis in English Channel

  • This was one of the largest emergency operations in recent months 
  • Afghan, Indian, Iranian and Pakistani nationals were aboard the dinghy

BOULOGNE, France: French authorities rescued 61 migrants including small children in the English Channel on Tuesday in one of the largest emergency operations in recent months as calm seas drew a rush of migrants in small boats toward the coast of Britain.

Rescue workers in the port of Boulogne, where the migrants were brought ashore, said about 30 people had to be plucked out of the cold waters as they rushed to climb aboard a French rescue vessel from their rubber dinghy, which had been taking on water.

Officials said the rescue took place about one nautical mile inside British territorial waters.

Afghan, Indian, Iranian and Pakistani nationals were aboard the dinghy, which left the French coast in the small hours of the morning, the refugees said.

At the quayside, the migrants were handed fresh clothing and heat-retaining blankets by emergency workers.

French police earlier on Tuesday had stopped close to 50 migrants from trying to cross the Channel to Britain after mild weather and calm waters led a growing number of people to undertake the dangerous journey in recent days.

Guy Allemand, mayor of the small village of Sangatte near Calais, said some migrants had been forced by police to turn back, but that another 100 had made it to the open waters.

He told Reuters that migrant trafficking networks had recently changed their methods.

“They [traffickers] now arrive with ‘taxi boats’ and the refugees are being asked to run into the water to catch them ... rather than launching their own boats from the beach,” he said.

So far this year more than 40,000 people have crossed the Channel to Britain in small boats, up from 28,526 in 2021. Unusually mild November weather led to a hike in departures.

Earlier this month, Britain and France signed an agreement worth 72.2 million euros ($74.5 million) over the coming year to ramp up joint efforts to prevent illegal migrants making perilous journeys across the Channel.


Australian parliament censures former PM Morrison over secret ministries

Updated 30 November 2022

Australian parliament censures former PM Morrison over secret ministries

  • It marks the first time a former prime minister has been censured by parliament, though the motion is symbolic in nature

SYDNEY: Australia’s parliament on Wednesday voted to censure former Liberal prime minister Scott Morrison after an inquiry found his secret appointment to multiple ministries during the COVID-19 pandemic undermined trust in government.
Morrison, who lost power in a general election in May, secretly accumulated five ministerial roles during the pandemic: health, finance, treasury, resources and home affairs.
The historic motion, brought by the ruling Labor party, passed by 86 votes to 50 in the country’s lower house.
It marks the first time a former prime minister has been censured by parliament, though the motion is symbolic in nature.
“The fact is, that our democracy is precious,” Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said during the debate, speaking in favor of censuring Morrison.
“There’s no room for complacency.”
Morrison has said his decisions were lawful, and that the decision was necessary in case ministers became incapacitated during the pandemic.
“For those who wish to add their judgment today on my actions in supporting this censure motion, I simply suggest that they stop and consider the following: have you ever had to deal with a crisis where the outlook was completely unknown?,” Morrison said in parliament before the vote on Wednesday.
“In such circumstances, were you able to get all the decisions perfectly right?“
Morrison said he had only used the powers on one occasion, to block BPH Energy’s PEP-11 gas exploration project.
He accepted the recommendations of an inquiry into the appointment, including legislation requiring public notice of ministerial appointments.