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China Forces Birth Control on Uighurs to Suppress Population

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The Chinese government is taking draconian measures to slash birth rates among Uighurs and other minorities as part of a sweeping campaign to curb its Muslim population, even as it encourages some of the country’s Han majority to have more children.

While individual women have spoken out before about forced birth control, the practice is far more widespread and systematic than previously known, according to an AP investigation based on government statistics, state documents and interviews with 30 ex-detainees, family members and a former detention camp instructor. The campaign over the past four years in the far west region of Xinjiang is leading to what some experts are calling a form of “demographic genocide.”

The state regularly subjects minority women to pregnancy checks, and forces intrauterine devices, sterilization and even abortion on hundreds of thousands, the interviews and data show. Even while the use of IUDs and sterilization has fallen nationwide, it is rising sharply in Xinjiang.

The population control measures are backed by mass detention both as a threat and as a punishment for failure to comply. Having too many children is a major reason people are sent to detention camps, the AP found, with the parents of three or more ripped away from their families unless they can pay huge fines. Police raid homes, terrifying parents as they search for hidden children.

After Gulnar Omirzakh, a Chinese-born Kazakh, had her third child, the government ordered her to get an IUD inserted. Two years later, in January 2018, four officials in military camouflage came knocking at her door anyway. They gave Omirzakh, the penniless wife of a detained vegetable trader, three days to pay a $2,685 fine for having more than two children.

If she didn’t, they warned, she would join her husband and a million other ethnic minorities locked up in internment camps—often for having too many children.

“God bequeaths children on you. To prevent people from having children is wrong,” said Omirzakh, who tears up even now thinking back to that day. “They want to destroy us as a people.”

The result of the birth control campaign is a climate of terror around having children, as seen in interview after interview. Birth rates in the mostly Uighur regions of Hotan and Kashgar plunged by more than 60% from 2015 to 2018, the latest year available in government statistics. Across the Xinjiang region, birth rates continue to plummet, falling nearly 24% last year alone _ compared to just 4.2% nationwide, statistics show.

The hundreds of millions of dollars the government pours into birth control has transformed Xinjiang from one of China’s fastest-growing regions to among its slowest in just a few years, according to new research obtained by The Associated Press in advance of publication by China scholar Adrian Zenz.

“This kind of drop is unprecedented….there’s a ruthlessness to it,” said Zenz, a leading expert in the policing of China’s minority regions. “This is part of a wider control campaign to subjugate the Uighurs.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry referred multiple requests for comment to the Xinjiang government, which did not respond. However, Chinese officials have said in the past that the new measures are merely meant to be fair, allowing both Han Chinese and ethnic minorities the same number of children.

For decades, China had one of the most extensive systems of minority entitlements in the world, with Uighurs and others getting more points on college entrance exams, hiring quotas for government posts and laxer birth control restrictions. Under China’s now-abandoned ‘one child’ policy, the authorities had long encouraged, often forced, contraceptives, sterilization and abortion on Han Chinese. But minorities were allowed two children _ three if they came from the countryside.

Under President Xi Jinping, China’s most authoritarian leader in decades, those benefits are now being rolled back. In 2014, soon after Xi visited Xinjiang, the region’s top official said it was time to implement “equal family planning policies” for all ethnicities and “reduce and stabilize birth rates.” In the following years, the government declared that instead of just one child, Han Chinese could now have two, and three in Xinjiang’s rural areas, just like minorities.

But while equal on paper, in practice Han Chinese are largely spared the abortions, sterilizations, IUD insertions and detentions for having too many children that are forced on Xinjiang’s other ethnicities, interviews and data show. Some rural Muslims, like Omirzakh, are punished even for having the three children allowed by the law.

State-backed scholars have warned for years that large rural religious families were at the root of bombings, knifings and other attacks the Xinjiang government blamed on Islamic terrorists. The growing Muslim population was a breeding ground for poverty and extremism, “heightening political risk,” according to a 2017 paper by the head of the Institute of Sociology at the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences. Another cited as a key obstacle the religious belief that “the fetus is a gift from God.”

Outside experts say the birth control campaign is part of a state-orchestrated assault on the Uighurs to purge them of their faith and identity and forcibly assimilate them into the dominant Han Chinese culture. They’re subjected to political and religious re-education in camps and forced labor in factories, while their children are indoctrinated in orphanages. Uighurs, who are often but not always Muslim, are also tracked by a vast digital surveillance apparatus.

“The intention may not be to fully eliminate the Uighur population, but it will sharply diminish their vitality, making them easier to assimilate,” said Darren Byler, an expert on Uighurs at the University of Colorado.

Some go a step further.

“It’s genocide, full stop. It’s not immediate, shocking, mass-killing on the spot type genocide, but it’s slow, painful, creeping genocide,” said Joanne Smith Finley, who works at Newcastle University in the U.K. “These are direct means of genetically reducing the Uighur population.”

_____

For centuries, the majority was Muslim in the arid, landlocked region China now calls “Xinjiang”—meaning “New Frontier” in Mandarin.

After the People’s Liberation Army swept through in 1949, China’s new Communist rulers ordered thousands of soldiers to settle in Xinjiang, pushing the Han population from 6.7% that year to more than 40% by 1980. The move sowed anxiety about Chinese migration that persists to this day. Drastic efforts to restrict birth rates in the 1990s were relaxed after major pushback, with many parents paying bribes or registering children as the offspring of friends or other family members.

That all changed with an unprecedented crackdown starting in 2017, throwing hundreds of thousands of people into prisons and camps for alleged “signs of religious extremism” such as traveling abroad, praying or using foreign social media. Authorities launched what several notices called “dragnet-style” investigations to root out parents with too many children, even those who gave birth decades ago.

“Leave no blind spots,” said two county and township directives in 2018 and 2019 uncovered by Zenz, who is also an independent contractor with the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, a bipartisan nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. “Contain illegal births and lower fertility levels,” said a third.

Officials and armed police began pounding on doors, looking for kids and pregnant women. Minority residents were ordered to attend weekly flag-raising ceremonies, where officials threatened detention if they didn’t register all their children, according to interviews backed by attendance slips and booklets. Notices found by the AP show that local governments set up or expanded systems to reward those who report illegal births.

In some areas, women were ordered to take gynecology exams after the ceremonies, they said. In others, officials outfitted special rooms with ultrasound scanners for pregnancy tests.

“Test all who need to be tested,” ordered a township directive from 2018. “Detect and deal with those who violate policies early.”

Abdushukur Umar was among the first to fall victim to the crackdown on children. A jovial Uighur tractor driver-turned-fruit merchant, the proud father considered his seven children a blessing from God.

But authorities began pursuing him in 2016. The following year, he was thrown into a camp and later sentenced to seven years in prison _ one for each child, authorities told relatives.

“My cousin spent all his time taking care of his family, he never took part in any political movements,” Zuhra Sultan, Umar’s cousin, said from exile in Turkey. “How can you get seven years in prison for having too many children? We’re living in the 21st century—this is unimaginable.”

Fifteen Uighurs and Kazakhs told the AP they knew people interned or jailed for having too many children. Many received years, even decades in prison.

Leaked data obtained and corroborated by the AP showed that of 484 camp detainees listed in Karakax county in Xinjiang, 149 were there for having too many children—the most common reason for holding them. Time in a camp—what the government calls “education and training”—for parents with too many children is written policy in at least three counties, notices found by Zenz confirmed.

In 2017, the Xinjiang government also tripled the already hefty fines for violating family planning laws for even the poorest residents _ to at least three times the annual disposable income of the county. While fines also apply to Han Chinese, only minorities are sent to the detention camps if they cannot pay, according to interviews and data. Government reports show the counties collect millions of dollars from the fines each year.

In other efforts to change the population balance of Xinjiang, China is dangling land, jobs and economic subsidies to lure Han migrants there. It is also aggressively promoting intermarriage between Han Chinese and Uighurs, with one couple telling the AP they were given money for housing and amenities like a washing machine, refrigerator and TV.

“It links back to China’s long history of dabbling in eugenics….you don’t want people who are poorly educated, marginal minorities breeding quickly,” said James Leibold, a specialist in Chinese ethnic policy at La Trobe in Melbourne. “What you want is your educated Han to increase their birth rate.”

Sultan describes how the policy looks to Uighurs like her: “The Chinese government wants to control the Uighur population and make us fewer and fewer, until we disappear.”

___________

Once in the detention camps, women are subjected to forced IUDs and what appear to be pregnancy prevention shots, according to former detainees. They are also made to attend lectures on how many children they should have.

Seven former detainees told the AP that they were force-fed birth control pills or injected with fluids, often with no explanation. Many felt dizzy, tired or ill, and women stopped getting their periods. After being released and leaving China, some went to get medical check-ups and found they were sterile.

It’s unclear what former detainees were injected with, but Xinjiang hospital slides obtained by the AP show that pregnancy prevention injections, sometimes with the hormonal medication Depo-Provera, are a common family planning measure. Side effects can include headaches and dizziness.

Dina Nurdybay, a Kazakh woman, was detained in a camp which separated married and unmarried women. The married women were given pregnancy tests, Nurdybay recalled, and forced to have IUDs installed if they had children. She was spared because she was unmarried and childless.

One day in February 2018, one of her cellmates, a Uighur woman, had to give a speech confessing what guards called her “crimes.” When a visiting official peered through the iron bars of their cell, she recited her lines in halting Mandarin.

“I gave birth to too many children,” she said. “It shows I’m uneducated and know little about the law.”

“Do you think it’s fair that Han people are only allowed to have one child?” the official asked, according to Nurdybay. “You ethnic minorities are shameless, wild and uncivilized.”

Nurdybay met at least two others in the camps whom she learned were locked up for having too many children. Later, she was transferred to another facility with an orphanage that housed hundreds of children, including those with parents detained for giving birth too many times. The children counted the days until they could see their parents on rare visits.

“They told me they wanted to hug their parents, but they were not allowed,” she said. “They always looked very sad.”

Another former detainee, Tursunay Ziyawudun, said she was injected until she stopped having her period, and kicked repeatedly in the lower stomach during interrogations. She now can’t have children and often doubles over in pain, bleeding from her womb, she said.

Ziyawudun and the 40 other women in her “class” were forced to attend family planning lectures most Wednesdays, where films were screened about impoverished women struggling to feed many children. Married women were rewarded for good behavior with conjugal visits from their husbands, along with showers, towels, and two hours in a bedroom. But there was a catch – they had to take birth control pills beforehand.

Some women have even reported forced abortions. Ziyawudun said a “teacher” at her camp told women they would face abortions if found pregnant during gynecology exams.

A woman in another class turned out to be pregnant and disappeared from the camp, she said. She added that two of her cousins who were pregnant got rid of their children on their own because they were so afraid.

Another woman, Gulbakhar Jalilova, confirmed that detainees in her camp were forced to abort their children. She also saw a new mother, still leaking breast milk, who did not know what had happened to her infant. And she met doctors and medical students who were detained for helping Uighurs dodge the system and give birth at home.

In December 2017, on a visit from Kazakhstan back to China, Gulzia Mogdin was taken to a hospital after police found WhatsApp on her phone. A urine sample revealed she was two months pregnant with her third child. Officials told Mogdin she needed to get an abortion and threatened to detain her brother if she didn’t.

During the procedure, medics inserted an electric vacuum into her womb and sucked her fetus out of her body. She was taken home and told to rest, as they planned to take her to a camp.

Months later, Mogdin made it back to Kazakhstan, where her husband lives.

“That baby was going to be the only baby we had together,” said Mogdin, who had recently remarried. “I cannot sleep. It’s terribly unfair.”

___________

The success of China’s push to control births among Muslim minorities shows up in the numbers for IUDs and sterilization.

In 2014, just over 200,000 IUDs were inserted in Xinjiang. By 2018, that jumped more than 60 percent to nearly 330,000 IUDs. At the same time, IUD use tumbled elsewhere in China, as many women began getting the devices removed.

A former teacher drafted to work as an instructor at a detention camp described her experience with IUDs to the AP.

It started with flag-raising assemblies at her housing compound at the beginning of 2017, where residents were forced to chant: “If we have too many children, we’re religious extremists….That means we have to go to the training centers.” After every flag-raising ceremony, police rounded up parents with too many children – over 180 – until “not a single one was left,” she said. Officers with guns and tasers hauled her neighbors away at night, and from time to time pounded on her door and swept her apartment for Qurans, knives, prayer mats and of course children.

“Your heart would leap out of your chest,” she said.

Then, that August, officials in the teacher’s compound were told to install IUDs on all women of childbearing age. She protested, saying she was nearly 50 with just one child and no plans to have more. Officials threatened to drag her to a police station and strap her to an iron chair for interrogation.

She was forced into a bus with four armed officers and taken to a hospital where hundreds of Uighur women lined up in silence, waiting for IUDs to be inserted. Some wept quietly, but nobody dared say a word because of the surveillance cameras hanging overhead.

Her IUD was designed to be irremovable without special instruments. The first 15 days, she got headaches and nonstop menstrual bleeding.

“I couldn’t eat properly, I couldn’t sleep properly. It gave me huge psychological pressure,” she said. “Only Uighurs had to wear it.”

Chinese health statistics also show a sterilization boom in Xinjiang.

Budget documents obtained by Zenz show that starting in 2016, the Xinjiang government began pumping tens of millions of dollars into a birth control surgery program and cash incentives for women to get sterilized. While sterilization rates plunged in the rest of the country, they surged seven-fold in Xinjiang from 2016 to 2018, to more than 60,000 procedures. The Uighur-majority city of Hotan budgeted for 14,872 sterilizations in 2019 _ about 34% of all married women of childbearing age.

Even within Xinjiang, policies vary widely, being harsher in the heavily Uighur south than the Han-majority north. In Shihezi, a Han-dominated city where Uighurs make up just 2% of the population, the government subsidizes baby formula and hospital birth services to encourage more children, state media reported.

Zumret Dawut got no such benefits. In 2018, the mother of three was locked in a camp for two months for having an American visa.

When she returned home under house arrest, officials forced her to get gynecology exams every month, along with all other Uighur women in her compound. Han women were exempted. They warned that if she didn’t take what they called “free examinations”, she could end up back in the camp.

One day, they turned up with a list of at least 200 Uighur women in her compound with more than two children who had to get sterilized, Dawut recalled.

“My Han Chinese neighbors, they sympathized with us Uighurs,” Dawut said. “They told me, ‘oh, you’re suffering terribly, the government is going way too far!’”

Dawut protested, but police again threatened to send her back to the camp. During the sterilization procedure, Han Chinese doctors injected her with anesthesia and tied her fallopian tubes _ a permanent operation. When Dawut came to, she felt her womb ache.

“I was so angry,” she said. “I wanted another son.”

___________

Looking back, Omirzakh considers herself lucky.

After that frigid day when officials threatened to lock her up, Omirzakh called relatives around the clock. Hours before the deadline, she scraped together enough money to pay the fine from the sale of her sister’s cow and high-interest loans, leaving her deep in debt.

For the next year, Omirzakh attended classes with the wives of others detained for having too many children. She and her children lived with two local party officials sent specially to spy on them. When her husband was finally released, they fled for Kazakhstan with just a few bundles of blankets and clothes.

The IUD still in Omirzakh’s womb has now sunk into her flesh, causing inflammation and piercing back pain, “like being stabbed with a knife.” For Omirzakh, it’s a bitter reminder of everything she’s lost _ and the plight of those she left behind.

“People there are now terrified of giving birth,” she said. “When I think of the word ‘Xinjiang,’ I can still feel that fear.”





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Turkey Torn on Whether Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Should Be a Museum or a Mosque

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Seraffettin was at home under coronavirus ­lockdown on May 29 when a Muslim cleric recited Quranic verses atop a carpeted dais inside Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum. But the imam’s reading, to mark the 567th anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of the city, lingered in the simit bread vendor’s mind weeks after he returned to the courtyard outside Turkey’s most visited attraction.

“Hagia Sophia officially belongs to Turkey,” Seraffettin said on July 7, outside the 6th-century UNESCO world heritage site where he has sold the sesame-seed dotted snack for 15 years. “But we have to understand that people come to visit it from many different countries. We have to let them see and feel their history too.” Like other vendors, he declined to give his full name so that he could speak freely.

A principal seat of power for Orthodox Christians for almost 1000 years, the Hagia Sophia, known as Ayasofya in Turkish, became a mosque in 1453 after the Ottomans breached Constantinople’s walls. Its mosaics and frescoes were painted over, and for centuries it stood as a symbol of Christian–Islamic rivalry. In 1934, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who envisioned modern Turkey as a secular nation, ordered it turned into a museum. But later in July, a court is set to rule on whether the Ataturk-­era decree can be annulled, paving the way for the Hagia Sophia to again be a mosque.

Orthodox Christians in Greece and Russia were aghast. Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said in a statement that the building’s reconversion would upset millions of Christians worldwide and could “fracture” relations between East and West. A senior Russian Orthodox Church official, meanwhile, lamented what he described as a “return to the Middle Ages.”

On July 1, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo weighed into the debate. In a tweet, he urged Turkey to keep the Hagia Sophia a museum to show it respected pluralism. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded that such reactions were “tantamount to a direct attack on our sovereignty.”

Domestically, the status of the Hagia Sophia strikes at the heart of the battle between Turkey’s past and a future embodied by Erdogan’s brand of religious nationalism. “Istanbul is a city of mosques and the politics that surrounds them,” says Soner Cagaptay, author of Erdogan’s Empire: Turkey and the Politics of the Middle East. Ataturk making Hagia Sophia a museum underscored his commitment to secularism, he says. Now, nearly a century later, Erdogan is attempting the opposite, “flooding Turkey’s public space with his own understanding of religion.”

Turkey’s 20th-century secular rulers often limited the freedom of religious expression, for decades banning the headscarf in state institutions, among other measures. It is difficult to argue that such limitations are still an issue, says Cagaptay, but Hagia Sofia’s continued closure to prayers allows Erdogan to assert that his “conservative base is being victimized, or could be victimized should he fall from power.”

Erdogan’s grip on power looks less assured than ever. In 2019, shortly after Turkey endured its first recession in a decade, his governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost the mayorship of Istanbul, which it had held for 25 years. Prominent defections—including that of the former economy minister Ali Babacan—risk splitting his base at a time when the global pandemic is heaping fresh pressure on Turkey’s economy.

Polls suggest slightly more Turkish people support the Hagia Sophia becoming a mosque than oppose it. But a majority also think the debate is being raised now primarily to serve the government’s agenda. More than 55% of respondents to a June survey conducted by Turkey’s Metropoll said its main purpose is either to distract from discussions of Turkey’s economic crisis or to create an argument the government can use to influence early elections.

“It’s a bluff, like poker,” says Mehmet, 60, who owns a shop selling carpets and silverware near Seraffettin’s simit trolley. For now, he says, there’s no need to convert the building. “Did we fill all the other mosques in Turkey?”

There are indications the court could rule in Erdogan’s favor. In a similar case last November, a Turkish court ruled that an Ataturk-era decree making the nearby Chora church a museum was unlawful. Like Hagia Sofia, it had been converted into a mosque during the Ottoman period. Per the court’s ruling, it “cannot be used except for its essential function,” Foreign Policy reports.

Before Hagia Sophia was a mosque, however, it was a cathedral. At least one Orthodox leader believes it might be time for a new approach completely. Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Sahak Mashalian has endorsed the idea of restoring Hagia Sophia as a place of worship for both Christians and Muslims, reports Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper — an announcement that has sparked controversy among Greek and Armenian communities.

But Hagia Sophia has long attracted visitors of every faith. Last year, its immense dome, ornate minarets, and medieval frescoes drew some 3.7 million tourists, making it Turkey’s most visited monument. Yet Sami Bozbey, a trilingual tour guide worried that changing its status would elongate queue times, and might mean covering up mosaic images of the human form, which are considered idolatrous in mosques. He fears that could dissuade foreigners from visiting and hurt an industry already reeling from the pandemic. “Look around,” he says, scanning the courtyard for tourists, “everybody’s struggling.”

With reporting by Engin Bas / Istanbul





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With prizes, food, housing and cash, Putin rigged Russia's most recent vote

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When Russians voted in early July on 200 constitutional amendments, officials rigged the election to create the illusion that President Vladimir Putin remains a popular and powerful leader after 20 years in office. In reality, he increasingly relies on manipulation and state repression to maintain his presidency. Most Russians know that, and the world is catching up.At the center of the changes were new rules to allow Putin to evade term limits and serve two additional terms, extending his tenure until 2036. According to official results, Putin’s regime secured an astounding victory, winning 78% support for the constitutional reform, with 64% turnout. The Kremlin hailed the national vote as confirmation of popular trust in Putin. The vote was purely symbolic. The law governing constitutional change does not require a popular vote. By March 2020, the national legislature, Constitutional Court and Russia’s 85 regional legislatures had voted to enact the proposed amendments. Yet, the president insisted on a show of popular support and national unity to endorse the legal process. The Kremlin’s goal was to make Putin’s 2024 reelection appear inevitable. Given the stakes, the outcome was never in doubt – but it did little to resolve uncertainty over Russia’s future. Declining social supportWhy hold a vote if a vote isn’t needed?As a scholar of Russian electoral competition, I see the constitutional vote as a first step in an effort to prolong Putin’s 20-year tenure as the national leader. The Kremlin’s success defined the legal path to reelection and the strategy for securing an electoral majority in the face of popular opposition.Its effect on societal attitudes is less clear. A recent poll by the independent polling organization the Levada Center showed that while 52% of respondents supported Putin’s reelection, 44% opposed. At the same time, 59% want to introduce a 70-year-old age cap for presidential candidates. This change would bar the 68-year-old president from running again. [Get facts about coronavirus and the latest research. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]The government’s disorganized and weak response to COVID-19 highlighted the inefficient and corrupt system and produced an unprecedented drop in Putin’s public approval ratings. Growing signs of popular discontent in Russia suggest this polling data underestimates demand for change. Local protest against pollution, trash incineration and state reforms continue to grow across the Federation. Focus group data reveals that ordinary Russians are concerned about state repression and civil rights violations. In the leadup to the constitutional vote, internet influencers read the public mood and refused payments for their endorsement, fearing a backlash from followers and advertisers. A new Putin majorityDeclining popular support highlights the difficulty of building a new voting coalition. Manufacturing a demonstration of national unity was the first step in reinventing Putin’s links to core supporters in the runup to the next national election cycle. By 2012, Putin’s first coalition, forged in the economic recovery of the early 2000s, was eroded by chronic economic stagnation punctuated by crisis. In the mid-2010s, Putin’s new majority was based on aggressive foreign policy actions. That coalition declined, as conflicts in Ukraine and Syria dragged on, and public support for expensive foreign policy adventures decreased.The constitutional vote marks Putin’s third attempt to reconstruct electoral support rooted in patriotism, conservative values and state paternalism that echoes the Soviet era. Fixing the voteThe constitutional reform campaign focused on state benefits rather than the Putin presidency. Putin offered something for everyone in the 200 amendments. As an antidote to unpopular pension reforms, a new provision guarantees pensioners annual adjustments linked to inflation. Other amendments codified existing policies guaranteeing housing and a minimum wage. New clauses codify Putin’s version of conservative values, with measures that add a reference to God, a prohibition against same-sex marriage and support for patriotic education. Other provisions take aim at corruption, by prohibiting state officials from holding offshore accounts.A massive PR campaign framed starkly different appeals to different voter groups. For those concerned with international security, ads depicted apocalyptic visions of Russia’s future after a NATO invasion. For younger voters, appeals depicted happy families voting to support a bright future. State television featured supportive cultural icons and artists, including Patriarch Kirill, who is the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Putin himself argued that participation was a patriotic duty. No one mentioned the controversial loophole that would allow Putin to run again. The campaign foretold the outcome: The regime would stop at nothing to secure success. Officials coerced employees of government agencies and large businesses to turn out. Voters were offered prizes, food and chances to win new housing and cash for participating. Ostensibly in response to COVID-19, the Electoral Commission altered voting procedures to evade observation, developing a flawed online voting system and creating mobile polling stations in parks, airports and outside apartment blocks. There is overwhelming evidence that the Kremlin resorted to falsification to produce the desired outcome. Most Russians understand that the manufactured outcome does not accurately reflect attitudes about Putin’s reelection. Limits of disinformationThere is growing evidence that the public is no longer persuaded by disinformation and political theater such as the rigged constitutional vote. Trust in state media, the president and the government are declining precipitously.The realities of sustained economic stagnation and the Kremlin’s anemic response to COVID-19 stand in sharp contrast to its all-out approach to the symbolic national vote. It can rig a vote, but it can’t control a virus.The Kremlin’s pandemic response raises doubts about its ability to fulfill new constitutional mandates. Widely publicized efforts to reform the Soviet-era health care system still left hospitals unprepared to manage the pandemic. The state proved incapable of delivering bonuses to first responders and medical workers. The Kremlin refused to use its substantial emergency fund to support entrepreneurs, families with children and the unemployed. Given these realities, upcoming elections will test the illusion of a new pro-Putin majority defined by this rigged vote. And if the voters abandon Putin, the new Constitution provides a final path to remain in office: the unelected chairmanship of the powerful new State Council.This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts.Read more: * Russia’s cabinet resigns and it’s all part of Putin’s plan * Vladimir Putin’s lying gameRegina Smyth does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.



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China’s Top Diplomat Says U.S. Policy Is Driven by ‘McCarthy-Style Paranoia’

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China’s top diplomat blasted U.S. policy toward Beijing while also proposing a blueprint for getting spiraling relations between the world’s biggest economies back on track.

“Current U.S. policy toward China is based on strategic misjudgments that lack factual evidence, and is full of emotional catharsis and McCarthy-style paranoia,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during a pre-recorded address for a China-U.S. think tank and media forum, which also featured a speech by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. He added that “artificially creating various ‘China threats’ may eventually lead to self-fulfilling prophecies.”

Wang said China is willing to resume dialogue mechanisms at all levels with the U.S. at any time and proposed the two countries group outstanding issues into three lists –cooperation, dialogue and differences — with think tanks taking the lead in researching the issues. He also called for cooperation on the coronavirus, saying that China is willing to communicate further on treatment, vaccine research and economic recovery.

“As long as both sides have the positive will to improve and grow this relationship, we will find ways to steer this relationship out of the difficulties and bring it back to the right track,” Wang said.

‘Unreasonable Suspicion’

Already strained ties have gotten worse after China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong, prompting the U.S. to revoke certain trade privileges and threaten sanctions against Chinese officials. The two countries are also sparring on everything from the South China Sea to technologies like 5G networks to access for academics and media organizations.

U.S. President Donald Trump said this week he is considering banning ByteDance Ltd.’s short video app TikTok as retaliation against China over its handling of the virus. The U.S. announced visa restrictions for officials over China’s actions in Tibet and Hong Kong, which sparked retaliation from China, and Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien told reporters to expect “a significant roll-out of measures with respect to China over the coming days and weeks.”

“The U.S.’s unreasonable suspicion of China has reached the point where it mistakes the reflection of a bow for a snake and sees every bush and tree as an enemy soldier,” Wang said, adding that the two powers should not seek to transform each other. “It seems that every Chinese investment has a political purpose, every student studying abroad has a spy background, and every cooperative initiative has an ulterior motive.”

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on Wednesday continued to slam the Chinese government and President Xi Jinping, potentially further inflaming ties. He said the U.S. would start a dialogue soon with the European Union on ways to meet the challenge from China.

Xi’s impact “on the world is not good for free peoples and democracy loving peoples, and the world will come together to respond to that,” Pompeo told reporters at a news conference.

Pompeo held secretive talks last month with top Chinese diplomat and Politburo member Yang Jiechi in Hawaii that failed to stem the attacks on both sides. That meeting showed it will be difficult for the two sides to make progress mending ties and that Wang’s proposals to restart dialogue were ”too romantic and too idealistic,” according to Shi Yinhong, an adviser to China’s cabinet and a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.

”It was already difficult enough for the two countries to sit down and come up with a list a few years ago when ties were much more friendly,” Shi said. “If it didn’t happen then, why would it be possible now?”





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