Asia Pacific Focus

New Zealand’s MP Hamish Walker steps down after confessing he leaked Covid-19 cases details to media
Asia Pacific Focus

New Zealand’s MP Hamish Walker steps down after confessing he leaked Covid-19 cases details to media

Hamish Walker, from the center-right National Party, admitted that he leaked the confidential details of active Covid-19 cases of various nations’ to the media, and steps down from standing in September’s election. He also stated that he was the source of the private data about the 18 cases, which were given to few media houses recently.

On Wednesday, Walker apologized in a written statement that he did this to uncover the administration’s inadequacies, and was told that his actions were not unlawful. He truly regretted his actions and offered no further comment, The Guardian reported

According to The Guardian, Michelle Boag, a former leader of the National Party stated in an announcement uncovering that she had been the individual who was behind the list of details – in her powers as an acting CEO of an Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, she had passed the information to Walker. Boag resigned from her job and expressed she repents her actions and didn’t foresee that Hamish would decide to pass it on to media.” 

The New Zealand Government also announced an independent investigation into the leak earlier this week. Todd Muller, the new leader of the National Party, stated that he had urged Hamish to recognize this blunder to Michael Heron QC. Completely cooperate with the investigation into how the data made it to the media. Muller told the Radio New Zealand that he had also requested the Party to fire Walker for such a serious blunder. 

Bryce Edwards, a political analyst, stated that the National Party was presently defenseless against claims as it had a reputation of unethically leaking stuff to the media. 

The leaking of confidential Covid-19 active cases to the media was indeed an embarrassment and incredibly terrible news for Muller and his Party. Lately, the National Party had been making news about battling the Covid-19, but the sudden scandal news dampened the party’s attempt to contain the pandemic.

Rescue efforts are on as dozens feared dead in floods in Japan
Asia Pacific Focus

Rescue efforts are on as dozens feared dead in floods in Japan

Heavy rains in western Japan have led to intense flooding and landslides, cutting off communities and hampering rescue efforts.

As of Tuesday, at least 50 people are feared dead in floods and landslides in Japan’s Kyushu island which has been witnessing record rains since Saturday. Even as Japan’s Meteorological Agency issued its highest emergency warning with rains to continue until Thursday, over 40,000 personnel from police and fire departments, the coast guard and Self-Defense troops are conducting search and rescue operations.

The death toll is expected to rise with rescuers unable to reach several isolated or low lying areas. The rains have caused rivers to break banks, wash away roads and bridges, making rescue possible only by rafts or helicopter. In the particularly hard-hit areas, survivors spelt out the words “rice, water, SOS” on the ground, waving and calling for rescue and relief.

In a tragic incident, 14 people are feared dead in a nursing home for the elderly. Emergency services and locals managed to rescue 50 staff and residents who evacuated to the first floor but those in wheelchairs who were unable to reach higher ground couldn’t be saved.

Non-compulsory evacuation orders have been issued to thousands of residents but these efforts are likely to be tricky amidst the pandemic. Japan has had close to 20,000 cases of the coronavirus with almost 1,000 dead. The fear of the virus has reduced capacity at evacuation shelters with people preferring to sleep in their cars rather than share the public space. In the shelters, families are being separated with partitions and evacuees are mandates to wear masks and frequently sanitise their hands.

The area is a tourist attraction which had already been suffering from the loss of business due to the pandemic. In 2018, this region witnessed devastating floods that killed more than 200 people.

Arrests under China’s controversial national security law for Hong Kong sparks international concerns
Asia Pacific Focus

Arrests under China’s controversial national security law for Hong Kong sparks international concerns

On Friday, the United Nations rights office communicated concerns in its tweet regarding the national security law passed by China for Hong Kong. UN Representative Rupert Colville told journalists that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was continuing to examine the new law after it came into power and its conformity with global human rights laws.

According to official reports, first person was charged with inciting separatism and terrorism under China’s new security law for Hong Kong. He was carrying a “Liberate Hong Kong” sign in protest as he drove a motorcycle on Friday, the Reuters reported.

The law explicitly condemns “subversion, secession, perpetration, and organization of terrorist movements, and clash with a foreign nation or with external elements to jeopardize national security, The Washington Post expressed. 

The United States and the United Kingdom have also denounced the new national security law and warned Beijing to either prepare for more sanctions.

Chancellor Angela Merkel also expressed concerns over the new law and stated that Germany would raise China’s human rights situation during its administration of the EU that started this month, DW reported.

Despite severe international criticism and protests by Hong Kongers, Beijing passed the security law on the former British ruled state. 

UN representative Rupert Colville told reporters in a press briefing that he believes hundreds might be arrested since demonstrations started on Wednesday. We have heard that around ten people have been arrested under the new law. However, he didn’t have enough information to support the statement right now. 

 Colville expressed concerns about the “obscure and excessively expansive” definitions of certain offenses in the new law that had been received by China’s National People’s Congress. This may prompt oppressive or inconsistent analysis and sanction of the law, which could sabotage human rights security,” he added. 

The OHCHR High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet reiterated worries about constraints on the freedom of speech and expression. Such laws “never to be utilized in criminalizing expression and conduct that is secured under the international human rights law”, The UN News reported.

UK and Australia offer support to Hongkongers
Asia Pacific Focus

UK and Australia offer support to Hongkongers

With a controversial security law taking effect in the city, residents fear persecution under China’s authoritarian rules.

The security law in Hong Kong, passed after an opaque legislative process that took less than six weeks, came into effect on the eve of the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China. Conceived as a ‘one nation, two systems’ model that was meant to give the city a high degree of autonomy from mainland China, these laws are the most significant rejig of the relationship between the central authorities and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region since the handover itself and gives the Communist Party of China new levels of control.

The law criminalises a vague range of actions that are seen as secessionist, subversive, terrorism-related or colluding with foreign forces. For a city that has been protesting since 2014 over increasing Chinese control over their affairs, this meant immediate arrest and prosecution for even peaceful activities such as shouting slogans or holding banners calling for reinstating Hong Kong’s independence. Serious offenders, those considered the brains behind the protests, could be sentenced to life imprisonment, while others could receive jail terms of up to three years.

Since the law came into effect, at least 10 people have been arrested under its stringent charges including a 15-year-old girl who waved a Hong Kong independence flag. The police have also been meeting protests with pepper spray and water cannons and have arrested nearly 400 people. There is unrest and paranoia among the public as the consequences of the new law lie in wait to be discovered. Since the first murmurs of the law, there has been an increase of emigration enquiries from Hong Kongers. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reiterated the promise to offer nearly 3 million British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders the right to settle in the UK. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also said that they were working on a scheme to provide safe haven to Hong Kong residents. China has come out strongly against the suggestion. It has promised countermeasures and said the UK would have to bear all consequences of taking in any fleeing Hongkongers. The UK has no right to grant residency to BNO holders who are essentially Chinese citizens, China has said, and would be a violation of agreements between the two countries. Britain too has said that the new security law violates the Sino-British declaration signed during the handover in 1997.

China’s Parliament took a major step by passing the national security law for Hong Kong
Asia Pacific Focus

China’s Parliament took a major step by passing the national security law for Hong Kong

On Tuesday, China’s Parliament took a major step by passing the national security law for Hong Kong, making way for the most extreme changes to the former British colonial law since it was returned to China after 23 years. 

China’s state news agency, Xinhua, affirmed that President Xi Jinping marked a presidential order proclaiming the law following its consent by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. Furthermore, it will be added to Hong Kong’s constitution. 

Amid tensions, the enactment will squash the global financial hub freedom and rights, and the heaviest punishment would be life detainment. The law has ignited protests in Hong Kong since it was declared by Beijing in May. China says it needs to tackle tensions and instability and refuse criticism and interference in its internal matters.

With the new national security law, Hong Kong would need a new office to deal with cases, however, would likewise beget additional controls such as overseeing education. The city will surely need to establish its own national security commission to execute the orders, with a Beijing-appointed councellor.

The law is planned for controlling incendiary, secessionist, and terror exercises, and foreign interventions in nation’s internal matters. Since long, Hong Kong has been witnessing protests that on occasion turned violent between police and protestors. 

In the previous year, police have arrested more than 9,000 demonstrators, including activists and lawmakers who have regularly campaigned to carry international attention regarding Hong Kong. 

China’s measure towards national security law for Hong Kong shocked the international community and the Hong Kong residents, when it was first introduced in May, building new diplomatic tensions as nations were denouncing Beijing’s move. 

Political analysts, state that the law denotes Beijing’s full takeover of Hong Kong, which was guaranteed 50 years of “self-governance” after the handover by British.

262 Pakistani airlines pilots grounded over shady licenses and credentials, case a ‘serious lapse’ in safety
Asia Pacific Focus

262 Pakistani airlines pilots grounded over shady licenses and credentials, case a ‘serious lapse’ in safety

In a serious lapse of safety protocols in aviation industry, Pakistan is grounding 262 pilots over dodging their examinations and flying under fake credentials, the Pakistan aviation ministry said on Friday. This action is to be followed by an enquiry into their qualifications. The recent development that became a global concern was an aftermath of recent Pakistan airlines airplane crash in Karachi in late May which led to a probe.

The airline crash in Karachi in month of May led to initiating of an investigation into the accident which revealed lapse on the pilots’ side where they neglected the safety protocols and standard procedures. 97 onboard passengers met their ill fate leading to uproar in the aviation ministry and a call for probe.

On Thursday, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) had communicated that it would “ground the pilots with dubious credentials”. Since 2018 there has been an ongoing investigation around examinations and credentials of the airlines pilots, conveyed Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan. Majority of pilots have been accused of someone filling in for them during examinations, and on many occasions all the eight required papers were managed to be written fraudulently.

On Friday, it was conveyed by the Pakistan Aviation Ministry that the 262 grounded Pakistan pilots have pending inquiries against them. The pilots under investigations include 141 from PIA, 9 from Air Blue, Serene Airlines’ 9 pilots, and 17 from Shaheen Airlines. Shaheen airlines have however closed operations now. The list includes 109 commercial pilots while 153 are airline transport pilots, Sarwar Khan elaborated.

Raheel Ahmed, Air Blue deputy Managing Director – Commercial said, “We are still waiting for the list.” PIA official too reported as to not having received any list of grounded pilots. Both the airlines, Air Blue and PIA have offered full cooperation into the investigation and compliance of grounding the listed pilots. The list will be shortly publicized on civil aviation website, an official from aviation ministry said.

The listed pilots have been restricted from flying for clubs or charter services as well.

The recent grounding of the pilots in question is keeping in mind global standards and maintaining Pakistan’s airlines international standing. Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said, “I think this will help us in satisfying the international organizations that we have corrected the wrongdoings.”

The publicized error in pilot’s credentials has led to an uproar on international aviation stage. The International Air Transportation Association and European Union Aviation Safety Agency have conveyed their concerns over dubious credentials on such a large scale.

The pilots in Pakistan first came under scrutiny when a 2018 crash landing led to investigations – the pilot’s license had test date as a holiday, which indicated of a fake license. This led to a probe in motion leading to grounding of 16 PIA pilots in early 2019.

The revised test plan for pilots came into effect in 2012. It was a tricky test schedule in order to match international standards which might have led prospective pilots to acquire illegal means to get license. The program requires passing of 8 exams and minimum 1500 hours of flying experience to get the flying license.    The probe has led to suspending of at least 5 top aviation officials. Khan has assured of fair and legit inquiry into the matter.

Malaysia will not accept any more refugees, says its PM
Asia Pacific Focus

Malaysia will not accept any more refugees, says its PM

The Muslim-majority country says its resources are stretched thin due to the pandemic and it is unable to support the refugees who wash up at its shores.

Malaysia reiterated at the high levels what it has been saying for a while now – that it will no longer be accepting any from refugees from Rakhine State. The Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassen told ASEAN that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on their economy, putting a strain on their resources. There is also anger at these foreigners who are thought to be bringing the virus.

Already earlier in the month, Malaysia made a decision to turn away almost 300 Rohingya who had landed on boats from Bangladesh, which in turn said it was neither obligated nor in a position to take them back. Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia have long been preferred destinations for Rohingya fleeing persecution in Myanmar since 2017 or refugee camps in countries like Bangladesh.

Malaysia doesn’t recognise the Rohingya as refugees but as illegal immigrants just like Myanmar. There has been widespread criticism against the country for the atrocities its military-led campaign has wrought on the Rohingya. Fleeing this, Muslim Rohingya have been escaping into the sea, often in boats run by smugglers who illegally take them to countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

Even though they set out in between November and April, when the seas are relatively calm, there are still many casualties during these trips. Many are thrown overboard and some are set adrift, left to the mercy of the waves. The lucky ones are rescued but often sent back.

According to the UN refugee agency – UNHCR – there are 100,000 Rohingya in Malaysia, while activists in the country claim its higher. Other countries like Bangladesh are under even more strain with nearly 1.1 million Rohingya living in refugee camps there. Countries have long been asking the agency to speed up the process of resettling them in a different, third country. The Prime Minister of Malaysia reiterated this point while also pointing about that the Rohingyas have started falling prey to trafficking and are being sold into slavery, exploitation, or being recruited into militias.

Korean war: South Korea, US to say committed to protect freedom
Asia Pacific Focus

Korean war: South Korea, US to say committed to protect freedom

Today, South Korea and the Americans pledged to stay committed to protecting its “hard-fought freedom” as both sides marked the 70th anniversary of the Korean War.

The war fought on the Korean peninsula between present-day North Korea and South Korea.

War broke out on 25 June 1950, when the Communist government in North Korea invaded South Korea. South Korea was backed by the US.

The fight between the two Korea ended with an armistice arrangement. However, both Koreas never signed a peace agreement. Technically the two Koreas have remained in war and are separated by the Demilitarized zone.

The US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and his South Korean counterpart, Jeong Kyeong-doo, issued a joint statement to mark the occasion. They termed alliance born 70 years back as “born of necessity and forged in blood.”

Both sides paid homage to those who sacrificed their lives for a democratic and free South Korea.

About 520,000 North Koreans and 137,000 South Korean soldiers had died in the conflict. According to South Korean defense ministry reports, as many as 37,000 Americans military personnel had lost their lives.

In recent years differences have cropped up between South Korea and the US over the sharing cost for the US troops deployed in the peninsula. President Donald Trump has demanded that Seoul contribute more to keeping about 28,000 US military personnel in the region. The troops have been stationed to protect the South from its northern neighbor, which possess nuclear weapons.

However, today’s statement states that the allies remain “firmly committed” to protect their freedom and maintain peace.

Korean relationship has witnessed a downswing in recent weeks. North Korean government has suspended all communications to protest against alleged South Korea leaflets to pass messages to dissenters.

Bilateral ties between North and South Korea have not made much headway, except for three summits between the country heads in quick succession.

While Kim Jong Un’s government continues to make provocative speeches, the South Korean government has been criticized for overlooking the statements. After 70 years of war, both sides remain plagued with dislike and fear.

Renaming of islands angers China, Taiwan
Asia Pacific Focus

Renaming of islands angers China, Taiwan

Both China and Taiwan reacted sharply to Japan’s move to rename an administrative area in the East China Sea.

Japanese lawmakers from Ishigaki city yesterday voted to change the name of Tonoshiro to Tonoshiro Senkaku from October 1. Tonoshiro is an administrative area on the East China Sea.

As per reports, the Japanese lawmakers voted for the change as there is a lot of confusion over the Tonoshiro district, which falls in Ishigaki city. Tonoshiro isles are contested by China, Taiwan, and Japan.

China and Taiwan have expressed their concern over this name change.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, while addressing a press meet, said that the Diaoyu Dao group of islands is China’s territory, and Beijing is resolved to protect and safeguard its territorial sovereignty.

Commenting on the renaming of the island by Japan, the spokesperson said that the action is a severe provocation for China. The passing of the law to change the name is null and void.

The move cannot take way Diaoyu Dao from China. The spokesperson said China would formally and firmly oppose the move.  

The same islands are known as Daioyutai by Taiwan. Taiwan, too claims the islands as an inherent part of its territory. Taiwanese government released a statement calling the islands as its territory. The statement also added that Taiwan’s sovereignty is indisputable. Referring to Japanese renaming, it said that other countries’ claims and actions do not take away the islands from Taiwan.

China and Taiwan have expressed their disapproval of naming through diplomatic channels in Tokyo.

China and Taiwan claimed sovereignty over Japanese-controlled Islands since 1949 when the civil war ended in mainland China. Taiwan also claims control over the People’s Republic of China. 

Post-1949, Communist-ruled mainland China has remained diplomatically assertive over the dispute.

Japan does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country. Tokyo established diplomatic ties with mainland China since 1972.

The UN and western countries also took a similar position on Taiwan. China, since the last decade, had unveiled an expansionist policy. In recent months it has tightened its control over Hong Kong; its naval presence in East and South China Sea has consistently increased, making the dominant actors uncomfortable.

China and the EU meet virtually for talks
Asia Pacific Focus

China and the EU meet virtually for talks

The talks will be aimed at cooling some of the tensions from the previous months surrounding the pandemic, Hong Kong and investments.

The EU and China are sitting down together for the first time since their relationship turned sour in the wake of the global pandemic, when Brussels accused Beijing of misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 crisis.

Beijing is still smarting from the fact that the EU called for an independent probe into the origins and spread of the coronavirus. Its 27 members co-sponsored a resolution that was submitted to the WHO’s decision-making body. Many other countries threw their weight behind the resolution.

The EU has also been under pressure from the US, asking it to take a tougher stand on China. Besides, EU officials have said that China is using social media to spread fake news about Europe’s handling of the crisis. China has, of course, been denying all these allegations and maintains that it has been transparent in sharing information.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel will hold video conferences with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping today on several issues. No statement is expected to be released after the meet.

There is much on the table apart from the coronavirus, problems that predate and follow the pandemic. The EU has expressed “grave concern” for the new security laws in Hong Kong, which according to activists and businesses will damage the semi-autonomous nature of the city and its role as a global financial hub. The EU passed a resolution condemning this which China has reacted angrily to. There are also concerns in the EU that Beijing will attempt to buy up European companies weakened by the coronavirus crisis. In new legislation, specifically targeting Chinese companies, the European Commission has said it will block foreign firms backed by heavy state subsidies from skewing competition in Europe. This comes at the back of European anger that the Chinese haven’t opened by their economy despite a 2019 agreement to do so.

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