Asia Pacific Focus

Taiwan’s Hsiao Bi-Khim attends Biden’s inauguration, signaling towards building strong ties with the US
Asia Pacific Focus

Taiwan’s Hsiao Bi-Khim attends Biden’s inauguration, signaling towards building strong ties with the US

Taiwan was given the U.S. official initiation on Wednesday (Jan. 20) for the first time since President Jimmy Carter cut off political ties with Taiwan in 1979. Taiwan’s envoy to the United States Hsiao Bi-Khim attended President-elect Joe Biden’s inaugural ceremony at the Capitol Hill.

At 11 a.m., just ere Biden’s swearing-in ceremony, Hsiao posted a tweet in which she expressed it was an honor to represent Taiwan at President Biden and Vice President Harris‘s inaugural ceremony. 

She also uploaded a video on her official Twitter handle expressing, “I’m extremely honored to be here today on behalf of the government of Taiwan”. She added that “Democracy is our common language and freedom is our common goal. I am looking forward to working with the Biden Administration and improving our common values and interests.”

The preventive protocols enforced amid the Wuhan Covid pandemic may have helped Hsiao’s historic participation. This year, administrators were not given countless invites, rather were just allowed to bring their spouse or family and friend. 

At first, it seemed that Taiwan would not have a presence, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) stating that it would be hard for the nation to be represented this year due to the strict limitations put on participation. 

However, on Wednesday, MOFA gave a public statement expressing that Hsiao has accepted an official invitation from the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies and represents the Taiwanese government in Washington DC.

The Taiwanese Ministry acknowledged that this was the first time that a Taiwanese delegate had been officially having received an invite. The event shows a solid and friendly relation between Taiwan and the US which is based on shared common values.

Taiwan government promised that in the future, the administration will continue to strengthen economic and bilateral ties at all levels and in various sectors with the new US administration “on the current solid foundation, and will further work on deepening the Taiwan-US partnership.”

German foreign ministry defends Thai King’s visa-free stay in Bavaria
Asia Pacific Focus

German foreign ministry defends Thai King’s visa-free stay in Bavaria

Despite objections raised by the German parliament over the visa-free stay of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn, for months at stretch during the initial lockdown, the country’s foreign ministry said that he didn’t require a visa. For the past few years, Thailand’s monarch, along with his entourage, has been frequently visiting the country to stay in the southwestern state of Bavaria.

With regard to his frequent trips to the European nation, German government raised two key issues. One surrounding the nature of the Thai King’s visa and other if he was conducting the state affairs for his nation from Germany, which the German law prohibits.

In January, the ministry wrote a letter addressed to Wolfgang Schaeuble, president of the Bundestag, offering clarification over the matter. The foreign ministry stated that the Thai monarch did not need a visa when entering the country, and hence the German authorities could not control his visits or duration of his stay. Though its not clear if the Thai monarch was controlling his state from Germany or not.

In the letter, the ministry added that King Vajiralongkorn needed a visa till he was a crown prince but not after he became the head of state.

Reports claim that Thai King was living in Bavaria until October, and returned back to his kingdom to commemorate the fourth anniversary of his father’s death. His visit back home was met with rising protests against the Thai government, led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who was slammed for his pro-royalist tone and allowing the army to maintain its grip on power. Student-led demonstrations demanded Prayuth’s resignation and rejection of the new constitution which extended more power to the monarchy. The protestors called for reforms to curb the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Student protestors even marched towards and carried demonstration outside the German embassy in Bangkok to press the European nation to conduct fair investigation into the king’s activities in Germany. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas then responded that the authorities would “permanently review the goings-on and act immediately if things are found that we perceive to breach the law.”

Contradicting the ministry’s claim, the parliamentary researchers submitted a document stating, “The granting of visa-free entry for the Thai king’s private visits in Germany cannot be justified through utilization and interpretation of the relevant laws… At best, one can assume the existence of a legal loophole.”

Sevim Dagdelen, the member of the Left Party and party’s representative on the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, was the one to push initiate the parliamentary researchers towards the issue, demanding clarification over Thai King’s stay in the country, even during the lockdown months when everything was shut down. “The Federal Government must stop pretending its hands are tied and start to use the immigration law’s leeway to stop the Thai king from continuing his despotic governing from Germany,” Dagdelen told media.

Slamming foreign ministry’s coverup for the Thai’s travels and stays in German, Margarete Bause, the Greens’ spokesperson on human rights, said that the latest Bundestag’s presidential research document was less than a slap in the face for the German government. “The foreign ministry has for months been wiggling around the issue and uses any possible legal grey zone to avoid positioning itself clearly,” said Bause. “Especially in view of the increasingly harsh crackdown against the Thai opposition, it is irresponsible that the German government effectively grants the Thai king permanent special rights,” she added

Indian Vaccine Variant To Steer Clear-Off Immunity Compromised Patients
Asia Pacific Focus

Indian Vaccine Variant To Steer Clear-Off Immunity Compromised Patients

Bharat Biotech has warned against severe side effects of their Covaxin, especially for those who are immuno compromised or are taking medication that can effect their immune system. 

Those being administered the vaccine should also disclose any underlying allergies and ailments to their officer in-charge, the pharmaceutical company has warned. 

As the vaccine received emergency approval after a battery of trials, it is now admitting that the vaccine actually might not be affective but prove fatal for some. 

As the corona virus develops ability to mutate and effect the human being, while its vaccine is effective on this new strain, it might not be able to stabilize side effects in certain kinds of patients. This will definitely include those with severe allergies or immune compromised medical conditions. 

Additionally, patients on blood thinners ,undergoing pregnancy or even running a mild fever due to other underlying infections should avoid taking the Covid-19 vaccine

The vaccine could create severe allergic reactions but this should be seen as a rare occurrence, according to an official statement issued by the Bharat Biotech spokesperson. 

Side effects could include difficulty in breathing, swelling on the face and throat, fastened heartbeat, body rashes, dizziness and weakness. While most inoculations do show certain level of side effects, doctors are not sure if the vaccine might react differently with certain individuals. 

It is a known fact that the development of a vaccine does take many hits and trials, before it can reach a balanced level where it can cover a huge population. The measles vaccine went through such a process of evolution. But what is also creating a problem is the various variants of the vaccine that is now starting to do rounds worldwide. 

India is depending on its home grown vaccine. Those administered the Covaxin are going to be monitored for a period of three months after being  administered the second dose, post which patients can seek medical help in case there are any adverse reactions  to the vaccination. This has been confirmed by Bharat Biotech. 

Samsung heir Lee Jae Yong charged for bribery scandal, gets 2.5 years of prison term
Asia Pacific Focus

Samsung heir Lee Jae Yong charged for bribery scandal, gets 2.5 years of prison term

Samsung heir Lee Jae Yong: A high court in South Korea has sentenced Lee Jae two years and six months of prison term. Yong has been sentenced for bribery scandal, the case retrial of the one that had earlier charged former South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Park has also been jailed for bribery and corruption. 

The decision has put Samsung’s future in jeopardy and Lee is likely to have ramifications over his future and role in the tech giant. Since 2014 Lee has been the head of Samsung Electronics, after his father Lee Kun-hee, the Samsung group titan, suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized. Mr. Lee Kun-hee passed away last year. 

Furthermore, the news of Lee’s sentence plummeted Samsung Electronics shares by over 4%. The shares later took hold of the ground. 

Experts fear that the sentencing will lead to a leadership vacuum in Samsung and bring decision-making mechanism to a road-block regarding future major investments. 

The court ruled, “Lee actively provided brines and implicitly asked the president to use her power to help his smooth succession” as Samsung head. It added, “It is very unfortunate that Samsung, the country’s top company and proud global innovator, is repeatedly involved in crimes whenever there is a change in political power.” 

Lee’s legal team was disappointed with the decision. Lee has 18 months left to be served, as already served detention time would be counted towards the sentence. 

South Korean court found Lee guilty of embezzlement, bribery and concealment of criminal proceeds worth approximately 8.6 billion won ($7.8 million). 

This is not the first time that Lee has been accused of bribery and has engaged in a legal battle. Lee was first arrested in February 2017 as he was on verge of becoming Samsung’s leader. The case was regarding his role in a corporate and political scandal that also involved then president Park Geun-hye.

Samsung, under Lee, was accused to paying 43bn won to two non-profit foundations operated by Park’s friend Choi Soon-sil. These foundations had allegedly paved way to make Lee the head of Samsung by baking a controversial merger in Samsung. 

China censures the US trade ban on products in Xinjiang region over forced labor
Asia Pacific Focus

China censures the US trade ban on products in Xinjiang region over forced labor

US trade ban: The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced a ban on imports of China’s tomato and cotton products in the Xinjiang region over forced labor on Wednesday. 

On Thursday, China dismissed the decision and demanded Washington to drop the decision of banning cotton and tomato imports over forced labor allegations.

The ban adds to the numerous sanctions that were imposed by the Trump administration on Chinese products, companies, and officials over national security concerns and human rights complaints.

The US and China tensions soar higher during the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic as the blame game began over the origin of the virus. 

A Chinese Foreign Ministry representative claimed without proof that the U.S. military brought the infection to China, while President Trump over and over called it a “Chinese virus.” 

The latest ban on the trade of cotton and tomato from China’s Xinjiang region was declared by its Customs and Border Protection on Wednesday following the UK and Canada presented similar actions. 

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) additionally criticized China for repressing Uygurs people in a human rights report and stated that the human rights situation in China is exacerbating.

The ban applies to raw fiber, textile, and apparel produced using Xinjiang’s cotton. It additionally applies to items made in other countries, Reuters revealed. 

On Thursday, the Chinese authorities, including the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) and the Foreign Ministry (FM), asserted solid resistance to the prohibition, calling it an interference in the domestic affairs of China.

The forced labor accusation is a big lie, and it will damage the global business chain, the Chinese authorities added. 

The Chinese FM representative Zhao Lijian express that the forced labor allegation is the century’s biggest lie that the US and some Western nations made.

“The US is attempting to bolster its own farming advancement by setting such trade bans, including constraining China,” Zhu added, taking note that China could likewise consider countermeasures against the US government since forced labor issues exist in America too.

In a press conference on Thursday, Zhao reported that forced labor existed in the US as well, pointing towards Texas prisoners who were reportedly forced to work without pay for 12 hours to create masks during the COVID-19 outbreak, The Global Times reported.

South Korea’s Ex-President Park to serve 20-years in prison
Asia Pacific Focus

South Korea’s Ex-President Park to serve 20-years in prison

South Korea’s Ex-President: On Thursday, the apex court of South Korea reasserted the verdict with regard to 20-years imprisonment of former President Park Geun-hye. South Korea’s  ex-President was arrested in 2017 due to her involvement in multiple crimes ranging from abuse of power, embezzlement of funds to bribery. Besides the sentence, she was fined with 18 billion won ($16.4 million) and was asked to forfeit another 3.5 billion won.

The 68-year-old, faced impeachment in 2016 and was officially thrown out of the power in in March 2017. She was taken into custody towards the end of that month and has since been kept behind bars. Park was excommunicated from the presidential office before the completion of her five-year term. She still had one year left when she was booted out. 

The immediate cause of her exit was violation of the country’s election law, as she interfered in a party nominee selection ahead of the 2016 general election. Besides, in her subsequent trials, she was also charged for taking bribes from big conglomerates such as Samsung and Lotte Group and was accused of conspiring with her longtime friend Choi Soon Sil.

Park called herself a victim of political retribution and stopped attending court sessions since initial phase of her trials. She did not even appeal against the verdict of the Seoul High Court, which awarded her 20-year sentence in July 2020. The final sentence 20-years of imprisonment was 10 years less than what was originally proposed. According to the earlier verdict, Park was to serve 30-years in jail, including 25 years for bribery involving transactions from big corporate houses, and five years for misappropriation of funds related to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service.

But in October 2019, country’s Supreme Court ordered the Seoul High Court to treat her bribery case separately from other charges. The apex court eventually repealed the verdict sending it back to a lower court for a retrial. It resulted in the Seoul High Court giving ruling of 20-years of imprisonment in July.

China tightening its hold on Hong Kong elections: Report
Asia Pacific Focus

China tightening its hold on Hong Kong elections: Report

Hong Kong elections: China is planning to take further actions to curb pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong elections

A week after Hong Kong authorities arrested 53 pro-democracy activists in the territory, media reports are pointing at a further crackdown by China in the country to curb dissent.

These lawmakers, lawyers and activists were arrested under Hong Kong’s six-month-old National Security Law, on the charges of participating in unofficial primaries for pro-democracy candidates for the territory’s elections last year. Beijing termed the primaries “illegal” and a “provocation” of the electoral system in the semi-autonomous territory.

Amid this development, the People’s Daily newspaper, mouthpiece of China’s ruling Communist Party, on Tuesday said that those people who will be found disloyal would not be allowed to run for the office. Chinese state media added that actions will be taken to ensure that anti-China and trouble-making forces are out of Hong Kong elections. 

In the aftermath of the imposition of the controversial security law in June 2020, authorities have targeted the media, arrested tens of political figures and activities, disqualified lawmakers, frozen their assets, seized their documents, phones and computers. Hundreds of activists have also fled into exile to avoid arrests.

World governments and international institutions have condemned Beijing’s actions to subvert democracy in the territory. The United Nations also raised alarming concerns over the arrest of 53 leading figures in Hong Kong, calling for their immediate release. 

Meanwhile, Beijing has continued to deny its action to curb freedom and human rights in the Asian financial hub.

As a report by the South China Morning Post newspaper last month, Chinese authorities are aiming to curb the limited influence of pro-democracy leaders on the 1200-person election committee that selects Hong Kong’s chief executive, such that candidates will require Beijing’s approval to contest in the elections. With the Chinese authorities seeking other changes in the electoral structure of Hong Kong, elections are expected to be delayed further.

While the Legislative Council elections were scheduled to take place in September 2020, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam postponed them citing health risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the legislative council has largely reduced to a pro-Beijing body after mass resignations, arrests and disqualification of pro-democracy lawmakers since the introduction of the security law.

As per reports, the standing committee of the National People’s Congress is scheduled to hold meetings between January 20 to 22 to decide the fate of elections in Hong Kong. 

After China allows entry to its research team, WHO wary of any concrete conclusions into Covid-19 origins and whereabouts
Asia Pacific Focus

After China allows entry to its research team, WHO wary of any concrete conclusions into Covid-19 origins and whereabouts

Covid-19 origins and whereabouts: After almost a year full of denials and negotiations, China authorized visit of WHO’s research expert team on Monday, but reservations remain in place as to how much access would they be really given on the investigative mission into origins of SARS-CoV-2 virus. Health expert associated with the WHO (World Health Organization) said that expectations must be set really low as to what definitive conclusion would be gathered by the WHO’s expert research team that is on its first visit to China. 

Dr. Dale Fisher, chairperson of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, that is coordinated by WHO, said, “I would be inclined to set the expectations of a conclusion very low for this visit. I think it’s an important meeting but it shouldn’t be overrated in terms of an outcome this time.” Fisher also participated in a WHO mission last year to Wuhan, China. 

The whole visit of WHO team has been a big diplomatic issue laced with negotiations up till the last moment, when Chinese authorities denied visa approval to team members few days before departure. Chances are that these hurdles will keep on popping up even when the mission is under progress. WHO expert scientists believe that meeting their Chinese counterparts is essential to understand the virus background, as they have been studying the virus since the beginning. 

WHO investigators are expected to arrive on Thursday as per the Chinese authorities but their itinerary hasn’t been confirmed by The National Health Commission. 

Beijing is currently under strict lockdown in an effort to wade off the last group of cases. On Monday, China recorded 103 cases which is its biggest daily spike in over five months. Hebei province surrounding Beijing is continuing to see rise in cases. 

Explaining WHO’s mission, Marion Koopmans, team member and Dutch virus expert said, “It starts with a mapping exercise of all the work that’s been done. That’s important because that may already help us direct in a certain direction for follow-up questions. We’ve been asked to discuss with our colleagues in China to work through as an actual scientific expedition.” 

Koopman added, “I don’t believe it is about blaming China. It’s about understanding and learning for the future of our global preparedness.”

China sat at the centre of huge conspiracy where it was accused of dangerous cover up of the Covid-19 virus when it first emerged in late 2019 in Wuhan. 

North Korea says, its approach towards the US won’t change and will continue making nuclear weapons
Asia Pacific Focus

North Korea says, its approach towards the US won’t change and will continue making nuclear weapons

Nuclear Weapons: The supreme leader of North Korean Kim Jong Un threatened that his approach towards the United States won’t change and he would continue to expand his atomic power.

Kim Jong Un’s comments indicate that the U.S. – North Korea relations won’t change even after the inaugural ceremony of the US President-elect Joe Biden takes place, who has stated that he will adopt a more adverse approach toward Pyongyang.

The diplomatic and political relations between North Korea and the United States have been aggressive since the Korean War when the U.S. bombarded North Korea and President Harry Truman also thought about utilizing nuclear weapons. 

During a Workers’ Party meeting, Kim called the U.S. his nation’s greatest foe and rehashed his long-standing attestation that the U.S. should lift its antagonistic policy to set up better ties, the Korean Central News Agency reported.

Kim urged his nation to continue making atomic weapons. Moreover, he announced that North Korea ought to acquire new capacity, for example, strong fuel intercontinental ballistic rockets, hypersonic missiles, and tactile atomic weapons. 

North Korea has done six atomic tests in September 2017. However, more testing would be needed to create tactical atomic weapons. Tactical atomic weapons are more mobile and could be utilized in war rather than bigger vital atomic weapons that are intended to do mass destruction. 

A year ago, Kim stated that he no longer feels limited by his willful delay on atomic and long-range missile tests.

North Korea has frequently timed important nuclear tests, including weapons and atomic missiles, the U.S. presidential transitions to show its military abilities and perhaps gain hold in future discussions with Washington.

In October, North Korea utilized a military parade to reveal a gigantic new intercontinental ballistic projectile, which seems intended to overpower U.S. missile defense. Some speculate Pyongyang may test the missile or different weapons systems in the following months. However, this week, the top U.S. general in South Korea stated that there were no indications that North Korea was setting a significant incitement. 

A crucial weapons test would signify an early foreign policy challenge for Joe Biden, although Biden stated that his fundamental aim is to combat the Covid pandemic and improve the falling U.S. economy.

Pompeo threatens China with sanctions over Hong Kong detentions
Asia Pacific Focus

Pompeo threatens China with sanctions over Hong Kong detentions

Pompeo threatens China: In response to China’s detention of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong on Wednesday, including a US citizen, John Clancey, US threatened to issue sanctions against those involved in the arrest. On Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the China’s crack down of power over protestors and said he was “appalled” by the arrest of an American citizen. In a strong message to Beijing, which might lead to retaliation, Pompeo said, “The United States will not tolerate the arbitrary detention or harassment of US citizens.” 

Pompeo called the act  an “outrage and a reminder of the Chinese Communist Party’s contempt for its own people and the rule of law.” He said, “The United States will consider sanctions and other restrictions on any and all individuals and entities involved in executing this assault on the Hong Kong people.”  Besides, the US Secretary of State added that Washington might even “explore restrictions against the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in the United States, and take additional immediate actions against officials who have undermined Hong Kong’s democratic processes.”

Timing of Pompeo’s statement did not play out in his favour as the detention in Beijing was followed by barbaric intervention of Trump supporters in Congress, in a bid to overturn the Presidential election results, which otherwise claimed Joe Biden as the country’s next President. On Thursday, Trump finally conceded his defeat and accepted that Joe Biden, who is due to be sworn in on Jan. 20, would succeed him.

The entire episode at US Capitol was enough for Chinese state media to mock at its rival’s internal affairs, especially when Washington has been pointing fingers at state of affairs in Hong Kong. On Friday, Beijing accused Washington of holding  “double standards.”

“In Hong Kong, violent actions are described as a ‘beautiful sight,’ in the U.S., people involved in this chaos are called ‘mobs’,” said The Global Times, a state-owned tabloid.

With respect to Pompeo’s comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said it a serious interference in China’s internal affairs. He said, “China will take all necessary steps to resolutely safeguard its sovereignty and security interests. The United States must pay a heavy price for its mistakes.” He also warned Washington “to stop its crazy provocation” and added that “whoever plays with fire will burn himself.”

On Wednesday, Chinese authorities took about 53 activities and politicians in its custody, under the new security law. The American human rights lawyer Clancey, who was later granted bail along with few others on Thursday, said that the pro-democracy supporters would “continue to work for democracy and human rights in Hong Kong.”

Besides US, many rights groups including Amnesty International also slammed the Chinese authorities for misusing the national security law. The rights group said that the arrests were “the starkest demonstration yet of how the national security law has been weaponised to punish anyone who dares to challenge the establishment”. 

Maya Wang, Chinese senior researcher at Human Rights Watch said, “Beijing once again has failed to learn from its mistakes in Hong Kong: that repression generates resistance & that millions of HK people will persist in their struggle for their right to vote and run for office in a democratically elected government”

According to the handover of the former British colony to China by the British regime in 1997, it was decided that the semi-autonomous territory would be operated by Beijing under “one country, two systems” principle. Of late, Beijing started pressing greater control over the city, drawing criticism that Hong Kong’s freedoms were under threat.

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