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Top Asian News 4:55 a.m. GMT

February 28, 2023 GMT

Hong Kong to lift COVID mask mandate on Wednesday

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong will lift its mask mandate Wednesday, ending the city’s last major restriction imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The city’s Chief Executive John Lee said the requirement will end outdoors and indoors, including public transit, but some high-risk premises including hospitals and elderly homes can still require people to wear masks. Lee’s announcement at a news briefing Tuesday came a day after the neighboring city Macao eased its mask rule and will bring the financial hub closer to the life in pre-pandemic days. He said he made the decision because the city did not see a rebound in infections and has built an immunity barrier.

India revives civil militia after Hindu killings in Kashmir

DHANGRI, India (AP) — After seven Hindus were killed in early January in two back-to-back attacks in Dhangri village in disputed Kashmir, former Indian army soldier Satish Kumar described his sleepy mountainous village as an “abode of fear.” Days after the deadly violence in the village in frontier Rajouri district, where homes are separated by maize and mustard fields, hundreds of residents staged angry protests across the Hindu-dominated Jammu region. In response, Indian authorities revived a government-sponsored militia and began rearming and training thousands of villagers, including some teenagers. Kumar was among the first people to join the militia under the new drive and authorities armed him with a semiautomatic rifle and 100 bullets.

North Korea’s Kim calls for unity to boost grain production

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un called for stronger public solidarity behind his leadership to increase the country’s grain production significantly, state media reported Tuesday, amid outside worries about the country’s worsened food insecurity. Foreign experts say North Korea is experiencing a serious shortfall of food in the aftermath of COVID-19 border restrictions and a reported push for greater state control over grain supply. The experts say they’ve seen no signs of mass deaths or famine due to the shortfall. During a ruling Workers’ Party meeting on Monday, Kim expressed his government’s determination “to bring about a revolutionary turn in the agricultural production without fail,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

White House: No more TikTok on gov’t devices within 30 days

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is giving all federal agencies 30 days to wipe TikTok off all government devices, as the Chinese-owned social media app comes under increasing scrutiny in Washington over security concerns. The Office of Management and Budget calls the guidance, issued Monday, a “critical step forward in addressing the risks presented by the app to sensitive government data.” Some agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and State, already have restrictions in place; the guidance calls on the rest of the federal government to follow suit within 30 days. The White House already does not allow TikTok on its devices.

Coronavirus origins still a mystery 3 years into pandemic

WASHINGTON (AP) — A crucial question has eluded governments and health agencies around the world since the COVID-19 pandemic began: Did the virus originate in animals or leak from a Chinese lab? Now, the U.S. Department of Energy has assessed with “low confidence” in that it began with a lab leak, according to a person familiar with the report who wasn’t authorized to discuss it. The report has not been made public. But others in the U.S. intelligence community disagree. “There is not a consensus right now in the U.S. government about exactly how COVID started,” John Kirby, the spokesman for the National Security Council, said Monday.

‘A time bomb’: India’s sinking holy town faces grim future

JOSHIMATH, India (AP) — Inside a shrine overlooking snow-capped mountains, Hindu priests heaped spoonfuls of puffed rice and ghee into a crackling fire. They closed their eyes and chanted in Sanskrit, hoping their prayers would somehow turn back time and save their holy — and sinking — town. For months, the roughly 20,000 residents in Joshimath, burrowed in the Himalayas and revered by Hindu and Sikh pilgrims, have watched the earth slowly swallow their community. They pleaded for help that never arrived, and in January their desperate plight made it into the international spotlight. But by then, Joshimath was already a disaster zone.

CIA chief: China has some doubt on ability to invade Taiwan

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. intelligence shows that China’s President Xi Jinping has instructed his country’s military to “be ready by 2027” to invade Taiwan though he may be currently harboring doubts about his ability to do so given Russia’s experience in its war with Ukraine, CIA Director William Burns said. Burns, in a television interview that aired Sunday, stressed that the United States must take “very seriously” Xi’s desire to ultimately control Taiwan even if military conflict is not inevitable. “We do know, as has been made public, that President Xi has instructed the PLA, the Chinese military leadership, to be ready by 2027 to invade Taiwan, but that doesn’t mean that he’s decided to invade in 2027 or any other year as well,” Burns told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “I think our judgment at least is that President Xi and his military leadership have doubts today about whether they could accomplish that invasion,” he said.

Slain Hong Kong model’s in-laws, ex-husband detained

HONG KONG (AP) — The ex-husband and former in-laws of a slain Hong Kong model were detained Monday on charges in her killing after police found body parts in a refrigerator and a pot. The case has gripped many in a Chinese territory where any violent crime is rare. Ex-husband Alex Kwong, his father Kwong Kau and his brother Anthony Kwong were charged with murdering model Abby Choi a day earlier. Alex Kwong’s mother, Jenny Li, faces one count of perverting the course of justice. None of the four was granted bail. Choi, a 28-year-old model with more than 100,000 followers on Instagram, disappeared Feb.

China accuses US of ‘bullying’ with new ‘illegal’ sanctions

BEIJING (AP) — China on Monday accused the U.S. of “outright bullying and double standards” in leveling what it called “illegal” sanctions on Chinese companies as part of U.S. actions against Russia’s Wagner Group and related companies and individuals. The entities were targeted for their role in the war in Ukraine and mercenary activities, including human rights abuses, in Africa. The sanctions “have no basis in international law or authorization from the Security Council, and are typical illegal unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a daily briefing. The punitive measures were “seriously harming China’s interests” and China “strongly rejects and deplores that and has lodged solemn complaints with the U.S.

China protests US surveillance plane’s Taiwan Strait flight

BEIJING (AP) — China said it closely monitored the flight of a U.S. surveillance plane through the Taiwan Strait on Monday, accusing the U.S. of having “deliberately disrupted and undermined the regional situation.” Chinese forces organized to keep an eye on the passage of the P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine patrol plane and “all matters were in hand,” the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater Command said in a social media posting. China regards self-ruled Taiwan as its own territory to be brought under its control by force if necessary, and views the passage of foreign military ships and aircraft through the 160-kilometer (100-mile)-wide strait as deliberate snubs and provocations.