Top Asian News 3:48 a.m. GMT
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden spoke with China’s Xi Jinping on Thursday amid growing frustration on the American side that high-level engagement between the two leaders’ top advisers has been largely unfruitful in the early going of the Biden presidency. Biden initiated the call with Xi, the second between the two leaders since Biden took office. It comes at a moment when there is no shortage of thorny issues between the two nations, including cybersecurity breaches originating from China, Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and what the White House has labeled as “coercive and unfair” trade practices by the Chinese.
HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong police charged the group that organizes the city’s annual Tiananmen candlelight vigil and three of its leaders with subversion under the national security law, amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent. The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China said that the group, its chairman, Lee Cheuk-yan, as well as vice-chairs Albert Ho and Chow Hang-tung were charged late Thursday with “inciting subversion of state power” under the national security law. The case was brought before court on Friday. Lee and Ho are already serving jail terms for their roles in unauthorized protests in 2019.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An estimated 200 foreigners, including Americans, left Afghanistan on a commercial flight out of Kabul on Thursday with the cooperation of the Taliban — the first such large-scale departure since U.S. forces completed their frantic withdrawal over a week ago. The Qatar Airways flight to Doha marked a breakthrough in the bumpy coordination between the U.S. and Afghanistan’s new rulers. A dayslong standoff over charter planes at another airport has left hundreds of mostly Afghan people stranded, waiting for Taliban permission to leave. A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to the media, said the Taliban’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister helped facilitate the flight.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Reminiscent of their previous harsh rule in the 1990s, the Taliban have already begun to wipe out some of Afghanistan’s gains of 20 years. They’ve denied women a seat at the Cabinet, beaten journalists into silence and enforced their severe interpretation of Islam, on occasion violently. And yet there seems little the international community can do about it. The world will need to engage with the Taliban to some extent, despite disappointment with the new all-Taliban Cabinet that defied earlier promises it would be inclusive. The U.S. needs Taliban cooperation to evacuate the remaining Americans and to fight an increasingly brazen Islamic State affiliate, considered the greatest terrorist threat against America emanating from Afghanistan.
PERTH, Australia (AP) — It can seem like Australia’s west coast has almost entirely avoided COVID-19. A mask-free nightlife is thriving and huge crowds are turning out for sporting events, including 53,000 rugby fans who crammed into a Perth stadium to watch New Zealand’s All Blacks defeat Australia’s Wallabies on a recent sunny Sunday. “We are in paradise,” said one of those fans, Andrea Williams, who is all for the region continuing to defy the federal government and maintain strict border restrictions that keep it separated from the pandemic raging in large parts of the rest of Australia. While the cities of Sydney and Melbourne in the east have been in strict lockdown with a surge of virus cases, the Western Australia state capital of Perth has largely remained open for business — behind its shut borders.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — At an unusual North Korean parade showcasing military dogs and virus workers in orange hazmat suits, leader Kim Jong Un still stood out by looking thinner and more energetic than he has in years. During the event that started late Wednesday, Kim, wearing a cream suit and a shiny white tie, emerged as the clock struck midnight. He beamed in response to thunderous applause from performers and spectators filling Pyongyang’s brightly illuminated Kim Il Sung Square, named after his grandfather and founder of the nation on its 73rd anniversary. He smiled widely, waved to the crowd and kissed children who presented him with flowers before taking his spot on a balcony to observe the parade.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Immigration officers feared him. So, too, did prosecutors, prison officials and police. They thought he could launch a terror attack at any moment. Even the prime minister wanted him deported. Yet, in the end, nobody in New Zealand was able to stop an extremist inspired by the Islamic State group from walking free from prison in July. Seven weeks later, he grabbed a knife at an Auckland supermarket and began stabbing shoppers, injuring seven in a frenzied attack. Court records, interviews and agency accounts explain how years of red flags weren’t enough to stop him. ___ — October 2011: Ahamed Aathil Samsudeen, 22, arrives in New Zealand from Sri Lanka on a student visa.
BANGKOK (AP) — Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha sacked two Cabinet members on Thursday, including one who was widely reported to have unsuccessfully plotted for him to lose a parliamentary no-confidence vote last week. Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompao was deeply controversial even before the alleged mutiny attempt for being imprisoned for four years in Australia in the 1990s in a case involving heroin smuggling. He has also faced other scandals, including a claim that his doctorate in public administration was fraudulently earned. He has rejected all accusations of wrongdoing. Thammanat won his Cabinet position by being a political power broker capable of turning out the vote in northern Thailand for the governing Palang Pracharath party, and was made party general secretary in June.
HONG KONG (AP) — A dozen Hong Kong pro-democracy activists pleaded guilty Thursday to participating in an unauthorized candlelight vigil to mark Beijing’s bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square. The 12 were charged with participating in the unauthorized assembly in Victoria Park on June 4 last year, when thousands of Hong Kongers turned up to light candles and sing songs despite police warnings that they may be breaking the law. Seven of the 12 were also charged with inciting others to take part in the assembly. Authorities have banned the vigils for the past two years, citing public health risks due to the pandemic, although critics believe the ban is part of an ongoing crackdown on dissent in the semiautonomous Chinese territory following months of anti-government protests in 2019.
TOKYO (AP) — Objective, science-based monitoring is the key to safely carrying out the planned release of treated but still radioactive water at Japan’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant, an International Atomic Energy Agency official said Thursday. A three-member IAEA team led by Lydie Evrard, head of the agency’s Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, is in Japan for preliminary talks and a visit to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which suffered reactor meltdowns after a massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The team is preparing for years of monitoring by the IAEA before, during and after the planned discharge of water into the sea, which is expected to take decades.