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Top Asian News 3:27 a.m. GMT

July 2, 2021 GMT

China’s ruling party grooms new members for its next century

JINGGANGSHAN, China (AP) — Backs straight, heads high, three dozen Communist Party members in red neckties who hope for leadership posts belt out a poem by revolutionary leader Mao Zedong at a historic mountainside battle site in central China. “We stay upright even as we’re surrounded by countless enemy forces!” declare the men and women, who are on a two-week course at the China Executive Leadership Academy. “Together, we will defeat the enemy!” As the party celebrates the 100th anniversary of its 1921 founding, training centers such as the one in Jinggangshan play a key role in efforts by President Xi Jinping’s government to extend its control over a changing society.

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AP PHOTOS: Beijing, Hong Kong mark Communist Party centenary

BEIJING (AP) — Cannons roared, bands played and fighter jets soared overhead as thousands of carefully selected participants gathered in Beijing’s iconic Tiananmen Square Thursday for a ceremony marking the centenary of the ruling Communist Party. Meanwhile, Hong Kong held its own annual commemorations of its 1997 handover from British to Chinese rule, given added significance this year by the party centenary and the arrests of political activists and journalists following Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping national security law on the city last year. Chinese President and party leader Xi Jinping delivered a lengthy address to the Beijing crowd from atop Tiananmen Gate, where Mao Zedong declared the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, praising the party’s successes and warning of dire consequences for any foreign force that sought to “bully, oppress or enslave” the country.

US hits 17 nations for not combating human trafficking

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration on Thursday designated 17 countries as not doing enough to combat human trafficking and warned them of potential U.S. sanctions. The administration also called out several U.S. allies and friends, including Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal and Turkey, for backsliding in their efforts. The designations came in the State Department’s annual “Trafficking in Persons” report, which cited the coronavirus pandemic as a cause for a surge in human slavery between 2020 and 2021. The report covering 188 nations and territories said the outbreak had put millions more people at risk for exploitation and distracted some governments from efforts to stem human trafficking.

Philippine volcano belches dark plume, villagers evacuated

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A small volcano near the Philippine capital belched a dark plume of steam and ash into the sky in a brief explosion Thursday, prompting officials to start evacuating thousands of villagers from high-risk areas. Government experts said magmatic materials came into contact with water in the main crater of Taal Volcano in Batangas province, setting off the steam-driven blast with no accompanying volcanic earthquake. They said it’s unclear if the volcanic unrest could lead to a full-blown eruption. “It’s just one explosive event; it’s too early to tell,” Renato Solidum of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said at a news conference.

Hong Kong bans handover protest as official defends law

HONG KONG (AP) — Marking the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese control, a top city official defended the national security law imposed by Beijing to crush pro-democracy rallies and said Thursday it would be used further in the coming year to ensure stability. Police sealed off Victoria Park — until recently the site of annual pro-democracy rallies marking the 1997 handover — and put up flags warning people that they could be prosecuted if they enter or remain in the enclosed area. Police said there were online calls encouraging people to take part in an unauthorized protest. The security law was implemented one year ago as authorities cracked down on dissent after Hong Kong was rocked by massive anti-government protests in 2019.

At Communist Party centenary, Xi says China won’t be bullied

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Thursday that anyone who tries to bully China “will face broken heads and bloodshed,” in a defiant speech hailing the country’s rise that elicited loud cheers from a carefully chosen crowd at a celebration of the centenary of the founding of the ruling Communist Party. In unusually forceful language, Xi appeared to be hitting back at the U.S. and others that have criticized the rising power’s trade and technology polices, military expansion and human rights record. In an hour-long speech, he also said the nation must stick to its one-party rule, emphasizing the communists’ role in lifting China to global prominence.

Myanmar court extends pretrial detention of US journalist

BANGKOK (AP) — A court in Myanmar on Thursday extended the pretrial detention of Danny Fenster, a U.S. journalist employed by an online news magazine in the military-led Southeast Asian nation who was arrested in May on an incitement charge that carries a penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment. Fenster, who is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24, as he was trying to board a flight to go to the Detroit area in the United States to see his family. Fenster’s lawyer, Than Zaw Aung, told The Associated Press that the 37-year-old journalist was in good health but appeared to have lost some weight at Thursday’s hearing at the special court at Yangon’s Insein Prison, where he is being held.

With so few virus deaths, Australians debate vaccine risks

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia has weathered the pandemic far better than many nations — recording just a single coronavirus death since last October — but its success means many Australians are not in a rush to get vaccinated and that could delay the country’s return to normalcy. Concerns are growing about the economic cost to Australia of being left behind by countries that suffered far higher death tolls, but urgently embraced vaccines and are increasingly opening up. Most of Australia’s pandemic success, after all, can be attributed to the continued closure of the isolated continent’s border, something that is unlikely to change until far more than the current 6% of the population is vaccinated.

Pandemic tourism: Thailand launches Phuket ‘sandbox’ plan

PHUKET, Thailand (AP) — Thailand embarked on an ambitious but risky plan Thursday that it hopes will breathe new life into a tourism industry devastated by the pandemic, opening the popular resort island of Phuket to fully vaccinated foreigners from lower-risk countries. As the first flight arrived, airport fire trucks blasted their water canons to form an arch over the Etihad jet from Abu Dhabi as it taxied to its gate. Leaving the airport, Frenchman Bruno Souillard said he had been dreaming for a year of returning to Thailand and jumped at the opportunity. “I am very, very happy,” the 60-year-old tourist said.

Indonesia holds mass vaccination to scale up virus fight

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Thousands of Indonesians lined up at a sports stadium to get a COVID-19 vaccine dose Thursday in a one-day, mass vaccination event that’s part of a push to dramatically scale up the nation’s virus fight as hospitals fill with sick patients. Meanwhile, President Joko Widodo announced new community restrictions and the mobilization of the National Police and other resources to combat the surging infections. The efforts follow a warning earlier this week from the Red Cross that Indonesia is “on the edge of a COVID-19 catastrophe” and urgently needs to increase medical care, testing and vaccinations. The emergency restrictions on public activity are to take effect Saturday through July 20 on Indonesia’s main island of Java and the popular tourist island of Bali.