Top Asian News 3:53 a.m. GMT
BEIJING (AP) — A senior Chinese health official said Thursday he was shocked by the World Health Organization’s plan for the second phase of a COVID-19 origins study. National Health Commission Vice Minister Zeng Yixin dismissed the lab leak theory as a rumor running counter to common sense. The head of the WHO acknowledged last week that it was premature to rule out a potential link between the pandemic and a leak of the coronavirus from a Chinese lab. Zeng said that the lab in the city of Wuhan has no virus that can directly infect humans. He said that China has made repeated clarifications and does not accept the WHO plan.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Top U.S. and South Korean officials agreed Thursday to try to convince North Korea to return to talks on its nuclear program, which Pyongyang has insisted it won’t do in protest of what it calls U.S. hostility. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was in Seoul as part of her regional tour that will take her to China this weekend. She’ll be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit China since President Joe Biden took office in January. On Thursday, she met South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong for talks on North Korea, the military alliance between Seoul and Washington and other regional issues.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will travel to China this weekend on a visit that comes as tensions between Washington and Beijing soar on multiple fronts, the State Department said Wednesday. Sherman will meet Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and others in the northeastern city of Tianjin on Sunday as part of her current trip to Asia, which also is taking her to Japan, South Korea and Mongolia. She’ll later visit Oman. China’s Foreign Ministry said that Sherman would “hold talks” with Xie Feng, a vice minister in charge of China-U.S. relations, and “meet” with Wang later.
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A teenager who says he’s a U.S. permanent resident and his fiancée are once again on the run from the threat of extradition to their homeland, China, in a sign of Beijing’s lengthening reach over perceived dissidents abroad. Chinese officials had sought Wang Jingyu, a 19-year-old student, over his online comments about deadly border clashes between Chinese and Indian forces last year. He was arrested by plainclothes police in Dubai while transferring for a flight to the U.S. in early April and was held for weeks, in a case that the U.S. Department of State has described as a human rights concern.
TOKYO (AP) — Tokyo’s COVID-19 infections surged to a six-month high Wednesday with the Olympic host city logging 1,832 new cases just two days before the Games open. Tokyo is currently under its fourth state of emergency, which will last until Aug. 22, covering the entire duration of the Olympics that start Friday and end Aug. 8. Fans are banned from all venues in the Tokyo area, with limited audiences at a few outlying sites. “What we have worried about is now actually happening,” Japan Medical Association President Toshio Nakagawa said at a weekly news conference. “The surge in cases has been expected whether we have the Olympics or not, and we are afraid that there will be an explosive increase in cases regardless of the Olympics.” Experts noted that cases among younger, unvaccinated people are sharply rising as Japan’s inoculation drive loses steam due to supply uncertainty.
TOKYO (AP) — Over and over, year after year, the stewards of the Olympics say it: The Games aren’t supposed to be political. But how do you avoid politics when you’re trying to pull off an event of this complexity during a lethal and protracted pandemic? Consider: — The Japanese medical community largely opposes these Olympics; the government’s main medical adviser, Dr. Shigeru Omi, has said it’s “abnormal” to hold them during a pandemic. — Medical journals The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine have raised questions about the risks, with the former criticizing the World Health Organization for not taking a clear stand and the latter saying the IOC’s decision to proceed “is not informed by the best scientific evidence.” — The second-largest selling newspaper in Japan, the Asahi Shimbun, has called for the Olympics to be canceled.
BEIJING (AP) — China’s military has blasted a dam to release floodwaters threatening one of the country’s most heavily populated provinces, as the death toll from the widespread flooding rose to at least 25. The dam operation was carried out late Tuesday night in the city of Luoyang, just as severe flooding overwhelmed the Henan provincial capital of Zhengzhou, trapping residents in the subway system and stranding them at schools, apartments and offices. Another seven people were reported missing, provincial officials said at a news conference. A video posted on Twitter by news site The Paper showed subway passengers standing in chest-high muddy brown water as torrents raged in the tunnel outside.
HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong police charged two top editors and two editorial writers at Apple Daily with collusion weeks after the city’s largest pro-democracy newspaper was forced to cease publication and its assets were frozen. Executive Editor-in-Chief Lam Man-chung was the eighth executive or journalist at the shuttered newspaper arrested in recent weeks as city authorities crack down on dissent and China’s central government brings the semi-autonomous territory more under its control. Lam was arrested Wednesday, according to the South China Morning Post newspaper, which cited an unnamed source. Associate Publisher and Deputy Chief Editor Chan Pui-man and editorial writers Fung Wai-kong and Yeung Ching-kee were also detained Wednesday after their bail was revoked, local media reported.
BANGKOK (AP) — The head of Thailand’s National Vaccine Institute apologized Wednesday for the country’s slow and inadequate rollout of coronavirus vaccines, promising it will join the U.N.-backed COVAX program to receive supplies from its pool of donated vaccines next year. Thailand is battling a punishing coronavirus surge that is pushing new cases and deaths to record highs nearly every day. There is fear that the numbers will get much worse because the government failed to secure significant vaccine supplies in advance of the onslaught. The spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the virus has exacerbated the situation, as Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government seeks to buy vaccines to supplement the modest amounts it has on hand of Sinovac and Sinopharm from China and locally produced AstraZeneca.
TOKYO (AP) — Japan aims to drastically increase its renewable energy use and reduce fossil fuel consumption over the next decade as its pushes to meet its ambitious emissions reduction target, according to a draft of a new energy plan presented Wednesday. The draft, however, maintains the current target for nuclear energy as officials remain undecided over what to do with the nuclear industry, which has struggled since the 2011 Fukushima power plant disaster. The economy and industry ministry’s draft energy plan says renewables should account for 36-38% of the power supply in 2030, up from the current target of 22-24%, and that newly introduced fuels such as hydrogen and ammonia should comprise 1%.