15 of 47 Hong Kong activists granted bail but remain in custody after prosecutors appeal


HONG KONG: A Hong Kong court on Thursday (Mar 4) ordered all 47 activists charged with conspiracy to commit subversion to be kept in custody after the Department of Justice appealed an initial decision to grant bail to 15 of them. 

The 15 activists initially granted bail are to appear in court within 48 hours for a review of the decision. 

With the majority of the activists remanded in custody until their next court hearing on May 31, it means that a majority of Hong Kong’s key activists will now be in jail or in self-exile abroad amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

The marathon bail proceedings started on Monday, in a landmark case after the most sweeping use yet of the city’s national security law, which punishes its most serious charges, including subversion, with up to life in prison.

Foreign diplomats and rights groups are closely monitoring the case as concerns mount over the vanishing space for dissent in the former British colony, which has taken a swift authoritarian turn since the imposition of the law in June 2020.

The hearings have gone on late into the night for three consecutive days, causing several defendants to fall ill and be taken to the hospital. This has raised concerns among rights groups and some foreign diplomats over the treatment of the activists.

Hong Kong laws restrict media coverage of the content of bail hearings. An appeal to lift those restrictions in the interests of transparency was rejected by the court on Thursday.

In contrast with the global financial hub’s common law traditions, the new security law puts the onus on defendants to prove they will not pose a security threat if released on bail.

The activists, aged 23 to 64, are accused of organising and participating in an unofficial, non-binding primary poll last July that authorities said was part of a “vicious plot” to “overthrow” the government.

The vote, in which not all of the accused were winners, was aimed at selecting the strongest opposition candidates for a legislative council election that the government later postponed, citing the coronavirus.

The detentions have been fiercely criticised by governments in the West, including in Britain and the United States.

Hong Kong’s Department of Justice has said no one should interfere with independent prosecutorial decisions, adding it “undermines the rule of law.”

Supporters of the security law, which punishes what it broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison, say it is necessary to restore stability in Hong Kong after months of pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Among those charged were prominent democracy campaigners Lester Shum, Joshua Wong, Owen Chow, Wu Chi-wai and Sam Cheung.

Hundreds of people gathered at the court to show their support for the defendants, though the numbers were much lower than on Monday, when about 1,000 supporters chanted democracy slogans in scenes reminiscent of 2019.



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About 580,000 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and PPS members affected by data security breach


SINGAPORE: About 580,000 KrisFlyer and PPS members have been affected by a data security breach, Singapore Airlines (SIA) said on Thursday (Mar 4).

The data breach involves the passenger service system servers of SITA, an air transport information technology company.

“While SIA is not a customer of the SITA PSS, this breach of the SITA PSS server has affected some KrisFlyer and PPS members,” said the national carrier.

All Star Alliance member airlines provide a restricted set of frequent flyer programme data to the alliance, which is then sent on to other member airlines to reside in their respective passenger service systems.

SIA said this data transfer is necessary to enable verification of the membership tier status, and to accord to member airlines’ customers the relevant benefits while travelling.

One of the Star Alliance member airlines is a SITA PSS customer. As a result, SITA has access to the restricted set of frequent flyer programme data for all 26 Star Alliance member airlines including Singapore Airlines.

“The information involved is limited to the membership number and tier status and, in some cases, membership name, as this is the full extent of the frequent flyer data that Singapore Airlines shares with other Star Alliance member airlines for this data transfer,” said SIA.

SIA added that this data breach specifically does not involve KrisFlyer and PPS member passwords, credit card information and other customer data such as itineraries, reservations, ticketing, passport numbers and email addresses.

Such information is not shared with other Star Alliance member airlines for this data transfer, said the airline.

SIA said none of its IT systems have been affected by the breach and that they are reaching out to all KrisFlyer and PPS members to inform them about the incident.

“The protection of our customers’ personal data is of utmost importance to Singapore Airlines, and we sincerely regret the incident and apologise for the inconvenience caused.”

“HIGHLY SOPHISTICATED ATTACK”

SITA confirmed in a separate statement that it was the “victim of a cyber-attack” which led to the data security incident.

After confirming the seriousness of the incident on Feb 24, SITA said it took immediate action to contact the affected SITA passenger service system customers and all related organisations.

“We recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic has raised concerns about security threats, and, at the same time, cyber-criminals have become more sophisticated and active. This was a highly sophisticated attack,” it said.

SITA added that the matter remains under continued investigation by its security incident response team with the support of “leading external experts in cyber-security”.



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Hong Kong court grants bail to 15 of 47 pro-democracy activists in landmark national security hearing


The 15 defendants included ex-lawmakers Kwok Ka-ki, Jeremy Tam and Helena Wong, chief magistrate Victor So said. All the remaining 32 defendants, including former law professor Benny Tai and activist Joshua Wong, have been remanded in custody until the next hearing on May 31.

The 47 defendants were charged on Sunday with subversion under the new national security law, which Beijing enacted unilaterally last summer. The case marks a sweeping escalation in the application of the law, which Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam had previously said would be limited in effect and only target a small number of fringe activists.

In granting bail, chief magistrate Victor So said the defendants must not publish any speeches or commit any acts on any platforms that may reasonably be deemed as endangering national security. The 15 defendants are also not allowed to take part in any elections, with the exception of voting.

The defendants must not directly or indirectly contact any foreign officials or lawmakers, and must surrender all travel documents and obey a curfew order.

However, prosecutors immediately appealed the bail decisions, forcing the magistrate also to remand the 15 defendants in custody until an appeal hearing is made at the High Court within 48 hours.

After the decision was announced, some of the defendants chanted “Hong Kong people, we are not dead yet” and “political prisoners are not guilty,” and thanked lawyers for their support.

According to Hong Kong laws, reporters are not permitted to disclose details of individual bail submissions. The magistrate has declined a request to grant an exemption in the hearing.

The prosecution has postponed the next hearing to May 31, after prosecutors said police would need more time to investigate the defendants’ mobile devices and financial records.

The bail decisions came after prosecutors and defense spent four full days debating whether each of the defendants should be granted bail.

Police patrol outside court in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

Supporters fill gallery

Since Monday, supporters of the pro-democracy movement — mostly wearing black — have queued up outside the West Kowloon court and filled the public gallery. As the decision was announced on Thursday night, dozens of police officers were seen on standby outside the court building.

Hong Kong used to be the poster child for economic freedom. Not anymore

Hong Kong’s common law system traditionally requires prosecutors to convince the court why a judge should not grant bail. However, the national security law stipulates that defendants cannot be granted bail unless the court is convinced they will “not continue to commit acts endangering national security.”

Representatives from foreign missions were present to monitor the proceedings. Joakim Ladeborn, deputy consul of the Swedish embassy in Hong Kong, told CNN on Tuesday that the EU was concerned with how the national security law has been implemented in Hong Kong. “We are following the cases concerning the national security law very closely,” he said.

Authorities chose to conduct all bail hearings simultaneously, which turned what is normally a routine legal proceeding into a series of grueling, lengthy court sessions.

At least six defendants have been hospitalized amid the marathon hearings, the court heard.

The 47 pro-democracy politicians are accused of a conspiracy to commit subversion over an election primary last July, marking the biggest application of the national security law since it was imposed last year. The offense carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Prosecutors had requested that the judge deny bail for all 47 defendants and give the government another three months to investigate, which at least one defense attorney called a “major injustice.”

Sweeping legislation

Prosecutors argued the defendants, which include prominent activist Joshua Wong and law professor Benny Tai, were involved in a “massive and well-organized scheme to subvert the Hong Kong government” by planning and participating in an unofficial primary election last July. Such contests are a normal function in democracies around the world, during which political parties select the strongest candidates for an election.

Why Britain's anti-immigration politicians are opening the doors to thousands of Hong Kongers

However, police claimed the scheme fell afoul of the new national security law. The law criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers, and carries with it a maximum sentence of life in prison. Cases under the sweeping legislation are handled by a dedicated branch of the Hong Kong police and judges assigned to hear national security cases.

The legislative elections were supposed to be held in September, but were eventually postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Critics accused the government of using a public health emergency to stave off a political disaster, as the incumbent pro-Beijing parties appeared headed for historic losses.

The trial of the 47 political activists has been met with strong opposition in Hong Kong and throughout Western democracies like the United Kingdom and the United States.

Hundreds of protesters risked arrest to demonstrate in Hong Kong when proceedings started Monday. The protest was the largest seen in the city for months, with those gathered chanting the banned slogan, “Liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of our time!” and carrying placards demanding the release of those rounded up under the legislation.

China says that it was necessary to enact the national security legislation after the government’s attempt to introduce an unpopular extradition bill sparked massive, sometimes violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong almost two years ago.

Hong Kong’s local government and authorities in Beijing argue the charges against the 47 activists are a matter of national security and have warned foreign parties against interfering in China’s domestic and judicial affairs.



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At least 19 Myanmar policemen seek refuge in India rather than carry out junta’s orders


NEW DELHI: At least 19 Myanmar police have crossed into India to escape taking orders from a military junta that is trying to suppress protests against last month’s coup, an Indian police official said on Thursday (Mar 4), adding that more were expected.

The men have crossed into Champhai and Serchhip, two districts in the northeastern state of Mizoram that share a porous border with Myanmar, the official said, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

All the men, who are lower-ranking policemen, were unarmed, the official said. “We are expecting more to come,” he said, citing intelligence reports.

There have been several instances recounted on social media of police joining the civil disobedience movement and protests against the junta, with some arrested, but this is the first reported case of police fleeing Myanmar.

The official said that the policemen crossed over fearing persecution for disobeying orders and would be temporarily housed by local Indian authorities.

“They didn’t want to take orders against the civil disobedience movement,” he said, referring to the agitation in Myanmar calling for the reversal of the Feb 1 coup and the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

READ: UN says 38 dead in Myanmar’s ‘bloodiest’ day since coup

READ: Myanmar police break up protests again after bloodiest day since coup

Of the 19, three Myanmar policemen came across the border near the town of North Vanlaiphai in Serchhip district on Wednesday afternoon and authorities there were assessing their health, another police official said.

“What they said is they got instructions from the military rulers which they cannot obey, so they have run away,” Serchhip police superintendent Stephen Lalrinawma told Reuters.

“They are seeking refuge because of the military rule in Myanmar,” Lalrinawma said.

India shares a 1,643km land border with Myanmar, where more than 50 people have been killed during protests against the military coup.

READ: Myanmar army is ‘surprised’ at opposition to coup: UN envoy

India is already home to thousands of refugees from Myanmar, including ethnic Chin people and Rohingya who fled the southeast Asian country during previous bouts of violence.

A Chin community leader in New Delhi said police have rarely fled to India.

“This is something unusual,” said James Fanai, president of the India-based Chin Refugee Committee. “Because in the past, police and military just follow orders.”

Myanmar’s ruling military council has stressed the importance of police and soldiers doing their duty.



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UN tells Myanmar military to ‘stop murdering’ protesters


GENEVA: At least 54 people have been killed and more than 1,700 detained since Myanmar’s Feb 1 coup, the UN rights chief said on Thursday (Mar 4), demanding that the military “stop murdering” protesters.

The comments come after the deadliest day of protests in Myanmar, with at least 38 dead Wednesday in rallies where security forces were seen firing into crowds.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet urged security forces to “halt their vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters”.

“Myanmar’s military must stop murdering and jailing protesters,” she said in a statement.

“It is utterly abhorrent that security forces are firing live ammunition against peaceful protesters across the country,” she added.

Bachelet added that she was “also appalled at the documented attacks against emergency medical staff and ambulances attempting to provide care to those who have been injured”.

READ: Hundreds mourn Myanmar’s ‘Everything will be OK’ protester

Dozens of people were killed in the deadliest day of the crackdown by Myanmar's military

Dozens of people were killed in the deadliest day of the crackdown by Myanmar’s military against anti-coup protesters. (Photo: AFP)

The UN rights office said it had corroborated information that at least 54 people had been killed by police and military officers since Feb 1.

“The actual death toll, however, could be much higher as these are the figures the office has been able to verify,” it stressed.

The killings have escalated sharply in recent days.

The rights office had verified 30 of the 38 deaths reported by other UN entities on Wednesday, saying the killings by security forces had taken place in Yangon, Mandalay, Sagaing, Magway and Mon.

Another person was documented killed on Tuesday and 18 people on Sunday, with five prior to that.

It said it was difficult to document injuries, but that “at a minimum, hundreds have been wounded during protests”.

READ: Myanmar police break up protests again after bloodiest day since coup

APTOPIX Myanmar

Anti-coup protesters run as one of them discharges a fire extinguisher to counter the impact of tear gas fired by riot policemen in Yangon, Myanmar, on Mar 3, 2021. (Photo: AP)

Since the coup, more than 1,700 people have also been “arbitrarily arrested and detained in relation to their participation in protests or engagement in political activity”, the statement said.

At least 700 people were detained on Wednesday alone, with many of them reportedly swept up as soldiers and police conducted door-to-door searches.

END MILITARY “STRANGLEHOLD”

Those arrested include parliamentarians, political and rights activists, election officials, teachers, healthcare workers, journalists and monks, it said.

“Many of the arbitrary arrests and detentions that have been carried out since Feb 1 may constitute enforced disappearances,” Bachelet warned, calling for the immediate release of all those who remain arbitrarily detained.

READ: Singapore advises citizens to consider leaving Myanmar as soon as they can

Protest against the military coup in Yangon

Tear gas and fire extinguisher gas float around demonstrators during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, Mar 2, 2021. Picture taken from behind a window. (Photo: Reuters)

She also expressed alarm at the targeting of media workers, with at least 29 journalists arrested in recent days, eight of whom had been charged with crimes, including inciting opposition or hatred of the government and attending unlawful assemblies.

“I urge all those with information and influence … to support international efforts to hold military leaders accountable for the serious human rights violations that have been committed both now and in the past,” Bachelet said.

“This is the moment to turn the tables towards justice and end the military’s stranglehold over democracy in Myanmar.”



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Hundreds mourn Myanmar’s ‘Everything will be OK’ protester


YANGON: Hundreds of mourners gathered in Myanmar on Thursday (Mar 4) for the funeral of a 19-year-old protester shot and killed at a demonstration against military rule.

Angel, also known as Kyal Sin, was shot in the head and killed in the city of Mandalay on Wednesday while wearing a shirt bearing the message “Everything will be OK”.

Mourners, many of them young like her, filed past her open coffin and sang protest songs, raised a three-fingered salute of defiance and chanted slogans against the Feb 1 military coup that has plunged the country into turmoil.

Angel was one of 38 people killed on Wednesday, according to a United Nations tally. A spokesman for the junta did not respond to a request for comment on the killings.

READ: Myanmar police break up protests again after bloodiest day since coup

Angel takes cover before being shot in the head in Mandalay

Protesters lie on the ground after police opened fire to disperse an anti-coup protest in Mandalay, Myanmar, Mar 3, 2021. Among them, Angel (bottom left), also known as Kyal Sin, took cover before she was shot in the head. (Photo: Reuters)

Sai Tun, 32, who attended the funeral, said he could not come to terms with what had happened to her.

“We feel so angry about their inhuman behaviour and really sad at the same time,” he told Reuters by telephone.

“We’ll fight dictatorship until the end. We must prevail.”

Despite the slogan on her shirt, Angel was aware of the risk as she headed out to the protest, posting details of her blood group, a contact number and a request to donate her body in the event of her death.

READ: Myanmar soldiers use TikTok to threaten protesters, says digital rights group

Thousands turned out for Kyal Sin's funeral in Mandalay, many carrying the slogan:

Thousands turned out for Kyal Sin’s funeral in Mandalay, many carrying the slogan: “Everything will be ok.” (Photo: AFP)

The phrase on the shirt quickly went viral on social media among opponents of the coup.

More than 50 people have now been killed as the military struggles to impose its authority, in particular on a generation that has grown up in recent years under a government led by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi.

The military, which ruled for nearly 50 years until it began stepping back from politics a decade ago, said an election Aung San Suu Kyi won in a landslide in November was marred by fraud. The election commission dismissed the complaint of fraud.

READ: Singapore advises citizens to consider leaving Myanmar as soon as they can

Funeral Procession for Kyal Sin, who was killed during protests on Wednesday, in Mandalay, Myanmar

Funeral procession for, also known as Kyal Sin in Mandalay, Myanmar on Mar 4, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Mizzima Daily)

In the central town of Monywa, family and friends mourned the death of young poet TZ Win, who was also killed on Wednesday.

The day before he was killed he posted a poem on Facebook with the line: “The louder the song of the youth, The more the whole world will be cleansed.”



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COVID-19: Thailand plans to allow foreign tourists to quarantine in resorts


BANGKOK: Thailand’s tourism minister said on Thursday (Mar 4) he will propose a plan for foreigners to undertake COVID-19 quarantine in popular tourist areas, including beach resorts, in a bid to help revive the country’s struggling tourism sector.

The economy suffered its biggest contraction in over two decades last year as tourism slumped due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The hotel quarantine plan is expected to start in April or May in the provinces of Phuket, Krabi, Surat Thani, Chonburi and Chiang Mai, Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn told reporters after meeting with tourism operators and health officials.

“Why these provinces? They are popular among tourists who usually stay for quite a long time, for one to three months,” he said.

READ: Thai PM orders study on COVID-19 ‘vaccine passports’ to boost tourism

Tourists would be quarantined for two weeks but if they test negative after three days they will be allowed out of their rooms in the hotel area, before travelling to other parts of the country, Phiphat said.

Other provinces would be able to request to join the programme, which still needs government approval, he said.

Last month, the country welcomed golfers from South Korea for its new golf quarantine programme.

The ministry also expects a travel bubble plan with countries that have similar vaccine distribution in the third or fourth quarter of the year, Phiphat said.

On Tuesday, Prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha commissioned a study to look into “vaccine passports”, after Thailand started its vaccination campaign on Sunday.

Last year, Thailand’s tourism revenue tumbled to 332 billion baht (US$10.94 billion) from 1.91 trillion baht in 2019, as visitor numbers plunged by 83 per cent to 6.7 million.

This year, the state planning agency expects only 3.2 million foreign visitors.

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Myanmar soldiers use TikTok to threaten protesters, says digital rights group


YANGON: Armed Myanmar soldiers and police are using TikTok to deliver death threats to protesters against last month’s coup, researchers said, prompting the Chinese video-sharing app to announce it was removing content that incites violence.

Digital rights group Myanmar ICT for Development (MIDO) said it had found more than 800 pro-military videos that menaced protesters at a time of increasing bloodshed – with 38 protesters killed on Wednesday (Mar 3) alone according to the United Nations.

“It’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said MIDO executive director Htaike Htaike Aung, who noted that there’s “hundreds” of videos of uniformed soldiers and police on the app.

A spokesman for the army and junta did not respond to a request for comment.

READ: Myanmar police break up protests again after bloodiest day since coup

One video from late February reviewed by Reuters shows a man in army fatigues aiming an assault rifle at the camera and addressing protesters.

“I am going to patrol the whole city tonight and I will shoot whoever I see … If you want to become a martyr, I will fulfil your wish,” said the man.

Reuters was unable to contact him or the other uniformed men who appear in the TikTok videos or to verify that they are in the armed forces.

TikTok is the latest social media platform to suffer a proliferation of menacing content or hate speech in Myanmar.

READ: Myanmar army is ‘surprised’ at opposition to coup: UN envoy

US tech giant Facebook has now banned all pages linked to Myanmar’s army – and has itself been banned.

TikTok said in a statement: “We have clear Community Guidelines that state we do not allow content that incites violence or misinformation that causes harm … As it relates to Myanmar, we have been and continue to promptly remove all content that incites violence or spreads misinformation, and are aggressively monitoring to remove any such content that violates our guidelines.”

TikTok’s policies forbid displays of guns unless they are in “safe environments”.

Reuters reviewed more than a dozen videos where uniformed men, sometimes brandishing guns, threatened to harm protesters who are calling for the reversal of the coup and the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

READ: Singapore advises citizens to consider leaving Myanmar as soon as they can

Some videos had tens of thousands of views. Those reviewed by Reuters were taken down this week. Some used hashtags relating to US celebrities.

Already growing fast in Myanmar, TikTok saw a strong rise in downloads after the military banned Facebook last month. It is in the top 20 most downloaded apps in Myanmar, according to industry data.

Facebook, which remains popular in Myanmar despite the ban, has toughened its scrutiny of content since being accused of helping to fan atrocities against the Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017.

Researchers like Htaike say they believe the military is now attempting to grow its presence on other platforms.



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Analysis: With no successor in sight, Xi Jinping heads to major Party meeting with more power than ever


One year on, the high-profile event is due to start on Friday, in line with pre-pandemic traditions, in an atmosphere of triumph for the Chinese Communist Party and Xi, who has emerged from the crisis more powerful than ever.

Xi’s success in handling the pandemic has demonstrated to the Party and any remaining critics that “even the pandemic couldn’t affect him,” said Steven Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute.

Now Xi is working to cement his place in the pantheon of Chinese leaders ahead of the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party’s founding in July, experts said, looking to place himself alongside the founder of the People’s Republic of China — Mao Zedong.

Xi’s initial 10-year term as general secretary of the Party ends in November 2022. But at a time in China’s political calendar when a clear successor would usually be expected to emerge, Tsang said there is only one likely candidate for the Communist Party’s top job.

“We know exactly who the successor to Xi Jinping is, it’s even clearer than ever,” said Tsang. “Xi Jinping.”

Delegates applaud as Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives for the opening ceremony of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 4.

Xi triumphant

Traditionally, every March the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) gather for a dual meeting to pass or endorse legislation, known colloquially as the Two Sessions.

The meeting this year will approve the 14th Five-Year Plan, the vast blueprint that will lay out administrative priorities for China until 2025 and cover everything from economic development, to climate change and technological research.
But this year the Two Sessions will also discuss a vision for China’s development by 2035, an unusually long-sighted plan for which the details are mostly unknown.

This long-term plan could indicate the length of time Xi sees himself staying in power, said Bill Bishop, China politics expert and author of the Sinocism newsletter. It is just one way experts see Xi tightening his grip in the wake of China’s successful handling of the pandemic.

Last November, the Chinese Communist Party announced it had reached its goal of eliminating “absolute poverty” in China, fulfilling a promise made by Xi in a speech in 2015.
At a huge ceremony held to honor the achievement on February 25, in a speech, Xi praised his own vision to look at the issue of “real poverty.”
President Xi Jinping and the Politburo Standing Committee attend a grand gathering to mark the nation's poverty alleviation accomplishments at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, on February 25.
In recent months, Chinese state-run media has elevated its praise for Xi’s role in ending absolute poverty. On February 23, in a full-page article in Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, Xi was lauded at length. “General Secretary Xi Jinping’s eyes always pay attention to the people,” the article said.
Just days before the Two Sessions was due to begin, People’s Daily published another long piece praising Xi’s involvement in the 14th Five Year plan, describing him as having “the broad vision and extraordinary courage of a Marxist politician and strategist.”
Fordham Law School professor Carl Minzner pointed out in a series of tweets posted to his official account on March 3 that the way in which some Chinese state media outlets were writing about Xi was beginning to change.

“In these articles, Xi is the focus. He is the one that is making things happen. It isn’t about the Party. It isn’t about institutions. It isn’t about other leaders. It’s about him,” Minzner said.

At the same time, ahead of the Communist Party’s 100th anniversary, Beijing in February launched a “Party History Study Campaign.” In a commentary, state news agency Xinhua said it was necessary to “unify members’ thought, and boost their morale.”

But Bishop said the campaign would also reinforce Xi’s place in the history of the Communist Party, dividing the past 70 years of Party-rule into three eras — Mao’s, Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s and now Xi’s.

“I don’t think we’re going to see erasure of Deng or Mao but certainly an attempt to elevate Xi into at least Mao’s level,” he said.

Souvenir plates featuring Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and late communist leader Mao Zedong are seen at a store in Beijing on March 2,

Succession

Nothing shows Xi’s grip of power quite as strongly as the lack of a successor in the wings.

Since 2002, the tradition has been for Chinese leaders to serve two five-year terms in power and then hand the reins to a new general secretary, chosen by the rival factions within the ruling Communist Party.

But in 2018, the government removed constitutional term limits on the position of China’s president, effectively allowing Xi to rule for life, if he chose. Xi also heads the Party and the military, two posts which are both more powerful than the presidency with no term limits. The official explanation for the constitutional move has been to align the three positions.

Now with less than 18 months until the 2022 Party Congress, at which Xi would be expected to relinquish power if he were to stick to recent practice, there is no likely successor in sight. In the seven-person Politburo Standing Committee, where the next general secretary would usually be found, all of the leaders are considered too old to serve for another 10 years before hitting the informal retirement age of 68.

All experts agree that the message is clear — Xi is almost certainly planning to serve another term.

“Unless something extraordinary happens that we can’t foresee, like some enormous disaster struck or Xi dies or something, he will have his third term,” said Tsang.

President Xi Jinping addresses the opening of a training session for young and middle-aged officials at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee National Academy of Governance on March 1.

But there isn’t even clear agreement on who might be in line for other major political posts, including a successor for Premier Li Keqiang, who is likely to retire in November 2022.

Bishop said Xi’s anti-corruption campaign, which he put in place as one of the first major policies after taking power, had effectively wiped out a generation of potential leadership contenders.

Xi has also choked off the ambitions for future leaders simply by refusing to name a successor, according to Richard McGregor, senior fellow at Sydney’s Lowy Institute and author of “Xi Jinping: The Backlash.”

But that might change. McGregor said with a third term for Xi now likely, the question was moving to whether or not he would appoint a possible successor at the 20th Party Congress in November 2022, to potentially take over in 2027.

If there is another congress without a potential successor to Xi, McGregor said it could indicate plans for the Chinese leader to serve for a fourth term or longer.

“China’s ability to have peaceful transfers of power has been one of the Party’s greatest achievements and I don’t see how that’s a good idea to throw that out the window,” McGregor said.

No place for criticism

At the height of the uncertainty around the Covid-19 epidemic in China, experts began to mull whether this might be Xi’s “Chernobyl moment” — referring to the 1986 nuclear disaster some believe helped spark the end of the Soviet Union.

For a moment, Xi’s grip on power seemed the most tenuous it had been in years.

But almost as soon as the pandemic began to abate in China, Xi moved to silence the critics who had questioned his leadership during the crisis.

Biden says call with Xi was 'robust,' but China doesn't seem too concerned

In March 2020, Tsinghua University professor and Xi critic Xu Zhangrun was put under investigation and then subsequently fired after writing an essay critical of the Chinese leader.

“The political life of the nation is in a state of collapse and the ethical core of the system has been rendered hollow,” Xu wrote in an essay published in March.
One of Xi’s strongest critics, billionaire Ren Zhiqiang, was sentenced to 18 years in jail in September 2020 on corruption charges. An essay published in March that year which was widely attributed to Ren referred obliquely to Xi as a power-hungry “clown.”

The message from the Chinese leader was clear — he would brook no more vocal dissent. McGregor said critics of Xi still remain in the political elite but, with his tight control over the media and academia there was no way for them to make their influence felt.

And with Xi headed for a third term in power, that is unlikely to change. “It’s get with the program or else,” said McGregor.





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Japan’s JCR Pharma to build new plant to produce COVID-19 vaccine solution


TOKYO: JCR Pharmaceuticals Co said on Thursday (Mar 4) it would build a new plant in Japan to expand production of ingredients for COVID-19 vaccines over the longer term.

JCR Pharma along with Daiichi Sankyo Co and other Japanese partners are cooperating to produce and distribute the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. The Japanese government has arranged to buy 120 million doses of the vaccine, which was submitted to domestic regulators for approval on Feb 5.

JCR Pharma said in a statement that it has been making bulk substances for the vaccine at an existing plant but will build another one to comply with government requirements.

READ: Japan embarks on random and targeted COVID-19 testing, but some experts call for more

The Japanese drugmaker signed a contract in December to make substances for the AstraZeneca vaccine. But as a condition for a government grant to reinforce the country’s vaccine production capability through 2030, it needed to build another facility.

JCR said it will spend about 11.6 billion yen (US$108.28 million) to build the facility in Kobe City, western Japan, with construction due to start in July and finish by October 2022.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is a critical component in Japan’s inoculation plan, as the doses will be made mostly in the country, and don’t need to be stored at the ultra-cold temperatures required for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

READ: Freezer firm to launch probe after Japan COVID-19 vaccines spoiled

Japan kicked off its COVID-19 inoculation campaign in February using Pfizer’s vaccine, the first to be approved by Japanese regulators. But the Pfizer doses have been imported from European factories and are in short supply.

Local media has reported that Moderna will file for approval of its vaccine as early as Friday via its Japanese partner Takeda Pharmaceutical Co.

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