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China Furious As Trump Signs Hong Kong Bills




BEIJING (AP) — China reacted furiously to President Donald Trump’s signing of two bills on Hong Kong human rights and said the U.S. will bear the unspecified consequences.
A foreign ministry statement Thursday repeated heated condemnations of the laws and said China will counteract. It said all the people of Hong Kong and China oppose the move.
It’s still unclear, however, how China will respond exactly.
Trump signed the bills, which were approved by near unanimous consent in the House and Senate, even as he expressed some concerns about complicating the effort to work out a trade deal with China’s President Xi Jinping.
“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong,” Trump said in a statement. “They are being enacted in the hope that Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all.”
Congress approved the bills last week following months of unrest in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. Before Wednesday’s signing announcement, Trump would only commit to giving the measures a “hard look.”
China’s foreign ministry called the laws a “naked hegemonic action” that seriously interfered in Hong Kong and China’s internal affairs, violated international law and “fundamental norms of international relations.”
“The U.S. side ignored facts, turned black to white, and blatantly gave encouragement to violent criminals who smashed and burned, harmed innocent city residents, trampled on the rule of law and endangered social order,” the statement said.
The laws’ basic intent is to undermine Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability along with the “historical progress of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
It called the measures “extremely evil in nature and dangerous in motive.”
“We advise the U.S. not to act incautiously, otherwise China will be required to counteract resolutely and all the consequences created by this will have to be borne by the U.S. side,” the statement said.
The two countries are currently locked in a trade war and have deep differences over China’s claims to the South China Sea and Taiwan, human rights issues and accusations of Chinese industrial espionage.
The first bill Trump signed mandates sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who carry out human rights abuses and requires an annual review of the favorable trade status that Washington grants Hong Kong.
Another bill prohibits export to Hong Kong police of certain nonlethal munitions, including tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, water cannons, stun guns and tasers.
The munitions bill was passed unanimously, while Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky was the sole House member to oppose the human rights bill.
Trump acknowledged last week that he was weighing the ramifications of signing the bill.
“Look, we have to stand with Hong Kong,” Trump said in an interview on “Fox & Friends.” He continued: “But I’m also standing with President Xi. He’s a friend of mine. He’s an incredible guy.”
Democratic and Republican lawmakers applauded the signing of the bills. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said it “finally sends a clear and unequivocal message to the people of Hong Kong: We are with you.”
Sen. Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the bills are “an important step forward in holding the Chinese Communist Party accountable for its erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy and its repression of fundamental human rights.”
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who sponsored the House human rights bill, said Xi “should understand that the U.S. is not kidding about human rights. Beating, torturing and jailing of democracy activists is wrong and this historic legislation lets China know that respecting fundamental human rights is paramount.”
Activists hailed Trump’s action.
“I know that many people in Hong Kong are happy that the U.S. government has passed a new bill,” said Figo Chan, a 23-year-old Hong Kong protester who was honored with the John McCain Prize for Leadership at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada last weekend.
“No one wants to die and no one wants to be hurt,” Chan said. “I hope that citizens of many different countries can in their own way fight for democracy.”

Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani in Washington and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

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Trump Signs Bill Supporting Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Protesters




President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed a bipartisan bill that lends support to pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong who have been rallying against China’s government for months, ignoring complaints by Beijing officials that it interferes with a domestic matter.
The legislation would impose sanctions on Chinese officials charged with human rights violations and requires the U.S. to reassess the special trade agreement it has with Hong Kong every year to ensure the city retains a degree of autonomy.
Trump signed the measure, which passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate, despite warnings from Chinese President Xi Jinping that the country would retaliate against the U.S. if the bill became law. It comes against the backdrop on the two countries continuing to haggle over ending a trade war.
Trump also signed a bill that prohibits exporting to Hong Kong police items that can be used for crowd control, such as teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.
“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong,” Trump said in a statement. “They are being enacted in the hope that Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all.”
Senate Republicans had made clear their strong support for Hong Kong protesters and the legislation in speeches on the chamber’s floor last week. As the legislation headed toward his desk, Trump had avoided expressing whether he stood behind the measures. During an interview with Fox News, he said he supported protesters but also referred to President Xi as “a friend of mine.”
“I stand with Hong Kong. I stand with freedom. I stand with all of the things we want to do.” Trump told “Fox & Friends. “But we’re also in the process of making the largest trade deal in history.”
“I applaud President Trump for signing this critical legislation into law,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who sponsored the main bill, said in a statement.
“The U.S. now has new and meaningful tools to deter further influence and interference from Beijing into Hong Kong’s internal affairs,” Rubio said. 
Hong Kong protesters celebrated a big win for democracy over the weekend after the city’s residents voted largely in favor of pro-democracy candidates in district council elections.

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Godfrey Gao, Taiwanese-Canadian Supermodel And Actor, Dead At 35




Actor and model Godfrey Gao, who grew up in British Columbia and was an ambassador for Canadian tourism, collapsed and died while shooting a TV show on Wednesday. 
His agency, JetStar Entertainment, confirmed that Gao died in the “early hours of Nov. 27” in a statement posted to Weibo and cited by South China Morning Post and Women’s Wear Daily.
Gao, 35, was filming “Chase Me,” a reality TV show for China’s Zhejiang Television that features competitive sports, in the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo, according to Apple Daily.
“Our beloved Godfrey collapsed while filming on set. Unfortunately following three hours of medical rescue efforts, he left us,” said JetStar’s statement. It added that his family “rushed to the scene.”
Gao was born in Taipei, but he grew up in North Vancouver, B.C., and graduated from Capilano University.
In 2011, he became the first Asian male model for luxury brand Louis Vuitton. A few years later, he appeared in Hollywood movies “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” and “The Jade Pendant,” followed by starring roles in several Chinese and Taiwanese blockbusters.
In 2015, he became an ambassador for the Canadian Tourism Commission, hosting a travel program aimed at drumming up interest among visitors from China.
“I grew up in B.C. It is one of the most beautiful provinces in Canada. Vancouver is so multicultural and that’s one of the things I enjoyed most while growing up in Vancouver, as you get everything from culture to cuisine,” Gao told HuffPost B.C. in 2016.
Watch from 2015: Godfrey Gao returns to Vancouver for Canadian tourism campaign

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Hong Kong Bill Shows Republicans Can Stand Up To Trump — When They Want To




Senate Republicans took to the floor last week and proudly declared their support for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. In a big show of solidarity, the Senate then unanimously passed a bill compelling the U.S. to hold China responsible for human rights abuses against the people of Hong Kong.
Republicans enthusiastically pushed the bill through, not knowing whether President Donald Trump, who has hardly said anything in support of the protesters, will sign it into law.
“I would encourage this president, who has seen Chinese behavior for what it is with a clarity that others have lacked, not to shy away from speaking out on Hong Kong himself,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a floor speech last week.
Trump wouldn’t commit to endorsing the bill and avoided forcefully speaking up for the protesters of Hong Kong during a Fox News interview late last week, however.
“We have to stand with Hong Kong, but I’m also standing with President Xi,” Trump said in the interview, referring to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, whom he also called a “friend of mine.” The Hong Kong legislation comes as Trump is trying to negotiate a trade deal with China, one of his biggest campaign promises.
Top Republicans, meanwhile, indicated they are willing to override Trump even if he vetoes the bill, which the House also passed last month by a near-unanimous vote.  
“There’s overwhelming support for this ― as you know, 100 [votes] in the United States Senate. I would imagine there would be an override of this. I would encourage the president to sign it,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said over the weekend.
The way Republicans have handled the Hong Kong matter is strikingly unlike their approach to the recent debate over gun safety legislation. In the wake of the deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, over the summer, Republicans insisted they needed to hear what measures intended to curb gun violence Trump could support before moving forward with debate in the Senate. 
“Until we get that guidance, we’re in a holding pattern,” McConnell said at a weekly press briefing in September.
“If the president doesn’t support it, then there’s no point. So it’s like, why are we even going through this?” added Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a vocal supporter of the Hong Kong protesters who spoke on behalf of the bill that passed in the Senate last week.
Trump expressed support for the idea of expanding background checks on all gun purchases following the deadly shootings in August, but subsequently backed off after private lobbying from conservatives and the National Rifle Association, the nation’s biggest gun lobby. A bipartisan trio of senators who expressed optimism about discussions with the White House in September about gun legislation now says the administration has gone quiet. The next debate over guns in Washington is, at least according to recent history, likely only to occur after the next horrific mass shooting. 
Republicans have repeatedly shown they’re more willing to challenge Trump on foreign policy ― where they are far more united ― than on divisive domestic issues. All six bills Trump has vetoed so far in his presidency, for example, relate to various topics around the world. But what the Hong Kong episode also shows is that Republicans can stand up to Trump when they’re willing to fight for something they actually believe in.
“Mitch McConnell decides what we vote on in the Senate, and he’s clearly OK bucking Trump when it suits him,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), one of the gun control advocates who participated in talks with the White House, said in a statement. “Some of my Republican colleagues seem to be willing to pass legislation to expand background checks, and who knows what Trump would do if we passed something. More than likely he would sign it. So why the willingness to stand up for people in Hong Kong but not for kids here in America?”

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Top Muslim Group Calls For U.S. Boycott Of 2022 Winter Olympics In Beijing




Emgage, a group dedicated to increasing Muslim American involvement in politics, called on the U.S. Olympic National Committee to boycott the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing over the Chinese government’s mass detention and repression of Uighur Muslims.
“The Olympic Games are a showcase of what is best of humanity and a celebration of our differences,” said Emgage CEO Wa’el Alzayat. “The mass incarceration of Muslim minorities in China and the intentional attempt to erase their identity are anathema to the Olympic spirit. 
“We cannot as Americans participate in good conscience in these Games as long as these concentration camps are operational,” Alzayat added.
Emgage called the Chinese government’s internment and abuses of Uighurs a “campaign of ethnic genocide,” and many Uighur activists and human rights groups have employed similar language to describe the government’s conduct.
China has incarcerated an estimated 1 million Uighurs, or ethnically Turkic Muslims, in the western province of Xinjiang. The Chinese government is forcibly assimilating millions of other residents from the minority of 11 million people in a bid to strip them of their native language and religion.
The Chinese government claims it is trying to root out extremism and offering vocational training to the prisoners, but there are widespread reports of torture and horrific conditions in the prison camps.
What’s more, China’s increasingly deep coffers and influential role in the global economy have helped purchase the silence of majority-Muslim nations like Pakistan.
Emgage’s decision to launch a public pressure campaign is unlikely to sway the U.S. Olympic National Committee, which has historically had no problem collaborating with governments that violate human rights.
It nonetheless reflects the growing confidence of the Muslim American community in the wake of Donald Trump’s election in 2016, as well as the recognition of the Uighurs’ plight by the broader American public. 
Emgage co-hosted one of the United States’ first Muslim-American presidential candidate forums in August. The event was attended by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Housing Secretary Julián Castro.
The organization also released a report in May documenting a 25-percentage-point increase in Muslim American voter participation in key swing states from the 2014 midterm elections to the 2018 races.

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‘Are We Going To Talk About It?’ Australians Wonder When Climate Change Will Come Up




Australia has been on fire for weeks. Millions of acres have been scorched by an unprecedented spate of bushfires that have killed six people and destroyed more than 600 homes. Upwards of 1,000 koalas — one of the country’s iconic creatures — are thought to have been burned alive.
The fires have been affecting millions in the Sydney region for weeks as residents have woken up to skies darkened by smoke blown in from nearby blazes. The region’s Rural Fire Service has issued advisory after advisory warning of the health risks, and the haze has gotten so bad at points the city has recorded the highest levels of air pollution on record.
At the same time, Australian politicians have been working overtime to minimize those linking the early and destructive fire season with climate change. The country’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, has rejected assertions that the government’s decision to back some of the planet’s biggest fossil fuel projects had impacted the fire season, and even moved to punish environmental protesters with jail time for “denying the liberties of Australians.”
“The suggestion that any way shape or form that Australia, accountable for 1.3% of the world’s emissions, that the individual actions of Australia are impacting directly on specific fire events, whether it’s here or anywhere else in the world, that doesn’t bear up to credible scientific evidence either,” Morrison said last week, per The Guardian. “To suggest that … Australia doing something more or less would change the fire outcome this season — I don’t think that stands up to any credible scientific evidence at all.”

China News Service via Getty Images

An injured koala receives treatment after its rescue from a bushfire at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital on Nov. 19, 2019, in Port Macquarie, Australia. 

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A jogger runs in the morning as smoke haze hangs over the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, on Nov. 21, 2019. 

Scientists, by and large, disagree with Morrison’s assessment and fire officials and environmentalists alike have moved to urge the government to address its lack of climate action. The United Nations has urged countries to dramatically scale back their use of fossil fuel immediately to avert the worst effects of climate change (recent studies have found the world on track to blow past those goals). And while the origin of any natural disaster is complicated, there are clear links between a warming climate and increased bushfire risk.
Earlier this month a group of former fire chiefs declared the latest season the opening of a “new age of unprecedented bushfire danger” and accused Morrison’s government of ignoring climate change because it was inconvenient.
“If we’re not going to talk about it now, when it is happening, when on earth are we going to talk about it?” Phil Koperberg, the first commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, told the Australian Broadcasting Company this week.
“Something is clearly changing,” Richard Thornton, the chief executive of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Center, told The New York Times last week. “And the climate is driving all of that.”
Everyday Australians haven’t shied away from trying to hold their politicians accountable. Alongside images of scorched homes, koalas have become the unwitting icon of this round of blazes. An effort by a local wildlife hospital to raise $25,000 for koalas injured by the fires has blown past that goal by orders of magnitude, garnering nearly $1.7 million.

Students across the country are also planning for a widespread day of climate protest on Friday, in hopes of urging politicians to “treat climate change for what it is — a crisis.”
“Our Government’s inaction on the climate crisis has supercharged bushfires. People are hurting. Communities like ours are being devastated. Summer hasn’t even begun,” Shiann Broderick, the leader of School Strike 4 Climate, the organizer of the protest, said in a statement last week. “But instead of taking real action on the climate crisis, our Government offers ‘thoughts, prayers’ — and more support for coal, oil and gas.”
Despite weeks of effort to contain the spate of fires, there were still 83 burning across the state of New South Wales on Tuesday morning, with thunderstorms on the way that fire officials worried could bring lightning strikes that set off new blazes.
Not exactly what we wanted to see. #NSW has been hit by a number of storms this afternoon, with numerous lightning strikes recorded. Some areas also saw some rain others not as fortunate. More than 80 fires are burning across NSW, 50 are yet to be brought under control. #NSWRFS pic.twitter.com/SyhvB849F0— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) November 25, 2019

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said last weekend the state government stood “shoulder to shoulder with the communities affected by the recent bushfires, not just today, but in the weeks months and years ahead.” She has pledged more than $32 million for fire recovery and rebuilding efforts.

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Lawmaker Calls For Investigation Of Farm Aid To Brazilian-Owned Meat Company




A Connecticut congresswoman has called for an investigation into why millions of dollars earmarked to help American farmers weather Donald Trump’s trade war with China are going to a U.S. subsidiary of a massive Brazilian meatpacking operation slammed for corruption.
Majority shareholders of the Brazilian company JBS S.A. have admitted to bribing government officials in their own country for years. They’re currently being investigated for possible corruption in America by U.S. officials, according to media reports.
The company’s American subsidiary, JBS USA, has received at least $78 million in government pork contracts funded with farm trade aid paid by U.S. taxpayers — more than any other U.S. pork producer, according to the Midwest Center of Investigative Reporting. JBS S.A. is the largest meat producer in the world.
“Taxpayer dollars should never be used to subsidize corrupt, foreign-owned corporations … engaged in illegal behavior,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) wrote to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue late last week. “I urge you to immediately direct the department’s Inspector General to conduct the necessary investigation.”
DeLauro’s call for a probe comes as the latest analysis of payouts of a planned total of $28 billion to aid farmers amid the trade war reveals — again — that at least half of the money is being disbursed to the largest, wealthiest operations, instead of to smaller farms fighting to survive. Trump, however, has indicated that smaller farms will be “big beneficiaries” of the aid program.
Our great Farmers will recieve another major round of “cash,” compliments of China Tariffs, prior to Thanksgiving. The smaller farms and farmers will be big beneficiaries. In the meantime, and as you may have noticed, China is starting to buy big again. Japan deal DONE. Enjoy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 17, 2019

The top 10% of operations — the “largest, most profitable industrial-scale farms in the country” – got half of the $14.5 billion in aid paid out from Aug. 19 through October, according to an analysis of data by the Environmental Working Group. The findings were nearly identical for the $8.4 billion paid out from January 2018 through April 2019.
Higher rates per acre this year are also being paid overwhelmingly to Southern farms, an area of the country that heavily supported Trump in the 2016 election, even though farmers there have been harmed less than in other regions, according to a report this month by Democrats on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. The report estimates payments to JBS at $90 million.
Majority owners of the company’s Brazilian parent, Wesley and Joesley Batista, have admitted to massive bribery of government officials in Brazil over years. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the Batistas for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a federal anti-bribery law, according to filings in an unrelated court case. U.S. investigators interviewed JBS shareholders late last year as part of that investigation, Reuters reported.
In addition, JBS USA (also known as JBS Swift Beef Co.) was hit with a lawsuit earlier this year accusing the company of violating a federal permit by dumping illegal levels of slaughterhouse waste for years.
DeLauro has also called on the Department of Agriculture to determine if funds used to purchase American operations may have been obtained illegally — such as through bribery of Brazilian officials to obtain loans.
Last month Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also called for a review of the Brazilian company’s purchases of U.S. operations to determine if the business expansion compromised national security. 
They expressed their “concern” in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that JBS S.A. officials have “admitted” to “criminal conduct to secure loans that were used for investment in the United States.”
JBS could not immediately be reached for comment about DeLauro’s call for an investigation. But a representative said in a statement earlier this year after an uproar over its U.S. farm aid that “all eligible JBS USA pork products” it purchases (then sells to the Department of Agriculture) “come from American livestock raised on American farms by U.S. family farmers, and are processed in American facilities in rural American towns.”
Earlier this year, a USDA statement also defended using trade aid to fund purchases from JBS USA. “Regardless of who the vendor is, the products purchased are grown in the U.S. and benefit U.S. farmers,” the statement said.
Just 10% of eligible farmers received 54% of all trade assistance payments. At a time that the number of mid-sized family farms has been rapidly declining, it’s alarming this administration has provided the means for the largest farms to get even larger. https://t.co/DNKaDXwAwz pic.twitter.com/xNmsAav7Dk— National Farmers Union (@NFUDC) July 30, 2019

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Mass Surveillance System Flags Uighurs For Detention Camps




The watch towers, double-locked doors and video surveillance in the Chinese camps are there “to prevent escapes.” Uighurs and other minorities held inside are scored on how well they speak the dominant Mandarin language and follow strict rules on everything down to bathing and using the toilet, scores that determine if they can leave.
“Manner education” is mandatory, but “vocational skills improvement” is offered only after a year in the camps.
Voluntary job training is the reason the Chinese government has given for detaining more than a million ethnic minorities, most of them Muslims. But a classified blueprint leaked to a consortium of news organizations shows the camps are instead precisely what former detainees have described: Forced ideological and behavioral re-education centers run in secret.
The classified documents lay out the Chinese government’s deliberate strategy to lock up ethnic minorities even before they commit a crime, to rewire their thoughts and the language they speak.
The papers also show how Beijing is pioneering a new form of social control using data and artificial intelligence. Drawing on data collected by mass surveillance technology, computers issued the names of tens of thousands of people for interrogation or detention in just one week.
Taken as a whole, the documents give the most significant description yet of high-tech mass detention in the 21st century in the words of the Chinese government itself. Experts say they spell out a vast system that targets, surveils and grades entire ethnicities to forcibly assimilate and subdue them ― especially Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim Turkic minority of more than 10 million people with their own language and culture.
“They confirm that this is a form of cultural genocide,” said Adrian Zenz, a leading security expert on the far western region of Xinjiang, the Uighur homeland. “It really shows that from the onset, the Chinese government had a plan.”
Zenz said the documents echo the aim of the camps as outlined in a 2017 report from a local branch of the Xinjiang Ministry of Justice: To “wash brains, cleanse hearts, support the right, remove the wrong.”
China has struggled for decades to control Xinjiang, where the Uighurs have long resented Beijing’s heavy-handed rule. After the 9/11 attacks in the United States, Chinese officials began justifying harsh security measures and religious restrictions as necessary to fend off terrorism, arguing that young Uighurs were susceptible to the influence of Islamic extremism. Hundreds have died since in terror attacks, reprisals and race riots, both Uighurs and Han Chinese.
In 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched what he called a “People’s War on Terror” when bombs set off by Uighur militants tore through a train station in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, just hours after he concluded his first state visit there.
“Build steel walls and iron fortresses. Set up nets above and snares below,” state media cited Xi as saying. “Cracking down severely on violent terrorist activities must be the focus of our current struggle.”
In 2016, the crackdown intensified dramatically after Xi named Chen Quanguo, a hardline official transferred from Tibet, as Xinjiang’s new head. Most of the documents were issued in 2017, as Xinjiang’s “War on Terror” morphed into an extraordinary mass detention campaign using military-style technology.
The practices largely continue today. The Chinese government says they work.
“Since the measures have been taken, there’s no single terrorist incident in the past three years,” said a written response from the Chinese Embassy in the United Kingdom. “Xinjiang is much safer….The so-called leaked documents are fabrication and fake news.”
The statement said that religious freedom and the personal freedom of detainees was “fully respected” in Xinjiang.
The documents were given to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists by an anonymous source. The ICIJ verified them by examining state media reports and public notices from the time, consulting experts, cross-checking signatures and confirming the contents with former camp employees and detainees.
They consist of a notice with guidelines for the camps, four bulletins on how to use technology to target people, and a court case sentencing a Uighur Communist Party member to 10 years in prison for telling colleagues not to say dirty words, watch porn or eat without praying.
The documents were issued to rank-and-file officials by the powerful Xinjiang Communist Party Political and Legal Affairs Commission, the region’s top authority overseeing police, courts and state security. They were put out under the head official at the time, Zhu Hailun, who annotated and signed some personally.
The documents confirm from the government itself what is known about the camps from the testimony of dozens of Uighurs and Kazakhs, satellite imagery and tightly monitored visits by journalists to the region.
Erzhan Qurban, an ethnic Kazakh who moved back to Kazakhstan, was grabbed by police on a trip back to China to see his mother and accused of committing crimes abroad. He protested that he was a simple herder who had done nothing wrong. But for the authorities, his time in Kazakhstan was reason enough for detention.
Qurban told the AP he was locked in a cell with 10 others last year and told not to engage in “religious activities” like praying. They were forced to sit on plastic stools in rigid postures for hours at a time. Talk was forbidden, and two guards kept watch 24 hours a day. Inspectors checked that nails were short and faces trimmed of mustaches and beards, traditionally worn by pious Muslims.
Those who disobeyed were forced to squat or spend 24 hours in solitary confinement in a frigid room.
“It wasn’t education, it was just punishment,” said Qurban, who was held for nine months. “I was treated like an animal.”

WHO GETS ROUNDED UP AND HOW
On February 18, 2017, Zhu, the Han Chinese official who signed the documents, stood in chilly winter weather atop the front steps of the capital’s city hall, overlooking thousands of police in black brandishing rifles.
“With the powerful fist of the People’s Democratic Dictatorship, all separatist activities and all terrorists shall be smashed to pieces,” Zhu announced into a microphone.
With that began a new chapter in the state’s crackdown. Police called Uighurs and knocked on their doors at night to take them in for questioning. Others were stopped at borders or arrested at airports.
In the years since, as Uighurs and Kazakhs were sent to the camps in droves, the government built hundreds of schools and orphanages to house and re-educate their children. Many of those who fled into exile don’t even know where their children or loved ones are.
The documents make clear that many of those detained have not actually done anything. One document explicitly states that the purpose of the pervasive digital surveillance is “to prevent problems before they happen” ― in other words, to calculate who might rebel and detain them before they have a chance.
This is done through a system called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform or IJOP, designed to screen entire populations. Built by a state-owned military contractor, the IJOP began as an intelligence-sharing tool developed after Chinese military theorists studied the U.S. army’s use of information technology in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“There’s no other place in the world where a computer can send you to an internment camp,” said Rian Thum, a Xinjiang expert at the University of Nottingham. “This is absolutely unprecedented.”
The IJOP spat out the names of people considered suspicious, such as thousands of “unauthorized” imams not registered with the Chinese government, along with their associates. Suspicious or extremist behavior was so broadly defined that it included going abroad, asking others to pray or using cell phone apps that cannot be monitored by the government.
The IJOP zoomed in on users of “Kuai Ya,” a mobile application similar to the iPhone’s Airdrop, which had become popular in Xinjiang because it allows people to exchange videos and messages privately. One bulletin showed that officials identified more than 40,000 “Kuai Ya” users for investigation and potential detention; of those, 32 were listed as belonging to “terrorist organizations.”
“They’re scared people will spread religion through ‘Kuai Ya,’” said a man detained after police accused him of using the app. He spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to protect himself and his family. “They can’t regulate it….So they want to arrest everyone who’s used ‘Kuai Ya’ before.”
The system also targeted people who obtained foreign passports or visas, reflecting the government’s fear of Islamic extremist influences from abroad and deep discomfort with any connection between the Uighurs and the outside world. Officials were asked to verify the identities even of people outside the country, showing how China is casting its dragnet for Uighurs far beyond Xinjiang.
In recent years, Beijing has put pressure on countries to which Uighurs have fled, such as Thailand and Afghanistan, to send them back to China. In other countries, state security has also contacted Uighurs and pushed them to spy on each other. For example, a restaurateur now in Turkey, Qurbanjan Nurmemet, said police contacted him with videos of his son strapped to a chair and asked him for information on other Uighurs in Turkey.
Despite the Chinese government’s insistence that the camps are vocational training centers for the poor and uneducated, the documents show that those rounded up included party officials and university students.
After the names were collected, lists of targeted people were passed to prefecture governments, who forwarded them to district heads, then local police stations, neighbor watchmen, and Communist Party cadres living with Uighur families.
Some former detainees recalled being summoned by officers and told their names were listed for detention. From there, people were funneled into different parts of the system, from house arrest to detention centers with three levels of monitoring to, at its most extreme, prison.
Experts say the detentions are a clear violation of China’s own laws and constitution. Margaret Lewis, a professor of Chinese law at Seton Hall University, said the Communist Party is circumventing the Chinese legal system in Xinjiang.
“Once you’re stamped as an enemy, the gloves go off,” she said. “They’re not even trying to justify this legally….This is arbitrary.”
The detention campaign is sweeping. A bulletin notes that in a single week in June 2017, the IJOP identified 24,612 “suspicious persons” in southern Xinjiang, with 15,683 sent to “education and training,” 706 to prison and 2,096 to house arrest. It is unknown how typical this week might be. Local officials claim far less than a million are in “training,” but researchers estimate up to 1.8 million have been detained at one point or another.
The bulletins stress that relationships must be scrutinized closely, with those interrogated pushed to report the names of friends and relatives. Mamattursun Omar, a Uighur chef arrested after working in Egypt, was interrogated in four detention facilities over nine months in 2017. Omar told the AP that police asked him to verify the identities of other Uighurs in Egypt.
Eventually, Omar says, they began torturing him to make him confess that Uighur students had gone to Egypt to take part in jihad. They strapped him to a contraption called a “tiger chair,” shocked him with electric batons, beat him with pipes and whipped him with computer cords.
“I couldn’t take it anymore,” Omar said. “I just told them what they wanted me to say.”
Omar gave the names of six others who worked at a restaurant with him in Egypt. All were sent to prison.

WHAT HAPPENS INSIDE THE CAMPS
The documents also detail what happens after someone is sent to an “education and training center.”
Publicly, in a recent white paper, China’s State Council said “the personal freedom of trainees at the education and training centers is protected in accordance with the law.” But internally, the documents describe facilities with police stations at the front gates, high guard towers, one-button alarms and video surveillance with no blind spots.
Detainees are only allowed to leave if absolutely necessary, for example because of illness, and even so must have somebody “specially accompany, monitor and control” them. Bath time and toilet breaks are strictly managed and controlled “to prevent escapes.” And cell phones are strictly forbidden to stop “collusion between inside and outside.”
“Escape was impossible,” said Kazakh kingergarten administrator Sayragul Sauytbay, a Communist Party member who was abducted by police in October 2017 and forced to become a Mandarin camp instructor. “In every corner in every place there were armed police.”
Sauytbay called the detention center a “concentration camp…much more horrifying than prison,” with rape, brainwashing and torture in a “black room” were people screamed. She and another former prisoner, Zumrat Dawut, also told the ICIJ detainees were given medication that made them listless and obedient, and every move was surveilled.
AP journalists who visited Xinjiang in December 2018 saw patrol towers and high walls lined with green barbed wire fencing around camps. One camp in Artux, just north of Kashgar, sat in the middle of a vast, empty, rocky field, and appeared to include a police station at the entrance, workshops, a hospital and dormitories, one with a sign reading “House of Workers” in Chinese.
Recent satellite imagery shows that guard towers and fencing have been removed from some facilities, suggesting the region may have been softening restrictions in response to global criticism. Shohrat Zakir, the governor of Xinjiang, said in March that those detained can now request time and go home on weekends, a claim the AP could not independently verify.
The first item listed as part of the curriculum is ideological education, a bold attempt to change how detainees think and act. It is partly rooted in the ancient Chinese belief in transformation through education ― taken before to terrifying extremes during the mass thought reform campaigns of Mao Zedong.
“It’s the dark days of the Cultural Revolution, except now it’s powered by high-tech,” said Zenz, the researcher.
By showing students the error of their former ways, the centers are supposed to promote “repentance and confession,” the directive said. For example, Qurban, the Kazakh herder, was handcuffed, brought to an interview with a Han Chinese leader and forced to acknowledge that he regretted visiting abroad.
The indoctrination goes along with what is called “manner education,” where behavior is dictated down to ensuring “timely haircuts and shaves,” “regular change of clothes” and “bathing once or twice a week.” The tone, experts say, echoes a general perception by the Han Chinese government that Uighurs are prone to violence and need to be civilized ― in much the same way white colonialists treated indigenous people in the U.S., Canada and Australia.
“It’s a similar kind of savior mentality ― that these poor Uighurs didn’t understand that they were being led astray by extremists,” said Darren Byler, a scholar of Uighur culture at the University of Washington. “The way they think about Uighurs in general is that they are backward, that they’re not educated….these people are unhygienic and need to be taught how to clean themselves.”
Students are to be allowed a phone conversation with relatives at least once a week, and can meet them via video at least once a month, the documents say. Trainers are told to pay attention to “the ideological problems and emotional changes that arise after family communications.”
Mandarin is mandated. Beijing has said “the customs of all ethnic groups and the right to use their spoken and written languages are fully protected at the centers.” But the documents show that in practice, lessons are taught in Mandarin, and it is the language to be used in daily communication.
A former staffer at Xinjiang TV now in Europe was also selected to become a Mandarin teacher during his month-long detention in 2017. Twice a day, detainees were lined up and inspected by police, and a few were questioned in Mandarin at random, he told the AP. Those who couldn’t respond in Mandarin were beaten or deprived of food for days. Otherwise, speaking was forbidden.
One day, the former teacher recalled, an officer asked an old farmer in Mandarin whether he liked the detention center. The man apologized in broken Mandarin and Uighur, saying it was hard for him to understand because of his age. The officer strode over and struck the old man’s head with a baton. He crumpled to the ground, bleeding.
“They didn’t see us as humans,” said the former teacher, who declined to provide his name out of fear of retribution against his family. “They treated us like animals ― like pigs, cows, sheep.”
Detainees are tested on Mandarin, ideology and discipline, with “one small test per week, one medium test per month, and one big test per season,” the documents state. These test scores feed into an elaborate point system.
Detainees who do well are to be rewarded with perks like family visits, and may be allowed to “graduate” and leave. Detainees who do poorly are to be sent to a stricter “management area” with longer detention times. Former detainees told the AP that punishments included food deprivation, handcuffing, solitary confinement, beatings and torture.
Detainees’ scores are entered in the IJOP. Students are sent to separate facilities for “intensive skills training” only after at least one year of learning ideology, law and Mandarin.
After they leave, the documents stipulate, every effort should be made to get them jobs. Some detainees describe being forced to sign job contracts, working long hours for low pay and barred from leaving factory grounds during weekdays.
Qurban, the Kazakh herder, said after nine months in the camp, a supervisor came to tell him he was “forgiven” but must never tell what he had seen. After he returned to his village, officials told him he had to work in a factory.
“If you don’t go, we’ll send you back to the center,” an official said.
Qurban went to a garment factory, which he wasn’t allowed to leave. After 53 days stitching clothes, he was released. After another month under house arrest, he finally was allowed to return to Kazakhstan and see his children. He received his salary in cash: 300 Chinese yuan, or just under $42.
Long an ordinary herder who thought little of politics, Qurban used to count many Han Chinese among his friends. Now, he said, he’s begun to hate them.
“I’ve never committed a crime, I’ve never done anything wrong,” he said. “It was beyond comprehension why they put me there.”

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Hong Kong Democrats Score Landslide Victory In Local Elections Amid Political Crisis




HONG KONG (Reuters) – Pro-democracy candidates in Hong Kong romped to a landslide and symbolic majority in district council elections after residents turned out in record numbers on Sunday to vote following six months of anti-government protests in the embattled city.
In a rare weekend lull in the unrest that has embroiled the financial hub, democratic candidates across the city of 7.4 million secured more than half of the 452 district council seats for the first time, against a strongly resourced and mobilized pro-establishment opposition.
Hong Kong’s district councils control some spending and decide a range of local livelihood issues such as transport, and they also serve as an important grassroots platform to radiate political influence in the city ruled by communist China.
Some winning candidates said the result was akin to a vote of support for the protest movement, and could raise the pressure on Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing chief executive, Carrie Lam, amid the city’s worst political crisis in decades.
“This is the power of democracy. This is a democratic tsunami,” said Tommy Cheung, a former student protest leader who won a seat in the Yuen Long district close to China’s border.
Initial results from the voting, which ended with no major disruptions in a day that saw massive queues form outside many voting centers, began to trickle in after midnight.
Many people clamored to vote early, fearful that possible disruptions would lead to voting centers closing early.
As of 5:00 a.m. (2100 GMT), pro-democracy candidates had secured a majority with at least 283 seats, compared to about 32 seats for the pro-establishment camp, according to local media estimates. A record 1,104 candidates were vying for 452 seats.
Electoral affairs chief Barnabus Fung said at least 2.94 million people voted, a record turnout of more than 71% that appeared to have been spurred by the turmoil. About 1.47 million voted in the last district elections four years ago.
“The performance of the pro-democracy camp will send a signal to Beijing,” said Andrew Li, a 22-year-old student who supported a pro-democracy candidate. “By ignoring people’s demands, it wakes up all Hong Kong people to come out and vote.”
FORMAL CONFRONTATION
Demonstrators are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. They say they are also responding to perceived police brutality.
China denies interfering and says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula for the autonomy of Hong Kong. Police say they have shown restraint in the face of potentially deadly attacks.
Jimmy Sham, a candidate for the Civil Human Rights Front, which organized some of the anti-government rallies, won his electoral contest and said the turnout should be a sign to the government that it should listen to their voices.
“This election is special because it is a formal confrontation between pro-establishment and pro-democracy parties after months of unrest caused by the misstep of government,” he said, standing on crutches weeks after he was beaten by men with hammers during a rally in October.
“It is a victory for the people of Hong Kong.”
Other successful pro-democracy candidates included Lester Shum, a former student leader of the umbrella movement in 2014, and Kelvin Lam, who stood in after activist Joshua Wong was barred from running.
A number of pro-Beijing heavyweights including Junius Ho, an incumbent injured in a knife attack this month, lost to a pro-democracy challenger. In a message on his Facebook page, Ho said it had been an “exceptional year, an exceptional election, and an unusual result”.
Some veteran pro-Beijing politicians, who have been shoo-ins in previous polls, attributed their losses to the broader discontent.
“Our loss is not because of our work in the local districts, it’s because of the political sentiment,” said Horace Cheung, who noted he received 500 more votes this year than four years ago, but still lost.
CAMPUS STANDOFF
Casting her ballot, Hong Kong’s chief executive Lam, who is backed by Beijing, pledged that her government would listen more intensively to the views of district councils.
“I hope this kind of stability and calm is not only for today’s election, but to show that everyone does not want Hong Kong to fall into a chaotic situation again,” Lam said.
The protests started over a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial but rapidly evolved into calls for full democracy, posing the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
The protests have at times forced the closure of government, businesses and schools as police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon in response to petrol bombs and rocks.
The run-up to the election was marked by attacks on candidates, with Ho stabbed and wounded and another having part of his ear bitten off.
Sunday was also the seventh day of a standoff at Polytechnic University, whose campus has been surrounded by police as some protesters hid out on the grounds.
“The government needs to know that if they don’t answer our demands, we will continue demanding and the protests will not stop,” said a 26-year-old pro-democracy voter who gave her name as Cda.

Reporting by Greg Torode, Sharon Tam, Sarah Wu, Scott Murdoch, Poppy McPherson, Clare Jim, Felix Tam, Joyce Zhou, Jessie Pang, Twinnie Siu, Jessie Pang, Athit Perawongmetha and Aleksander Solum; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by James Pomfret and Alistair Bell.

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High Voter Turnout In Hong Kong Election Seen As Referendum On Protest




HONG KONG (AP) — Given a chance to vote, the people of Hong Kong were doing just that on Sunday.
Long lines snaked around plazas and extended for blocks as citizens of the Chinese territory turned out in droves for an election seen as a test of public support for anti-government protests that have persisted for more than five months.
The Electoral Affairs Commission said 56% of the city’s 4.1 million registered voters had cast ballots by 5:30 p.m. That exceeded the 47% turnout in the same election four years ago, with five hours still to go before polls were to close.
Christina Li said it was important for older people like herself to support the youth who are at the forefront of the protests.
“Younger generations might not be able to enjoy the rights that we are enjoying now,” she said as she waited in line outside a polling station. “We cannot take it for granted.” 

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People line up to vote outside of a polling place in Hong Kong, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. Long lines formed outside Hong Kong polling stations Sunday in elections that have become a barometer of public support for anti-government protests now in their sixth month. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The normally low-key race for 452 seats in Hong Kong’s 18 district councils has taken on symbolic importance in a city polarized by the protests. A strong showing by the opposition would show that the public still supports the protesters, even as they resort to increasing violence.
Protesters have smashed storefronts of businesses seen as sympathetic to China, torched toll booths, shut down a major tunnel and engaged in pitched battles with police, countering tear gas volleys and water cannons with torrents of gasoline bombs. More than 5,000 people have been arrested.
The demonstrators believe that China is encroaching on the freedoms that Hong Kong has as a semi-autonomous territory. Their demands include democratic elections for the city’s leader and legislature, and an investigation into alleged police brutality in suppressing the protests.
Democracy activist Joshua Wong, who was barred from running in the election, voted soon after polls opened at 7:30 a.m. Results are expected after midnight.
“Even if they censor me out from the ballot, lock me out in prison, it will just encourage me to continue to fight for the future with even stronger determination,” he told reporters.
The vote for the district councils, which advise the government on issues of local concern, is the only fully democratic one in Hong Kong. Members of the legislature are chosen partly by popular vote and partly by interest groups representing different sectors of society, and the city’s leader is picked by a 1,200-member body that is dominated by supporters of the central government in Beijing.
Many people in Hong Kong share the concern of protesters about growing Chinese influence over the former British colony, which was returned to China in 1997. At the same time, the never-ending protests are a source of stress that have disrupted daily life and hit the tourism and retail industries hard.
Both the ruling camp in Hong Kong and the central government in Beijing hope that the unrest will turn voters against the protesters.
The district councils advocate for community interests and are given a small budget for local projects. Winning candidates will serve a four-year term beginning Jan. 1.
There has been a rare break in the violence in recent days as protesters, anxious to validate their cause through the ballot box, hit the pause button to ensure the polls wouldn’t be postponed.
Government officials had earlier warned that the election could be called off if the violence did not subside.
“We need to show the world that our cause is legitimate. I don’t believe that Beijing will not respond to the Hong Kong people’s voice,” Alex Wong, a black-clad and masked student, said during a peaceful march Saturday.
Police were out in force near polling stations, but no major incidents were reported. Protest support groups advised people not to wear black or face masks during voting in case they were targeted by police.
City leader Carrie Lam, who is reviled by the protesters, said after voting that the unrest made organizing the election extremely challenging.
“I hope that this stability and calm is not only for today’s election, and that the election will show that everyone doesn’t want Hong Kong to return to chaos again, that we want a way out of this crisis so that we can have a fresh start,” she said.

Associated Press video journalists Dake Kang and Katie Tam contributed to this report.

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