Nation and world news briefs

Tribune Content Agency

US seeks to reassure diplomats returning to Beijing after uproar

WASHINGTON — The State Department is seeking to reassure dozens of diplomats who are preparing to return to Beijing that China won’t be given total control over their coronavirus testing and that children and other family members won’t be separated if they are found positive, according to several people familiar with the matter.

In a series of emails and other cables to staff, including one sent Sunday night, the American Embassy in Beijing has sought to respond to growing concern among the first wave of American diplomats who are preparing to return to China next month as the U.S. seeks to redeploy to outposts around the world.

Concerns have been expressed that China would control testing — possibly gaining access to diplomats’ DNA samples — and that family members might be separated in quarantine, according to a dozen American diplomats, all of whom asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.

The State Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The blowback and mistrust had been fierce on private Facebook groups for diplomats and their families, where stories have been traded that some Americans among a first group of returnees were stuck in a Chinese quarantine hotel for more than two weeks.

But now emails sent to staff indicate that U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad, who has been in talks with Chinese officials over the Americans’ return, has won some concessions. In one such email this month, obtained by Bloomberg News, the State Department said that while it can’t yet guarantee families won’t be separated, charter planes will fly to Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai because they have “family-appropriate policies,” and won’t travel there if those commitments are in doubt.

The emails say that anyone forced into isolation will be met with “an arsenal of support staff,” including help from Branstad.

—Bloomberg News


US puts restrictions on four more Chinese state media outlets

WASHINGTON — The U.S. designated four more Chinese media companies as “foreign missions,” doubling down on a strategy aimed at calling attention to President Xi Jinping’s increasingly restrictive controls over news organizations.

The State Department’s foreign mission designation means reporters in the U.S. for the four news organizations will essentially be treated as Chinese government diplomats, with requirements that their employers detail their numbers and identities. It also imposes constraints on visas and acquiring property.

The media outlets covered were China Central Television, the People’s Daily, China News Service and the Global Times, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia David Stilwell told reporters.

The move echoes a decision in February to tag five other Chinese state news organizations with the designation. It’s part of a more aggressive strategy under the Trump administration to call out what it sees as Chinese government abuses against the media and other human rights abuses.

Stilwell said he wasn’t able to say how many reporters would be included in the latest designation. The last time the U.S. took such action, China responded by kicking out some American correspondents with The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and other outlets and forced at least seven Chinese nationals working for them to resign.

—Bloomberg News


Parkland shooting trial in limbo as judge seeks ‘creative’ ways to proceed

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School murder trial won’t be going in front of a jury anytime soon, a Broward judge said Monday.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who only months ago reluctantly agreed to postpone the trial of accused murderer Nikolas Cruz to an unspecified later date, lamented on Monday that the coronavirus crisis is likely to keep the case in limbo for the foreseeable future.

“We have to take it one day at a time, quite frankly. We’re not there yet. When we are, I don’t know,” she said. “If you have any creative suggestions as to how we can get this trial underway in a timely manner … “

Prosecutors and defense lawyers who met Monday for a Zoom videoconference had no such suggestions, and it’s unlikely either side will try to experiment with established pretrial procedures in one of the most closely watched cases to come out of Broward in years.

Cruz, now 21, has confessed to entering Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14, 2018, and shooting 34 people, half of whom died. Since his arrest, defense lawyers have signaled a willingness to have Cruz plead guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in exchange for a sentence of life in prison.

Prosecutors have refused the offer, arguing that only a jury should decide whether to waive the death penalty in the emotionally charged case.

The standstill has led to Cruz’s lawyers doing everything legally required to provide him with a competent defense, including scheduling scores of witness interviews and having mental health experts evaluate the defendant.

—Sun Sentinel


China’s infamous dog meat festival kicks off as activists urge crackdown

A widely condemned dog meat festival opened on Sunday despite the Chinese government’s recent attempts to discourage dog consumption across the country.

The annual Lychee and Dog Meat Festival in the southern city of Yulin is scheduled to go on for 10 days in defiance of international criticism.

Humane International Society, one of the event’s fiercest critics, urged the government to halt the festival after some of its activists rescued 10 puppies that were being sold at a market outside Yulin.

“I couldn’t believe that these friendly and innocent puppies would be killed for food if we hadn’t been there by chance, and I can’t believe that anyone would even want to eat these adorable little darlings,” Jenifer Chen, an activist with the group, said in a statement.

China’s controversial wildlife-farming industry has come under increased scrutiny this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, which is believed to have originated in a wet market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

In April, the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs excluded dogs from a list of animals that can be farmed for meat. It was the first time ever that the Chinese government explicitly addressed the consumption of dog meat in an official document.

“With the progress of human civilization and the public’s concern and preference for animal protection, dogs have changed from traditional domestic animals to companion animals,” the government said in a draft proposal translated by HSI.

The festival was still underway this week despite the growing efforts to stop it. Event organizers have been accused of snatching thousands of dogs and cats from the streets or from people’s backyards, cramming them into cages and loading them into trucks to bring to the festival ever year.

—New York Daily News


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.