Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced on May 21 that the United States would formally submit notice the following day of its intent to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies, a post-Cold War trust-building measure signed in 1992 by the US, Russia and 33 other countries. The treaty, which took effect in 2002, allows each state-party to conduct unarmed reconnaissance flights over each others' entire territories to collect intelligence on military forces and activities. In accordance with Article XV, the US withdrawal will take effect six months after formally submitting notice. In a letter addressed to Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and President Trump, Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Adam Smith (D-WA) protest that the withdrawal is in violation of Section 1234 of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires the president to notify Congress at least 120 days before giving formal notice of intent to withdraw from the treaty. (Jurist)
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists is urging Chinese authorities to immediately release journalist Zhang Zhan, drop any charges against her, and ensure that the media can cover the coronavirus pandemic without fear of arrest. Zhang, an independent video journalist who had been posting reports from Wuhan on Twitter and YouTube since early February, went missing in the city on May 14, one day after she published a video critical of the government's countermeasures to contain the virus, according to news reports. On May 15, the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau issued a notice stating that Zhang had been arrested and detained for "picking quarrels and provoking trouble," and was being held at the Pudong Xinqu Detention Center. If convicted, she could face up to five years in prison, according to the Chinese criminal code.
Some 230 people were arrested in Hong Kong May 10, as pro-democracy demonstrations again mobilized in the city after weeks of a lockdown imposed to contain COVID-19. Following "sing-along" actions at several shopping malls, some protesters gathered on the streets of Kowloon's Mong Kok commercial district before riot police were sent in to disperse them. Police were accused of brutality in the dispersal operation, and several demonstrators were hospitalized. Among those detained and hospitalized was lawmaker Roy Kwong of the Democratic Party, who was on hand to observe the police operations. Reporters were apparently targeted by police, with the Hong Kong Journalists Association issuing a statement decrying the "abuse and detention" of media workers. (HKFP, RTHK, DW, SCMP)
In Episode 51 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg rants against the dangerous, irresponsible and politically weaponized claims being avidly propagated about COVID-19. In addition to paving the way for Facebook and other platforms being given greater power to censor content, these claims serve to delegitimize any critique of actual abuses of power by the medical establishment, government and corporations. Worse, claims originating from social-media trolls and the yellow press are being weaponized by the US State Department and Chinese Foreign Ministry as propaganda in their New Cold War. Whether the virus originated in a Chinese government lab in Wuhan or the US government lab at Fort Detrick is probably unknowable, and of limited relevance to the dilemma of how to resist the fast-consolidating biological police state. Listen on SoundCloud.
According to widespread reports in the Nigerian media, aggrieved workers at a Chinese company in the Ogun-Guangdong Free Trade Zone (OGFTZ), located in Ado-Odo/Ota district of Ogun state, staged a brief uprising at the complex after they were locked within the premises, ostensibly under emergency measures to contain COVID-19. Several vehicles and a sentry box were set ablaze. Local police authorities confirmed to Nigerian news site Punch that the incident ocurred on April 14. The reports include video footage of workers protesting within the complex as smoke billows in the air.
Hong Kong police arrested 15 leading pro-democracy figures on April 18, in connection with allegedly "organizing and participating in unlawful assemblies" last year. Among those arrested were two former chairs of the Democratic Party, Martin Lee and Albert Ho, former Democratic Party councilors Yeung Sum and Sin Chung-kai, and sitting district councilor Richard Tsoi; forner Labour Party councilors Lee Cheuk-yan and Cyd Ho; sitting council member Leung Yiu-chung of the Neighbourhood & Worker's Service Centre; two leaders of the Civil Human Rights Front, Au Nok-hin and Figo Chan; three leaders of the League of Social Democrats, Raphael Wong, Leung Kwok-hung and Avery Ng; Civic Party leader Margaret Ng; and pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai.
Speaking April 14 at COVIDCon, an online Oslo Freedom Forum event presented by the Human Rights Foundation, exiled Chinese dissident Yang Jianli of the DC-based Citizen Power Initiatives for China charged that the death toll for Wuhan, the city where the COVID-19 outbreak began, was massively under-counted by authorities. In a talk entitled "The Chinese Communist Party: Savior or Culprit?," Yang portrayed a far-reaching cover-up by the Beijing regime. Citing his monitoring of social media, Yang said that as Xi Jinping visited Wuhan on March 10, "endless Wuhan residents pleaded for help online, saying hospitals were overflowing and their family members were turned away and left to die at home. Nobody knows how many people died before managing to get to hospitals."
It's certainly an irony that with police-state measures mounting worldwide to enforce lockdowns and contain COVID-19, Trump is now claiming sweeping executive power to lift lockdowns in the US in spite of the pandemic. Asserting his prerogative to override state governors and order economies open again, Trump stated April 13: "When someone is president of the United States, the authority is total." After requisite media outcry, he later reiterated this assertion on Twitter. (NYT, The Guardian) The response in media and the Twittersphere has been to call this out as blatantly unconstitutional. While it is, of course, necessary to point out the illegitimacy of Trump's pretended power-grab, it is also side-stepping the real threat here: of the pandemic being exploited to declare an actual "state of exception" in which constitutional restraints are suspended altogether—perhaps permanently.