Category: radio

  • Is North Korean leader Kim Jong Un taking a family vacation? 

    Satellite imagery shows that the Kim family’s 80-meter (262-foot) cruise ship – complete with a waterslide and an Olympic-sized swimming pool – is out at sea. 

    Some experts say Kim’s recent public appearance on land makes it very unlikely that he was on board but others said he may have been.

    According to satellite photos taken June 27 and July 5 by Planet Labs, an American commercial satellite imaging company, the luxury cruise ship was identified as sailing off North Korea’s east coast near Wonsan, Kangwon province.

    Kim is known to use this ship for recreational activities with his family or to entertain foreign VIPs.

    ENG_KOR_CRUISE SHIP_07102024.02.jpg
    A luxury cruise ship reserved exclusively for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was recently identified as sailing between the ship repair dock at Wonsan Port and the exclusive Kalma Villa. The distance between the marina and Kalma Villa is about 4.5km (2.8 miles). Wonsan Villa can be seen across from Kalma Villa. (Google Earth, image production – Bruce Songhak Chung)

    Bruce Songhak Chung, a researcher at the South Korea-based Korean Institute for Security and Strategy who analyzed the satellite photos, told RFA Korean that it is likely that either Kim himself, or his family, took the cruise ship to the family villa on the Kalma peninsula.

    “Only North Korean leaders and their families exclusively use luxury cruise ships,” he said. “As the summer vacation season approaches, it is presumed that General Secretary Kim may have visited a private villa in Wonsan to spend the summer with his wife Ri Sol Ju and daughter Kim Ju Ae.”

    Chung noted that there was no way to tell whether Kim was on board, but that he might have been, considering that he had just finished leading an important meeting of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party’s Central Committee.

    The plenary meeting lasted from June 28 to July 1, and on July 2, Kim visited factories and other government institutions with government officials. This makes it less likely that he was on board on June 27.


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    The cruise ship may have been on a test voyage in the earlier image, ahead of Kim’s vacation, said Cho Han-Bum, a researcher at the South Korea-based Korea Institute for National Unification.

    He also noted that Kim was not with his wife Ri Sol Ju or daughter Kim Ju Ae during his public appearances.

    “It is possible that Kim Ju Ae, Ri Sol Ju and other families have already gone on summer vacation,” said Cho. “Therefore, there is a possibility that Chairman Kim Jong Un, who finished the plenary meeting, completed local guidance and joined his family.” 

    Getting around sanctions

    Currently, North Korea has a total of four luxury cruise ships – with lengths of 50, 55, 60, and 80 meters (164-262 feet) – for Kim’s exclusive use. 

    These cruise ships were obtained in the 1990s, during the rule of his father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il, before sanctions were imposed.

    The sanctions, enacted after North Korea’s first nuclear test in 2006, are meant to deprive Pyongyang of cash and resources that could be funneled into its nuclear and missile programs. 

    They are also intended to prevent the Kim family and other North Korean elites from getting their hands on luxury goods.

    But they still trickle in. Recently, Kim Jong Un imported luxury cars, including a Russian-made Aurus Senat and a German-made Mercedes-Benz Maybach.

    ENG_KOR_CRUISE SHIP_07102024.03.jpg
    A large 80-meter-long luxury cruise ship equipped with a water slide and an international-standard swimming pool, and a 60-meter-long cruise ship are moored at the ship dock in Wonsan, Kangwon province. Normally, private cruise ships are managed at this marina. (Google Earth, image production – Bruce Songhak Chung)

    The recent surge in the value of the U.S. dollar against the won has made food prices in North Korea rise and has negatively affected the economy in general, but the Kim family continues to live the high life, said Cho.

    “The problem with international sanctions against North Korea is that they have an effect on the entire national economy, but do not affect the upper class,” he said. “They import as many luxury goods as they want using various agents or aliases.”

    He said sanctions are unable to target only the country’s leadership.

    “As public sentiment deteriorates, it may lead to a weakening of Chairman Kim Jong Un’s support base, but the current sanctions against North Korea are not enough to prevent the Kim family from living a luxurious life.”

    Translated by Claire S. Lee. Edited by Eugene Whong.

    This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Cheon Soram for RFA Korean.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • President Joe Biden on Friday signed into law a bill that urges China to resume talks with the Dalai Lama or his representatives to arrive at a “negotiated agreement on Tibet” as he reiterated that the measure did not represent a change in U.S. policy.

    “I share the Congress’s bipartisan commitment to advancing the human rights of Tibetans and supporting efforts to preserve their distinct linguistic, cultural and religious heritage,” Biden said in a July 12 statement.

    The legislation, which passed the House of Representatives on June 12, states that Tibetans share a distinct religious, cultural, linguistic and historical identity and encourages the State Department to fight China’s disinformation about Tibet’s history and institutions. 


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    In his statement, Biden said that the Resolve Tibet Act does not change U.S. policy recognizing the Tibet Autonomous Region, or TAR, and Chinese provinces with large Tibetan populations as part of the People’s Republic of China.

    But supporters said it is still an important measure because it adds pressure on Chinese leaders to grant greater autonomy to these areas.

    “All people should have the right to live in peace and decide their own future. But the people of Tibet have not had those freedoms for more than 70 years. We just took an important step toward changing that,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon and a co-sponsor of the bill, said.

    In 2002, Chinese and Tibetan representatives held talks over a governance framework in the TAR.  

    The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader for most Tibetan Buddhists, has called for “genuine” autonomy for Tibet, an approach that accepts the region’s status as a part of China but urges greater cultural and religious freedoms and strengthened language rights, which are already supposed to be protected under China’s constitution. 

    But the talks ground to a halt in 2010. Since then, there has been no formal dialogue between the two sides. Critics say in the interim China has increased its efforts to force Tibetans to assimilate into the majority Han culture through the use of boarding schools that promote the use of Mandarin and by prohibiting the worship of the Dalai Lama.

    Senate Bill 138 passes in the U.S. House of Representatives 391-26 on June 12, 2024, in Washington. (C-SPAN)

    The president signed the Tibet bill into law just days after Tibetans and well-wishers worldwide celebrated the Dalai Lama’s 89th birthday on July 6. The Dalai Lama underwent successful knee surgery on June 28 in New York. He remains in the United States as he recovers.

    Just prior to the Dalai Lama’s arrival, he received a bipartisan U.S. congressional delegation led by Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, at his home in Dharamsala, India

    McCaul in June presented the Dalai Lama with a framed copy of the Resolve Tibet Act. He thanked the members of the delegation and called the bill “very important.”

    China on Saturday expressed opposition to the measure. 

    A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said it “violates the U.S. government’s long-held position and commitments and the basic norms governing international relations, grossly interferes in China’s domestic affairs, undermines China’s interest, and sends a severely wrong signal to the ‘Tibet independence’ forces.”

    U.S. support for Tibet

    U.S. lawmakers and Tibetan leaders, including Sikyong Penpa Tsering, the democratically elected head of the Central Tibetan Administration, a Tibetan government in exile, welcomed the move. 

    Penpa Tsering said on Saturday that the news “fills me with renewed hope.” He said the Resolve Tibet Act into law solidifies the U.S.’s commitment to a negotiated solution to the Tibet-China conflict.

    Tencho Gyatso, president of the International Campaign for Tibet, called the measure “a clarion call to support Tibet’s peaceful struggle for human rights and democratic freedoms.”

    In addition to promoting talks between Chinese and Tibetan leaders, the Resolve Tibet Act  directs State Department officials to work to counter Chinese government disinformation about Tibet. It also affirms the State Department’s role to encourage China to address the Tibetan people’s aspirations regarding their distinct identity.

    In June, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington told RFA that Tibet remains a purely internal matter of China and that no “external forces” had the right to interfere.

    “We urge the U.S. side to cease using Tibet-related issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs and to avoid actions that could harm Tibet’s development and stability,” Liu Pengyu said. 

    “The U.S. should not provide a platform for ‘Tibetan independence’ forces to engage in anti-China separatist activities. China will take all necessary measures to defend its interests,” he said.

    Chinese forces invaded Tibet in 1950 and have controlled the territory ever since. The Dalai Lama fled into exile in India amid a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. 

    Since then, Beijing has sought to legitimize Chinese rule through the suppression of dissent and policies undermining Tibetan culture and language. 

    The Tibetans are willing; the People’s Republic of China should come to the table,” Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat and a key supporter of the bill, said after Biden signed the legislation.

    Additional reporting by Tenzin Dickyi, Dorjee Damdul and Dickey Kundol. Edited by Kalden Lodoe and Jim Snyder.

    This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Tenzin Pema and Tashi Wangchuk for RFA Tibetan.

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  • Mira Rapp-Hooper is the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for East Asia and Oceania at the White House National Security Council, or NSC. 

    During this week’s NATO Summit in Washington, she spoke with RFA Korean’s Lee Sangmin, touching on points related to increased cooperation between Russia and North Korea, following Vladimir Putin’s visit to North Korea last month.

    The summit included representatives from the Indo-Pacific Four, or IP4, an informal grouping of South Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia, and Rapp-Hooper said that it was important to include those countries in discussions with NATO, especially considering that the partnership between North Korea and Russia concerns security in both the North Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific.

    The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

    RFA: So how much are you concerned about the recent deepening relationship between Russia and North Korea?

    Rapp-Hooper: We are extremely concerned about the relationship between Russia and North Korea. Of course, we have been for about a year as that relationship has grown closer and closer, and it has become clear that both Russia and North Korea are exchanging extremely worrisome forms of support with one another. 

    On the one hand, of course, we know that the (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) has been providing Russia with millions of rounds of ammunition, as well as missiles that have been used on the battlefield in Ukraine to devastating effect fueling Russia’s war machine, and taking the lives of innocent civilians, all over the conflict. And that’s deeply disturbing. 

    But one of the things that is also very troubling about this relationship is the fact that we know that Russia is probably providing the DPRK with technical assistance, sophisticated forms of support for some of its military programs. But those forms of cooperation are much harder to track. So while we know what the DPRK is giving to Russia, we know less than we would like to about what Russia is giving to the DPRK. And that is something that should concern not only the countries of the Indo-Pacific who care about peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula and beyond. 

    ENG_KOR_MIRA RAPP_07122024_02.jpg
    Mira Rapp-Hooper, Senior Director for East Asia and Oceania, National Security Council, at the Asia Center in Washington, Sept. 13, 2023. (U.S. Institute of Peace via Flickr)

    But countries in Europe are increasingly understanding that this relationship affects them, too. Now, of course, this has all become more prominent recently because of Vladimir Putin’s visit to Pyongyang, when the two countries released a declaration that looks very much like an alliance treaty. 

    But really, what this does is capture something that we knew the whole time, which is the fact that this is not just a marriage of convenience where these two powers are cooperating so that Russia can get help in its war against Ukraine. There is political buy-in at the highest levels, from both of these governments. 

    The piece of optimism that I would offer today, however, is that it is not just the ROK, the United States and Japan who are worried about this problem. We have very good trilateral cooperation amongst the three of us to share intelligence and to coordinate our policy actions. 

    But part of what you’re seeing here at NATO today is that all of our NATO allies also care about this problem, because Russia has brought DPRK technology to Europe in the form of ballistic missiles being used on the battlefield in Ukraine. So we’ve never seen our European allies more engaged in DPRK issues, more wanting to cooperate, to address, and limit, this relationship. And we are hopeful that that cooperation will have a stabilizing effect in the face of all of this destabilizing behavior. 

    RFA: In what ways can NATO and its allies counter cooperation between North Korea and Russia?

    Rapp-Hooper: Well, there are, you know, certain areas where cooperation, unfortunately, is quite difficult to affect. We know that many of the shipments that take place between DPRK and Russia take place within their territorial seas or over rail lines. So there’s very few options for the international community there. 

    But there are other areas, where we do cooperate, and we will continue to do so. And that relates to things like financial sanctions that may run at the heart of their cooperation, and other measures that we can take, such as intelligence sharing, information sharing that might allow one country to be more empowered to limit this cooperation wherever they can. 

    There is also, of course, the role that we all play diplomatically, not just in putting pressure on both Pyongyang and Russia, but on additional countries, who might be able to take action to try to limit this relationship. 

    The world is, of course, watching (the People’s Republic of China, or PRC) and the question looms large, what Beijing will do about this relationship, given that it is so destabilizing and not in China’s interests either. But we’ve yet to see a clear answer to that question.

    RFA: What kind of a role can China play in dealing with North Korea issues?

    Rapp-Hooper: That’s really up to China. In the past, the PRC has long played a role on the Korean Peninsula. Obviously, it is a key continued trading partner of Pyongyang and a longtime political partner. There is obviously a very close political relationship as well, between Beijing and Moscow – which is its own cause for concern. 

    But there’s no doubt that if Beijing was interested in doing so, it could play a stabilizing and responsible role, to encourage in particular, the worst (aspects of the) DPRK-Russia cooperation to come to an end. But again, all eyes are on Beijing to see if it will make that choice. 

    RFA: Why is it significant that the IP4 are participating in the NATO Summit?

    Rapp-Hooper: Our IP4 partners in the (Republic of Korea, or ROK), Japan, Australia and New Zealand have been at the last three NATO summits. And from our perspective, it really symbolizes the fact that the Euro-Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific are increasingly connected. 

    Security problems that matter for Europe matter for the Indo-Pacific. And likewise, Asia matters greatly to our European partners. And when the Biden administration took office, we were very keen to help support the IP4 and build it out into something that is a more institutionalized meeting because we think it is strictly advantageous for our Indo-Pacific allies to be working with our European allies and vice versa. 

    But of course, the way that the IP4 really got increased, was after the tragic and aggressive invasion of Ukraine by Russia, in which so many of our Indo-Pacific allies stepped up to demonstrate that they stand with Ukraine and would provide assistance. And that, I think, really drove home to our European allies in NATO, the fundamental value of working with partners in the Indo-Pacific. So today, again, they’re here for their third summit. 

    ENG_KOR_MIRA RAPP_07122024_03.jpg
    Mira Rapp-Hooper, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for East Asia and Oceania, National Security Council and Matthew Brest arrive at the White House for the State Dinner for Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and wife Kishida Yuko, April 10, 2024, in Washington.  (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

    They have had the opportunity to participate in a plenary session, with significant substantive focus on the Indo-Pacific and the links between the two theaters. When we talk about those links, clearly DPRK-Russia cooperation is very squarely on the agenda. It has been a focus of their discussions. They participated in the leaders dinner last night. They had their own meeting with President Zelensky of Ukraine, which is an important demonstration of the fact that they are fiercely dedicated partners to Ukraine. And you saw that with two new announcements from New Zealand and Australia announcing new aid packages to Ukraine concomitant with the NATO summit. 

    And then, of course, the IP4 partners, had some time with the president, and Secretary General Stoltenberg, to affirm the importance of their participation here at NATO.

    RFA: What role do you expect that South Korea can play in partnership with NATO?

    Rapp-Hooper: We expect South Korea to play whatever role is most advantageous for South Korea. I think if you ask our South Korean friends, what they will say is they are extremely worried about DPRK-Russia cooperation, and they want to work with NATO partners to do the most that they can to limit that cooperation. 

    But really what they want to do is use these interconnections between the region to help keep the Indo-Pacific and the Korean Peninsula safer and more stable, and we’re fully supportive of that goal. 

    RFA: After the summit between North Korea and Russia,there has been growing sentiment in South Korea that it needs its own nuclear weapon. What kind of response would you have to that sentiment?

    Rapp-Hooper: Well, what I would actually point to is the fact that President Biden and  (South Korean) President Yoon spent some time together today. And after they did so, we released an important joint statement, signed off by each of them. And what that statement does is remind the world that it’s been a year since the Nuclear Consultative Group (or NCG) met for the first time in Seoul. 

    It was inaugurated following President Yoon’s state visit to Washington back in April of 2023. And over the course of that year, that nuclear consultative group has made remarkable progress, towards standing itself up as an institution, and doing the work that we will need to do together, as allies, to strengthen our extended return to the ROK.

    Edited by Eugene Whong.

    This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Lee Sangmin for RFA Korean.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

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  • North Korea has ordered the return of workers who were dispatched to China to earn money for the regime, a document obtained by Radio Free Asia shows.

    Experts told RFA that the order is intended to bring back women in their 30s who missed out on getting married because they were stuck in China during the pandemic. The typical age in North Korea for women to be married is around 26, according to the South Korea-based media outlet Daily NK, which cited a study by the South Korean Ministry of Unification.  

    The orders, which are believed to have been issued in May and June, were sent out to embassies and consulates in China. The repatriation should be “thoroughly executed without any conditions or excuses,” the announcement states. 

    The women now being called home likely put off marriage to accept their overseas assignments, which are a crucial economic resource for the country that is under heavy international economic sanctions. These jobs typically last only a year or two, but those sent prior to the pandemic have now been abroad for more than four years. 

    Two waitresses dressed in traditional Korean costumes stand in front of a North Korean restaurant in Dandong, China, July 30, 2018. (Philip Wen/Reuters)

    J.M. Missionary Union, a South Korean organization that executes rescue missions for North Korean escapees in China, said many of the women likely work in North Korea-themed restaurants.

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    These restaurants are often staffed by women who in addition to serving food pull double duty as singers and dancers to entertain diners. 

    The repatriation effort is part of the country’s plans to encourage more marriages to counter the country’s declining birthrate, Cho Han Bum, a researcher at the South Korea-based Korea Institute for National Unification, told RFA Korean.

    “There is a problem raised within North Korea that female workers dispatched overseas missed their marriageable age,” Cho said. “This is why Kim Jong Un attended the Fifth National Meeting of Mothers at the end of last year.”

    At that meeting, Kim Jong Un was brought to tears as he pleaded with North Korea’s women to have more children.

    South Korea’s Dong-A Ilbo newspaper reported this week that the Chinese government had requested all North Korean workers return home, suggesting it was designed to show Beijing’s unhappiness at Pyongyang’s effort to forge closer ties with Russia. 

    However, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied it had made the request. 

    “China and North Korea are neighbors connected by mountains and water and have always maintained traditional friendly and cooperative relations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said at a news conference. 

    He equated reports of a deterioration of Sino-North Korean relations as a fiction. “I hope they don’t write news like it is a novel,” Lin said.

    Seo Jae-pyoung, head of the Seoul-based Association of the North Korean Defectors, told RFA, that China does not want to be seen as openly violating U.N. sanctions barring North Koreans from working abroad, because penalties for doing so could damage its own poor economy. 

    North Korea’s desire to swap some of its older workers with younger replacements could draw unwanted attention to the practice, he said.

    “China is in the position that all North Korean workers should leave first,” he said. “So, it appears that a ‘battle of wits’ is going on between them.”

    Translated by Claire S. Lee and Leejin J. Chung. Edited by Eugene Whong and Jim Snyder.

    This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Mok Yongjae, Kim Jieun and Son Hyemin for RFA Korean.

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  • Unofficial Buddhist monk Thich Minh Tue is believed to have resurfaced after disappearing from public view for nearly a month and was seen walking next to his younger brother in a video clip that has gone viral on social media networks in Vietnam.

    The video clip recorded on July 12 shows Thich Minh Tue, 43, walking along a street in an undisclosed location in Vietnam while residents take photos and record videos of him.

    Tue’s younger brother Le Thin told the BBC that the monk “really has reappeared and is healthy,” though he said had not seen the video clip and could not confirm its authenticity. 


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    The monk, whose real name is Le Anh Tu, became an internet sensation in May when some of his followers documented his barefoot journey across Vietnam on TikTok and other social media platforms. 

    Police forced Tue, who does not belong to Vietnam’s state-approved Buddhist monastic order, to end his trek in early June when they detained him and several of his followers during a raid in a forest in Thua Thien Hue province.

    He later resurfaced in Gia Lai province’s Ia Grai district where police officers accompanied him as he begged for food near his parents’ home, before secretly leaving around mid-month, Le Thin said in a video that Radio Free Asia could not independently verify. 

    Relatives sent a letter to police in Gia Lai province on July 1 saying that the family is “worried and confused” because they hadn’t received any information about Tue and his mental and physical health for nearly 20 days.

    Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Matt Reed.

    This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By RFA Vietnamese.

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  • A well-known Uyghur entrepreneur who set up an international trading company in Xinjiang is serving a life sentence for his alleged involvement with extremists abroad, people with knowledge of the situation told RFA Uyghur. 

    Ablikim Kurban, who would now be about 46 years old, established the Xinjiang Sesame Seed International Trade Co. in Urumqi in April 2017 and began selling imported seeds.

    Prior to setting up his business, Kurban had visited factories and companies in Egypt. While there, he also met with Uyghur students from his hometown of Kumul, called Hami in Chinese, who were attending Al-Azhar University in Cairo. 

    Muslim-majority Egypt is among several countries blacklisted by Chinese authorities for travel by Uyghurs because of a perceived threat of religious extremism.

    Chinese authorities pointed to Kurban’s trip and his alleged involvement with “terrorists” as the reason for his arrest on July 8, 2017, a Xinjiang police officer and a security chief on the neighborhood committee where Kurban previously lived in Kumul told RFA.

    Relatives said they still don’t know his whereabouts.


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    Kurban was one of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs arrested during China’s roundup and mass detentions of Muslims in “re-education” camps across Xinjiang, which began around 2017, in the name of fighting terrorism and religious extremism.

    Uyghurs like Kurban who traveled to other Muslim-majority countries were especially at risk of being detained on unproven grounds that they had been in contact with what Chinese authorities claimed were terrorists or extremists. 

    A police officer who is based in Kumul’s Taranchi coal mine district, where Kurban used to work, told Radio Free Asia that authorities detained him in 2017 because of his trip to Egypt. 

    “They didn’t tell us the reason prior to his arrest, we only learned about it after he was arrested,” she said. 

    “He was arrested for getting involved with an extremist organization in Egypt,” she said, adding that the information came from state security police.  

    During Kurban’s visit to Egypt, Chinese authorities ordered Uyghur students enrolled in schools there and in other countries, including Turkey, France, Australia and the United States, to return to their hometowns in Xinjiang for “registration.”

    In some cases, authorities held parents hostage by locking them up until their children returned, and some students who did go back disappeared or were jailed, sources in Xinjiang and Egypt told RFA in a May 2017 report

    Authorities in Egypt collaborated with Chinese authorities to round up scores of Uyghur students — many of them studying religion at Al-Azhar — and detain and deport them, according to the report.

    A resident of the Taranchi coal mine district told RFA that Kurban was focused on his business and his family and had no interest in politics. 

    The resident, who requested anonymity for safety reasons, said authorities also arrested Kurban’s wife, Gulshan Tohti, a month after detaining him, leaving a grandmother to care for the couple’s three children. 

    Tohti was released in August 2023, though it is unknown what she was charged with and whether she spent six years of detainment in an internment camp or prison.

    Kurban initially followed in his father’s footsteps after graduating from high school and became a miner in Taranchi, which is in eastern Xinjiang.

    He had greater ambitions though, and in the early 2000s he founded a factory in Kumul that produced plastic doors and windows, becoming one of the most successful entrepreneurs in his hometown.

    In 2015, Kurban decided to shift his business to food imports. But his arrest and detention in 2017 cut his plans short, and Xinjiang Sesame Seed International Trade was shut down.

    Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Jim Snyder.

    This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Shohret Hoshur for RFA Uyghur.

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  • Ethnic minority rebels fighting to take over western Myanmar’s Rakhine state reported on Friday advances in two areas where its forces have been making significant gains against the military junta that seized power in a 2021 coup.

    The Arakan Army, or AA, fighting for self-determination of the state’s predominantly Buddhist ethnic Rakhine population, said its fighters captured the last junta base on the outskirts of Thandwe town, the headquarters of the Infantry Battalion 55 base, on Tuesday, although junta troops still occupied the town center.

    Thandwe is about 250 km (155 miles) northwest of Myanmar’s biggest city of Yangon, and near one of Myanmar’s main beach resorts.

    The AA has captured 10 townships  in Rakhine state and neighboring Chin state, since late last year, part of a series of setbacks for the embattled junta.


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    In the north of Rakhine state near the border with Bangladesh, about 350 km (217 miles) northwest of Thandwe, the AA announced that its forces had seized the Ma Gyi Chaung Border Guard Camp on Thursday and was pressing junta forces at Border Guard Post No. 5 and and in nearby Maungdaw town.

    The insurgents said this week its forces had killed more than 750 junta soldiers in those two main battle zones. Radio Free Asia was not able to independently verify the toll but residents of both regions have been reporting heavy fighting for weeks.

    RFA tried to contact the junta’s main spokesman, Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, for information but he did not respond.

    IMG_20240712_152705_677 (1).jpg
    The Myanmar junta’s Thandwe-based Infantry Battalion 55 was captured by the Arakan Army at 9:45 a.m. on July 9, 2024. Photo taken on July 10, 2024. (Arakan Army Information Desk)

    Since the AA warned residents to leave Maungdaw on June 16, more than 5,000 people have fled to Bangladesh, which is across a border estuary, said one town resident who declined to be identified for security reasons.

    “There are at least 80 to 100 Rohingya people fleeing to Bangladesh [every day],” he said. “Boats from Bangladesh come to pick them up.”

    Despite fighting in Maungdaw town, Bangladesh authorities have forced at least 12 refugees back into Myanmar, residents said. The Bangladesh Embassy in Yangon did not respond to RFA’s request for comment. 

    More than 700,000 members of the mainly Muslim Rohingya minority fled to Bangladesh in 2017 after the Myanmar military launched a crackdown against Mjuslim insurgents.

    Two residents of Maungdaw town were killed in the latest heavy weapons fire and 13 were wounded, residents said.

    The AA did not give any update on casualties, either among junta forces or its own, but said 30 junta soldiers and border guards fled into Bangladesh during fighting on Thursday. 

    Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn.

    This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By RFA Burmese.

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  • Britain’s new ruling party has pledged a thorough audit of U.K.-China relations to establish a clearer long-term China policy, including its dealings with Beijing over the South China Sea and Taiwan, but analysts say little change is likely in the near future.

    Keir Starmer’s Labour party won a landslide victory in last week’s general election, ending 14 years of Conservative government.

    U.K. policy has been that it “takes no sides in the sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea, but we oppose any activity that undermines or threatens U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) authority – including attempts to legitimise incompatible maritime claims,” in the words of Anne-Marie Trevelyan, minister of state for Indo-Pacific under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

    Trevelyan reiterated that London’s commitment to the UNCLOS was “unwavering” as it played a leading role in setting the legal framework for the U.K.’s maritime activities.

    “It’s a standard position on upholding international law, freedom of navigation and the rules-based order,” said Ian Storey, fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, “This is not going to change.”

    However, with China’s increased assertiveness and growing military might, upholding those principles in distant waters will be a challenge. Furthermore, there are Britain’s own interests in economics, security and geopolitics to be considered.

    In 2021, the British government announced an overhaul in its foreign policy – Global Britain in a Competitive Age – which emphasized a “tilt to the Indo-Pacific” that, following in the  footsteps of the U.S., promised a bolder strategic presence in the region where China is looming large. In 2022, Britain released a new National Strategy for Maritime Security, with one of the main focuses being the South China Sea. 

    UK US Japan.jpeg
    The United Kingdom’s carrier strike group led by HMS Queen Elizabeth, and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces joined with U.S. Navy carrier strike groups led by flagships USS Ronald Reagan and USS Carl Vinson to conduct multiple carrier strike group operations in the Philippine Sea, Oct. 3, 2021. (U.S. Navy)

    Yet there has not been any major British deployment in the region since 2021, and the Royal Navy did not send a warship to take part in the ongoing U.S.-led RIMPAC – the world’s largest international maritime exercise.

    It remains unclear how Britain will pursue its maritime ambitions in the Asia-Pacific, especially when overall policy towards China has been deemed inconsistent.

    ‘Clear steer’ in dealing with China

    Labour’s promise to conduct both a defense review and an audit of China policy “leaves many questions unanswered,” said Gray Sergeant, research fellow at the Council on Geostrategy, a British think tank.

    “Initially, Labour was skeptical about the ’tilt to the Indo-Pacific’, however, they have supported measures which have stepped up Britain’s defense role in the region,” Sergeant told RFA.

    “It is very unlikely such advances will be reversed, the question is whether a Labour government will be inclined to build on these steps if, as it seems, attention is focused on enhancing the U.K.’s role in European security,” the analyst said.


    Not so hard: British scholar proposes fix for South China Sea disputes

    US, UK aircraft carriers lead show of naval might around South China Sea

    With eyes on Beijing, US and Japan pledge stronger ties

    Another China expert, veteran diplomat Charles Parton, said that in the past Labour “has not said things which indicate that its China policy will be different from that of the Conservatives.”

    “But the latter’s strategy was never articulated, for which they came in for justified criticism,” said Parton, senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “The pressure now is on Labour to give a clear steer and to ensure consistent implementation across the various government departments whose interests involve dealing with China.”

    The Conservative government recognized China as a “systemic challenge”’ that it sought to counter with a three-stranded strategy of “‘protect, align, engage.” Labour’s new foreign secretary, David Lammy, proposed a similar “three Cs” (compete, challenge, cooperate) in dealing with China.

    “That signals continuity,” said Gray Sergeant. “The question is which of these three strands will take precedence?”

    The analyst noted that Lammy put particular emphasis on cooperation and engagement, and seemed keen on more ministers visiting China, which was Britain’s fifth-largest trading partner in 2023, according to the U.K. Department for Business and Trade. 

    Some activists, like Luke de Pulford from the U.K. Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said that the new British government was likely to champion trade over thorny issues that would cause discord.

    “Labour needs to deliver on the economy and is scared that upsetting Beijing would jeopardize that goal,” de Pulford wrote in a recent opinion piece.

    “Ministerial ambition, parliamentary trench warfare, media outrage or unavoidable circumstantial change can all shift policy, but outside of a serious escalation in the South China Sea, I don’t see it happening,” the human rights activist wrote.

    But another activist said that Labour’s manifesto made clear “their intention to bring a long-term and strategic approach to managing relations with China.” 

    “This could lead to a more robust stance on human rights abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and increased support for Taiwan’s autonomy,” said Simon Cheng, a Hong Kong democracy activist in London.

    “However, we must watch closely how these words translate into actions,” Cheng warned.

    What does China say?

     China has been closely following developments in  U.K. politics, with  Premier Li Qiang sending a congratulatory message to  Starmer almost immediately after he became Britain’s prime minister on July 5.

    Li said that China and Britain were both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and cooperation between them “not only serves the interests of the two countries, but also is conducive to the unity of the international community in addressing global challenges.”

    Keir Starmer, then U.K. Shadow Brexit Secretary, in a meeting with former Taiwanese vice president Chen Chien-jen in Taipei on Oct. 1, 2018. (Taiwan Presidential Office)

    Starmer, as a member of parliament and shadow Brexit secretary, visited Taiwan in 2016 and 2018 to lobby against the death penalty. Observers say it’s very rare that any top British leader has had an experience of Taiwan, which Beijing considers a Chinese province that must be reunited with the mainland.

    While the issue of Taiwan has not emerged in bilateral interactions, British politicians in the past have angered China over their statements about Hong Kong and the South China Sea.

    A Foreign Office spokesperson’s statement criticizing the “unsafe and escalatory tactics deployed by Chinese vessels” against the Philippines in the South China Sea earned a rebuke from  Chinese diplomats in London, who said they “firmly oppose and strongly condemn the groundless accusation made by the U.K., and have lodged stern representations with the U.K. side on this.”

    China maintains that almost all of the disputed South China Sea and its  islands  belong to it. China refused to accept a 2016 arbitral ruling that rejected all its claims in the South China Sea but it recognized that Britain’s stance of not taking sides in the South China Sea issue had changed.

    Before 2016, the U.K. did not have a clear-cut South China Sea policy, wrote Chinese analyst Liu Jin in the China International Studies magazine.

    Liu argued that Britain’s change in policy, as well as its stance in the South China Sea, were largely influenced by the United States.

    “However, due to the security situation in its home waters, inadequacy of main surface combatants, and pressure of the defense budget, the U.K. will find it hard to expand the scale of Asia-Pacific navigation,” he said, adding that London also lacks the willingness to step up provocation against China.

    Edited by Mike Firn.

    This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By RFA Staff.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

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  • Hong Kong is expecting a sharp fall in the number of primary-school-aged children following a mass exodus of middle-class families fleeing a crackdown on political dissent.

    The city’s Bureau of Education estimates, based on August 2023 population data from the Census and Statistics Department, that the number of 6-year-olds will fall by 31% from 49,600 in 2024 to 34,100 in 2030.

    Many who have left the city did so citing political repression under a draconian security law, along with what they regard as the brainwashing of children in the form of “patriotic” and “national security” classes that are now mandatory from kindergarten to university, as the government encourages people to inform on each other.

    Birth rates in Hong Kong began declining in 2014, but plummeted sharply in the wake of a 2019 pro-democracy protest movement and subsequent political crackdown, reaching their lowest level since 1960. 

    While the population showed a slight uptick following the scrapping of COVID-19 travel curbs, birth rates in the city haven’t caught up, with the number of newborns falling by 38% between 2019 and 2022, according to government data.


    Lawmakers called on Secretary for Education Christine Choi on July 5 to do something to reverse the trend and stave off what they termed the “decline” of Hong Kong, media reported.

    Choi, who is seeking to promote smaller class sizes as school-age populations fall, said her department would be brokering mergers between schools in a bid to engineer a “soft landing” for the city’s education over the next few years.

    She said the government was hoping to attract 100,000 migrants to Hong Kong under talent and labor schemes, in a bid to fuel population growth over the next two decades.

    By 2046, 50 years after the 1997 handover of the then British colony to Chinese rule, Hong Kong is hoping to attract a net inflow of permanent residents numbering almost 900,000, with just over half a million non-permanent residents.

    To that end, the government has been handing out free plane tickets to visitors and offering work visas to attract professionals, many from mainland China, to replace those who have left.

     Net departures of permanent residents from Hong Kong totaled 113,000 for the whole of 2022, prompting calls from media backed by the Communist Party for the government to act to stem the brain drain.

    Education blogger Yeung Wing Yu, who runs the @edulancet Instagram account, said Hong Kong’s allure for expat families, even those relocating from mainland China, was on the wane.

    Meanwhile, school numbers have been hit hard by the wave of emigration. “Primary years five and six are the hardest hit,” Yeung said. “Many students have left Hong Kong schools and emigrated overseas.”

    Those who do come in on talent schemes will likely send their children to high-profile schools with a strong reputation for “patriotic education,” while other schools will be left to flounder and eventually close, Yeung said.

    “The situation in Hong Kong’s education system has been created by the Education Bureau since 2020,” Yeung said, in a reference to the passing of Hong Kong’s first National Security Law and its imposition of a China-inspired patriotic education program in schools.

    Letter from Xi

    Last month, the Education Bureau sparked a public backlash when it criticized Hong Kong’s schoolchildren for their “weak” singing of China’s national anthem, the “March of the Volunteers,” at flag-raising ceremonies that are now compulsory as part of patriotic “national security” education from kindergarten through to universities.

    “Our education system is no longer very different from the system in mainland China,” Yeung said. “Patriotic education here is even more exaggerated than in the mainland.”

    “If you are caught making faces while singing the national anthem at a football game in Hong Kong, you will be arrested, then it becomes a negative news story about Hong Kong,” he said.

    Hong Kong passed a law in 2020 making it illegal to insult China’s national anthem on pain of prison for up to three years, following a series of incidents in which Hong Kong soccer fans booed their own anthem.

    Meanwhile, city officials are holding events to encourage praise for ruling Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.

    The Education Bureau on Monday held an event at Pui Kiu Middle School to mark the first anniversary of the school’s receipt of a letter from Xi.

    “Over the year, the Bureau has been striving to live up to the spirit of President Xi’s reply letter and nurture young people’s affection for and sense of belonging to the country,” Choi told the gathering, promising a wider variety of school trips to mainland China, including exchange programs and study tours.

    Hong Kong Secretary for Education Christine Choi addresses staff and students at Hong Kong’s Pui Kiu Middle School on July 8, 2024. (Hong Kong Government Information Service.)

    Secondary school students now take part in military-style activities at a national defense education facility in the southern province of Guangdong and “cultivate patriotism and enhance national security awareness,” the Beijing-backed Wen Wei Po newspaper reported in September 2023, citing a circular sent to schools by the Hong Kong Education Bureau.

    More than 930 government schools in Hong Kong have been twinned with schools in mainland China, Choi said.

    Yeung said the session at the Pui Kiu Middle School resembled the “songs of praise” for late supreme leader Mao Zedong during China’s Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, adding that commemorative books were handed out to students.

    Students at Hong Kong’s Pui Kiu Middle School, July 8, 2024. (Hong Kong Government Information Service.)

    “Last year, Xi Jinping wrote a letter … and one year later, Pui Kiu Middle School already has a special status within the Hong Kong education system,” he said. “I expect we’ll see more pilgrims visiting the school in future.”

    Yeung said some Hong Kong schools, which mostly teach in the city’s lingua franca, Cantonese, will likely need to switch to Mandarin as a medium of instruction to cater to mainland Chinese students.

    Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by RFA staff.

    This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Luk Nam Choi and Ray Chung for RFA Cantonese.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • Vietnamese prisoner of conscience Hoang Duc Binh told his family he finds it hard to walk after being shackled by the leg for 10 days.

    Binh, 41, is serving a 14-year sentence at An Diem Prison in Quang Nam province after being convicted of “resisting on-duty state officials” and “abusing democratic freedom” while protesting against pollution from the Formosa Steel plant in 2016.

    On March 26, he protested after prison guards confiscated inmates’ belongings. He was then held in solitary confinement and chained by the leg. He was also denied family visits or phone calls from April 5 and barred from receiving parcels and letters from relatives for three months.

    Prison authorities wrote to Binh’s family on April 29, saying he was disciplined for failing to obey orders, having an abusive attitude and insulting prison officials.

    Five days after the disciplinary term expired, on July 10, his family was allowed to visit him. 

    “Binh said that right now his health is not good, he has some serious illnesses,” Binh’s brother, Hoang Duc Hao, told Radio Free Asia.

    “Recently, he has been urinating blood and walking unsteadily, his legs are shaky and he has severe back pain.”

    Binh said he asked authorities for a medical examination, saying his family would pay for it, but the prison ignored the request.

    His brother told RFA Binh already suffered from back pain and sinusitis before his arrest in 2017. After being tortured in pre-trial detention he also started suffering from headaches and ringing in the ears.


    Guards beat Vietnamese political prisoners for staging protest

    Vietnamese political prisoner shackled by the leg

    Vietnam prison disciplines inmate for ‘insulting officers’ dignity’

    Former prisoner of conscience Huynh Dac Tuy was a fellow inmate of Binh’s before his release on April 19. Tuy said Binh was very weak because he only ate instant noodles, cakes and bananas sent by fellow inmates while in solitary confinement.

    Tuy said when he was released in April Binh still had a leg injury after being shackled for a long time.

    Do Thi Thu, wife of political prisoner Trinh Ba Phuong, said her husband told her political prisoners were locked in their cells for more than three months, and not allowed out to mix with other inmates.

    Although Binh’s disciplinary term has ended, he is still not allowed to phone home each month because he continues to protest about his treatment and that of other inmates.

    An Diem Prison is one of the harshest detention facilities in Vietnam with frequent complaints by political prisoners that they are beaten, placed in solitary confinement and shackled.

    In September last year, Trinh Ba Phuong and Phan Cong Hai were beaten and disciplined with their feet shackled after protesting against harsh treatment and human rights violations.

    RFA called An Diem Prison to verify the information but no one replied.

    Translated by RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Mike Firn.

    This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By RFA Vietnamese.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • Uyghurs marked the 15th anniversary of deadly ethnic violence in Xinjiang by demonstrating outside U.N. offices in Switzerland and Chinese diplomatic missions in various cities around the world, demanding that the international community stop China from committing genocide in the far-western region.

    The protests came on July 5, a day after member states blasted China over its human rights record — and particularly about its persecution of mostly Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang, which Uyghurs refer to as East Turkistan — during a review of China’s rights record at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

    Uyghur exile and advocacy groups believe that the United Nations and individual states have failed to take concrete measures to punish China for severe rights violations in Xinjiang, including mass detentions, torture, cultural genocide, forced labor and the forced sterilization of Uyghur women.

    China denies it has committed rights abuses against the 11 million strong Uyghurs.


    China conducts a 100-day ‘strike hard’ campaign against Uyghurs

    Uyghurs in exile mark anniversary of deadly 2009 Urumqi unrest

    10th anniversary of Urumqi unrest brings protests over internment camps, accountability demands

    In Istanbul, Turkey, which has a sizable Uyghur community, protesters gathered outside the Chinese consulate, waving the blue-and-white flag of East Turkistan and shouting, “Get out of East Turkistan” and “East Turkistan, not Xinjiang!”

    “We insist that the truth of the genocide in East Turkistan must be recognized by all countries and the U.N. General Assembly, and it should be acknowledged under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration on the Prevention of Genocide,” Hidayatullah Oguz Khan, chairman of the International Union of East Turkistan Organizations, said at a press conference at the protest.

    “To end the genocide and occupation, and to achieve results for the legitimate struggle of the East Turkistan people, it is imperative to accept and support the legitimacy of this struggle,” he said.

    Uyghurs also rallied on July 5 in front of Chinese diplomatic missions in the U.S., Canada, Japan, Australia, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and in various European countries to commemorate the 2009 crackdown in Urumqi, where some 200 people died and 1,700 were injured in a three-day rampage of violence between Uyghurs and Han Chinese, according to Chinese government figures. However, Uyghur human rights groups believe the actual number killed was about 1,000.

    The event became a catalyst for the Chinese government’s efforts to repress Uyghur culture, language and religion through a mass surveillance and internment campaign.

    Mixed reviews

    At the review of China’s human rights record in Geneva on July 4, some Human Rights Council representatives criticized Beijing for refusing to act on previous recommendations to clean up its act.

    In 2022, a report by then-U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, who visited Xinjiang, said China’s mass detentions of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in the region may constitute crimes against humanity.

    The following year, 51 countries, including the U.S., expressed deep concern to the U.N. over China’s human rights violations of Uyghurs in Xinjiang — a measure that came after China was elected to the U.N. Human Rights Council for the 2024-2026 term, despite its poor track record in protecting rights.

    Chinese state media portrayed the rights record review as a success, with countries such as Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam praising Beijing’s efforts to protect and promote human rights.

    And many Muslim-majority countries have remained silent about China’s treatment of the Uyghurs. 

    Bachelet’s successor, Volker Türk, this March urged China to carry out recommendations from his office to protect human rights in Xinjiang, Tibet and across the country.

    Chen Xu, China’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, said the recommendations rejected by Beijing were “politically motivated based on disinformation, ideologically biased or interfering in China’s traditional sovereignty,” Voice of America reported.  

    Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

    This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Habibulla Izchi for RFA Uyghur.

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  • Authorities in Hong Kong are probing allegations that mainland Chinese students are using fake academic credentials to enroll in a prestigious MBA program, sparking fears of falling standards in the city, whose officials are keen to attract migrants from mainland China in the wake of a mass wave of emigration.

    As many as 30 applicants to the University of Hong Kong Business School have been found to have used fake documents supplied by a higher education agency, some of them for American universities, Business School Dean Cai Hongbin told the financial news site Caixin in a recent interview.

    The revelations come amid growing concern that official willingness to encourage inward migration from mainland China to boost the city’s economy could be having a negative impact on the reputation of its colleges and universities, which has already been hit by a compulsory patriotic education program.

    “As fraudulent academic qualifications seriously affect student admission by local higher education institutions and Hong Kong’s hard-earned international reputation, the [government] and all sectors of the Hong Kong community deeply resent such acts and have zero tolerance towards the matter,” Hong Kong’s Secretary for Education Christine Choi told the city’s legislature in a recent statement.

    While police arrested a man and a woman on June 26 and July 3 on suspicion of using fake documents, the university is now asking students to resubmit their academic qualifications, as HKU Business School Dean Cai warned that the fake degrees were mostly found in applications that used a “guaranteed admission” service from an academic agency.


    Hong Kong officials want louder singing of national anthem in schools

    Hong Kong sees fall in academic freedom amid ongoing crackdown

    Hong Kong schools ban books, warn teachers not to get ‘political’

    China probes ‘Gaokao’ college entrance exam cheating claims

    At least 30 students are believed to have used fake documents as part of the “guaranteed admission” service that costs applicants 500,000 yuan apiece, Cai told Caixin.

    “Their ability to make fake academic qualifications is astonishing,” the July 4 article quoted Cai as saying. “The University of Hong Kong has carried out spot checks as part of this review of academic qualifications.”

    Cai said many of the fake documents weren’t distinguishable from the genuine article, right down to letterhead, envelope, paper quality and other details.

    An online search for the keyword “guaranteed admission” in Chinese found several companies offering such services, including a website called Gabroad, which offers “Guaranteed admissions to Top 20 schools” including Harvard, claiming a 100% success rate.

    The same site also offers such services for universities in Hong Kong, including the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

    Full refunds are offered to anyone who isn’t offered a place, regardless of grades and test scores.

    Falsifying or supplying fraudulent academic qualifications carries a maximum jail term of 14 years in Hong Kong.

    Any violations will result in “decisive disciplinary action” against the students concerned, including expulsion, while offenders will also likely be prosecuted, Choi said in a June 26 written reply to the Legislative Council.

    Education and immigration

    The HKU Business School is a highly competitive school, receiving more than 24,000 for taught postgraduate programs in 2023, and only awarding places to 2,600 of them, according to Caixin.

    All masters students at the school are now being required to resubmit undergraduate degree certificates, transcripts and other materials, the article said.

    Year-long taught masters are particularly sought after by mainland students, because they are a quick way to secure the right to remain in the city for at least a year and look for work, offering a pathway to permanent residency.

    Hong Kong’s Chuhai College of Higher Education, which once struggled to recruit enough bachelor’s degree students to balance the books, had more than 1,500 students in September 2023 after launching a range of taught, one-year masters courses and promoting them aggressively on mainland social media platforms like Xiaohongshu, according to an investigation by RFA Cantonese.

    “Chuhai College in Hong Kong is known as a master’s mill, because a lot of middle-class people from mainland China come here to take a one-year master’s … during which they can get a Hong Kong ID card for their kids,” according to one video circulating on Xiaohongshu in recent weeks.

    “A lot of influencers and agents promote the college as a one-stop shop for education and immigration,” the video says.

    While Chuhai College once had close ties with the government of Taiwan, it has recently repackaged itself as a “red” school, setting up a research institute to study ruling Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s influence and infrastructure program known as the Belt and Road.

    University of Hong Kong Business School Dean Cai Hongbin is seen in an undated photo. (University of Hong Kong)
    University of Hong Kong Business School Dean Cai Hongbin is seen in an undated photo. (University of Hong Kong)

    Taiwanese national security researcher Shih Chien-yu said he once worked as a lecturer at Chuhai College for many years, and confirmed that it has a reputation for not being too picky about who gets admitted.

    “Chuhai College doesn’t check very carefully whether applicants meet admission criteria,” Shih told RFA Cantonese in a recent interview. “There is strict training and guidelines regarding assessment of student performance, but I don’t think it gets implemented in accordance with those standards.”

    Chuhai College is now on track to upgrade to university status, if it can attract similar numbers of students next academic year. 

    The College hadn’t responded to inquiries about its strategy or admissions policies by the time of writing.

    However, a statement on its website says the school “has always followed the principles of fair selection, transparent procedures and merit-based admissions when recruiting for both undergraduate and master’s courses.”

    Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

    This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Alice Yam and Ha Syut for RFA Cantonese.

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  • An alliance of insurgent forces battling to end army rule has captured a major town in northern Myanmar, a spokesperson for the main group told Radio Free Asia, in the latest setback for the junta that seized power in a 2021 military coup.

    The Ta’ang National Liberation Army, or TNLA, and allied forces seized the last base in Shan state’s Nawnghkio town from junta troops on Wednesday, after two weeks of fighting, the spokesperson said.

    “We were able to capture the junta’s missile battalion in Nawnghkio town at around 3 p.m.,” the spokesperson told RFA.

    The junta has not released any information on the battle, and Shan state’s junta spokesperson, Khun Thein Maung, did not answer inquiries from RFA.

    The TNLA, which is part of an alliance of three ethnic minority insurgent forces known as the Three Brotherhood Alliance, ended a five-month ceasefire with the junta on June 25. 

    Since then, the group has been fighting for territory in Shan state’s Nawnghkio, Kyaukme, Mongmit and Hsipaw townships, as well as in Mandalay region’s Mogoke township. The alliance has since claimed to have captured at least 26 bases across the north.

    The alliance launched an offensive last November, codenamed Operation 1027 after the date it began, and pushed back junta forces in several regions including along northeastern Myanmar’s border with China.

    Insurgent forces in other parts of the country have stepped up their attacks since then too, posing the biggest challenge the military has faced in years of conflict.

    China, concerned about its economic interests according to Myanmar sources, brokered peace talks in Shan state in January that brought a halt to the conflict there but the truce collapsed late last month and fighting has surged since then.


    Myanmar insurgents claim post-ceasefire capture of 26 camps

    Talks between Myanmar rebel alliance and junta focus on Chinese interests

    China awaits junta approval to resume border trade with Myanmar’s Shan state

    Myanmar rebels rack up more gains as Operation 1027 enters new phase

    Junta airstrikes

    Nawnghkio, about 85 km (52 miles) northeast of Mandalay, is on the main road between Myanmar’s second city and the Chinese border. The insurgents are also trying to capture Lashio, the main city in northern Shan state, which is about 120 km (75 miles) northeast of Nawnghkio.

    TNLA spokeswoman Lway Yay Oo said Nawnghkio was captured by fighters from the TNLA, the Palaung State Liberation Front, Mandalay People’s Defense Force and Danu People’s Liberation Army. 

    The insurgents captured several junta administrative offices and 10 military bases around the city including the headquarters of three battalions, along with 600 weapons, the groups said in a joint statement.

    The insurgents posted pictures on social media of their fighters with a captured multiple rocket launcher, two double barrel anti-aircraft guns, as well as rows of captured rifles and other weapons.

    Weapons seized by joint forces, including the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Mandalay People’s Defense Force, on July 11, 2024. (Mandalay People’s Defense Force)

    Junta retaliation has been fierce, with its forces launching more than 100 airstrikes in Nawnghkio town, the TNLA said. None of the insurgent groups released any figures for casualties amongst their forces.

    Ten residents of the town were killed and nine were wounded, the TNLA said, adding that nine houses and two monasteries were destroyed. 

    The group blamed the deaths on the junta’s heavy weapons, but RFA was not able to confirm this independently. 

    National junta spokesperson Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun told state-owned newspapers on Wednesday that special attention would be paid to ensuring the safety of civilians  in the renewed fighting.

    Nawnghkio has a population of more than 16,000 people but most have fled because of the fighting, residents said.

    Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn. 

    This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By RFA Burmese.

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  • NATO leaders condemned North Korea’s weapons exports to Russia, voicing “great concern” over the two countries’ deepening partnership.

    “We strongly condemn the DPRK’s exports of artillery shells and ballistic missiles, which are in violation of numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions, and note with great concern the deepening ties between the DPRK and Russia,” the leaders said in a declaration at their summit in Washington on Wednesday. 

    The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK, is North Korea’s official name. 

    The leaders added that both North Korea and Iran were “fuelling Russia’s war of aggression” against Ukraine by providing direct military support, which “seriously impacts” Euro-Atlantic security and undermines the global non-proliferation regime.

    “Any transfer of ballistic missiles and related technology by Iran to Russia would represent a substantial escalation,” they said. 

    The NATO summit came weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed under a new partnership treaty to offer each other military assistance “without delay” if either were attacked.

    The United States says North Korea has supplied Russia with large amounts of weapons for its war in Ukraine, in particular artillery rounds and ballistic missiles, although both Russia and North Korea deny that.


    North Korea, Russia agree to offer military assistance if either is attacked

    Russia fired North Korean missiles into Ukraine, US says

    Tokyo, Seoul target North Korea-Russia arms deal with sanctions

    Separately, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who were invited to the NATO summit as leaders of the four Indo-Pacific partner nations alongside Australia and New Zealand, pledged to bolster security cooperation amid the deepening military cooperation between North Korea and Russia.

    “The recent moves by Russia and North Korea are causing serious concern not only in East Asia but also for global security,” Yoon said at the start of the talks with Kishida. 

    “I hope that South Korea and Japan will cooperate closely with NATO member countries and reaffirm that the security of the North Atlantic and Northeast Asia cannot be separated,” he said.

    Yoon added Russia’s close alignment with North Korea highlighted the importance of trilateral security cooperation among South Korea, the United States and Japan, as outlined at their Camp David summit in August 2023

    Kishida also said the security of the two regions was closely linked.

    “The security of the Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific is inseparable. This summit provides an opportunity to deepen cooperation between NATO and our Indo-Pacific partners,” Kishida added.

    Edited by Mike Firn.

    This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Taejun Kang for RFA.

  • Two international rights groups have called on Thailand to abandon plans to extradite a Montagnard activist to Vietnam, raising concerns about “transnational repression” in the kindgdom, directed at foreigners seeking protection as refugees.

    Amnesty International said Y Quynh Bdap, an indigenous Ede, was likely to be tortured on his return.

    Bdap was arrested by Thai authorities on June 11, for “overstaying” his visa, after Vietnamese authorities asked Thailand to send him back. His extradition hearing is next week.

    “The Vietnamese authorities have a long history of violent and racist persecution against Montagnard Indigenous peoples. Thailand would be in breach of its non-refoulement obligations if it were to accept this farcical extradition request,” said Amnesty International’s Thailand Researcher Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong in a news release on Wednesday.

    Radio Free Asia contacted Thailand’s foreign ministry about Bdap’s case but it did not respond by time of publication.

    Montagnards are mostly Christian ethnic minority people, based in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, who have faced years of persecution from authorities over religion and land rights. Montagnard means “mountain people” in the language of former colonial power France.

    In January, Vietnam sentenced Bdap in absentia to 10 years in prison on terrorism charges, accusing him of involvement in 2023 attacks on two public agency headquarters in Dak Lak province in which nine people were killed, even though he has been in Thailand and recognized as a refugee since 2018.


    Thai extradition of activist to Vietnam would be illegal, group says

    Thai police arrest Vietnamese activist convicted in 2023 attack

    Vietnamese police track down Montagnards in Thailand

    In addition to Amnesty’s call, global civil society alliance the CIVICUS Monitor also raised concerns about “transnational repression” in Thailand, directed at foreigners seeking protection as refugees and added the country to its human rights watchlist.

    It cited Bdap’s case, saying he could be “subjected to severe persecution” if deported to Vietnam.

    “Transnational repression describes efforts by governments or their agents to silence or deter dissent by committing human rights abuses against their own nationals or members of the country’s diaspora outside their territorial jurisdiction,” said CIVICUS Asia researcher Josef Benedict.

    “It is extremely worrying that a country that is seeking a place on the U.N. Human Rights Council is facilitating harassment, surveillance, and physical violence of activists from abroad seeking refuge in Thailand.

    “The authorities must end such actions and instead create a safe haven for activists fleeing persecution from neighboring countries,” added Benedict.

    Edited by Mike Firn and Taejun Kang.

    This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By RFA Staff.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • This content originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and was authored by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • Two earthen pillars, eroded by sand, in barren terrain are all that’s left of an ancient Buddhist temple in the far-western Chinese region of Xinjiang.

    Chinese historians and archaeologists assert that a 7th century Chinese empress ordered the construction of the Mor Temple — known locally as Mora, or “chimney” in the Uyghur language — one one of the earliest Buddhist sites in the region.

    The ruins show China’s influence in shaping the history and culture of the region — home today to 11 million mostly Muslim Uyghurs — going back centuries, state-run media said.

    “They are a powerful testimony to the diversity, unity and inclusiveness of Chinese civilization,” according to a June 3 report by the China News Service.

    But experts outside China dispute those claims, saying the Mor Stupa, or pagoda, and other temple structures were built in more of an Indian style.

    And it’s highly unlikely that Wu Zetian, empress from 690-705 CE during the Tang Dynasty, was involved in the construction of pagodas because it was hundreds of miles away from her court in central China, they say.

    Instead, the Chinese government-backed research may be driven more by Beijing’s efforts to expand its cultural influence in the region, where it is actively seeking to Sinicize Uyghur culture and Muslim practices, they said.

    A view of  the Qigexing Buddhist Temple ruins in Yanqi Hui Autonomous County, northwestern China's Xinjiang region, Oct. 4, 2012. (Rolfmueller via Wikimedia Commons)
    A view of the Qigexing Buddhist Temple ruins in Yanqi Hui Autonomous County, northwestern China’s Xinjiang region, Oct. 4, 2012. (Rolfmueller via Wikimedia Commons)

    “Empress Wu, the famous female emperor of that time, was avidly promoting Buddhism but not necessarily was she promoting it out in Xinjiang,” said Johan Elverskog, a professor of history at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and author of the book A History of Uyghur Buddhism.

    “There is no way that the Tang was involved in building things that far to the west,” he said.

    Before Islam

    Before Islam arrived in China in the 7th century, Buddhism did flourish in what China today calls Xinjiang, or “New Territories” — but which the Uyghurs refer to as East Turkistan, the name of the Uyghur nation that briefly existed in the mid-20th century.

    Western archaeologists and Buddhism researchers believe that Buddhism began to spread to Xinjiang during the Kushan Empire, which controlled the western and northern Tarim Basin in southern Xinjiang and ruled over parts of what is today Afghanistan, Pakistan and India between the 1st century BCE and the 3rd century CE.

    Some historical documents show Buddhism spread to the region from Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, Elverskog said, while other documents indicate that the Kingdom of Khotan, in present-day Hotan, adopted Buddhism as the official state religion in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. 

    Archaeological digs at the Mor Temple — about 30 kilometers (19 miles) northeast of Kashgar — since 2019 have determined that the original complex was built in the 3rd century, according to the China News Service report.

    It said that elements of Chinese architecture appeared between the 7th and 10th centuries, indicating the prevalence of Chinese Buddhism. 

    Artifacts discovered around the site reflect Indian and Central Asian Buddhist traditions as well as the influence of the Central Plains, an area along the Yellow River that is believed to be the cradle of Chinese civilization, it said.

    But Elverskog said that while there was a Chinese military presence in the region during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), no Buddhist temples were built.

    ‘United’ by Chinese culture

    The idea that Uyghur culture, including its ancient Buddhist history and structures, should be supplanted by Chinese culture was summed up in a speech by Pan Yue, head of the State Council’s National Ethnic Affairs Commission, at an international forum on Xinjiang’s history and future held in June in Kashgar.

    “Although Xinjiang’s culture is diverse, it exists in unity, and the most important factor that unites them is Chinese culture,” said Pan, who has been in his role since June 2022.  

    “Xinjiang should be studied from the perspective of the common history of the Chinese nation and the multipolar unity of the Chinese nation, and Xinjiang should be understood from the perspective of a region where many cultures and religions coexist and ethnic groups live together,” he said. 

    A view of the perimeter wall of the Rawak Stupa, a Buddhist stupa with modern stone protection, situated on the southern rim of the Taklamakan Desert in northwestern China's Xinjiang province, Nov. 17, 2008. (Vic Swift via Wikimedia Commons)
    A view of the perimeter wall of the Rawak Stupa, a Buddhist stupa with modern stone protection, situated on the southern rim of the Taklamakan Desert in northwestern China’s Xinjiang province, Nov. 17, 2008. (Vic Swift via Wikimedia Commons)

    Kahar Barat, a Uyghur-American historian known for his work on Buddhism and Islam in Xinjiang, said there was “absolutely no Chinese influence” in the Buddhist culture of places like Kashgar and Kucha, another city that once had many Buddhist temples.

    He said Kashgar and Kucha were part of the Hindu-Greek Gandhara Buddhist culture that existed in present-day Pakistan from the 3rd century BCE to the 12th century CE.

    “They call it the Gandhara art,” he said. “It’s the Gandhara culture created by the Buddhism developed in Kashmir and Pakistan. Therefore, the Buddha paintings and temples in Hotan, Kashgar, Kucha have the influence of Gandhara culture.”

    Furthermore, Buddhist temples during the Tang Dynasty were modeled after those in India, making it an exaggeration to say that the Mor Stupa and other temple structures reflected the architectural style of that era, he said. 

    “Pavilion-style construction is a style of India Buddhism,” he told RFA. “Hence, all the pavilions in China are inspired by these styles. The building styles in the Han Dynasty were later influenced by Buddhist vihara-style construction.”

    Elverskog agreed that the Mor Temple was built in Indian style.

    “It’s obviously based on precedence in northwest India,” he said. “That was the main source of the Buddhist culture in Hotan and particularly coming from India. … So the Buddhism, the iconography, the artwork, was heavily based on northwestern Indian models.” 

    Xia Ming, a political science professor at the College of Staten Island in New York, said China’s interpretation of historical Uyghur Buddhism as part of Chinese Buddhism shows the tendency of the Chinese Communist Party to seek its current legitimacy from Chinese dynasties dating back thousands of years.

    “If you look at the thousands of years of Chinese history,” he said, “you will see that the Chinese Communist Party will pick and choose any historical node and talk about it if it is useful to them.”

    Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

    This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Jilil Kashgary for RFA Uyghur.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • China is a “decisive enabler” of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine through its support for the country’s defense industry, says a statement issued by the 32 NATO members at a summit in Washington on Wednesday.

    The Chinese and Russian militaries meanwhile held joint military exercises in western Belarus – a staunch ally of Moscow – close to the border with NATO member Poland, but Beijing publicly denied that the exercises were aimed at this week’s NATO summit in Washington.

    Speaking on the first full day of the 75th anniversary summit of NATO at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, U.S. President Joe Biden said that Russia was on a “wartime footing” and looking to its authoritarian allies to provide resources for its war in Ukraine.

    Russian marines take their position during Russia-Belarus military drills at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground in Belarus In this photo made from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Feb. 19, 2022. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

    “They’re significantly ramping up their production of weapons, munitions and vehicles, and they’re doing it with the help of China, North Korea and Iran,” Biden said at the opening, calling on the NATO members to similarly increase defense spending to keep up.

    “We cannot allow the alliance to fall behind,” he said, before asking the gathered press to leave the room so the summit could start.

    In a joint statement later issued by the 32 NATO member states, the alliance called for Beijing to stop enabling Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine by providing the inputs its military needs to produce weapons and hardware amid otherwise tight U.S.-led trade sanctions.

    “The PRC has become a decisive enabler of Russia’s war against Ukraine through its so-called no-limits partnership and its large-scale support for Russia’s defense industrial base,” the NATO statement says, using an acronym for the People’s Republic of China. 

    “This increases the threat Russia poses to its neighbours and to Euro-Atlantic security. We call on the PRC, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council with a particular responsibility to uphold the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter, to cease all material and political support to Russia’s war effort.”

    The statement also promises the establishment of a joint NATO training center in Poland, which also shares its eastern border with Ukraine.

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    It’s not the first time accusations about Chinese support for Russia’s military industrial base have been made by NATO countries.

    Ahead of a trip to Beijing in April, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused China of “fueling” the war in Ukraine through a “supply of inputs” required by Russia’s defense industry, such as machine tools, microchips and dual-use goods with military uses.

    At a panel event at the summit on Wednesday, Blinken put precise numbers on the claim, saying “70% of the machine tools” and “90% of the microelectronics” arriving in Russia were coming from China.

    Educators search for salvageable items inside a kindergarten destroyed by a missile strike, in Kyiv, July 10, 2024. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP)

    “We’ve seen a massive buildup of its weaponry over the last year and a half – tanks, missiles, munitions,” he said. “That’s the product of a defense industrial base being fueled by China. As a result, European allies understand the challenge posed by China to Europe’s security.”

    China, for its part, has not denied the claims, but has insisted it “has every right to normal economic and trade cooperation” with Russia.

    Drills in Belarus

    At a press briefing in Beijing earlier Wednesday, Chinese ​Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian appealed for NATO to stay in its lane as an alliance between Europe and North American countries.

    “China’s position on NATO is consistent,” Lin said. “We firmly oppose NATO acting beyond its characterization as a regional defensive alliance, inserting itself into the Asia-Pacific to incite confrontation and rivalry, and disrupting the prosperity and stability in this region.”

    Lin also denied that China’s ongoing military training with Russia’s military in Belarus was related to the NATO summit, saying it was part of a deal inked last week when Belarus became the latest member of a Central Asia-focussed regional group led by Russia and Beijing.

    “The joint army training is part of the annual cooperation plan between China and Belarus,” he said. “It is normal military exchange and cooperation between China and Belarus and within international law and common practices, and it’s not directed at any particular country.”

    Tanks move during the Union Courage-2022 Russia-Belarus military drills at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground in Belarus, Feb. 19, 2022. (Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/AP)

    Yet against Beijing’s appeals for NATO to keep its focus solely on the Atlantic, the pact’s leaders have welcomed allies across Asia and the Pacific as observers this year, noting Russia’s expansion of its footprint through a reliance on China and North Korea to supply its war effort.

    Attending this year’s summit are Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, who are each attending for the third year in a row, as well as Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles.

    ‘A stake in our success’

    NATO leaders have been unapologetic about expanding the alliance’s footprint to Asia by including longtime Western allies at summits.

    At the opening of the summit on Tuesday night, Biden had said NATO had become history’s most successful military alliance because it had always adapted to the times since its founding with 12 members.

    “We did [adapt], evolving our strategy to stay ahead of threats, reaching out to new partners to increase our effectiveness,” Biden said, pointing to non-NATO observers at the summit. “Here with us today are countries from the Indo-Pacific region. They’re here because they have a stake in our success, and we have a stake in theirs.”

    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also noted how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is tying together continents and giving allies outside of Europe and North America a stake in NATO’s affairs.

    “Our security is interlinked because Iran, North Korea and China are the main enablers of Russia’s war against Ukraine,” Stoltenberg told reporters as he arrived at the summit Wednesday morning.

    Rescuers, volunteers and medical workers, some in bloodied uniforms clean up the rubble and search for victims after a Russian missile hit the country’s main children hospital Okhmadit, in Kyiv, Ukraine, July 8, 2024. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

    At a panel event at the summit hosted by Atlantic Council CEO Frederick Kempe, Stoltenberg said that Iran and North Korea’s help to Russia was important but was dwarfed by China’s support.

    “China is the main enabler,” Stoltenberg told the panel. “They are delivering the tools, the dual-use equipment, the microelectronics, everything Russia needs to build the missiles, the bombs, the aircrafts, and all the other systems that they use against Ukraine.”

    An inflection in Europe-China ties could soon arrive, he added.

    “If China continues, they cannot have it both ways,” he said. “They cannot … have a kind of normal relationship with NATO allies in North America and Europe, and then fuel a war in Europe that constitutes the biggest challenge to our security since the Second World War.”

    Edited by Malcolm Foster.

    This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Alex Willemyns for RFA.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.