Indonesia reports another suspected Sumatran tiger poisoning

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia: Another Sumatran tiger has been found dead in the second suspected poisoning of the critically endangered cats in less than a week, Indonesian conservation officials said on Monday (Jun 29).

Authorities said in both cases locals likely targeted the tigers for attacking their livestock, underscoring the increasing human-animal conflict in the Southeast Asian archipelago.

On Monday, the conservation agency in South Aceh on Sumatra island said it found the carcass of a tigress near a farm.

“There weren’t any hunter traps or physical wounds and we suspect (it) was poisoned,” said agency chief Hadi Sofyan, adding that an autopsy was being conducted.

Last week the buried carcass of a male tiger was uncovered in North Sumatra’s Batang Gadis national park with poisoning also the suspected cause of death.

Locals, including a village head, said the killing was orchestrated by farmers who were angry the tiger had killed their livestock, a park spokesman said at the time.

Officials also tranquilsed and relocated another tiger after it was caught in West Sumatra
Officials also tranquilsed and relocated another tiger after it was caught in West Sumatra AFP/ADI PRIMA

READ: Four suspected poachers arrested in Indonesia for killing critically endangered tiger

Also on Monday, a female tiger was relocated from a plantation in West Sumatra.

Conflicts between humans and animals in Indonesia often happen in areas where rainforests are being cleared to make way for palm oil plantations.

In the past year Sumatra has also seen a spate of fatal tiger attacks on humans.

Indonesia is battling rampant poaching which accounts for almost all Sumatran tiger deaths, according to TRAFFIC, a global wildlife trade monitoring network.

Sumatran tigers are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with fewer than 400 believed to remain in the wild.

Tiger parts are widely used in traditional medicine – particularly in China – despite overwhelming scientific evidence they have no beneficial value.

Distorted Chinese, Russian COVID-19 news takes root in West: Study

LONDON: Coronavirus misinformation spread by Russian and Chinese journalists is finding a bigger audience on social media in France and Germany than content from the European nations’ own premier news outlets, according to new research.

Whether it is distorted coverage or outright conspiracy theories, articles written in French and German by foreign state media are resonating widely on Facebook and Twitter, often with their origins unclear, the Oxford Internet Institute said in a report published on Monday.

The institute, which is part of Oxford University, looked at content generated by leading media outlets from Russia and China, as well as from Iran and Turkey – all of which are state-controlled or closely aligned to regimes in power.

Its report comes as the US government imposes new restrictions on Chinese state media, and builds on previous research by the institute that laid bare the penetration of such foreign outlets in English-language markets.

In their French, German as well as Spanish output, state media groups have “politicised the coronavirus by criticising Western democracies, praising their home countries, and promoting conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus”, the institute said.

“A majority of the content in these outlets is factually based. But what they have, especially if you look at the Russian outlets, is an agenda to discredit democratic countries,” Oxford researcher Jonathan Bright told AFP.

“The subtle weave in the overarching narrative is that democracy is on the verge of collapse.”

The institute looked at output from Russia’s RT broadcaster and Sputnik news agency; China Global Television Network (CGTN), China Radio International (CRI) and Xinhua News Agency; plus foreign-language output from Iranian and Turkish networks.

It measured median engagement per shared article – how many times a user actively shares or likes an article on Facebook, or comments about it and retweets it on Twitter.

The study covered each outlet’s 20 most popular stories from May 18 to June 5.

WHAT’S THE SOURCE?

French-language content from RT scored an average of 528 in user engagement on the two platforms, and 374 for Xinhua, compared to 105 for the newspaper Le Monde.

In German, RT articles scored 158 on Facebook and Twitter, against 90 for Der Spiegel.

The institute’s previous study in April found that in English, heavily politicised news stories from the same state media groups could achieve as much as 10 times the level of user engagement as more sober sources such as the BBC.

Bright added: “A significant portion of social media is people consuming content that is directly funded by foreign governments, and it’s not very clear to the reader that that’s the case.”

Similar engagement levels showed in Spanish-language content, including from the Iranian state broadcaster’s service HispanTV, which the report said shares the Russian outlets’ promotion of “anti-US sentiments” for audiences in Latin America.

Examples in French and German included heated coverage from the Russian outlets of the “gilets jaunes” protest movement in France, and the COVID-19 and ensuing economic crises in Europe.

The report also examined content in German, French and Spanish from Turkey’s TRT network, which it said focused more on positive portrayals of the Turkish government’s actions against the pandemic.

In contrast, Russian, Chinese and Iranian media all promoted baseless theories, including that the US military unleashed the coronavirus, which originated late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The media organisations in question claim to offer a non-Western perspective on news and deny they are propagandists.

Last week, China threatened to retaliate after four more of its media groups were reclassified as “foreign missions” in the United States.

The quartet joined CGTN, CRI and Xinhua, which were already designated by Washington as state-sponsored actors, rather than as media.

In Britain, RT has been fined for breaking rules on media impartiality.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron accused the Russian network of spreading “deceitful propaganda” during the 2017 presidential election.

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Vietnam economy unexpectedly expands, bucking global plunge

HANOI: Vietnam’s economy unexpectedly expanded in the second quarter, shrugging off a coronavirus pandemic-caused global downturn, but it was still the country’s slowest growth in nearly three decades.

Gross domestic product rose by 0.36 per cent in the April to June period, compared to the same period last year, the General Statistics Office in Hanoi announced on Monday (Jun 29).

“It’s the lowest ever GDP growth since Vietnam started publishing GDP figures in 1991,” official Duong Manh Hung was quoted as saying in local media.

Border closures from coronavirus restrictions took a toll on Vietnam’s exports, which fell 9 per cent year-on-year and were down 8.3 per cent against the first three months of the year.

The country’s economy is heavily reliant on exports, particularly after reaping the benefits of a trade spat between Washington and Beijing over the last two years.

Both sides imposed punitive tit-for-tat tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of goods, prompting many China-based businesses to migrate to the perceived safer and cheaper manufacturing hub of Vietnam.

The country now aims to re-boot its economy after its apparent success in minimising fallout from coronavirus.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in April predicted the Southeast Asian nation would take the lead in Asia with a GDP growth rate of 2.7 per cent in 2020.

Vietnamese prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has said his government would try to keep growth above 5 per cent.

“It will be very difficult, even impossible, for us to reach our targets in the context of the pandemic and with the broken global supply chain,” said Duong Manh Hung.

READ: Virus-free Vietnam not ready to open doors to foreign tourists yet: PM

READ: Commentary: Vietnam is emerging a lot stronger from this coronavirus outbreak

The country has reported just 355 coronavirus cases and no deaths, a record it puts down to strict quarantine policies and tracing measures.

COVID-19: Malaysia to lift restrictions on theme parks from Jul 1

PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia announced on Monday (Jun 29) it would allow theme parks to reopen from Jul 1. 

Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Ismail Sabri Yaakob said it would involve 54 theme parks including water theme parks and a workforce of more than 10,000 nationwide.

“For theme parks, the limit of visitors allowed to enter depends on the capacity and size of the theme park. Visitors also have to register with MySejahtera and undergo body temperature checks and hand sanitisation,” he said in his daily media briefing.

READ: Malaysia resumes travel, haircuts and retail therapy as coronavirus curbs ease

It was also announced that temperature screenings for mall and hotel visitors would be relaxed.

Checks would only be conducted once when they enter the building, Mr Ismail said.

However, he added operators of all theme parks and shopping malls must adhere to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) such as social distancing at all times.

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In Thailand, it’s statues of democracy leaders that are disappearing

BANGKOK: Certain historical statues have been disappearing in Thailand, but they are not effigies of colonialists or slave owners torn down by protesters.

Instead, Thailand’s vanishing monuments celebrated leaders of the 1932 revolution that ended absolute monarchy in Thailand, who were once officially honoured as national heroes and symbols of democracy.

Reuters has identified at least six sites memorialising the People’s Party that led the revolution which have been removed or renamed in the past year.

In most cases it is not known who took the statues down, although a military official said one was removed for new landscaping.

Two army camps named after 1932 leaders were rechristened on the orders of the office of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, according to an item published without comment in the Royal Gazette.

Officials in the military, government and the palace declined to answer questions submitted by Reuters regarding the removal of statues and renaming of military camps.

Some historians say the missing monuments reflect an ideological battle over Thailand’s history.

On one side is military-royalist conservatives whose supporters idealise traditional culture, with loyalty to the monarchy and King Maha Vajiralongkorn seen as the highest virtue.

On the other are populist parties, activists and academics who have risen to prominence in the last two decades, culminating in two military coups that ousted elected populist governments in 2006 and 2014.

In recent years, the conservatives have been in the ascendancy. Elections last year kept coup leader Prayut in power through a vote that opposition parties said was rigged – an accusation that he and Thailand’s courts deny.

Since the election and last year’s elaborate coronation of King Vajiralongkorn, a major People’s Party monument in Bangkok and at least three prominent statues of People’s Party leaders at military sites have been removed, and a museum commemorating the revolution in the northern city of Chiang Rai was renamed.

Months after King Vajiralongkorn took the throne, a plaque marking the spot where the 1932 coup was proclaimed was replaced with one bearing a royalist slogan. No explanation for the change was given.

A representative of the National Defence Studies Institute – where a statue of 1932 revolutionary Plaek Phibunsongkram disappeared in January from the front of its headquarters – said on condition of anonymity that it had been moved for landscaping outside and could not say when or if it would be returned.

PEOPLE’S CONSTITUTION

Thailand officially has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932, and its traditional culture is deeply invested in the monarchy as a unifying – and for some, semi-divine – institution.

The king remains powerful and the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the current monarch’s father, was widely revered during his 70-year reign until his death in 2016.

Tradition mandates all Thais prostrate themselves before the king and his immediate family, and insulting the monarchy is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

In recent years, successive military leaders including Prayut have portrayed their critics as potential threats to the monarchy.

But since last year’s disputed election, demonstrations against military dominance have increasingly identified with the 1932 revolution, said Chatri Prakitnonthakan, an architectural historian at Silpakorn University.

Wednesday (Jun 24) is the 88th anniversary of the revolution, and pro-democracy activists plan to defy coronavirus bans on gatherings to protest what they say is the subversion of the principles of democracy by the military.

“We want to commemorate the 1932 revolt,” said activist Anon Nampa, who is organising a pre-dawn protest at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, the largest and most prominent remaining symbol of the 1932 revolt.

“I think the young generations are looking back at that era and draw parallels about today, about how power is being abused.”

In remarks on Tuesday, Prayut did not directly address the protests, but he told people “don’t violate the monarchy and don’t violate the law.”

China reports 12 new coronavirus cases on the mainland

SHANGHAI: China had 12 new coronavirus cases on the mainland on Jun 23, down from 22 during the previous day, the country’s health authority said on Wednesday (Jun 24).

Seven of the total were located in the capital Beijing, down from nine on the previous day. The capital has seen a new outbreak linked to a wholesale food market, with more than 250 people infected since Jun 11.

China also reported three new imported cases, down from nine a day earlier, and three new asymptomatic cases, down from seven.

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North Korea suspends military action plans against South Korea

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has chaired a meeting of the ruling party’s Central Military Commission and decided to suspend military action plans against South Korea, official KCNA news agency reported on Wednesday (Jun 24).

The meeting also discussed documents outlining measures for “further bolstering the war deterrent of the country,” KCNA reported.

Political tensions between the rival Koreas have been rising over plans by groups in the South to fly propaganda leaflets over to the North, which Pyongyang claims violates an agreement between the two aimed at preventing military confrontation.

In recent weeks the North blew up a joint liaison office on its side of the border, declared an end to dialogue with the South, and threatened military action.

Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, warned last week of retaliatory measures against South Korea that could involve the military, without elaborating.

The General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) later said it has been studying an “action plan” to re-enter zones that had been demilitarised under an inter-Korean pact and “turn the front line into a fortress.”

North Korea’s military was seen putting up loudspeakers near the demilitarised zone (DMZ), a military source told Reuters on Tuesday. Such systems were taken down after the two Koreas signed an accord in 2018 to cease “all hostile acts.”

Commentary: Look out for the oncoming great China-India split

LONDON: The Sino-Soviet split was a critical moment in the cold war. A Sino-Indian split could be just as crucial to the “second cold war” that seems to be developing between the US and China.

Until now, the Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has tried to avoid choosing sides in the fast-developing antagonism between Washington and Beijing.

But a parting of the ways between India and China now seems inevitable following last week’s border clashes between the two nations’ armies, which left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead and an unknown number of Chinese casualties.

READ: China likely lost at least 40 soldiers in border clash: Indian minister

Mr Modi has met President Xi Jinping of China several times since becoming India’s leader in 2014 and has made five visits there.

As recently as last October, the Indian and Chinese leaders held a friendly summit, after which Mr Modi hailed “a new era of co-operation between our two countries”.

The mood in New Delhi is now very different. Whatever happened high up in the Himalayas, Indians feel assaulted and humiliated by China.

On Friday, Mr Modi held emergency meetings with leaders of the Indian opposition – a remarkable development in itself, given the extreme partisanship of Indian politics today.

READ: Commentary: China’s boundary skirmishes with India have wider economic and geopolitical implications

CHINA HAWKS AND DOVES

There is now near-consensus in the Indian policymaking elite that China is a hostile power and that India’s only feasible response is to move closer to the US and to Asian democracies, such as Japan and Australia.

Despite Mr Modi’s efforts to build a close relationship with Mr Xi, Indian anxiety about the rise of China has been growing for years. Indians have watched nervously as China has built up a special relationship with Pakistan – a country India has fought multiple wars with.

Armed encounters are frequent in the Himalayan region disputed by India and Pakistan
Armed encounters are frequent in the Himalayan region disputed by India and Pakistan AFP/TAUSEEF MUSTAFA

The expansion of Chinese influence in neighbouring states such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal has also gone down badly in New Delhi. India signalled its displeasure by refusing to send a top-level delegation to China’s Belt and Road forums in 2017 and 2019.

But while the China hawks in New Delhi have been gaining in influence, there remains a dovish school that has long argued it is not in India’s interests to get sucked into an American effort to “contain” China.

In part, this reflects the legacy of history. During the original cold war, India pursued a policy of non-alignment and was, in reality, often closer to Moscow than Washington.

As a country of nearly 1.4 billion people, India is understandably determined to forge its own path and maintain strategic autonomy. There are also sound economic arguments for trying to maintain a good relationship with China, which is India’s second largest trading partner.

READ: Commentary: Is this the end of China’s peaceful rise?

READ: Commentary: The clash with China is India’s biggest test

AN ALLIANCE WITH THE US?

Any thought of trying to maintain equidistance between the US and China, is now likely to be abandoned by India. There are even hints that India may consider a formal alliance with the US.

One Indian intellectual, close to the Modi government, observed pointedly last week that one reason China might feel free to kill Indian soldiers – but not Japanese or Taiwanese troops – is that Japan and Taiwan are sheltering under a US security umbrella.

Donald Trump’s hostility to the American alliance system makes it highly unlikely that the US president would consider extending a security guarantee to India, at least, not without considerable financial inducement.

But an administration led by Joe Biden, his Democratic rival in November’s presidential elections, might well jump at the idea of a formal alliance.

FILE PHOTO: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Biden speaks during campaign event in Darby, Pen
Democratic US presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at a community center in Darby, Pennsylvania, US, Jun 17, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

In recent years the US has become more overt in its efforts to woo India, as a balancing force to a rising China. In 2018, the US military renamed its Pacific command, the Indo-Pacific command and India’s increasingly close military ties with the US has been reflected in arms purchases, port visits and joint military exercises.

An intensification of that co-operation, in co-ordination with Japan and Australia, looks inevitable.

READ: Commentary: A search for India’s vision for the Indo-Pacific as Modi speaks at Shangri-La Dialogue

BREWING SINO-INDIAN TENSION

Indians are wary of further direct confrontations with China in the Himalayas. But they may try to challenge Beijing on other fronts by working with allies in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.

India is also likely to make more concerted moves to lessen its economic dependence on China. The chances of Chinese telecoms company Huawei being awarded contracts to build a 5G network in India now seem vanishingly small.

Should China care? Beijing’s confrontational posture suggests the Chinese have discounted the dangers of any Indian retaliation. China knows that its economy is nearly five times the size of India’s and that its military has more firepower.

READ: Commentary: Why are Chinese officials acting like Internet trolls and entertaining online fights with the US?

The Chinese may even have judged that now is a good time to put India in its place when the country is stricken by the coronavirus and the US is distracted.

In the aftermath of last week’s border clashes, the Global Times, a nationalist newspaper in Beijing, wrote, in an editorial, that India should learn from this incident and cannot rely on Washington for support and succour.

In the short-term, that might well be right. Over the long-run, China should be worried.

The four largest economies in the world, ranked by purchasing power, are China, the US, Japan and India. All four nations are intensely concerned by the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region.

It is folly for China to drive India into America’s arms.

Satellite images suggest Chinese activity at Himalayan border with India before clash

NEW DELHI: In the days leading up to the most violent border clash between India and China in decades, China brought in pieces of machinery, cut a trail into a Himalayan mountainside and may have even dammed a river, satellite pictures suggest.

The images, shot on Tuesday, a day after soldiers engaged in hand-to-hand combat in the freezing Galwan Valley, show an increase in activity from a week earlier.

India said 20 soldiers were killed in a premeditated attack by Chinese troops on Monday night at a time when top commanders had agreed to defuse tensions on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), or the disputed and poorly defined border between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

READ: India says 20 soldiers killed in deadliest clash with China in decades

China rejected the allegations and blamed frontline Indian soldiers for provoking the conflict which took place at the freezing height of 4,300 metres in the western Himalayas.

The 4,056-kilometre border between India and China runs through glaciers, snow deserts and rivers in the west to thickly forested mountains in the east.

The Galwan Valley is an arid, inhospitable area, where some soldiers are deployed on steep ridges. It is considered important because it leads to the Aksai Chin, a disputed plateau claimed by India but controlled by China.

The satellite pictures, taken by Earth-imaging company Planet Labs and obtained by Reuters, show signs of altering the landscape of the valley through widening tracks, moving earth and making river crossings, one expert said.

The images shows machinery along the bald mountains and in the Galwan River.

“Looking at it in Planet, it looks like China is constructing roads in the valley and possibly damming the river,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

“There are a ton of vehicles on both sides (of the LAC) – although there appear to be vastly more on the Chinese side. I count 30-40 Indian vehicles and well over 100 vehicles on the Chinese side.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said he was unaware of the specifics on the ground but reiterated that the Indian army had crossed into Chinese territory in several places in recent days and that they should withdraw.

BACKLASH

The clash was the most serious since 1967. Since early May, soldiers have faced off on the border where India says Chinese troops had intruded and set up temporary structures. The confrontation turned into a deadly brawl on Monday.

The fighting was triggered by a row over two Chinese tents and observation towers that India said had been built on its side of the LAC, Indian government sources in New Delhi and on the Indian side of the border in the Ladakh region said.

China had sought to erect a “structure” in the Galwan Valley on India’s side of the LAC even after military officials had reached an agreement on Jun 6 to de-escalate, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told China’s senior diplomat, Wang Yi, in a phone call on Wednesday, the Indian Foreign Ministry said. It was not immediately clear to what structure he was referring.

The problem arose when an Indian patrol visited the area near a ridge to verify a Chinese assertion that its troops had moved back from the LAC, the two government sources aware of the military situation said.

The Chinese troops had thinned out and left behind the two tents and small observation posts. The Indian party demolished the towers and burnt the tents, the sources said.

The satellite images show possible debris from the observation posts on Tuesday morning on a ridge on India’s side of the LAC. There was no such structure in the image taken a week earlier.

A large group of Chinese soldiers arrived and confronted the Indian troops, led by Colonel Santosh Babu. They were lightly armed in line with the rules of engagement at the LAC, one of the sources said.

India and China have not exchanged gunfire at the border since 1967, despite occasional flare-ups. Soldiers are under instructions to keep their rifles slung at their backs.

It was not clear what happened next, but the two sides soon clashed, with the Chinese using iron rods and batons with spikes, one of the sources said.

Colonel Babu was one of the 20 victims, they said. More Indian troops were rushed in and the confrontation turned into an hours-long brawl eventually involving up to 900 soldiers, the source said. Still no shots were fired on either side.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao rejected the Indian version of the events. “The rights and wrongs of this incident are very clear. The responsibility does not lie with China.”

North Korea remains an ‘extraordinary threat’: US

WASHINGTON, DC: North Korea remains an acute threat to the Indo-Pacific region, a senior Pentagon official said on Thursday (Jun 18) after Pyongyang blew up its liaison office with South Korea.

“As we’ve been starkly reminded in recent days, North Korea continues to present an extraordinary threat to the region and which demands our continued vigilance,” said David Helvey, the acting assistant secretary of defence for Indo-Pacific security affairs.

“It’s hard to tell what’s going to unfold over the next few days and weeks. But I do think that it’s important to say that we remain vigilant against any types of threats and provocations,” said Helvey.

The demolition on Tuesday of the liaison office in the Kaesong Industrial Zone – just across the border in Northern territory – came after Pyongyang vehemently condemned Seoul for anti-Pyongyang leaflets sent by defectors into the North and raised tensions on the Peninsula.

READ: North Korea blows up liaison office with South in Kaesong

The destruction of the office made good on a threat by Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. She had threatened last week to reduce to ruins an institution she called useless.

READ: North Korean leader’s sister emerges as policymaker in spat with South Korea

Helvey was cautious when asked about calls for strengthening the US military presence in South Korea and resuming military exercises that had been suspended to encourage US talks with the North on its nuclear program. The discussions have gone nowhere.

“I don’t want to get ahead of any decisions that would be made,” he said.

“But this is one of the things that we are constantly talking to our South Korean allies about,” he said.

“And quite frankly, it’s something that helps to preserve our interests and preserve peace and stability across the Indo-Pacific region,” said Helvey.