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Australian Journalists Evacuated From China

The Deciport Daily Quick-Look: 08 September 2020

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The Australian Financial Review's Michael Smith (left) and the ABC's Bill Birtles flew out of Shanghai on Monday night.

Chinese authorities demanded interviews from the journalists.

Political // BLUF: Two Australian journalists have been evacuated from China, after authorities demanded interviews with them, resulting in a diplomatic standoff.

The Australian Financial Review's Michael Smith and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC) Bill Birtles both sought refuge within Australian diplomatic compounds (Birtles in Beijing at the Australian Embassy and Smith in Shanghai at the Australian Consulate), where travel bans were placed on them by Chinese authorities; before interviews on condition of being allowed to leave the country were facilitated by Australian diplomats.

According to the ABC, no questions were asked of Birtles regarding his reporting or conduct while in China.

The event follows the arrest of Australian journalist Cheng Lei in recent days.

(See Point 4 Below for Further Information)

The Daily Quick-Look for 08 September 2020

The Deciport Daily Quick-Look is your at-a-glance look at several key events and situations around the world over the last 24 hours. Each headline contains the link to its source report.

BLUF = Bottom Line Up Front.

FYSA = For Your Situational Awareness.

1. UNITED STATES, CHINA - Security, Political: Trump again raises idea of decoupling economy from China

FYSA: With the U.S. election approaching, President Donald Trump on Monday again raised the idea of separating the U.S. and Chinese economies, also known as decoupling, suggesting the United States would not lose money if the world’s two biggest economies no longer did business. “So when you mention the word decouple, it’s an interesting word,” Trump told a Labor Day news conference at the White House in which he vowed to bring jobs back to America from China. “We lose billions of dollars and if we didn’t do business with them we wouldn’t lose billions of dollars. It’s called decoupling, so you’ll start thinking about it,” Trump said. Trump, who long touted friendly ties with Chinese President Xi Jinping as he sought to make good on promises to rebalance a massive trade deficit, has made getting tough on China a key part of his campaign for re-election on Nov. 3. He has accused his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, who leads in most opinion polls, of being soft toward Beijing. “If Biden wins, China wins, because China will own this country,” he said. Biden for his part has criticized Trump’s Phase 1 trade deal with China, saying it is “unenforceable,” and “full of vague, weak, and recycled commitments from Beijing.” Trump vowed that in future his administration would prohibit federal contracts with companies that outsource to China and hold Beijing accountable for allowing the coronavirus, which began in China, to spread around the world. (Reuters. See link in heading for further reading)

2. GREECE, TURKEY - Security, Political: Greece to boost military amid tension with Turkey

FYSA: Greece said it will bolster its military with new weapons, troops, and the development of its defence industry as a tense standoff with neighbouring Turkey has sparked concerns of open conflict between the two NATO allies. Ankara is currently facing off against Greece and Cyprus over oil-and-gas exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean. Greece and Turkey have deployed naval and air forces to assert their competing claims in the region. "The Turkish leadership is unleashing, on a near-daily basis, threats of war and makes provocative statements against Greece," Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said on Monday. "We respond with political, diplomatic and operational readiness, determined to do whatever is necessary to protect our sovereign rights." Petsas said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis would be announcing details of plans to upgrade the country's military during his annual state of the economy speech on Saturday. (The Guardian. See link in heading for further reading)

3. BELARUS - Political, Security: Belarus protests: Maria Kolesnikova 'detained by masked men'

FYSA: A leading opposition figure in Belarus has gone missing, shortly after witnesses said she was bundled by masked men into a minibus in Minsk. Maria Kolesnikova's whereabouts are unknown. Police have denied detaining her, the Interfax news agency reports. Ms Kolesnikova was one of three women who joined forces to challenge incumbent Alexander Lukashenko in August's presidential election. Mass protests followed his re-election amid allegations of vote-rigging. More than 600 people were arrested on Sunday, following a fourth consecutive weekend of anti-government protests in the capital Minsk and other cities. At least four people have died and hundreds have been injured as authorities have tried to crush dissent. On Monday the EU urged Belarus's government to free those jailed, calling the arrests "arbitrary and unexplained". EU leaders do not recognise the results of the election and have agreed to impose sanctions on Belarus. EU diplomats told Reuters news agency that the measures targeted 31 senior Belarus officials, including the interior minister. Mr Lukashenko - who has been in power since 1994 - has accused Western nations of interference. On Monday the Kremlin announced he would visit Moscow for talks "in the coming days". Russia has long been a close ally of Mr Lukashenko. An eyewitness told Belarus news outlet Tut.by that she had seen masked men take Ms Kolesnikova's mobile phone and push her into a minibus on Monday morning. Ms Kolesnikova is a member of the Co-ordination Council set up by the opposition to ensure a transfer of power. Government authorities have launched a criminal case against opposition leaders, saying the "creation and activity of the Co-ordination Council are aimed at seizure of state power, and at harming national security". (Reuters. See link in heading for further reading)

4. AUSTRALIA, CHINA - Political: Last two Australian correspondents pulled out of China after five-day diplomatic standoff over national security case

FYSA: The ABC and Australian Financial Review have rushed their China correspondents out of the country after police demanded interviews with both journalists, resulting in an extraordinary diplomatic standoff. Bill Birtles, the ABC's correspondent based in Beijing, and Mike Smith, the AFR's correspondent based in Shanghai, boarded a flight to Sydney last night after the pair were questioned separately by China's Ministry of State security. Birtles had spent four days sheltering in Australia's Embassy in Beijing, while Smith took refuge in Australia's Shanghai consulate as diplomats negotiated with Chinese officials to allow them to safely leave the country. The saga began early last week, when Australian diplomats in Beijing cautioned Birtles that he should leave China, with officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade giving the same advice to ABC's managing director David Anderson in Sydney. Subsequent advice prompted the ABC to organise flights back to Australia for Birtles. He was due to depart last Thursday morning. But the threatening behaviour from Chinese officials peaked before he could leave, when seven police officers arrived at Birtles' apartment at midnight last Wednesday as he was holding farewell drinks with friends and colleagues. They told him he was banned from leaving the country, and that he would be contacted the next day to organise a time to be questioned over a "national security case". (ABC. See link in heading for further reading)

5. AUSTRALIA - Security (Health): Australia expects to receive AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine within months

FYSA: Australia expects to receive its first batches of a potential COVID-19 vaccine in January, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, as the number of new daily infections in the country’s virus hotspot fell to a 10-week low. Morrison said his government has struck a deal with CSL Ltd (CSL.AX) to manufacture two vaccines - one developed by rival AstraZeneca (AZN.L) and Oxford University, and another developed in CSL’s own labs with the University of Queensland. “Australia needs some hope,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra. “Today, we take another significant step to protect the health of Australians against the coronavirus pandemic.” Health Minister Greg Hunt said scientists leading the development of both vaccines have advised that recent evidence suggests both will offer “multi-year protection”. Morrison said CSL is expected to deliver 3.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is currently undergoing late-stage clinical trials in Britain, Brazil and South Africa, in January and February next year. AstraZeneca’s candidate, AZD1222, is viewed as a frontrunner in the global race to deliver an effective vaccine to combat the virus. Australia had announced in August that it planned to buy AZD1222, along with an agreement of intent from CSL to manufacture it. That plan was thrown into some doubt when CSL announced shortly afterward that it would prioritise the manufacture of its own vaccine. Morrison’s announcement on Monday that Australia would also purchase the CSL drug if trials proved successful appeared to be the culmination of a deal to get both vaccines across the line. The CSL vaccine is due to begin second stage clinical trials in late 2020, meaning the earliest it could hit the market would be mid-2021. Should both vaccines pass clinical trials, Australia will spend A$1.7 billion ($1.24 billion) for a total of nearly 85 million doses, Morrison said. (ABC. See link in heading for further reading)

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