Moderation / Rules of “news” community?
I can't seem to find anything in a sidebar or sticky thread that talks about the moderation / rules of the news community. I'm very interested in coming to this community to learn about news, but right now it seems whats being posted tends to be relatively low (lower?) quality. Examples of common rules - Use the same titles as the article itself - No blog spam, link to the source - Political news, should go to the political community - No dupes of same topic As an example, take a look at other news aggregators that focus on news. My goal here isn't tell people what to do but its start a conversation on the topic.

UK defence minister says intelligence has evidence of Chinese lethal aid to Russia in its war against Ukraine
British defence minister Grant Shapps accused China on Wednesday of providing or preparing to provide Russia with lethal aid for use by Moscow in its war against Ukraine. Shapps told a conference in London that U.S. and British defence intelligence had evidence that "lethal aid is now, or will be, flowing from China to Russia and into Ukraine, I think it is a significant development". Shapps did not provide evidence to support his assertion. "We should be concerned about that because in the earlier days of this war China would like to present itself as a moderating influence on Russian President Vladimir Putin", he added. The Chinese Embassy in the U.S. said last month it had not provided weaponry, adding that it is "not a producer of or party involved in the Ukraine crisis." The Chinese embassy in London did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Japan protests over Chinese ambassador’s “extremely inappropriate” comment about Japanese people who would be “dragged into the fire” if they support Taiwan’s independence
Japan has lodged a protest against the Chinese ambassador's "extremely inappropriate" comments about Taiwan, chief cabinet secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said on Wednesday. Wu Jianghao, the Chinese ambassador in Tokyo, said on Monday Japanese people would be dragged into the fire if they took part in forces plotting to support Taiwan's independence and "split China", according to Japanese media reports. "We consider it to be extremely inappropriate for an ambassador stationed in Tokyo to make such a comment, and we have immediately lodged a severe protest against it," Hayashi, the top government spokesperson, told reporters at a regular news conference. Hayashi also reiterated Japan's position that Tokyo expects issues surrounding Taiwan, an island Beijing views as a breakaway province, to be resolved peacefully through dialogue. Taiwan's foreign ministry expressed its support for Japan's reaction to the Chinese ambassador's remarks. "The foreign ministry welcomes the international community's attention to the situation in the Taiwan Strait and any actions that will help maintain regional peace," it said in a statement.

Norway, Spain, and Ireland will recognize an independent Palestinian state as of May 28. "There cannot be peace in the Middle East if there is no recognition," Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said. "By recognizing a Palestinian state, Norway supports the Arab peace plan."

Perched on the open ramp at the rear of a British Chinook helicopter, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas flew home from the annual Spring Storm military exercises, pleased to see NATO allies cooperating. But she later said that other types of warfare were on her mind. Her nation, which borders Russia, has seen a rise in sabotage, electronic warfare and spying — all blamed on Moscow. As the war in Ukraine turns in Russia’s favor, defenses are being bolstered in the front-line nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as in Finland and Poland. Kallas says Russia is carrying out a “shadow war” against the West. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda urged vigilance, saying Tuesday he had information that “acts of sabotage can happen again.” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said at least nine people were recently arrested on suspicion of beatings and arson, allegedly directed by Russia’s secret services, and described them as Ukrainian, Belarusian and Polish nationals, some “from the criminal world.” Not everyone sees the attacks as interconnected, Kallas told The Associated Press, despite NATO's assertion this month that Moscow is intensifying its campaign against the alliance from the Baltics to Britain. Russia dismissed that allegation. Because many Russian intelligence operatives already are sanctioned, Western officials and experts say the Kremlin is shifting tactics, hiring others for hybrid operations — nonmilitary strategies including cyberattacks, election interference and disinformation, and attacks on foes of President Vladimir Putin. With crucial elections in the West, officials say they believe the tempo of such activities will only increase, and some want tougher countermeasures. Kallas cited a warning from an intelligence agency to a European country that one of its warehouses was targeted by Russian military intelligence. When a fire occurred at the warehouse two weeks later, officials in the country suggested that “we don't know it is the Russians,” she said. Kallas did not identify the country. The West must have a “serious discussion of a coordinated approach," she said. “How far do we let them go on our soil?” Estonia has taken the challenge of finding Russian agents of influence “very seriously” since regaining independence from the USSR in 1991, rebuilding its security services from scratch, U.S. Ambassador George Kent told AP. This year in Estonia, a university professor was arrested on charges of spying for Moscow, 13 people were arrested over attacks allegedly organized by Russian military intelligence operating under diplomatic cover, and flights between Finland and the city of Tartu were disrupted by Russian jamming of GPS signals. In October, a Baltic Sea gas pipeline and telecoms cables were damaged after a Chinese ship dragged its anchor for over 115 miles (185 kilometers) in an incident that is still under investigation. That ship was later seen in a Russian port. Britain expelled Russia's defense attache in May after two British men were accused of working with Russian intelligence services to set fire to a London warehouse. In April, two German-Russian nationals were arrested and accused of trying to attack military sites in southern Germany. “What I would like to see is the recognition that these are not isolated events," Kallas told AP. "Second, that we share information about this amongst ourselves. Third, make it as public as we can.” Estonia has a reputation for aggressively pursuing espionage activity and publicizing it, consistently seizing more Russian agents per capita in the country of 1.3 million than other European nations. It is “not very plausible” that there's such a large pool of agents in Estonia that makes them easier to catch, said Kusti Salm, permanent secretary at Estonia’s Defense Ministry, in an interview with AP, implying that other countries could work harder at it. Former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, in office from 2006-16, told AP that some nations don't act because they hope to do business with Russia again. “People are afraid of decisive action, and the absence of decisive action basically tempts bad actors to keep pushing their luck," added Ilves, who dealt with a major cyber attack blamed on Russia in 2007. Russian officials, he said, “will push their luck until something bad happens, but they won’t pay the consequence. We will.” That could lead to unintended deaths and injuries, Estonian officials and security experts say, citing a trend of Russia is outsourcing attacks to locals, sometimes recruited relatively cheaply on video gaming platforms and social media. That makes it harder to identify connections between attacks or to trace them back to Russia. Bulgarian investigative journalist Christo Grozev, who exposed Russian intelligence involvement in poisoning former spy Sergei Skripal in 2018 in Britain and the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny in 2020, was a victim of such outsourcing. A former Austrian intelligence officer was arrested in March for supplying Grozev’s address to Russian intelligence, which allegedly hired burglars to break into the journalist's apartment in 2022 to steal a laptop connected to the Navalny investigation. Grozev had to move from Vienna last year after authorities said they couldn't guarantee his security. Grozev said his son was in his room playing computer games when the 2022 break-in occurred, adding: "Imagine if he had walked out.” He and other journalists discovered links between an attack on a Russian opposition figure in Argentina last year and a Polish organized crime cell. When the information was passed to Polish authorities, they found a connection between the Argentina attack and one on Russian opposition figure Leonid Volkov in Lithuania in March. Lithuania's security service said that attack was probably Russian-organized. Grozev said nations need to enforce intelligence sharing between their own security services and police and prosecutors and create a “proactive international working task force” to combat foreign influence operations. Although Russia has been blamed for attacks in Europe for decades, Estonian officials and security experts indicated there's no collective mechanism for dealing with them, and suggested the EU do more. Kallas says Russia uses spies in the guise of diplomats “all the time,” and senior Estonian officials support a Czech initiative limiting visas for Russian envoys to the country where they are posted. That would make it harder for them to travel in the EU, where IDs aren't needed at the border. It also could reduce the possibility of one nation expelling spies, only to see them return to another and continue working under diplomatic cover. Estonia also is pushing for separate sanctions within the EU to counter hybrid threats. Although many Russian intelligence agents already are sanctioned, these could dissuade some “intermediaries” -- local organized crime figures, disillusioned youth and potential spies and collaborators -- from working for Moscow, said Jonatan Vseviov, secretary general of Estonia’s Foreign Ministry. While some countries feel such exposure could cause instability and erode trust, Grozev called it an important deterrent. Russian intelligence agents running operations abroad are “extremely averse” to incidents where they are named and shamed, Grozev said. Such individuals can be denied promotion, and proxies will realize they cannot be guaranteed immunity, he said. The threat of sanctions and reduced opportunities for travel and study abroad can also help discourage younger Russians from joining security services. Russia seeks “to sow fear” and break Western support for Kyiv, Kallas said. Vseviov said Putin wants to use every tool available, including the shadowy attacks, to “undermine our unity, collapse our policy and destroy the collective West, as we know it, as a functioning body."

***- The Chinese government is using extreme forms of pressure to coerce Tibetans to relocate their long-established villages.*** ***- Chinese officials misleadingly claim that relocation will lead to improved employment and higher incomes.*** ***- The Chinese government should suspend relocations in Tibet and conform with Chinese laws and standards and international law concerning relocations and forced evictions.***-- Chinese government officials are systematically using extreme forms of pressure to coerce rural Tibetans to relocate their long-established villages, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Since 2016, officials in the Tibet Autonomous Region have relocated or are currently relocating 500 villages with over 140,000 residents to new locations, often hundreds of kilometers away. The 71-page report, “‘Educate the Masses to Change Their Minds’: China’s Coercive Relocation of Rural Tibetans,” details how participation in “whole-village relocation” programs in Tibet, in which entire villages are relocated, amounts to forced eviction in violation of international law. Officials misleadingly claim that these relocations will “improve people’s livelihood” and “protect the ecological environment.” The government prevents relocated people from returning to their former homes by generally requiring them to demolish these homes within a year of relocating. “The Chinese government says that the relocation of Tibetan villages is voluntary, but official media reports contradict this claim,” said Maya Wang, acting China director at Human Rights Watch. “Those reports make clear that when a whole village is targeted for relocation, it is practically impossible for the residents to refuse to move without facing serious repercussions.” The report draws on over 1,000 official Chinese media articles published between 2016 and 2023. It includes three case studies, including video footage, that show in detail the arguments and methods Chinese officials use to obtain the “consent” of residents to relocate their villages. Chinese government policy in Tibet sets out that every household in every village targeted is to consent to relocation. Human Rights Watch found multiple references to initial reluctance among Tibetans whose villages were scheduled for relocation. In one case, 200 out of 262 households in a village in Nagchu Municipality initially did not want to relocate to a site nearly 1,000 kilometers away. The government claimed that all eventually agreed to move voluntarily. Chinese officials attribute their success in getting total consent to “publicity work” and “door-to-door ideological work” carried out by officials. This often involves intrusive home visits. In some cases, officials of increasing seniority visit families repeatedly at their homes to gain their “consent.” In some cases, they also tell residents that essential services would be cut to their current homes if they did not move. They openly threaten villagers who voiced disagreements about the relocations, accusing them of “spreading rumors” and ordering officials to crack down on such actions “swiftly and resolutely,” implying administrative and criminal penalties. In addition, officials require each targeted village to reach a consensus decision and do not allow any individual resident to opt out from that decision, creating additional peer group pressure on all residents to comply. In addition to programs that relocate entire villages, officials in Tibet also use a form of relocation known as “individual household relocation.” This typically involves officials selecting poorer households for relocation to sites deemed more suitable for income generation. The government relocated 567,000 people under this program in Tibetan areas of China between 2016 and 2020. While participants selected for this program could decline to take part, official media articles show that officials routinely assured them that relocation would lead to improved employment prospects and higher incomes. However, studies by Chinese government-affiliated researchers in Tibet show that most relocatees, having been moved to peri-urban areas where their farming or herding skills cannot be used, are unable to get sustainable employment. While such mass relocations of residents have been occurring elsewhere in poor rural areas in China, these drives risk causing a devastating impact on Tibetan communities, Human Rights Watch found. Together with current Chinese government programs to assimilate Tibetan schooling, culture, and religion into those of the “Chinese nation,” the relocation of rural communities erode or cause major damage to Tibetan culture and ways of life – not least because most relocation programs in Tibet move former farmers and pastoralists to areas where they cannot practice their former livelihood and have no choice but to seek work as wage laborers in off-farm industries. “The mass relocations of rural Tibetan villages are severely eroding Tibetan culture and ways of life,” Wang said. “China’s government should suspend relocations in Tibet until an independent, expert review of existing policies and practices is carried out to determine their compliance with Chinese law and standards and international law concerning relocations and forced evictions.”

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has applied for arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas's leader in Gaza for war crimes. Karim Khan KC said there were reasonable grounds to believe that both men bore criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity from at least 7 October 2023. Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant and Hamas's political leader Ismail Haniyeh, its military chief Mohammed Deif are also wanted for arrest. The ICC, based in The Hague, has been investigating Israel's actions in the occupied territories for the past three years - and more recently the actions of Hamas as well. Mr Netanyahu recently called the prospect of senior Israel figures joining the ICC's wanted list "an outrage of historic proportions". This breaking news story is being updated and more details will be published shortly. Please refresh the page for the fullest version.

[Archived link]( Warsaw says its position as a hub for supplies to Ukraine has made it a key target for Russian intelligence services, and accuses Moscow of trying to destabilise the country. “We currently have nine suspects arrested and charged with engaging in acts of sabotage in Poland directly on behalf of the Russian services,” Tusk told private broadcaster TVN24. “This includes beatings, arson and attempted arson.” He said Poland was collaborating with its allies on the issue and that the plots also affected Lithuania, Latvia and possibly also Sweden. Tusk said earlier this month Poland would allocate an additional 100 million zlotys (€23.5 million) to its intelligence services due to the threat from Russia. In April, two people were detained in Poland on suspicion of attacking Leonid Volkov, an exiled top aide to late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

***Human rights groups and emigre opposition factions expressed regret that Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi's death meant he never saw justice for crimes they say he committed during decades as a leading figure in the Islamic republic.***-- A man who rose quickly through the ranks after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, Raisi was accused by activists of overseeing mass executions of prisoners in 1988 followed by a litany of human rights abuses as judiciary chief and later president. "Ebrahim Raisi was a symbol of judicial impunity for criminals and the entrenched lack of accountability within the Islamic republic's system," Mahmood-Amiry Moghaddam, director of Norway-based group Iran Human Rights, said in a statement to AFP. He "should have been prosecuted for crimes against humanity and held accountable in a fair trial for the countless atrocities he committed over these four decades," Moghaddam added. Shadi Sadr, co-founder of the Justice for Iran group, which campaigns for accountability for Iranian rights violations, condemned the condolences offered by some Western figures, including EU Council President Charles Michel, for the deaths of Raisi and his foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. "Such actions are perceived as a betrayal by the countless victims of human rights abuses, deepening the disappointment among the Iranian population towards the international community," she told AFP. **'Crimes against humanity'** Rights groups including Amnesty International have long accused Raisi of having served on a four-man "death committee" that approved the executions of thousands of political prisoners, mostly suspected members of outlawed rebel group the People's Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), in 1988. Raisi, seen before his death as a possible successor to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, flatly denied personal involvement while praising the decision to go ahead with the executions. In September 2020, a group of seven UN special rapporteurs wrote to the Iranian government pressing for accountability over the killings, saying "the situation may amount to crimes against humanity". Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the MEK's political wing the National Council of Resistance of Iran, said that "the curse of mothers and those seeking justice for the executed, along with the damnation of the Iranian people and history, mark the (president's) legacy". Raisi was promoted to Tehran chief prosecutor in 1989 and deputy head of the judiciary in 2004, a position he held for a decade including during a crackdown on mass protests in 2009. He became head of the judiciary in 2019 and president in 2021. In 2022, his administration implemented a harsh crackdown on women-led protests that left hundreds dead, according to rights groups. An independent UN fact-finding mission earlier this year found that Raisi's administration had committed crimes against humanity through its "violent repression" of protests and discrimination against women. **'Pillar of system'** "Sympathy with him is an insult to his victims and the Iranian nation whose only regret is that he did not live long enough to see the fall of the Islamic republic and face trial for his crimes," said Reza Pahlavi, the son of Iran’s ousted shah and a leading opposition figure in the diaspora. Recent weeks have seen Iranian authorities ramp up enforcement of the mandatory dress code for women, a main focus of the 2022 protests which were triggered the death in custody of Mahsa Amini following her arrest for an alleged breach. "Raisi was a pillar of a system that jails, tortures, and kills people for daring to criticise state policies," said New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran executive director Hadi Ghaemi. "His death has enabled him to escape being held accountable for his many crimes and the state's atrocities committed under his rule." Ghaemi warned that as Iran's supreme leader seeks to ride the shock to the system of Raisi's sudden loss, there is a risk of a new crackdown on civil society. "What is crucial now is that the international community must not allow the Islamic republic to exploit this moment to further repress and brutalise the Iranian people," he said.

[Archived link]( Kallas argued that the fears of NATO allies about sending troops to Ukraine to train soldiers drawing them into a war with Russia are unfounded. She mentioned that some NATO member states are discussing the possibility of sending military instructors or contractors to Ukraine to train troops and assist with equipment repairs. Kyiv has requested assistance from the U.S. and other NATO countries to train 150,000 soldiers closer to the front lines. Kallas emphasized that it is essential to train Ukrainian troops on their own territory and that if any personnel were to be hurt, it would not automatically trigger NATO’s Article 5 on mutual defense. Macron’s comments in February sparked the debate about the potential presence of NATO troops in Ukraine, but many countries have not ruled out sending troops for non-combat missions such as training the Ukrainian military. Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur stated on May 14 that the concept of sending Western troops to Ukraine has not progressed in Estonia or at the EU level due to a lack of clear understanding among allies of the potential outcomes. Macron mentioned that he would consider sending troops to Ukraine in the event of a Russian breakthrough and a request from Ukraine. However, he clarified that such conditions did not currently exist. The U.S. and multiple European allies, along with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, have distanced themselves from Macron’s statement. While some countries have not ruled out the possibility of sending troops for non-combat missions, there is no clear consensus regarding this among NATO allies. Kallas noted that some countries are already training soldiers on the ground in Ukraine at their own risk. She believes that assisting in the training of Ukrainian troops on their own territory, rather than elsewhere in Europe, will not escalate the war with Russia. Kallas dismissed the idea that if training personnel were to be hurt, those who sent them would immediately invoke Article 5 of mutual defense and retaliate against Russia. The debate surrounding the potential presence of NATO troops in Ukraine has been ongoing since Macron’s comments in February. Despite some countries considering sending troops for non-combat missions, there is no unanimous agreement among NATO allies on this matter. The discussions about sending military instructors or contractors to Ukraine to train troops and assist with equipment repairs have raised concerns among NATO allies about being drawn into a conflict with Russia. Kallas maintained that these fears are not well-founded and emphasized the importance of training Ukrainian troops on their own territory rather than in Europe. She pointed out that if any training personnel were to be harmed, it would not automatically trigger NATO’s mutual defense clause. Macron’s suggestion of sending troops to Ukraine in certain conditions has not been widely supported by other NATO allies, and the idea has not advanced at the EU level. The debate around the potential presence of NATO troops in Ukraine remains ongoing, with differing opinions among member states. In conclusion, the issue of sending NATO troops to Ukraine for training purposes remains a topic of debate among member states. While some countries are considering the possibility of sending troops for non-combat missions, others are more cautious due to concerns about being drawn into a conflict with Russia. Kallas emphasized the importance of training Ukrainian soldiers on their own territory and highlighted the lack of consensus among NATO allies on this matter. The discussions sparked by Macron’s comments in February have not led to concrete action, and the idea of sending Western troops to Ukraine has not made progress. As the situation continues to evolve, it remains to be seen how NATO will navigate its involvement in Ukraine and respond to the ongoing conflict in the region.

[Archived link]( Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has said the Baltic states should convey to Western countries the opinion that peace on Russian terms will not mean an end to human suffering. Kallas denies that Russia is winning the war. "I think we need to set Ukraine's victory as our goal because 'it's hard to understand how to win a war, but you will never win it if the purpose of the war is not victory'. This was said by historian Timothy Snyder, and I fully agree with him," she noted in an interview with Lithuanian public broadcaster LRT. The Prime Minister of Estonia admitted that Western allies increasingly need to be convinced of the need to support Ukraine, but she believes that the Baltic states and Poland must explain to them what life really looked like during the Soviet occupation. "Even the end of the war does not mean the end of human suffering. If we look at our history, after the end of World War II in our countries, there were no military actions, but there were mass deportations and our culture, our language were repressed. All this happened in peacetime. So we know and understand that peace on Russian terms does not mean the end of human suffering, and we must convey this to our counterparts," Kallas emphasised. Earlier, Kaja Kallas said she believes that fear stands in the way of more support for Ukraine from the rest of the free world. Kallas has also stated she believes that Russian leader Vladimir Putin wants to use the threat of mass migration to divide and weaken Europe’s support for Ukraine. Over the course of the next four years, Estonia will continue committing 0.25% of its GDP to military aid for Ukraine.

[Archived link]( Iran on Saturday hanged at least seven people, including two women, while a member of its Jewish minority is at imminent risk of execution as the Islamic republic further intensified its use of capital punishment, an NGO said. Parvin Mousavi, 53, a mother of two grown-up children, was hanged in Urmia prison in northwestern Iran along with five men convicted in various drug-related cases, the Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) said in a statement. In Nishapur in eastern Iran, a 27-year-old woman named Fatemeh Abdullahi was hanged on charges of murdering her husband, who was also her cousin, it said. IHR says it has tallied at least 223 executions this year, with at least 50 so far in May alone. A new surge began following the end of Persian New Year and Ramadan holidays in April, with 115 people including six women hanged since then, it said. Iran carries out more recorded executions of women than any other country. Activists say many such convicts are victims of forced or abusive marriages. Iran last year carried out more hangings than in any year since 2015, according to NGOs, which accuse the Islamic republic of using capital punishment as a means to instil fear in the wake of protests that erupted in autumn 2022. "The silence of the international community is unacceptable," IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam told AFP. "Those executed belong to the poor and marginalised groups of Iranian society and didn't have fair trials with due process." **'Killing machine'** IHR said Mousavi had been in prison for four years. It cited a source as saying she had been paid the equivalent of 15 euros to carry a package she had been told contained medicine but was in fact five kilos of morphine. "They are the low-cost victims of the Islamic republic's killing machine, which aims at instilling fear among people to prevent new protests," added Amiry-Moghaddam. The group meanwhile said a member of Iran's Jewish community, which has drastically reduced in numbers in recent years but is still the largest in the Middle East outside Israel, was at imminent risk of execution over a murder charge. Arvin Ghahremani, 20, was convicted of murder during a street fight when he was 18 and is scheduled to be executed in the western city of Kermanshah on Monday, it said, adding it had received an audio message from his mother Sonia Saadati asking for his life to be spared. His family is seeking to ask the family of the victim to forgo the execution in line with Iran's Islamic law of retribution, or qesas. Also at risk of execution is Kamran Sheikheh, the last surviving member of a group of seven Iranian Kurdish men who were first arrested between early December 2009 and late January 2010 and later sentenced to death for "corruption on earth" over alleged membership of extremist groups, it said. Six men convicted in the same case have been executed in the last months almost one-and-a-half decades after their initial arrest, the last being Khosro Besharat who was hanged in Ghezel Hesar prison outside Tehran this week. There has been an international outcry meanwhile over the death sentence handed out last month to Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, seen by activists as retaliation for his music backing the 2022 protests. His lawyers are appealing the verdict.

Wikileaks’ Julian Assange given permission to appeal against U.S. extradition, UK court rules
WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange's battle to avoid extradition to the United States received a huge boost on Monday when London's High Court ruled that U.S. assurances over his case were unsatisfactory and he would get a full appeal hearing. In March, the High Court provisionally gave Assange, 52, permission to appeal on three grounds. But it gave the U.S. the opportunity to provide satisfactory assurances that it would not seek the death penalty and would allow him to seek to rely on a First Amendment right to free speech in a trial. In a short ruling, two senior judges said the U.S. submissions were not sufficient and said they would allow the appeal to go ahead.

China's expanded Law on the Guarding of State Secrets, which was passed by lawmakers in February, took effect on May 1 to bring it into line with Chinese President Xi Jinping's recent efforts to broaden national security-driven regulations. The law, which was initially adopted in the 1980s, now has an expanded definition of "sensitive information" and a tightened control over social media posts. **Where's the red line?** Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), which handles cross-Strait affairs, said that the expanded legislation was "highly vague and may cause people to break the law at any time." The expanded law means the risk to people from Taiwan visiting China is likely to "increase significantly," according to an MAC statement. "You never know where the red line is," said Tao Yi-chun, an assistant professor of sociology at Taiwan's National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu. "What is considered a secret?" Tao asked. "This is a very broad and vague restriction, and in most cases, many things can be interpreted in different ways." Tao Yi-chun, who specializes in contemporary Chinese studies, has made several visits to China to conduct field surveys. But the amendment prompted Taiwanese authorities to urge the people from the island to "carefully assess whether travel to mainland China is necessary." They warned that, at the discretion of Beijing, any data collected could be deemed "harmful" — even if it is intended for journalism, academic research, business investment inquiries or "just a casual conversation with locals." Beijing considers self-ruled Taiwan to be Chinese territory, and Xi has made "reuniting" the democratic island with mainland China a long-running centerpiece of his strategic policy. **'Work secrets'** The state secrets law, which was first revised in 2010, now further extends the scope of restrictions to "work secrets." The term "work secrets" refers to information not categorized as state secrets but prone to "cause a definite adverse impact after leaking," according to the legislation. In addition, the law requires "network operators" to assist in investigations into social media posts involved in suspected leaks, including removing, saving records and reporting them to authorities. "Public sentiment is, of course, crucial data that must be firmly controlled by the [Chinese] government," Professor Tao told DW. While Chinese internet companies already face strict regulations, the latest changes are believed to have reached a new level of self-monitoring and cooperation with authorities. **'No one can guarantee who's absolutely safe'** Chinese officials said in February that the improvement of the law is "to better address the new situations and tasks" as domestic and international conditions have profoundly changed. However, Taiwan's MAC noted that when this type of "vague provision" lacks clear guidelines, it is "not uncommon" for Taiwanese and other foreign nationals to be "falsely accused" while participating in exchange activities in mainland China. Lee Ming-che, a prominent Taiwanese human rights activist, told DW that Beijing is simply "legalizing" what it had been doing and turned the law into a weapon to "divide its own people and create external enemies." In 2017, Lee was found guilty of criticizing the Chinese government and put behind bars for five years in China under the crime of "subverting state power." His case, at the time, sparked a widespread chilling effect among activists on the island. "No one can guarantee who is absolutely safe," Lee told DW, as the latest revisions again aim to cover a wide range of issues which provide room for interpretation. **Academic exchanges now involve more caution** China's State Security Ministry last week announced that a professor from an unnamed country "illegally collected" data from a local national about wetland reserves and forest areas "in the name of academic cooperation." With Beijing's constant attempts to bolster its legal tools for national security, Professor Tao admitted to feeling "concerned." Now he usually visits China by official invitations and avoids bringing his private cellphone and laptop. Tao also no longer insists that his students' dissertations must include field surveys in China but emphasized that he still "encourages" — or at least "doesn't oppose" — students traveling there to take a look around. By enacting vague regulations, China's Xi hopes to create an environment where "everyone suspects, reports and competes against each other," Tao said. **Are young people in Taiwan worried?** In 2023, cultural and academic exchanges between university students from both sides resumed after China lifted its COVID pandemic-related restrictions. The low-cost, packaged tours have attracted young people who want to learn more about China. With groups of around 30-40 people, they will have an opportunity to visit different provinces for sightseeing or industrial tours. Chen Yu-wei, a former student union president of Taiwan's National Cheng Kung University, went to Macau and Beijing with a tour group from 2018 to 2019. Not too concerned by the newly-revised law, Chen believes Chinese authorities are less likely to target students during such a trip because the purpose is to deliver a positive image of cross-Strait exchanges. A Taiwanese university student, who went on another group tour to China only a year ago, told DW that he would not dare to visit the country alone. The student, who asked not to be named, claimed that a "propaganda video" discussing state secrets was already played on the plane bound for China. "In hindsight, it's evident that the [Communist] party had been laying the groundwork for a long time," he said. But for young people like him and Chen, China is considered a place with no rule of law. Whatever new provisions are put in place, "if China wants to catch you, they can find a way," Chen said.

In a message from Evin prison where she is being held, Ms Mohammadi said the trial relates to an audio post, in which she condemned a "full-scale war against women" by the Iranian regime. Ms Mohammadi has already served over 12 years in prison due to multiple convictions. Her lawyer, Mostafa Nili, said the court would convene on Sunday to address the new charges of "spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic". There has been no comment on the case from Iranian officials. In her message, posted on the Narges Foundation website, Ms Mohammadi said it was the fourth time in as many years she had been "dragged to the unjust and farcical courts’ table" due to her "protest and disclosure of the religious regime’s men’s sexual assault against women". The 52-year old Nobel laureate continued that this time she was being tried for speaking against "the bruising of the body and narrating the assault on [journalist and student] Dina Ghalaibaf", in an audio message. Ms Ghalibaf was reportedly detained after she accused the security forces of handcuffing and sexually assaulting her during a previous arrest at a metro station. She was later released. Ms Mohammadi is calling for a public trial with the presence of independent journalists, human rights activists, women’s rights activists, and her lawyers. She continued: "Witnesses, along with their lawyers, should be able to attend with guarantees of physical, mental, and legal security, and openly recount their assaults.” Ms Mohammadi has tirelessly campaigned for women's rights in Iran. She has been in and out of jail for two decades because of her activism. Her family has said that, as well as 12 years and three months of imprisonment, her sentences also include 154 lashes, two years of exile and various social and political restrictions. She has not seen her Paris-based husband and children for several years. Despite the numerous threats and arrests she has kept up her work to campaign against the mandatory headscarf. She won the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize for her work fighting against the oppression of women in Iran. Her teenage children accepted the prize, at Oslo's city hall in December, and read her speech which had been smuggled out of prison. "I write this message from behind the high, cold walls of a prison. The Iranian people, with perseverance, will overcome repression and authoritarianism," Ms Mohammadi said. She added that young Iranians had "transformed the streets and public spaces into a place of widespread civil resistance", alluding to the protests that began in 2022 following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody for allegedly wearing her hijab "improperly". The authorities in the Islamic Republic in recent weeks intensified a crackdown to enforce a strict Islamic dress code on women and arrest those who disobeyed, making use of video surveillance.

***- Beijing dislikes Taiwan's new President William Lai and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which they see as pro-independence. It has ramped up military incursions around Taiwan's waters and airspace since his election win in January.*** ***- The situation, closely watched by Taiwan's allies, is, according to Lai, the "greatest strategic challenge to global peace and stability". But the 64-year-old also stuck closely to the formula used by his predecessor president Tsai Ing-wen, whose legacy will be defined by her cautious but steady handling of Beijing.*** ***- At home, Mr Lai also faces big challenges due to unemployment and rising cost of living. Taiwan's economy is seen to be heavily dependent on its hugely successful semiconductor industry - it supplies more than half the world's chips.***-- Taiwan's newly inaugurated president William Lai has called on China to stop threatening the island and accept the existence of its democracy. He urged Beijing to replace confrontation with dialogue, shortly after being sworn in on Monday. He also said Taiwan would never back down in the face of intimidation from China, which has long claimed the island as its own. China responded by saying, "Taiwan independence is a dead end". "Regardless of the pretext or the banner under which it is pursued, the push for Taiwan independence is destined to fail," China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at the daily press briefing on Monday afternoon. Beijing dislikes Mr Lai and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which they see as pro-independence. And it has ramped up military incursions around Taiwan's waters and airspace since his election win in January. Such military incursions by China have become a routine affair in the past few years, triggering fears of conflict. In his speech, Mr Lai called this the "greatest strategic challenge to global peace and stability". But the 64-year-old also stuck closely to the formula used by his predecessor president Tsai Ing-wen, whose legacy will be defined by her cautious but steady handling of Beijing. Mr Lai, a doctor turned politician, won a three-way presidential race in January, securing an unprecedented third term for his. He had served as Ms Tsai's vice-president since 2020, and before that as her premier. In his younger days, he was known to be a more radical politician who openly called for Taiwanese independence, much to Beijing's ire. It labelled him a "troublemaker" ahead of the polls, and Chinese state media even suggested he should be prosecuted for secession. The Chinese government is yet to issue a statement on Mr Lai's inauguration. However, the Chinese embassy in the UK held a press briefing over the weekend, asking the UK government to not endorse it. And earlier last week, a spokesperson for China's Taiwan Affairs Office warned that the island's new leader "must seriously" consider the question of whether he wants peaceful development or confrontation. And just as Mr Lai was being sworn in, China's Commerce Ministry announced sanctions against several US companies "involved in arms sales to Taiwan". But on Monday, Mr Lai struck a far more conciliatory note. He reiterated he would not do anything to change the status quo - an ambiguous diplomatic status, which doesn't recognise Taiwan as a country despite its constitution and sovereign government. China insists on this and accuses major Taiwan allies such as the US of altering this delicate agreement by supporting the island. Vowing peace and stability, Mr Lai also said he would like to see a re-opening of exchanges across the Taiwan straits including Chinese tourist groups coming to Taiwan. But he said people on the island must not be under any illusion about the threat from China and that Taiwan must further strengthen its defences. This too was a continuation of Tsai's policy. Taiwan's former president believed that strengthening defence and earning the support of key allies such as the US and Japan was key to deterring China's plans of invasion. Her biggest critics say this military investment risks provoking China, making Taiwan even more vulnerable. Nevertheless, yearly defence spending increased up to about $20bn (£16bn) under Ms Tsai, and Mr Lai has pledged even more funds. Taiwan has purchased new battle tanks, upgraded its fleet of F-16 fighter jets and bought new ones, and has built and launched a fleet of new missile ships to patrol the 100-mile Taiwan strait. Last September came the completion of what Ms Tsai considers the crowning achievement of her military program: Taiwan's first indigenously developed submarine. Taiwan's own allies are watching closely too, to see if his rhetoric is likely to aggravate tensions further. Mr Lai's caution was also aimed at his American audience. His vice-president Hsiao Bi-Khim, widely believed to be Ms Tsai's protege, is yet another source of assurance for Washington. The 52-year-old was born in Japan and mostly grew up in the US, where she also served as Taiwan's representative for three years. Mr Lai also faces big challenges at home. Unemployment and cost of living cost the DPP the youth vote in January, and Taiwan's economy is seen to be heavily dependent on its hugely successful semiconductor industry - it supplies more than half the world's chips And a divided parliament, where the DPP no longer has a majority, is likely to deny him a honeymoon period. The differences spilled into the spotlight over the weekend when lawmakers were caught brawling in parliament over proposed reforms. The bitter dispute and the protests that followed marred Mr Lai's address. But how he deals with Beijing will be the biggest question that will determine his presidency, especially as both sides have had no formal communication since 2016. Lawyer Hsu Chih-ming who attended the inaugurations told BBC Chinese that Taiwan had fared quite well under Ms Tsai but added that there is a need to maintain "good communications" with China. "Lai said he was a 'practical worker for Taiwan independence'. I hope he wouldn't emphasise this too much and worsen cross-strait relations," he said. "Otherwise all of us wouldn't be able to escape if a war broke out."

Russian court seizes assets from European banks UniCredit, Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank
[Archived link]( ***- A St Petersburg court seized more than EUR 463mn in assets belonging to Italy's UniCredit and EUR 238mn belonging to Germany's Deutsche Bank.*** ***- The court also seized assets of Germany's Commerzbank, but the details of the decision have not yet been made public so the value of the seizure is not known.*** ***- The moves follow a claim from Ruskhimalliance, a subsidiary of Gazprom , the Russian oil and gas giant that holds a monopoly on pipeline gas exports.***-- A St Petersburg court has seized over EUR700 mln worth of assets belonging to three western banks - UniCredit, Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank - according to court documents, the Financial Times and Reuters reported Saturday. The seizure marks one of the biggest moves against western lenders since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in 2022 prompted most international lenders to wind down their businesses in Russia. The moves follow a claim from Ruskhimalliance, a subsidiary of Gazprom , the Russian oil and gas giant that holds a monopoly on pipeline gas exports. The court seized EUR463mn-worth of assets belonging to Italy's UniCredit, equivalent to about 4.5 per cent of its assets in the country, according to the latest financial statement from the bank's main Russian subsidiary. The frozen assets include shares in subsidiaries of UniCredit in Russia as well as stocks and funds it owned, according to the court decision that was dated May 16 and was published in the Russian registrar on Friday. According to another decision on the same date, the court seized EUR238.6mn-worth of Deutsche Bank's assets, including property and holdings in its accounts in Russia. The court also ruled that the bank cannot sell its business in Russia. The court agreed with Rukhimallians that the measures were necessary because the bank was "taking measures aimed at alienating its property in Russia". On Friday, the court decided to seize Commerzbank assets, but the details of the decision have not yet been made public so the value of the seizure is not known. The dispute with the western banks began in August 2023 when Ruskhimalliance went to an arbitration court in St Petersburg demanding they pay bank guarantees under a contract with the German engineering company Linde. The banks were among the guarantor lenders under a contract for the construction of a gas processing plant in Russia with Germany's Linde which was terminated due to Western sanctions. Ruskhimalliance is the operator of a gas processing plant and production facilities for liquefied natural gas in Ust-Luga near St Petersburg. In July 2021, it signed a contract with Linde for the design, supply of equipment and construction of the complex. A year later, Linde suspended work owing to EU sanctions. Ruskhimalliance then turned to the guarantor banks, which refused to fulfil their obligations because "the payment to the Russian company could violate European sanctions", the company said in the court filing. The list of guarantors also includes Bayerische Landesbank and Landesbank Baden-Württemberg, against which Ruskhimalliance has also filed lawsuits in the St Petersburg court. UniCredit said it had been made aware of the filing and "only assets commensurate with the case would be in scope of the interim measure". Deutsche Bank said it was "fully protected by an indemnification from a client" and had taken a provision of about EUR260mn alongside a "corresponding reimbursement asset" in its accounts to cover the Russian lawsuit. Commerzbank did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Italy's foreign minister has called a meeting on Monday to discuss the seizures affecting UniCredit, two people with knowledge of the plans told the Financial Times. UniCredit is one of the largest European lenders in Russia [it is the second largest Western bank in Russia after Austria's Raiffeisen Bank International], employing more than 3,000 people through its subsidiary there. This month the Italian bank reported that its Russian business had made a net profit of EUR213mn in the first quarter, up from EUR99mn a year earlier. It has set aside more than EUR800mn in provisions and has significantly cut back its loan portfolio. Legal challenges over assets held by western banks have complicated their efforts to extricate themselves. Last month, a Russian court ordered the seizure of more than $400mn of funds from JPMorgan Chase (JPM) following a legal challenge by Kremlin-run lender VTB. A court subsequently cancelled part of the planned seizure, Reuters reported.

As night fell over the Indian Ocean, Li thought he would die in his boat. It had been four days since he and nine other men from China boarded the small wooden vessel in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta and headed to Australia. Li was told by the so-called "agent" who sold him the place on the boat that the trip would only take four days. But as the sun set on the fourth day, strong winds and huge waves saw the group still floating on the ocean, with Li feeling nauseous and hopeless. And the worst was yet to come. Two engines broke down. Perilous waves hit the boat again and again. The only pump in the ship stopped working. Water leaked from beneath the floors. Li took out his phone and started to draft his last words. In the message, he apologised to his wife and child for being too busy with work in the past few years, and for not taking good care of them. "I was hoping that if I didn't make it through, then maybe someone could find my phone one day and know who I am," he told the ABC. Somehow, after eight stormy nights, the boat came ashore on the northern tip of Western Australia. They had made it, but in many ways, their journey was only just beginning. Exhausted and thirsty, the group of men decided to look for water. They broke up into smaller groups, and one of those groups accidentally walked into the unfenced Truscott air base. What happened next hit national headlines, reviving a fierce debate about border security and boat arrivals that has vexed successive federal governments for decades. Chinese nationals trying to reach Australia by boat has been a phenomenon rarely seen until this year. The ABC can confirm at least three groups of Chinese nationals have travelled or planned to travel to Australia by boat via Indonesia this year. Only Li's boat made it to Australian shores. The latest group was found on May 8. Their fishing boat, carrying six Chinese men on board — including an alleged smuggler — was intercepted by Indonesian authorities as they tried to make their way to Australia. Indonesia's Immigration Agency has confirmed one people smuggler from Bangladesh has been arrested, and two Indonesian field operators have been sentenced to seven years in jail for people smuggling. Indonesian authorities also revealed that the people smugglers used TikTok to lure in the Chinese nationals and get them to set sail for Australia. Li and the other men on board the boat that reached Western Australia have been detained at an offshore processing facility in Nauru for more than a month. But their story is not just about border security and people smuggling. It speaks to an emerging trend of Chinese nationals risking death for what they say is a chance at a better life abroad. **Why these men spent $10,000 each to reach Australia** The ABC has been in contact with three men — including Li — who have been detained at the Nauru Detention Centre since wandering into the WA air base. The ABC has used pseudonyms to protect their identities. For Li, who is in his early 30s, travelling to Australia by boat was a last resort after being continuously frustrated by what had happened in China since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. Even after the lockdowns were lifted, the Chinese economy continued to suffer. Li's business went bankrupt and he was left with huge debts. He said he also felt discouraged by China's political atmosphere after President Xi Jinping began his third term of leadership and tightened his control over society. "I found my life in China too stressful, with limited freedom," he said. "I want to come to Australia as it's more humane and free." Zhang, another Chinese man in his late 30s who is also detained in Nauru, said his reasons for leaving were similar. "I also ran a business before but due to the broader environment I now owed lots of debts," Zhang said. Zhang also said he suffered political oppression for refusing to bribe officials. Li and Zhang never met before boarding the boat in Jakarta. However, they both say they had been browsing on social media platforms Xiaohongshu and Douyin — the Chinese version of TikTok — looking for ways to leave their country. They spotted advertisements about smuggling operations to Australia via boat in comment sections. They were then added to a chat group. "We then found out lots of people want to come to Australia but their visa applications were rejected," Li said. "We still wanted to come to Australia and gradually we decided to take a risk." They paid an agent about $10,000 per person for the journey. Under the agent's instructions, they took a plane to Jakarta, then waited until sundown to get into the boat. The men say it took them eight days to get from Jakarta to the WA coast by boat The smugglers never told the 10 Chinese men they could be taken to Nauru, where Australia's offshore immigration detention centre is based. "We were not aware of this at all," Li said. "What we only knew is that there'd be two possibilities awaiting us if we travelled by boat: We either got intercepted before coming ashore or we landed successfully and then applied for visas based on our individual situations, such as applying for asylum." Fang, another Chinese man from the boat, also said he was not aware of Australia's immigration policy and the existence of offshore detention centres. The 30-year-old Chinese national told the ABC that he was working in a steel factory in Malaysia. He also came across information about boat travel on Chinese social media. When he boarded the vessel, he was still yet to resign from the factory. "I have travelled to Australia in the past and I quite like the country," Fang said. "I want to come here to make some money. Life has been difficult." In a statement to the ABC, a spokesperson for Chinese social media platform Xiaohongshu said it prohibited using the platform for illegal activity. "Upon discovering such violations, the company will remove the content and take action against the account," the spokesperson said. The ABC has also reached out to ByteDance — the parent company of Douyin — for comment but is yet to receive a response. **The treacherous 'walking route' to the US ** The ABC is unable to independently verify Li, Zhang and Fang's claims. And the men could not provide any documents to the ABC because their possessions, including their phones, were taken from them at the Truscott air base. However, their stories — including how they used Douyin and Xiaohongshu to find ways to enter Australia without visas — heavily overlap those emerging from the US border in the past two years. Since late 2021, there has been a dramatic rise in undocumented Chinese nationals entering the US through Mexico — a route often used by people from Central America. According to data from US border authorities, more than 37,000 Chinese nationals were arrested on the US-Mexico border in 2023 — 10 times more than the previous year. Many of these Chinese nationals used Douyin — where Li, Zhang and Fang found information about the boat travel — to record how they travelled from China to the US without a visa. They often go to Hong Kong or Macau, take a plane to Turkey, and then fly to Ecuador, where Chinese passport holders can enter the country without visas. From there, they walk through the Darien Gap — one of the most dangerous jungles in the world — all the way north to Mexico. They call this journey "the Walking Route" and it takes about a month to complete. Tracy Wen Liu, an award-winning journalist now working for Voice Of America — a US government-funded broadcaster — has been documenting the phenomenon since 2022. She said the people she spoke to who followed the Walking Route were often from a lower- to middle-class background, with about $30,000 to support themselves as they left China. "A lot of them actually have had some sort of college education or even had a job in China," Ms Liu said. She said they tended to be young — between 20 and 40 years old — and they were familiar with using social media to look for information or document their journey. And Chinese nationals' growing demand for the route had inspired a new business model in Mexico, Ms Liu said. New Chinese restaurants, hostels and car rental services are being set up by locals to serve these new customers. "There are an increasing number of agents trying to offer packages to people who are taking this route," Ms Liu said. "Those agents can arrange transportation for these people or they can even help bribe local police or help bribe local gangsters to make this trip much less risky." Still, the route is full of danger. In late March, a group of eight Chinese nationals were found dead on a beach in Mexico. This is the first known case of Chinese migrant deaths since the Walking Route became popular in 2021. **Why are Chinese nationals leaving their country?** It's rare to see people from China — a middle-income country — opting for illegal migration pathways to leave, according to Victor Shih, an associate professor in Chinese political science at the University of California, San Diego. "Usually this kind of sizeable economic migration would stop when a country reaches middle-income status, which China reached a few years ago," Dr Shih said. "Of course, even in middle-income countries, people try to leave sometimes for better economic opportunities, but mainly relying on legal channels, like studying overseas and then getting a work visa." Dr Shih said the growing use of the Walking Route spoke to the economic downturn in China in the past few years, as well as the increasingly challenging business environment. "During COVID, a lot of small businesses had their savings wiped out because the lockdown policy just led to no cash flows," Dr Shih said when asked why business owners such as Li and Zhang would take such risks to leave China. "Many of them, also, in order to survive their businesses, borrowed a lot of money, either through formal banking channels or informal lending channels. "But because of the weakness of the recovery, many of these businesspeople were not able to make enough money to repay their debt." And that is when their economic struggles turn political. "In China, because of how pervasive the credit system is … if you get a low score on the credit system, some of these people are not able to even ride a train," Dr Shih said. "So that makes doing business — to start a new business in order to repay some of their debts — nearly impossible." After COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in 2022, Beijing announced measures such as tax cuts to boost the economy. However, Dr Shih said "that doesn't really help" with the cash flow situation. "The other problem is that many local governments are basically bankrupt, so some local governments have instituted informal taxes on small businesses," he said. Many Chinese people — from the elite to the middle class — have lost their optimism, according to Dali Yang, a China political economist at the University of Chicago. "We do see this year, for example, finally, the uptake in domestic tourism [in China]," he said. "But at the same time, for people who have lost a lot of money in recent years, it's not like they can easily get back the money, and very often they may have exhausted their savings." Data from China's Central Bank released last week also shows China's manufacturing and services sector has slowed at a time of weak domestic demand and possible deflation. "The latest figure [from the Central Bank] also just simply reveals that people don't find a lot of opportunities for making investments in China at this moment," Professor Yang said. **The new reality after leaving China** In the US, journalist Tracy Wen Liu has stayed in touch with Chinese nationals who have risked their lives on the Walking Route to enter the US. She has found those who can speak some English and drive can adapt to American culture more easily. "I think a lot of them are struggling as well," she said. She has also noticed many Walking Route migrants have chosen to settle in big cities such as New York and Los Angeles, and many of them are competing for the same jobs. "It's more and more difficult for them to find a job right now, and also hostels or hotels in those areas are getting more and more expensive because there's an increase in demand," she said. She has also found some of the Walking Route migrants have returned to China. "A lot of Chinese migrants, when they were living in China … they had a perception about life in the US, [like] it's very easy to make money in the States, it's very nice to live there, it's very convenient and prosperous," she said. "However, when they actually came to the US, when they live in those hostels and share a room with 10 other people, when they work 14 hours a day, seven days a week and make a salary that's much lower than the minimum salary by law because they don't have a status … I think a lot of them realise that it's actually really difficult to find a living in the States." Both China and the US have tried to crack down on the flow of migrants. In April, Douyin — where many Chinese migrants search for information about the Walking Route — censored relevant videos on the platform. The two countries have also reportedly resumed cooperation on repatriation to tackle Chinese migrants rushing to the southern border of the United States. Meanwhile, in Nauru, the 10 Chinese men who sought a better life in Australia face an uncertain fate. Fang chose to return to Malaysia and continue his work there. However, Li and Zhang want to try to stay in Australia. "After going through what happened at home, I don't want to go back to China," Liu said. "I came to Australia because it's a free country. It has human rights. It gives people freedom, both physically and mentally." The nine Chinese men say Australian immigration officials offered them $US5,100 (about $7,600) per person and a return ticket if they agreed to go back to China. During their stays in Nauru, they took English lessons, went through various health checks, and had time for exercise. As the men barely spoke any English, they communicated with officers from the centre through mobile translation apps, and when they had meetings with police and the immigration department, there was an interpreting hotline set up for them. But what they had been hoping for was access to legal aid. Li said the centre told them they would have a legal aid session in late April, but they told the ABC they were unable to meet with a lawyer until May 17. They are becoming more anxious as the days pass. Two sources inside the Nauru Detention Centre told the ABC that one of the Chinese men has been on a hunger strike since Wednesday, demanding to be sent to Australia. The sources say he is in a good condition. Li occasionally calls his wife using the phone provided by the centre. "My family is quite worried but they are also supportive," he said. He also has a young child but in the past few weeks has tried not to speak to them directly. "I worry that I will get emotional," he explained. In a statement to the ABC, the Department of Home Affairs said people who attempted to travel to Australia by boat without a valid Australian visa had "zero chance of settling in Australia". "Australia's policy response remains consistent — unauthorised maritime arrivals will not settle in Australia," a spokesman for the department said. "The government of Nauru is responsible for the implementation of regional processing arrangements in Nauru, including the management of individuals under those arrangements." The ABC has contacted the Chinese embassy in Australia for comment but is yet to receive a response.

***When Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan's President who soon leaves office after eight years and hands over to her successor William Lai, swept to power in 2016, she was dismissed as a dull bureaucrat. But she stood up to an increasingly authoritarian and aggressive China under Xi Jinping; she held on to a vital US alliance under Donald Trump and buttressed it under Joe Biden. At home, she expanded the island’s defence and legalised same-sex marriage, the latter a first for Asia.*** ***Good examples of the brand Taiwan – a democracy that the world should care about losing. “People say we are more important than Ukraine - strategically our position is more important and our place in the supply chain - and that they should shift support to Taiwan. We say no. The democratic countries need to support Ukraine,” Tsai says.*** ***Rather than Taiwan’s wildly successful chip industry, which could be replicated, instead Tsai wields the one thing she has and the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t: the soft power of democracy.*** -- It is a well-known fact that the diminutive, soft-spoken president of Taiwan does not like doing interviews. It’s taken months of quiet negotiations to sit down at Tsai Ing-wen’s dining table in her Taipei residence, not long before she leaves office after eight years and hands over to her successor William Lai. Even so, the president seems keener to ask about me than talk about herself. She is certainly more comfortable showing us her cats and dogs than answering questions in front of a rolling camera. “That’s Xiang Xiang,” she says, pointing to the large, grey tabby eyeing me suspiciously through the open doorway. “Would you like to meet her?” When Tsai Ing-wen swept to power in 2016, she was dismissed as a dull bureaucrat and ridiculed as a “cat lady” - a swipe at her for being middle-aged and unmarried. She embraced the image, appearing on magazine covers holding Xiang Xiang in her arms. Soon, her supporters adopted a new sobriquet: Taiwan’s Iron Cat Lady. Tsai admits to a sneaking admiration for Margaret Thatcher, although she’s quick to add it’s because of her toughness as a female leader, not her social policies. In Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan found an unlikely champion. During her two terms, she carefully yet confidently reset the relationship with Beijing, which has claimed the independently governed island as its own for 75 years. She stood up to an increasingly authoritarian and aggressive China under Xi Jinping; she held on to a vital US alliance under Donald Trump and buttressed it under Joe Biden. At home, she expanded the island’s defence and legalised same-sex marriage, the latter a first for Asia. While Tsai shied away from the spotlight in Taiwan’s boisterous politics, Xiang Xiang became a celebrity. She played a starring role in Tsai's 2020 re-election campaign, along with the president’s other cat, a ginger tom called Ah Tsai. Tsai has her detractors. Beijing is no fan, and neither are the many older Taiwanese, who want better relations with China, where they have family and business interests. Domestically, she has been criticised for not doing enough for the economy – the rising cost of living, unaffordable housing and a lack of jobs cost her party young voters in January's election. And her biggest critics fear that she has made the island of 23 million more, rather than less, unsafe. Put crudely, this is what any Taiwan leader faces: a much bigger, wealthier, and stronger neighbour, who says he owns your house, is willing to let you hand it over without a fight, but is ready to use force if you refuse. What do you do? Tsai’s predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, chose conciliation and a Beijing-friendly trade deal. But he miscalculated how young Taiwanese would react to what they saw as appeasement. In 2014, thousands took to the streets in what became known as the Sunflower Movement. When President Ma refused to back down, they occupied parliament. Two years later Tsai Ing-wen was elected on a very different calculus: that the only language Beijing understands is strength. Now, as she prepares to step down, she says she has been vindicated: “China has become so aggressive and assertive.” **Dear Beijing - back off** “Wow, you’re really tall,” the president exclaims, craning her neck at a lanky, young soldier standing stiffly to attention. He tells her he is 185cm and she asks, with genuine concern, “Are the beds here big enough for you?” They are, he reassures her. This was on a recent morning in April at a new special forces training centre on the outskirts of Taipei, which Tsai had just opened. The relaxed and chatty president disappears when she enters the cavernous dining hall, where hundreds of crew-cut recruits stand to attention and shouted “Zong Tong Hao!”, or “Hello, President!” She almost looks out of place in these settings. Her speech is worthy and matter of fact, with no soaring rhetoric. And yet such visits are quite frequent, to make sure the military reforms she has pushed through are paying off. One of the most difficult was a return to a year of military service for all men over the age of 18. While she admits it is not popular, she says the public accepts it is necessary: “But we have to make sure that their time spent in the military is worthwhile.” For a former law professor and trade negotiator, Tsai has spent a surprisingly large amount of time as president donning camouflage fatigues. In one famous image she’s seen shouldering a rocket launcher. The reason: she believes Taiwan cannot hope to fend off Beijing without a modern, well-trained military in which young Taiwanese are proud to serve. While China's threat of invasion is not new, it is only recently that President Xi Jinping has gained the military capability to mount what would still be a huge and risky operation. His threats have also become more urgent and ominous. He has said twice that a resolution over Taiwan cannot be passed down from one generation to another, which some have interpreted to mean that he wants it done in his lifetime. On the other side of the strait, Tsai has set about rebuilding Taiwan’s outdated, demoralised and ill-equipped ground forces. It has been an uphill struggle, but results have begun to show. Yearly defence spending has risen significantly to about $20bn (£16bn). “Our military capability is much strengthened compared to eight years ago. The investment we have put in to military capacity is unprecedented,” Tsai says. I have spoken to many in Taiwan’s opposition who genuinely believe Tsai’s strategy of building up the military is naive, if not dangerous. They point to China’s powerful navy, the world’s largest, and more than two million active troops. Taiwan’s forces are not even a tenth of that. To Tsai and her supporters that is missing the point. Taiwan is not trying to defeat a Chinese invasion, they say, but dramatically increasing its price to deter China. “The cost of taking over Taiwan is going to be enormous,” Tsai says. “What we need to do is increase the cost.” Tsai was no stranger to Beijing, or the Chinese Communist Party, when she became president. Her unorthodox rise to power began in the mid-1990s, when she cut her teeth as a trade negotiator. She then caught the eye of Chen Shui-bian, the first president from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). He appointed her to run Taiwan’s top body for dealing with China. There she rewrote the book on how Taiwan should handle Beijing. She has long known where the red lines are - and she believes that to resist China, Taiwan needs allies: “So strengthening our military capacity is one and working with our friends in the region to form a collective deterrence is another.” Many in Tsai’s party, the DPP, now talk of a new alliance that stretches from Japan and South Korea to the north, through the Philippines to Australia in the south – with the US as quarterback, holding the team together. But this is theoretical at best. There is no Asian Nato and Taiwan enjoys no formal military alliances. Despite mutual antipathy towards Beijing, Tokyo and Manila are both deeply reluctant to vow support for Taiwan. Even that most important ally, Washington, has stopped short of guaranteeing it would put boots on the ground. But Tsai is optimistic. “A lot of other countries in the region are alert and some of them may have a conflict with China,” she says, referring to rival claims by Beijing, Tokyo and Manila over disputed waters and islands. “So, China is not an issue for Taiwan only. It is an issue for the whole region.” **The power of soft power** Painting China as a big, bad bully is not hard for a Taiwan president. The trickier job is to find allies who would risk irking the world’s second largest economy. And that’s why Taiwan leads such an increasingly lonely diplomatic existence. In the last decade China has put the squeeze on many of the island’s allies who still recognise it – only 12 remain now, most of them tiny Pacific Island and Caribbean micro-states. Tsai believes the way out of this diplomatic isolation is to build alliances with what she calls “like-minded democracies”. To that end she hosts dozens of parliamentary delegations from all over the world, a loophole for meeting foreign dignitaries from countries that don’t see Taiwan as one. Last month I attended Holocaust Memorial Day. There was music and poetry, and an impassioned speech to never forget by the representative from Germany. There are also more unusual events. Earlier this week, while Xi Jinping was getting ready to welcome Vladimir Putin in Beijing, Tsai Ing-wen hosted a drag performance by Taiwanese-American Nymphia Ward. “This is probably the first presidential office in the world to host a drag show,” Nymphia reportedly told Tsai. Both are examples of brand Taiwan – a democracy that the world should care about losing. “People say we are more important than Ukraine - strategically our position is more important and our place in the supply chain - and that they should shift support to Taiwan. We say no. The democratic countries need to support Ukraine,” Tsai says. Rather than Taiwan’s wildly successful chip industry, which could be replicated, instead Tsai wields the one thing she has and the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t: the soft power of democracy. In the run up to January’s election, the rainbow flag was hard to miss at every DPP rally. “In Taiwan we are free to live how we choose. We could not do this in China,” one couple told me. It’s a remarkable change from when I was a student here more than 30 years ago. Taiwan was still emerging from four decades of military rule. I remember a gay friend desperately looking for a way to get to America. Back then, if you were found to be homosexual during your military service you could get thrown in jail or a psychiatric ward. That changed but Tsai Ing-wen’s government went further than any in Asia when it pushed through legislation legalising same-sex marriage in 2019. A little over half the population still opposed it. Some, including church and family groups, ran a vociferous campaign against it. It was a big political risk, and one that could have cost her re-election. Tsai calls it a “very difficult journey” but one she saw as necessary: “It's a test to society to see to what extent we can move forward with our values. I am actually rather proud that we managed to overcome our differences.” Taiwan is still conservative and patriarchal. I ask Tsai if she’s worried it might return to being a “boys club” once she, the island’s first female president, steps down. “I have a lot of opinions about that boys club!” she says but does not elaborate. The island’s strength, in her opinion, is its mixed heritage – it’s a society of immigrants. The Chinese came in many waves, sometimes centuries apart, and they joined hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples. “In… [such a] society, there are a lot of challenges,” Tsai says. “People are less bound by the traditions. The main goal is to survive [as a society]. This is why we have been able to move from an authoritarian age to democracy.” And that is why she hopes Taiwan’s most important alliance – with the world’s most powerful country and democracy - will last no matter who makes it to the White House after November. **Best friends forever?** After Donald Trump’s stunning victory in 2016, Tsai Ing-wen rang to congratulate him – and she was put through. No US President since Jimmy Carter had taken a call from the president of Taiwan. Tsai has described the call as short but intimate, and wide-ranging. The truth is Trump is a wild card for Taiwan. He’s criticised the island for “stealing America’s semiconductor industry”, but, as Tsai points out, he has also approved more arms shipments to Taipei than any of his predecessors. But she doesn’t want to discuss him, or the possibility of his return to the Oval Office. What she does want to emphasise is the perception of a growing China threat. “The rest of the world is telling China that you can't use military means [against Taiwan]. No unilateral action is allowed and no non-peaceful means is allowed and… I think China got the message,” she says. That might be wishful thinking. There has been no noticeable decrease in military pressure. Rather, China regularly sends dozens of military aircraft and ships across the median line that divides the waters and airspace of the Taiwan strait. In 2022, Beijing declared that it no longer recognises what was effectively the border. The trigger was one of Tsai’s diplomatic coups. US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s historic visit in 2022 was celebrated in a Taiwan starved of international recognition. But China was furious, firing ballistic missiles over the island, and into the Pacific Ocean, for the first time ever. It was a warning. Even some inside Tsai’s own administration worried quietly that Pelosi’s visit had been a mistake. “We’ve been isolated for such a long time,” she says. “You just can't say no to a visit like that of Speaker Pelosi. Of course it comes with risks.” You can feel the tension in her voice. Her opponents say the Pelosi visit was reckless and left Taiwan more exposed. Even President Biden is thought to have opposed the trip. But Tsai says this is the line Taiwan must walk. “I had to turn a party of revolutionaries into a party of power,” Tsai Ing-wen says of her time at the DPP’s helm. When she took over, she was an economics graduate leading a party of older, male radicals who had spent their early lives fighting for Taiwan independence – or behind bars for it. There is no need for Taiwan to hold a referendum or declare independence, she says, because it is already an independent, sovereign nation. “We are on our own. We make our own decisions; we have a political system to govern this place. We have a constitution, we have laws, we have a military. We think that we are a country, and we have all the elements of a state.” What they are waiting for, she says, is for the world to recognise it.

Estonian MPs passed a law that enables the use of Russian assets frozen under international sanctions to compensate Ukraine for war damages. The president must now promulgate the legislation for it to enter into force. It enables assets of individuals and companies that have contributed to Russia's wrongful acts, which have been frozen under sanctions, as an advance payment for damages owed by Russia to Ukraine. To seize Russian assets, Estonia would need to receive a request, and the connection of their owner to illegal acts must be sufficiently proven. The asset owner can challenge their use for Ukraine in Estonian courts. Estonia's move is seen as an important first step as the vast majority of Russia's frozen and largely euro-denominated sovereign assets, which are worth €300 billion, are located in Europe.

**‘Adversaries know migration is our vulnerability,’ says Kaja Kallas, spelling out negative consequences to Europe of Ukrainian defeat** Vladimir Putin is seeking to weaponise the threat of mass migration to divide and weaken Europe as supporters of Ukraine struggle to maintain unity to defeat Russia, Kaja Kallas, the Estonian prime minister, says. “What our adversaries know is migration is our vulnerability,” she said. “The aim is to make life really impossible in Ukraine so that there would be migration pressure to Europe, and this is what they are doing.” Speaking in Tallinn on Friday, she said Russia had already created the migration pressure through disruption in Syria and in Africa via the Wagner group. “I think we have to understand that Russia is weaponising migration. Our adversaries are weaponising migration. “They push the migrants over the border, and they create problems for the Europeans because they weaponise this since with human rights, you have to accept those people. And that is, of course, water to the mill of the far right.” Kallas admitted the plight of the Ukrainians on the front was “very serious” and European promises of extra weapons had not been delivered, something that could be rectified if Nato took charge of coordinating weapons delivery. “The problem is that our promises do not save lives,” she said. Kallas is one of many European politicians trying to spell out the many negative consequences to Europe of a Ukrainian defeat, and rebut those who claim such a reverse could be contained. She was speaking the day after the former Estonian president Toomas Ilves predicted that if Ukraine fell to Russia as many as 30 million Ukrainians would seek to flee. “That is the threat we face due to our inaction,” he said, adding that Europe had a “complete meltdown” when faced with 2 million refugees from the Middle East in 2015. A pamphlet produced by pro-Ukrainian NGOs has detailed how Russian shelling between October 2022 and January 2023 had increased migration out of Ukraine by a quarter compared with the previous year. The recent round of attacks has targeted electricity generation rather than transmission. Olena Halushka, board head at the international centre for a Ukrainian Victory, said: “Right now they are trying to bomb Ukraine into the stone age,” adding that in the past two months more damage had been inflicted than the whole of the winter of 2023. She said: “Europe needs to think about Kharkiv, a city the size of Munich without energy this winter and then think about the financial implications of tens of millions of Ukrainians fleeing the war due to fear of occupation”. Kallas said Russian assaults were now targeting Ukrainian cities every day and night. She conceded that, based on geography and history, some countries in Europe did not see the threat of a Ukrainian defeat in the same way. “They don’t see and they don’t believe that if Ukraine falls Europe is in danger, the whole of Europe, maybe some countries, but not the whole of Europe”. She said she feared a mistake was being made similar to the late 1930s, when linked conflicts were seen as isolated events. Kallas, tipped as a possible successor to Josep Borrell as EU high commissioner for foreign policy, cited links between the conflicts in Azerbaijan and Armenia, the Middle East, and the South China Sea. She said the same error was made in the 1930s about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, the German occupation of Austria and the Sino-Japanese war. “The lesson from 1938 and 1939 is that if aggression pays off somewhere, it will be taken up elsewhere. Ukraine’s defeat is something all aggressors will learn from. They will learn that in 2024, bluntly, you can just colonise another country and nothing happens to you.” She pointed to what she described as baby steps to strengthening the European defence architecture, including a European defence fund, the increase in individual nation state defence spending, and the proposal for a shared defence debt bond to boost spending. She denied Estonia had had any serious discussions about sending troops to Ukraine, while arguing at the same time it was better to keep Putin guessing about Europe’s plans. She said it was also a valid criticism that Ukraine was not moving fast enough to mobilise more troops. Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign ministry warned the west it was playing with fire by allowing Ukraine to use western missiles and weapons to strike Russia, and said it would not leave such actions unanswered. The foreign ministry said in a statement that it saw the hand of the US and Britain behind a recent spate of attacks, and blamed Washington and London for escalating the conflict by authorising Ukraine to use long-range rockets and heavy weapons they had supplied against Russian targets. “Once again, we should like to unequivocally warn Washington, London, Brussels and other western capitals, as well as Kyiv, which is under their control, that they are playing with fire. Russia will not leave such encroachments on its territory unanswered,” the ministry said.

***Media is barred from hearing as 71-year-old man appears in closed session over attempted assassination of prime minister.*** ***While the attack on PM Fico has sparked fears in other European capitals that similar incidents could occur there, some in Slovakia say they were anxious the attack would embolden the authorities to launch assaults on the media, civil society and the opposition parties.*** ***Other European leaders close to Fico like Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán have appeared to be eager to capitalise on his shooting, raising conspiracy theories. Fico is widely considered a divisive and populist official who has been criticised by the opposition for lashing out at independent media outlets and scrapping a special prosecutor’s office.*** -- The suspect in the shooting of Slovakian prime minister Robert Fico appeared in a closed court hearing on Saturday outside Bratislava amid growing fears about the future of the deeply divided nation. The media was barred from the hearing, and reporters were kept behind a gate by armed police officers wearing balaclavas. Fico, shot several times at point-blank range during a rally in the mining town of Handlová, had more surgery on Friday as the country reeled from the most serious attack on a European leader in decades. The government has released only sparse details about the assailant or the health of the prime minister , who remains in a stable but serious condition. Slovak media identified the attacker as Juraj Cintula, 71, who the authorities described as a “lone wolf” who had recently been radicalised. A poet and former security guard, Cintula was known in his home town of Levice in provincial Slovakia as an eccentric but likable man. His political views appear to have developed erratically. He is seen railing against violence in one YouTube clip, but later praising a violent pro-Russian paramilitary group on Facebook for their “ability to act without approval from the state”. He later adopted staunchly pro-Ukrainian views, which grew increasingly strong after Russia’s invasion. In his published writing and personal conversations, Cintula expressed xenophobic views about the Romany community in Slovakia, a popular topic among the country’s far-right parties. Neighbour and friend Mile L’udovit said the pair would occasionally discuss politics and that Cintula had been angry about the growing attacks on free speech under Fico’s leadership, a major topic of concern for the Slovakian leftwing opposition. “No one knows why he did it, but I think it was a ticking timebomb before something like this would happen,” said Pavol Šimko, a 45-year-old history teacher, speaking in central Bratislava on Friday. Wednesday’s assassination attempt in Handlová, 112 miles from the capital, has shone a light on what officials and many Slovaks say should be seen as a wider symptom of the country’s polarised political environment. “We are now truly becoming the black hole of Europe,” added Šimko, referring to comments made by former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who coined the phrase to describe Slovakia in 1997 after the abduction of the son of then president Michal Kováč and the murder of a key witness in the case, police officer Róbert Remiáš. Acts of political violence have become a grim fixture in recent Slovak history, but this latest is by far and away the most serious. Other European leaders close to Fico, a divisive and populist official who has been criticised by the opposition for lashing out at independent media outlets and scrapping a special prosecutor’s office, have appeared to be eager to capitalise on his shooting. Speaking on state radio on Friday morning, the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, drew a link between Fico’s views on the war in Ukraine and the attempted assassination. Since Fico’s return to power, “Slovakia started on the path of peace, and this was a big help for Hungary,” Orbán said. “We have now lost this support. We know that the perpetrator was a pro-war person,” he added, without providing any evidence. The Hungarian prime minister, who often employs conspiratorial narratives, has spent more than a decade nurturing a relationship with the Kremlin and has repeatedly argued the west should stop providing support to Ukraine. > *"Of course [Fico] he became the target. There are only a few like him in Europe. And they need to take care of their own safety." *- Dmitry Medvedev, former Russian president In his radio interview, he suggested – again without evidence – that the shooting in Slovakia was part of a geopolitical struggle. “The combinations that connect the assassination attempt with the war are not unjustified,” he said. “The pro-war parties are negotiating with each other, which is why the head of the [George] Soros empire and the US secretary of state also went to Kyiv,” Orbán said. In Moscow, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev praised the Kremlin-friendly Fico, also implying that he was targeted for his views on the Ukraine war. “Of course, he became the target. There are only a few like him in Europe. And they need to take care of their own safety,” he said. Ľudovít Ódor, opposition party Progressive Slovakia’s lead candidate for the European parliamentary elections, said that foreign politicians “should not misinform foreigners and should not make political capital out of this for themselves”. In an interview with independent Hungarian news outlet Partizán, Ódor, who briefly served as Slovakia’s caretaker prime minister last year and comes from Slovakia’s Hungarian-speaking minority, warned that “we have seen how this just comes back like a boomerang to us”, noting that many people in southern Slovakia watched Hungarian media. The attack has also raised questions about a possible failure by the Slovak security services and sparked fears in other European capitals that similar incidents could occur there. Slovak authorities have opened an investigation into the response of security forces at the scene. A source said that the security services were caught off guard and that Cintula was not known to them. “Other European security services will be looking at their measures, realising that the danger can come out of nowhere,” the source said. Polish PM Donald Tusk said on Thursday he received threats after the assassination attempt on his Slovakian counterpart, with a media outlet reporting his security protection would be strengthened. In Belgium, prime minister Alexander De Croo filed a police complaint against a radio presenter who urged listeners to “take him out”. “You see that it is possible to shoot down a prime minister. So I would say: Go ahead,” the radio presenter told his listeners on a station that airs from the Belgian province of West Flanders. Some in Slovakia said they were anxious the attack would embolden the authorities to launch assaults on the media, civil society and the opposition parties. “I worry that the ruling coalition will now use the shooting as a pretext for a big crackdown. They already started blaming the opposition and the media for it,” said Lenka Szabóová, a student in Bratislava. “This should be a time of coming together. But it seems like it will only tear us apart.”

[Archived link]( *The national security advisor to the Estonian president is the latest NATO nation official to weigh into the debate over the wisdom of foreign forces in Ukraine, while a senior British officer said it's still "not a path that the [UK] Prime Minister wants to go down".* The government of Estonia is “seriously” discussing the possibility of sending troops into western Ukraine to take over non-direct combat, “rear” roles from Ukrainian forces in order to free them up to fight on the front, though no decision is imminent, Tallinn’s national security advisor to the president told Breaking Defense. Madis Roll said the executive branch is currently undertaking an analysis of the potential move, and though he said Estonia would prefer to make any such move as part of a full NATO mission — “to show broader combined strength and determination” — he didn’t rule out Estonia acting in a smaller coalition. “Discussions are ongoing,” he said on May 10 at the presidential palace here. “We should be looking at all the possibilities. We shouldn’t have our minds restricted as to what we can do.” He also emphasized that it’s “not unthinkable” that NATO nations opposed to such a move would change their minds “as time goes on.” Following publication of this report, Madis clarified that such a decision is not pending before the Estonian prime minister or her cabinet specifically, and he meant only that the discussion “is not dead” and is “ongoing in Estonia in general.” “We have not excluded any option in the future,” he said. Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur on May 14 told the European news outlet ERR such talks haven’t “gone anywhere” in Tallin. “There is nothing new here. When France came up with the idea of considering whether Europe and the allies could do more, it has been floated in various discussions, but it has not gone anywhere, because at the moment there is no clear understanding among the allies of what it adds,” Pevkur said. “There is certainly no initiative by Estonia and certainly Estonia alone is not going to do anything.” Roll’s boss, Estonian President Alar Karis, holds a position with many ceremonial duties relative to the nation’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas, but he is ultimately Estonia’s commander-in-chief and is a key figure in foreign policy. Roll’s comments came after the head of Estonia’s defense forces, Gen. Martin Herem, told Breaking Defense earlier last week there had been discussions in the military months ago about sending troops to western Ukraine to take on jobs like medical services, logistics or air defense for some western cities, but the air had gone out of those talks after the idea became a public lightning rod. Herem and Pevkur were referring to the outcry that followed French President Emmanuel Macron’s declaration that Western nations must be open to discussing sending their troops in to aid Ukraine. (Kallas, the Estonian PM, in March appeared to defend Macron’s statement, noting that he wasn’t talking specifically about sending ground troops into combat. “In the exact same way, I can assure you that our soldiers will not go there to fight,” she said.) Also earlier last week a key Estonian lawmaker, Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Marko Mihkelson, told Breaking Defense that European nations “have to start thinking about a coalition of the willing” to more directly help Kyiv, potentially with direct combat forces. (The Estonian officials spoke last week to an audience from the Kaplan Public Service Foundation; Breaking Defense accepted accommodation in Estonia from KPSF.) The willingness of different nations to send some forces into Ukraine is a potential dividing line inside NATO. Although each member of the alliance is free to send forces where it feels it must for its national interests, some nations have been clear they see more risk than reward in doing so. Notably, Germany and the US have flatly rejected the idea of sending in troops. The US Ambassador to Estonia, George Kent, pointed Breaking Defense to the Biden administration’s policy of aiding Ukraine through significant aid packages, but a firm commitment not to send in American soldiers. Asked May 9 in Washington how Russia could react to NATO-nation forces being in Ukraine, British Chief of Defense Adm. Sir Tony Radakin was evasive, saying, “I won’t go into too much commentary on your question, if you don’t mind … The UK position is very clear in terms of, that’s not a path that the Prime Minister wants to go down. However, he emphasized that the UK position is not “being governed by how Russia will react.” Instead, he said, it is based around what the UK views as the best approach overall: “I think that what you’ve seen all the way through, is a UK that has done the right thing, based on its judgment of what’s needed to be done.” In contrast, there is Macron’s statement, as well as Lithuanian prime minister Ingrida Simonytė who recently told the Financial Times she was open to sending Lithuanian troops into Ukraine to train Kyiv’s forces there. The FT wrote that Simonytė predicted Russia could see the move as an escalation, but added, “If we just thought about the Russian response, then we could not send anything. Every second week you hear that somebody will be nuked.”

cross-posted from: >

**TLDR:** **- China's president Xi wants to maintain an alliance with Putin's Russia, while also knowing that close ties with a pariah puts at risk his stable ties with the West which he needs to help his ailing economy.** **- The costly war in Ukraine has changed their relationship, exposing the weaknesses in Russia’s army and its economy.** **- China’s interests are not Russia’s interests. As the senior partner in this relationship, Mr Xi will likely co-operate when it suits him – even if his “dear friend” and ally needs him.** Vladimir Putin’s state visit to China this week was a show of strength. It was a chance for the Russian president to prove to the world that he has a powerful ally in his corner. The Russian leader is widely regarded as a pariah after ordering the invasion of Ukraine. But to China’s President Xi Jinping, he is a key partner in seeking a new world order that is not led by the US. And Mr Xi made his guest welcome. He rolled out the red carpet, the band played old Red Army songs, and cheering children greeted both leaders as they strolled through Tiananmen Square. There was even a brief hug for the cameras. Russian and Chinese state media focused heavily on the camaraderie between the two leaders. But in truth, this is no longer a partnership of equals. Mr Putin came to China cap in hand, eager for Beijing to continue trading with a heavily sanctioned and isolated Russia. His statements were filled with honeyed tones and flattering phrases. He said that his family were learning Mandarin – this was particularly noteworthy because he very rarely talks about his children in public. He declared that he and Mr Xi were “as close as brothers” and went on to praise China’s economy, saying it was “developing in leaps and bounds, at a fast pace”. This will likely play well with Beijing officials worried by a sluggish economy. But Mr Xi himself did not echo the tone of these lofty compliments. Instead, his remarks were more perfunctory – even bland. Mr Putin, he said, was a “good friend and a good neighbour”. For China, the welcome ceremony and show of unity is in its interests, but lavishing its guest with praise is not. The costly war in Ukraine, which shows no signs of ending, has changed their relationship, exposing the weaknesses in Russia’s army and its economy. Mr Xi will know that he is now in charge. The war has isolated Russia. China’s ties with the West may be tense, but Beijing has not cut itself off from the world like Russia, nor does it want to. While the public statements may have lacked enthusiasm, President Xi did hint at the importance that China places on the relationship. He invited Mr Putin to his official residence, Zhongnanhai. Few leaders are afforded that honour - US President Barack Obama being among them back in 2014, when ties between the two were at their best. President Xi is attempting a fine balance - he wants to maintain an alliance with Mr Putin, while also knowing that close ties with a pariah puts at risk his stable ties with the West which he needs to help his ailing economy. The fact is, this visit was all about the money: Mr Putin needs China’s support for his war in Ukraine. The make-up of the Russian leader’s entourage was a sign of what he hoped to get out of the trip: he brought with him the governor of Russia’s Central Bank, his finance minister and his economics advisor. The joint statement released to mark the visit also contained some eye-catching ideas to increase trade – building a port on an island which the two countries once wrangled over for more than 100 years, and speaking to North Korea to see if Chinese ships could navigate through a key river to reach the Sea of Japan. It mentioned the word “co-operation” 130 times. All of this will, of course, have been carefully watched by the US. Last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned China to stop fuelling Russia’s war and trading in components that could be used in Russian drones and tanks. So they will not have missed the fact Mr Putin toured a state-backed university famous for its cutting-edge defense research during Friday’s visit to the city of Harbin. The tour - and the ceremony and symbolism surrounding this visit - certainly appears to suggest Mr Xi is determined to prove that he will not be swayed by pressure from the West. But behind the scenes of this show of unity, there may be limits to how far Mr Xi is prepared to go. After all, China’s interests are not Russia’s interests. As the senior partner in this relationship, Mr Xi will likely co-operate when it suits him – even if his “dear friend” and ally needs him.

*Note: There are diagrams I can't post here, it may be worth clicking the link.* Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping have praised the deep ties between their countries, during a meeting in Beijing. It was their fourth meeting since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. In that time, Beijing has become a vital partner for Moscow, as it seeks to soften the impact of sanctions imposed by the US and other countries. **Is China providing Russia with weapons?** China has repeatedly denied allegations that it supplies Russia with weapons. In an interview with BBC News, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: "What's not happening is the provision of actual arms by China to Russia for use in Ukraine." However, China has been accused of building up Moscow's war machine by providing critical components. Mr Blinken said: "Those are being used to help Russia on what's an extraordinary crash course effort to make more munitions, tanks, armoured vehicles, missiles." About 70% of the machine tools and 90% of the microelectronics Russia imports come from China, he added. Sanctions announced by Washington in May targeted about 20 firms based in China and Hong Kong. It said one exported components for drones, while others helped Moscow bypass Western sanctions on other technologies. China defends its trade with Moscow by saying it is not selling lethal arms and "prudently handles the export of dual-use items in accordance with laws and regulations". Beijing exports more than $300m worth of dual-use items - those with both commercial and military applications - to Russia every month, according to an analysis of Chinese customs data by the Carnegie Endowment think tank. It says the list includes what the US has designated as "high priority" items, which are necessary for making weapons, from drones to tanks. RUSI, a UK-based think tank has also cautioned about the potential use of Chinese satellite technology for intelligence on Ukraine's front line. **How much has trade between China and Russia increased?** Beijing has become Moscow's key supplier of cars, clothing, raw materials and many other products, after Western countries imposed sanctions on Russia. Trade between China and Russia reached a record $240bn (£191bn) in 2023, up more than 64% since 2021 - before Russia's invasion of Ukraine - according to official figures from China. Russian imports from China were $111bn and its exports to China $129bn, the figures show. At their meeting in Beijing in May, Mr Xi and Mr Putin praised growing trade between the two countries. They highlighted that the two nations now use their own currencies for 90% of trade, instead of US dollars. Mr Putin also said he welcomes Chinese carmakers in Russia. This came just days after the US announced a quadrupling of tariffs on China's electric vehicles to 100%. The export of Chinese cars and parts to Russia reached $23bn in 2023 - up from $6bn the previous year. "Russian natural gas is fuelling numerous Chinese households, and Chinese-made automobiles are running on Russian roads," said China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi in March. However, some experts consider this a "lopsided" relationship in which Russia is more dependent on China than vice versa. As of 2023, China has become Russia's top trade partner, while Russia is China's sixth-largest trade partner. **How much oil and gas does China buy from Russia?** Almost half of all the Russian government's annual revenues come from oil and gas. Its sales to the US, UK and EU countries have plummeted since the invasion, because of sanctions. A significant amount of this shortfall has been made up with increased sales to Asia - in particular, China and India. In 2023, Russia surpassed Saudi Arabia to become China's top crude oil supplier. Beijing imported 107 million tonnes of crude oil from Moscow - a 24% increase from 2022. The G7 group of "advanced" economies, along with the European Union and Australia, has also tried to limit Russia earnings by imposing a worldwide cap on the price of its oil transported by sea. However, China has continued to buy Russian crude at above the price of the cap. India, which has continued to maintain its decades-old relationship with Russia, has also been a major buyer of its discounted oil since the invasion. Russia's share of India's total oil imports hit a record high of 44% in June 2023, according to the Bank of Baroda, an Indian state-controlled lender. In 2023, China also imported eight million tonnes of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) from Russia, a 77% increase from 2021. The two countries also plan to expand energy ties, including a new pipeline - called the Power of Siberia 2 - to export natural gas from Russia's western Siberia region to north-eastern China. China already receives gas from Russia through the original Power of Siberia pipeline, which has been in use since 2019.

[Archived link]( *Russia has been bolstering its military presence in Libya for the past few months, according to an investigation. Libya has been mired in civil war since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, and Russia has long been accused of meddling in the conflict. Now, the Kremlin appears to be shipping more military equipment to Libya and the surrounding region and redeploying regular troops disguised as mercenaries, along with recruits from Wagner Group’s Africa operations.* *The increased military activity in the region may also have something to do with increased pressure for Libya to hold elections. While there have been several attempts to hold elections, plans have often been delayed or disrupted due to escalations in the military conflict. The U.N. has urgently called for elections to be held to prevent the country from sliding further into war.* **'Tectonic shifts’** In the past three months, Russia has begun actively transferring military personnel and mercenaries to Libya, according to Verstka’s findings. These forces are primarily concentrated in eastern Libya, a region under the control of Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army and a Kremlin ally. (The western part of the country, including the capital, Tripoli, is governed by the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord.) A source within a Libyan security agency reported that at least 1,800 Russian military personnel have arrived in the country in the last two weeks alone. Some were dispatched to Niger, while others remain in Libya awaiting further orders. One serviceman told journalists that he and several hundred other special forces soldiers were redeployed from Ukraine at the beginning of the year. Several thousand more fighters — both professional soldiers and mercenaries from Wagner Group’s Africa operations — arrived in Libya between February and April. In conversations with journalists, the soldiers themselves acknowledged that their presence in Libya is unofficial. They said that they’re there as part of a private military company, though they didn’t specify which one. Russian military personnel and equipment have been spotted in at least 10 locations in eastern Libya since the beginning of March. Russian troops are stationed around major military bases, such as Al Jufra Air Base and Ghardabiya Air Base, as well as near smaller ones by Waddan and Marj. Sources say that some of the newly arrived Russian military personnel are involved in training local soldiers and new recruits from private military companies. Others are carrying out combat missions, such as securing the transport of military equipment. “There’s never been such a fuss; tectonic shifts are happening here,” one Russian soldier in Libya commented. “I think a big mess is brewing.” **Following the breadcrumbs** Location data from Telegram users show an increase in activity around military sites in Libya. On March 5, a Russian soldier with the username “Andrey” showed up near the Ghardabiya Air Base near Sirte. A few months before, “Andrey” was in Mulino — a city in Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod region where soldiers are being trained for combat in Ukraine. Nearly two weeks after “Andrey” appeared at Ghardabiya Air Base, the Libyan National Army conducted military exercises there. Soon after, another group of Russian soldiers was spotted in Marj, Libya. On March 17, photos of them were posted on Libyan social media; Verstka and its investigative partners were able to geolocate these photos by comparing the buildings and structures in them with satellite images. In early May, geolocation data confirmed the presence of two Russian soldiers in Jufra. One of them was the same “Andrey” who’d been at the Ghardabiya Air Base in March. He stayed there until at least April, then moved to Jufra by May. The second soldier in Jufra was 26-year-old Pavel Vavilov from Russia’s Vladimir region. It’s likely that Vavilov entered the military recently: leaked data shows he worked as a security guard in 2020, and before that, as a taxi driver. He’s faced various legal issues, including a theft conviction. Another Telegram account linked to Vavilov shows a car with a license plate from the self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic” in the profile picture. In recent weeks, there’s been a notable increase in shipments of Russian weapons and transport vehicles from Syria to Libya. In photos published on March 30 by the Russian pro-war Telegram channel Military Informant, several Russian Tigr armored personnel carriers can be seen being used in Libyan National Army exercises. Judging by the unit insignia on the front doors, they were delivered to the Libyan National Army’s 106th Brigade. The channel also released video footage of the exercises. After comparing the terrain, buildings, and landmarks seen in the video to satellite images, Verstka and its investigative partners determined that the footage was shot between Al Jufra Air Base and the town of Waddan. Russia is shipping a large amount of military equipment to Libya by sea. A source told Verstka that he had personally escorted equipment from a “military port” to various “military bases.” In some cases, the equipment comes to Libya via Syria’s Tartus port. For instance, on April 2, two Russian landing ships — the Alexander Otrakovsky and the Ivan Gren — were spotted in Tartus. On April 6, the same ships were off the coast of Crete, and on April 8, they arrived at the Port of Tobruk in Libya. These vessels were transporting vehicles and weaponry; one item in the shipment resembled a Soviet-era 2S12 “Sani” heavy mortar system. According to open-source investigators, this marked the fifth such shipment in the last six weeks. Satellite imagery shows that since then, the ships have continued to make trips back and forth. Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya expert at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank, drew attention to the fact that Russian military personnel are being redeployed to the Brak al-Shati base in Libya. According to him, the number of Russian-speaking personnel at the base has increased by about 25 percent in recent weeks. Back in March 2024, investigators from the All Eyes on Wagner project didn’t find any Russian Telegram accounts at the base. However, the situation has changed in the last few weeks. For example, in early May, an account registered to a Russian number was discovered near the base. The user, 28-year-old Russian Maxim Kukol, doesn’t appear to have been connected to the military before 2021. But there’s no public record of his employment after this. However, by 2022, his debts had been cleared. Geolocation data also shows a steady stream of Russian military personnel arriving at the Tartus port in Syria, which has become a kind of redistribution hub for military resources. Among them is 19-year-old Navy serviceman Anton Zaikin, who was stationed in Baltiysk, in Russia’s Kaliningrad region, in early 2024. By early May, he had relocated to Syria. **A strategic move** Turkey, the U.S., and other countries have repeatedly accused Russia of interfering in the Libyan conflict, including through the use of Wagner Group mercenaries. Journalistic investigations have confirmed that Russian mercenaries have been present in Libya since at least 2019, and experts say the Kremlin has been supporting Khalifa Haftar since around 2018. In 2023, Russian officials and Haftar held their first public negotiations since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In August, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov met with him in Libya, and in September, Haftar met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Following this, there were multiple media reports of Kremlin plans to build a Russian naval base in Tobruk, Libya (where Russian military cargo arrives from Syria). In January 2024, shortly before Russia began sending large numbers of troops to the region, Yevkurov visited Libya again. He met with Haftar in Benghazi; Verstka’s sources say that a new Russian military training base is already operating not far from this city. According to Verstka and All Eyes on Wagner’s sources, the Russian contingent in Libya is controlled by four commanders who were previously in Syria. They, in turn, report to Yevkurov. "I think the Russians are betting on a war inside Tripoli among the militias, so they’re going to shift gears,” said one military source. Another source suggested that the current influx of Russian equipment and the repositioning of troops are intended to supplant Wagner Group forces in Libya and pave the way for further deployments to other African countries. RUSI’s Jalel Harchaoui noted that an increased presence in Libya aligns with many of Russia’s strategic regional interests. “Libya offers extremely valuable access to the Mediterranean Sea, acts as a southern flank to exert pressure on NATO and the E.U., and strengthens dialogue with other key Arab countries,” he explained. “Importantly, it also serves as a gateway to Sub-Saharan African countries, offering a strategic route to countries like Sudan, Niger, and beyond.” According to him, cooperating with the Haftar family allows the Kremlin to achieve these goals while minimizing costs. “Roughly speaking, the Haftar family rewards Moscow materially and financially for doing things that are already in its interest,” Harchaoui believes. The increased military activity in the region may also have something to do with increased pressure for Libya to hold elections. While there have been several attempts to hold elections, plans have often been delayed or disrupted due to escalations in the military conflict. The U.N. has urgently called for elections to be held to prevent the country from sliding further into war.

Reports on China’s Bad Lending Data Disappear on Chinese Social Media
*- Total credit demand in China fell in April for first time since 2005* *- China has increasingly hidden negative data in recent years* A series of research reports from Chinese brokerages on the country’s recent bad credit data disappeared from social media over the weekend, highlighting the increasing difficulty of getting reliable information about the world’s second-largest economy. At least seven research reports from mainland brokerages and securities firms that had been posted to WeChat by analysts were unavailable for viewing on Monday. The link to six of the reports now leads to an error message saying the content couldn’t be viewed after complaints about unspecified violations of rules governing public accounts. A report from China Merchants Securities Co. was deleted from a WeChat account where the brokerage’s fixed-income analyst Zhang Wei usually posts research, according to a screenshot of the posting viewed by Bloomberg News. Reports from analysts at Zheshang Securities Co., Guosheng Securities Co., GF Securities Co., China International Capital Corp., Shenwan Hongyuan Securities Co. and Soochow Securities Co. were also unavailable for viewing or had been taken down before Monday morning. None of the seven companies responded to requests for comment. China has increasingly hidden negative data over the past few years, making it harder for investors to accurately judge what is happening in the economy. The nation’s exchanges are set to switch off a live feed of foreign money flows into stocks as early as Monday, the latest example of closely-watched information being removed. The data released over the weekend showed that total credit demand fell in April for the first time since 2005. That unexpectedly bad result was driven by weak demand from companies and households to borrow, and also by local governments across the country pulling back on selling bonds. The data released over the weekend showed that total credit demand fell in April for the first time since 2005. That unexpectedly bad result was driven by weak demand from companies and households to borrow, and also by local governments across the country pulling back on selling bonds. China’s the top securities newspapers attempted to put a positive spin on the data. A front-page article in China Securities Journal on Monday suggested the credit data would stabilize and pick up once the government started issuing more bonds. The central government said it will start selling ultra-long bonds from Friday, although that likely won’t immediately turn around the falling demand for mortgage loans from households or the weak demand from companies to borrow money.