TikTok Confirms US Urged Parting Ways With ByteDance to Dodge Ban

Newsdesk, barta24.com
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TikTok confirmed Wednesday that U.S. officials have recommended the popular video-sharing app part ways with its Chinese parent ByteDance to avoid a national ban.

Western powers, including the European Union and the United States, have been taking an increasingly tough approach to the app, citing fears that user data could be used or abused by Chinese officials.

"If protecting national security is the objective, calls for a ban or divestment are unnecessary, as neither option solves the broader industry issues of data access and transfer," a TikTok spokesperson told AFP.

"We remain confident that the best path forward to addressing concerns about national security is transparent, U.S.-based protection of U.S. user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification."

The Wall Street Journal and other U.S. news outlets on Wednesday reported that the White House set an ultimatum: if TikTok remains a part of ByteDance, it will be banned in the United States.

"This is all a game of high stakes poker," Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said in a note to investors.

Washington is "clearly... putting more pressure on ByteDance to strategically sell this key asset in a major move that could have significant ripple impacts," he continued.

The White House last week welcomed a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate that would allow President Joe Biden to ban TikTok.

The bipartisan bill "would empower the United States government to prevent certain foreign governments from exploiting technology services... in a way that poses risks to Americans' sensitive data and our national security," Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said in a statement.

The bill's introduction and its quick White House backing accelerated the political momentum against TikTok, which is also the target of a separate piece of legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Appearing tough on China is one of the rare issues with potential for bipartisan support in both the Republican-run House and the Senate, where Biden's Democratic Party holds the majority.

Concern ramped up among American officials earlier this year after a Chinese balloon, which Washington alleged was on a spy mission, flew over U.S. airspace.

TikTok use rocketing

TikTok claims it has more than a billion users worldwide including over 100 million in the United States, where it has become a cultural force, especially among young people.

Activists argue a ban would be an attack on free speech and stifle the export of American culture and values to TikTok users around the world.

U.S. government workers in January were banned from installing TikTok on their government-issued devices.

Civil servants in the European Union and Canada are also barred from downloading the app on their work devices.

According to the Journal report, the ultimatum to TikTok came from the U.S. interagency board charged with assessing risks foreign investments represent to national security.

U.S. officials declined to comment on the report.

TikTok has consistently denied sharing data with Chinese officials and says it has been working with the U.S. authorities for more than two years to address national security concerns.

Time spent by users on TikTok has surpassed that spent on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and is closing in on streaming television titan Netflix, according to market tracker Insider Intelligence.

Source: Voanews

World Uyghur Congress nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

Newsdesk, barta24.com
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Global recognition for the struggle of the Uyghur peoples in China has come by way of nomination of the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), for the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize. Lawmakers in Canada and a leader of the Young Liberals in Norway, the youth wing of Norway’s Venstre political party, have nominated the WUC. The rights group has been nominated for its work towards peace, democracy and plight of the Uyghur and other Turkic people who live under, what the nomination letter describes as a “repressive regime in China.” The Voice of America (VoA) reports that “The World Uyghur Congress has the main purpose of promoting democracy, human rights, and freedom for the Uyghur People and supporting the use of peaceful, non- violent, and democratic means to help the Uyghurs achieve self- determination.”

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, one of two Canadian Members of Parliament who nominated the WUC, shared the nomination letter with VoA, which says the WUC had drawn global attention to China’s treatment of Uyghurs with “the overwhelming campaign of physical, religious, linguistic, and cultural repression” by the Chinese government. China has repeatedly denied mistreating the Uyghur peoples, with Xinhua describing the allegations as “lies” concocted by “anti-China forces in the West.” In a June 2021 article, the state owned media paper claimed that “Xinjiang-related issues are not about human rights, ethnicity or religion at all, but about combating violent terrorism and separatism,” and that the region has experienced economic and social development. Last August, the UN Human Rights office released a report on Xinjiang, which stated that the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in so-called vocational education and training centres could constitute crimes against humanity. The United States and several other countries have classified human rights abuses in the region as genocide.

Meanwhile, Volker Türk the new chief of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) said his agency had documented China’s arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and the separation of children from their families. Making these comments during a global update on human rights (8 March 2023) in Geneva, Turk said his office had opened channels of communication with various actors to follow up on human rights issues in China, including the protection of minorities such as Uyghur, Tibetans and other groups. He said, “In the Xinjiang region, my office has documented grave concerns, notably large-scale arbitrary detentions and ongoing family separations and has made important recommendations that require concrete follow-up.” The UN and several Western governments have remained steadfast in condemning China over its harsh policies affecting Uyghur, and Tibetans. Türk’s comments come nearly three weeks after the UN Commission on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, or UNCESCR, grilled 40 Chinese delegates about the human rights situations in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang, the far-western autonomous region in China where more than 11 million of the predominantly Muslim Uyghur people live.

Notably, several Western parliaments have declared the Chinese government’s actions against Uyghur and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang as constituting genocide and crimes against humanity. During an address to the 47-member UN Human Rights Council (2 March 2023), US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, cited the report by the OHCHR and said “We remain gravely concerned about the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity that China is committing against Muslim Uyghurs and other members of minority groups in Xinjiang,” he said. He added that the OHCHR report on Xinjiang “affirmed serious abuses perpetrated by the People’s Republic of China in Xinjiang, including the large-scale arbitrary deprivation of liberty of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim communities, and credible allegations of torture and sexual and gender-based violence.”

Zumretay Arkin, WUC advocacy manager told VoA, “The fact that the WUC was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize is proof that the free and democratic world has recognized the WUC’s work as valuable and important. Instead of defaming such organizations, the Chinese government should listen to the democratic world,” Arkin said. The WUC, founded in Munich in 2004, has a wide range of activities, including campaigning for the rights of people being forcefully disappeared, advocating for the release of political prisoners, protecting the rights of asylum seekers to prevent forcible repatriation to China, and advocating at the UN, EU, and national level. The nomination letter states that efforts of the WUC has led to the international community developing policies and actions to help secure the rights of the Uyghur.

The WUC was founded after the East Turkistan National Congress and the World Uyghur Youth Congress merged into one organization and its main objective is to promote democracy, human rights, and freedom for the Uyghur people and to use peaceful, non-violent, and democratic means to determine their political future. The group’s mission statement states that “By representing the sole legitimate organization of the Uyghur people both in East Turkistan and abroad, WUC endeavours to set out a course for the peaceful settlement of the East Turkistan Question through dialogue and negotiation.

East Turkistan is the name some Uyghur prefer to use instead of Xinjiang, which means “new territory” in Chinese and is what China calls the Uyghur homeland. “It makes me very proud to see that the World Uyghur Congress’ hard work to end the Uyghur genocide has not gone unnoticed,” Dolkun Isa, the President of the WUC, said in a press statement. The nomination was also significant because it was “a show of support for the Uyghur people,” Isa said. The nomination of the WUC is thus a clear sign that the voice of Uyghur is being heard across the world. There is no doubt that WUC deserves the prize much more than the sham nomination of Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey!

Source: Geneva Daily


Russian Attacks Continue in Wake of Putin Arrest Warrant

News Desk, Barta24.com, Dhaka
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Widespread Russian attacks continued in Ukraine following the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights.

According to news agency AP, Ukraine was attacked by 16 Russian drones on Friday night, the Ukrainian Air Force said in the early hours of Saturday. Writing on Telegram, the air force command said that 11 out of 16 drones were shot down “in the central, western and eastern regions.” Among areas targeted were the capital, Kyiv, and the western Lviv province.

The head of the Kyiv city administration, Serhii Popko, said Ukrainian air defenses shot down all drones heading for the Ukrainian capital, while Lviv regional Gov. Maksym Kozytskyi said Saturday that three of six drones were shot down, with the other three hitting a district bordering Poland. According to the Ukrainian Air Force, the attacks were carried out from the eastern coast of the Sea of Azov and Russia’s Bryansk province, which borders Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military additionally said in its regular update Saturday morning that Russian forces over the previous 24 hours launched 34 airstrikes, one missile strike and 57 rounds of anti-aircraft fire. The Facebook update said that falling debris hit the southern Kherson province, damaging seven houses and a kindergarten.

According to the Ukrainian statement, Russia is continuing to concentrate its efforts on offensive operations in Ukraine’s industrial east, focusing attacks on Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Marinka and Shakhtarsk in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk province. Pavlo Kyrylenko, regional Gov. of the Donetsk province, said one person was killed and three wounded when 11 towns and villages in the province were shelled on Friday.

Further west, Russian rockets hit a residential area overnight Friday in the city of Zaporizhzhia, the regional capital of the partially occupied province of the same name. No casualties were reported, but houses were damaged and a catering establishment destroyed, Anatoliy Kurtev of the Zaporizhzhia City Council said.

The International Criminal Court said Friday that it has issued an arrest warrant for Putin for war crimes, accusing him of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine, together with Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova.

It is the first time the global court has issued a warrant against a leader of one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

The move was immediately dismissed by Moscow — and welcomed by Ukraine as a major breakthrough.

Its practical implications, however, could be limited as the chances of Putin facing trial at the ICC are highly unlikely because Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction or extradite its nationals.

U.K. military officials said Saturday that Russia is likely to widen conscription. In its latest intelligence update, the U.K. defense ministry said that deputies in the Russian Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, introduced a bill Monday to change the conscription age for men to 21-30, from the current 18-27.

The ministry said that, at the moment, many men aged 18-21 claim exemption from military service because they are in higher education. The change would mean that they would eventually still have to serve. It said the law will likely be passed and come into force in January 2024.


U.K. Bans TikTok on Government Devices

Newsdesk, barta24.com
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The move reflects fears in Britain and elsewhere in the West that the popular app’s Chinese ownership could share user information with Beijing.

Britain on Thursday became the latest Western country to prohibit the use of TikTok on “government devices,” citing security fears linked to the video-sharing app’s ownership by a Chinese company.

Speaking in Parliament, Oliver Dowden, a senior cabinet minister, announced the ban with immediate effect, describing it as “precautionary,” even though the United States, the European Union’s executive arm, Canada and India had already taken similar steps. New Zealand did so on Friday.

Social media apps collect and store “huge amounts of user data including contacts, user content and geolocation data on government devices that data can be sensitive,” Mr. Dowden said, but TikTok has aroused more suspicion than most because of its owner, the Chinese company ByteDance.

Britain’s actions reflect fears expressed across a variety of Western governments that TikTok might share sensitive data from devices used by politicians and senior officials with the government in Beijing.

The ban announced on Thursday follows a hardening of policy in Britain. On Monday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described China as an “epoch-defining challenge” to the international order.

The new instruction applies only to the official work phones of government officials, and it was described by Mr. Dowden as a proportionate approach to addressing a potential vulnerability of government data.

TikTok has long insisted that it does not pass on information to the Chinese government. In a statement on Thursday, TikTok said it was disappointed with the British government’s decision, saying that the bans imposed on it were “based on fundamental misconceptions and driven by wider geopolitics.” It added that it was taking steps to protect British users’ data.

In the United States, the White House told federal agencies on Feb. 27 that they had 30 days to delete the app from government devices. More than two dozen states have banned TikTok on government-issued devices, and a significant number of colleges have blocked it from campus Wi-Fi networks. The app has been banned for three years on U.S. government devices used by the Army, the Marine Corps, the Air Force and the Coast Guard.

On Wednesday, TikTok said the Biden administration was toughening its stance about addressing national security concerns, telling the company that it would need to sell the app or face a possible ban.

Several British government departments have TikTok accounts as part of their public outreach, including the country’s defense ministry, and as recently as one day ago, Michelle Donelan, the secretary of state for science, innovation and technology, said the app was safe for British people to use.

“In terms of the general public, it is absolutely a personal choice, but because we have the strongest data protection laws in the world, we are confident that the public can continue to use it,” she told lawmakers in Parliament.

China has featured prominently in an updated security review published by the government, although Mr. Sunak’s toughened language failed to satisfy all the hawks in his Conservative Party, including one of its former leaders, Iain Duncan Smith.

Mr. Duncan Smith questioned whether the British government officially considered China to be a threat, and on Thursday, while he praised the action against TikTok, he called for the ban to be extended to private devices belonging to government officials.

That followed a decision by China in December to withdraw six of its diplomats from Britain, after a diplomatic standoff between London and Beijing in the wake of a violent clash during a pro-democracy demonstration at the Chinese Consulate in the northern city of Manchester.

The British authorities had asked six Chinese diplomats to waive their official immunity to allow police to investigate how a protester from Hong Kong was injured after being dragged onto the consulate grounds and beaten on Oct. 16.

Instead, China decided to repatriate the six officials, including one of its senior diplomats, the consul general, Zheng Xiyuan, who had denied beating a protester, without denying involvement in the incident.

Source: Nytimes


The limits of Beijing’s Middle East Diplomacy

Amin Saikal
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In China-brokered talks, the two oil-rich and rival states of Iran and Saudi Arabia have agreed to restore diplomatic relations after a seven-year split. Although the two sides need much confidence-building, their rapprochement carries the potential to change the regional geopolitical landscape at the cost of concerns for policy hawks in the US and Israel.

The longstanding Iranian–Saudi sectarian and geopolitical rivalry has been a major source of tension and conflict in the Persian Gulf region. Traditionally, whereas Iran has sought to project itself as the guardian of Shia Islam, Saudi Arabia has claimed the leadership of Sunni Islam. Both have also competed for regional geopolitical supremacy. They have been involved, in opposition to one another, in some of the conflict-ridden flashpoints in the region, including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Fearing Iran’s nuclear program and regarding the country as a regional threat, the traditionally US-backed Saudi Arabia has opened backdoor diplomatic channels with Iran’s other US-allied regional foe, Israel, and supported the normalisation of relations between some of its partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council (the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, in particular) with the Jewish state in an anti-Iran front. In response, Iran has forged close ties with Russia and China. The Saudi execution of a prominent Shia cleric and Iranians’ storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran resulted in Riyadh cutting ties with Tehran in early 2016.

However, the regional picture has lately changed for the two protagonists. Despite being under severe American sanctions and beset by public protests since September 2022, the Iranian Islamic regime has managed to maintain its regional influence in the Levant—the area stretching from Iraq to Lebanon—as well as Yemen and has made a show of its military strength by supplying Russia with deadly drones in the Ukraine conflict.

Saudi Arabia hasn’t been able either to rebuff the Iranian influence or to maintain its historical trust of the US as a very reliable ally, especially in the wake of America’s inability to rein in Iran and to avoid defeat in Afghanistan. It has increasingly found it in its interest to diversify its foreign relations, forging closer relations with the very powers with which Iran has established camaraderie, most importantly China.

The kingdom’s young de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman has viewed this diversification as not only signalling his dissatisfaction with Washington’s criticism of his alleged human rights violations, but also aiding him with realising his vision to make Saudi Arabia a regional superpower by 2030. For this, he wants to reduce the country’s dependence on hydrocarbon as a source of wealth; expand its economy, trade and inflow of investment and high-tech industry; and change its social and cultural landscape, though not its authoritarian politics. He has found the Chinese model more appealing in this respect.

Beijing could not be more pleased with the Iranian–Saudi rapprochement under its diplomatic auspices. It constitutes a major step, along with the recent peace proposal for Ukraine, in Beijing’s global diplomatic offensives to raise China’s credentials as a peacemaker through a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states on the world stage. The underlying message is to present the US as an interventionist ‘warmonger’ power. In addition, it paves the way for China’s deeper and wider economic and trade ties in a region from which it imports some 40% of its annual oil needs.

These developments can only be unsettling for the US and Israel, both of which regard any regional easing on Iran, especially with China’s support, as contrary to their interests. The US wants to maintain maximum pressure on the Iranian regime over its nuclear program, regional influence and handling of recent domestic unrest, headed by Iranian women against theocratic restrictions and declining standards of living. It is also not keen to see Saudi Arabia tilt towards the very powers that the US seeks to contain.

Israel regards Iran’s Islamic regime as an existential threat and has vowed to do whatever it takes to prevent it from becoming a military nuclear power. The two sides have been locked in a shadow war for some time. Israel has frequently attacked Iranian targets in Syria and Lebanon, assassinated several of the country’s nuclear scientists and raided its ships. In a more daring act, recently it directly attacked defence installations in Isfahan where Iranian nuclear facilities are located. In turn, Iran has targeted Israeli ships, intelligence and diplomatic personnel, and has promised to retaliate against any hostile Israeli action.

Israel and Iran have at times come very close to serious blows. Any direct confrontation between them could have devastating consequences for the region and beyond. Having said that, it’s also important to be reminded that China has good cooperative diplomatic, security and intelligence relations with Israel. Can we expect Beijing to step in there as well to bring about a resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, where the US has failed? Most likely not, given Israel’s intransigence not to give up its occupation and America’s unwavering strategic backing of it.

(Amin Saikal, an adjunct professor of social sciences at the University of Western Australia, is the author of 'Iran rising: the survival and future of the Islamic Republic' and editor of 'Iran and the Arab world: a turbulent region in transition'.)