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International News


Thailand launches full-time clinics dispensing cannabis oil

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World’s biggest yearly human migration begins again in China

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From The Asian Reporter, V30, #02 (January 20, 2020), page 2.

Five climbers attempt to scale Everest during harsh winter

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Five climbers are attempting to scale Mount Everest, battling extreme cold, high winds, and piled-up snow and ice as they try to become the first to reach the top of the world’s highest mountain in the winter in 27 years, an official said. The climbers — three from Spain and two from Germany — are already acclimatizing around Everest’s base camp area as they wait for weather conditions to improve, said Meera Acharya of Nepal’s Department of Mountaineering. They’re expected to be accompanied on their ascent by Nepalese Sherpa guides, but it was not yet decided how many would go up the slope with them. While there are no rules prohibiting climbers from attempting to scale Everest during the winter, only a handful have reached the mountain’s 29,035-foot-high peak during that season. The feat was first accomplished in 1980, and has not been done since 1993. Everest is mainly scaled during the spring climbing season (April and May), when weather conditions are favorable.

China population now over 1.4 billion as birthrate falls

BEIJING (AP) — China’s population crept past 1.4 billion last year for the first time, even as the birthrate continues to fall. The National Bureau of Statistics says the population on the Chinese mainland reached 1.40005 billion at the end of 2019, with another overall gain of 4.67 million people. That marked the third consecutive year when the overall number of births dropped. China’s working age population, those between 16 and 59 years old, also declined by 890,000 from 2018 to 896.4 million, while the number of people age 60 or older grew by 4.39 million, making up 18.1% of the total population. China abandoned its long-standing one-child policy in 2016 in hopes of reversing what some have called a coming demographic tsunami in which China will grow old before reaching its development targets. But the policy allowing urban couples to have a second child has shown little success amid a dearth of incentives and rising costs for housing, food, healthcare, and education.

Menstruation huts destroyed in Nepal, where exile persists

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Authorities are knocking down tiny huts in western Nepal where women have been exiled during menstruation and exposed to cold weather and threats from animals and even sexual assaults. Government officials accompanied by police officers and local politicians were going to villages and towns in Kanchanpur district, tearing down the sheds mostly made of mud walls and covered by straw roofs, chief district officer Sushil Baidhya said. The custom of exiling menstruating women has persisted in parts of west Nepal though the Supreme Court banned it in 2005. A new law criminalized it last year, with violators who force women into exile facing up to three months in prison or a fine of 3,000 Nepalese rupees ($26). Many menstruating women are still forced to shelter in huts or cow sheds until their cycle ends. The custom — called Chhaupadi — continues in many parts of the majority Hindu Himalayan country, especially in the western hills. In the isolated, unhygienic, or insecure huts and sheds, women can face bitter cold, illness, wild animals, and the possibility of sexual assaults. Several women and girls have died during exile. A major cause of death is smoke inhalation because they lit a fire to keep warm in the tiny huts in hilly or mountainous areas.

HK leader says special status can endure beyond 2047

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam says the "one country, two systems" framework under which the city enjoys freedoms unknown in China could continue after the 2047 deadline if loyalty to Beijing is upheld. Lam’s comments at the Legislative Council appeared to be an appeal to those in the city who see Beijing as tightening its control over the semi-autonomous territory’s civic, economic, and political life. Hong Kong was handed over from British to Chinese rule in 1997 with a promise that it would maintain its own capitalist economy and western-style institutions for 50 years. "Only if we insist implementing [the] ‘one country, two systems’ principle and practice it continuously and fully ... then I think there will be enough grounds for ‘one country, two systems’ to move ahead smoothly and there would be no change after 2047," Lam said in her remarks. "We have to uphold the principle of ‘One Country,’ only by doing this, can ‘one country, two systems’ be moving forward smoothly." Hong Kong has been wracked by often violent anti-government protests since June, although they have recently diminished in scale.

TV station admits New Year drone show was prerecorded

BEIJING (AP) — A Shanghai TV station has acknowledged that footage of a formation of 2,000 drones flying over the city broadcast on New Year’s Eve had actually been prerecorded days before. The footage was the highlight of Dragon TV’s holiday gala and presented as occurring live. News organizations including The Associated Press published the video. However, Shanghai residents said they had witnessed no such event, prompting the network to issue a statement saying the event was rehearsed and recorded on December 26 and 27 because of safety concerns about the size of the crowd along the city’s famous riverfront Bund on New Year’s Eve. "Due to the high crowd at the Bund on New Year’s Eve, watching the drone show may cause safety problems, so the rehearsal and recording time of the drone was moved forward," the station said in its statement. The decision was likely informed by memories of a December 31, 2014 stampede on the Bund in which 36 people were killed and 49 injured when a crowd of 300,000 gathered to watch a light show. Several city officials were fired or otherwise reprimanded over the tragedy. Large crowd sizes in China during holidays are a regular worry, resulting in everything from crushing deaths to massive traffic jams.

South Korea to decide fate of first transgender soldier

SEOUL, South Korea — In the first such case in South Korea, military officials will determine whether to discharge a soldier who recently undertook gender reassignment surgery, according to officials. South Korea bans transgender people from joining its military but has no specific regulations on what to do with those who have sex change operations during their time in the service. The non-commissioned officer entered the military as a man and had a sex-change operation last year and is currently at a military-run hospital, army spokesman Jeon Ha Gyu said. It’s the first time an active-duty soldier in South Korea has been referred to a military panel to decide whether to end his or her service due to gender reassignment operations, according to Jeon and Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyunsoo. A rights organization that says it has given counselling to the soldier said the staff sergeant has undergone physiological treatment and hormone therapy for an extended period. A statement from the Seoul-based Center for Military Human Rights said it hopes a "forward-looking" decision will be made at the military meeting it said will take place this week. Views on sexuality and gender issues in South Korea have been slowly changing: several gay-themed movies and TV dramas have become hits and some transgender entertainers have risen to stardom in recent years. Nevertheless, a strong bias against sexual minorities persists. Activists say transgender people remain likely to face harassment, abuse, and insults, and many suffer from depression and have attempted suicide.

Hong Kong airline stops pregnancy tests for Saipan travellers

HONG KONG (AP) — The airline Hong Kong Express has apologized for having required some female passengers bound for the U.S. territory of Saipan to take pregnancy tests. The low-cost carrier said in a statement that it began requiring such tests in February 2019, after concerns were raised by Saipan authorities, to ensure U.S. immigration laws were not "undermined." "We would like to apologize unreservedly to anyone who has been affected by this," it said. "Under our new management, we recognize the significant concerns this practice has caused. We have immediately suspended the practice while we review it," it said. The U.S. has been seeking to prevent travellers, especially from China, from heading to Saipan and other American territories to give birth and potentially gain U.S. citizenship for their babies. The issue surfaced after a Japanese passenger complained late last year that she felt "humiliated" when she was required to undergo such a test while travelling to the island.

Midori Nishida, who lives in Tokyo but grew up in Saipan, said that while preparing to board her flight she was taken to a public restroom and handed a pregnancy test, which came out negative. "Satisfied that I had no baby in me, the airline staff finally issued me a boarding pass," Nishida said in comments published by the Saipan Tribune. "I am truly appalled by the entire situation," she said, saying she usually looked forward to visiting Saipan and seeing family and friends. "But after this incident, I can only think of how I will be suspected, investigated, and humiliated before I can return to a place I consider home."

Shuttered at home, China exploits social media abroad

BEIJING (AP) — China says its diplomats and government officials will fully exploit foreign social-media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter that are blocked off to its own citizens. Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang likened the government to "diplomatic agencies and diplomats of other countries" in embracing such platforms to provide "better communication with the people outside and to better introduce China’s situation and policies." Facebook, Twitter, and other social-media platforms have tried for years without success to be allowed into the lucrative Chinese market, where Beijing has helped create politically reliable analogues such as Weichat and Weibo. Their content is carefully monitored by the companies and by government censors. Despite that, Geng said China is "willing to strengthen communication with the outside world through social media such as Twitter to enhance mutual understanding." He also insisted that the Chinese internet remained open and said the country has the largest number of users of any nation, adding, "we have always managed the internet in accordance with laws and regulations." The canny use of social media by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong has further deepened China’s concern over the use of such platforms, prompting further crackdowns on the mainland, including on the use of virtual private networks.

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