VOA Science & Tech
Media organizations say Australia has become a secretive state that is actively restricting the press. The leaders of the country’s major newspapers and broadcasters have made the claims at the first public hearing of a parliamentary inquiry investigating Australia’s security laws and their impact on journalism.
Australia’s media bosses say journalists must be able to do their jobs without fear. The inquiry in Sydney was told that reporters who published stories based on leaked government documents were being treated as though they had received “stolen goods.”
The Australian parliament’s powerful intelligence and security committee is investigating the impact national security laws have on press freedom.FILE - Craig McMurtie, editorial director of the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC), speaks to members of the media outside the ABC building in Sydney, June 5, 2019.
The probe was launched after the Australian Federal Police raided a newspaper journalist’s home in Canberra and the headquarters of the national broadcaster, the ABC, in June, over stories based on leaked confidential documents. The raids were widely condemned as heavy-handed and an “utter violation” of a free media.
The ABC was targeted for publishing allegations of unlawful killings and misconduct by Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan. They were based on hundreds of pages of classified military papers.
Media chiefs are calling for so-called “public interest protections” for reporters to be able to tell sensitive stories without fear of prosecution.
Michael Miller, the executive chairman of News Corp Australasia says national security concerns are unfairly outweighing the public’s right to know.
“We may not be living in police state, but we are living in a state of secrecy,” he said. “We have many laws that criminalize journalism. They are creating a secret society that most Australians would not recognize as our own.”
Police defend raids
Senior Australian Federal Police officers have insisted the raids on the media in June were in defense of national security and that the compromise of sensitive material “could cause exceptionally grave damage or serious damage” to Australia’s interests.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has stressed the importance of a free and open press in Australian democracy.
The parliamentary inquiry into press freedom is expected to report its findings by October.
U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar has rejected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertions that she and fellow lawmaker Rashida Tlaib had no intention of meeting with Israeli officials before Netanyahu barred them from visiting Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank next week.
Omar posted her Israeli itinerary on Twitter Friday, which included meeting with Jewish and Arab members of Israel’s parliament and Israeli security officials.
Let’s be clear: the goal of our trip was to witness firsthand what is happening on the ground in Palestine and hear from stakeholders —our job as Members of Congress.
But since we were unable to fulfill our role as legislators, I am sharing what we would have seen. (THREAD)
Israeli military veterans had planned to give the lawmakers a tour of Hebron where “settlement expansion has resulted in a two-tiered city, with Palestinians under military occupation forced to walk on the opposite side of the street from Israelis.” She said Israeli military veterans would have conducted the tour and talked about “their experiences with the occupation.”
The U.S. lawmaker said her delegation had also scheduled a briefing on the Bedouin community in East Jerusalem, while the United Nations was set to deliver a briefing on the effects of humanitarian aid cuts on Palestinians.
A video conference with Gazan youth was planned. Omar noted that Israeli officials do not allow members of Congress to visit Gaza.
Tlaib decides not to go
Earlier Friday, Tlaib had reversed her decision to travel to the West Bank, just hours after the Israeli Interior Ministry said it would allow the U.S. lawmaker to see her Palestinian grandmother on “humanitarian grounds.”
In a Tweet Friday morning, Tlaib said, “It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in — fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”
Tlaib had written a letter to the Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri on Thursday, requesting admittance to see her grandmother, saying it could be the last opportunity to see her. In the letter, Tlaib said she would “respect any restrictions and not promote boycotts against Israel.”
Deri said in a tweet he had approved Tlaib’s request as a gesture of goodwill “but it was just a provocative request, aimed at bashing the state of Israel. Apparently her hate for Israel overcomes her love for her grandmother.”
Congresswomen denied entry
Israel had said Thursday it would deny both Tlaib and Omar entry, setting off a new round of controversy in the debate over U.S. support for its ally in the Middle East.
The two Democratic lawmakers have been vocal critics of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians. They were set to visit Israel and several cities in the West Bank.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told public broadcaster Kan on Thursday, “We won’t allow those who deny our right to exist in this world to enter Israel. In principle, this is a very justified decision.”
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted shortly before Thursday’s announcement, writing, “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.”
It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 15, 2019
Later in the day, Trump defended the Israeli decision. “I can’t imagine why Israel would let them in,” he said, repeating that the two lawmakers were “very anti-Jewish and very anti Israel.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the president’s comments “are a sign of ignorance and disrespect, and beneath the dignity of the Office of the President.” Pelosi reaffirmed her love of Israel but said the move to deny entry to Omar and Tlaib “is a sign of weakness, and beneath the dignity of the great state of Israel.”
Omar and Tlaib’s frequent criticism of Israel has drawn accusations of anti-Semitism for months. Omar was condemned by the congressional leadership in her own party for invoking an offensive trope about Jews and money in social media postings earlier this year.
Omar said the Israeli government’s ban on her entry into the country prevented her from fulfilling her duties as a member of the U.S. Congress.
Tlaib tweeted a photograph of her Palestinian grandmother, who she said “deserves to live in peace & with human dignity.”
This woman right here is my sity. She deserves to live in peace & with human dignity. I am who I am because of her. The decision by Israel to bar her granddaughter, a U.S. Congresswoman, is a sign of weakness b/c the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening. pic.twitter.com/GGcFLiH9N3— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) August 15, 2019
Omar and the Palestinian-American Tlaib are supporters of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), a nonviolent movement that seeks to economically pressure Israel into ending its occupation of the West Bank, among other goals. Some advocates of BDS support a single-state solution that critics say would lead to the destruction of the Jewish state.
The freshman members of Congress have repeatedly presented a challenge for the House Democratic leadership, as their outspoken statements on U.S. policy in the Middle East have drawn Trump’s attention.
Omar and Tlaib were two of four House Democratic freshman members of color whom the president has said should “go back” to their home countries. Omar, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Somalia, is the only one of the four who was born outside the United States. The president’s supporters chanted, “Send her back” after Trump mentioned the congresswoman at a rally earlier this year. The president later said he did not like those chants.
The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution in July condemning the BDS movement. Both Omar and Tlaib voted against that resolution.
SINGAPORE/WASHINGTON — The U.S. Commerce Department is expected to extend a reprieve given to Huawei Technologies that permits the Chinese firm to buy supplies from U.S. companies so that it can service existing customers, two sources familiar with the situation said.
The “temporary general license” will be extended for Huawei for 90 days, the sources said.
Commerce initially allowed Huawei to purchase some American-made goods in May shortly after blacklisting the company in a move aimed at minimizing disruption for its customers, many of which operate networks in rural America.
An extension will renew an agreement set to lapse Aug. 19, continuing the Chinese company’s ability to maintain existing telecommunications networks and provide software updates to Huawei handsets.
The situation surrounding the license, which has become a key bargaining chip for the United States in its trade negotiations with China, remains fluid and the decision to continue the Huawei reprieve could change ahead of the Monday deadline, the sources said.FILE - President Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, June 29, 2019.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to discuss Huawei in a call this weekend, one of the sources said.
Huawei did not have an immediate comment. China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
When the Commerce Department blocked Huawei from buying U.S. goods earlier this year, it was seen as a major escalation in the trade war between the world’s two top economies.
The U.S. government blacklisted Huawei alleging the Chinese company is involved in activities contrary to national security or foreign policy interests.
As an example, the blacklisting order cited a criminal case pending against the company in federal court, over allegations Huawei violated U.S. sanctions against Iran. Huawei has pleaded not guilty in the case.
The order noted that the indictment also accused Huawei of “deceptive and obstructive acts.”
At the same time the United States says Huawei’s smartphones and network equipment could be used by China to spy on Americans, allegations the company has repeatedly denied.
The world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker is still prohibited from buying American parts and components to manufacture new products without additional special licenses.FILE - U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross listens during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, July 16, 2019, in Washington.
Many Huawei suppliers have requested the special licenses to sell to the firm. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told reporters late last month he had received more than 50 applications, and that he expected to receive more.
Out of $70 billion that Huawei spent buying components in 2018, about $11 billion went to U.S. firms including Qualcomm, Intel and Micron Technology.
The Commerce Department late Friday declined to comment, referring to Ross’ comments to CNBC television earlier this week in which he said the existing licenses were in effect until Monday.
Asked if they would be extended he said: “On Monday I’ll be happy to update you.”
President Donald Trump is warning U.S. voters that the economy could crash if he is turned out of office next year. His warning came this week as he sought to reassure supporters in New Hampshire about the state of economy amid signs of a possible recession on the horizon, something analysts say could cripple his re-election hopes next year. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
As Hong Kong braces for more mass protests, Trump administration officials are watching events carefully, but also sending mixed messages to China about fears of a potential violent crackdown by Beijing. VOA's Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from the State Department.
Lawmakers in the United States have long been wary of Chinese telecom giant Huawei. They say the corporation is unlike most tech companies because it effectively acts as a spying tool for Beijing. Recently, Huawei installed security cameras around Uganda's capital, Kampala. VOA's Arash Arabasadi has more in this report narrated by Jeff Custer.
Beto O’Rourke on Friday became the first Democratic presidential candidate to visit one of the Mississippi towns where federal immigration agents raided chicken processing plants and arrested nearly 700 people, kicking off a new phase of his campaign he says will focus on President Donald Trump’s damaging policies.
It was the former Texas congressman’s first campaign stop since he suspended his White House bid for nearly two weeks to stay in his hometown of El Paso, where a mass shooting killed 22 people Aug. 3.
The gunman drove more than 600 miles to open fire near the U.S.-Mexico border after posting an anti-immigrant screed online. O’Rourke argues that Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric helped inspire the attack.
He still plans to visit Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, which kick off presidential primary voting, but has now vowed also to travel the country to highlight the stories of some of those people who, in his view, have been most hurt by Trump administration policies.Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke speaks in Spanish to Guatemalan immigrant Agusto Lopez Coronado in Canton, Miss., Aug. 16, 2019. Coronado initially declined to give his name to journalists after the immigration raids at the chicken plants.
Food for out-of-work migrants
That brought O’Rourke, a fluent Spanish-speaker, to Canton, home to a plant owned by Peco Foods Inc., which was among those raided Aug. 7. He met privately with several immigrants in a grocery store in a neighborhood where many people come from Honduras and Guatemala. His campaign also distributed containers of eggs and bags of rice, cornmeal and black beans to immigrants who walked from a mobile home park where they live down the road from the chicken processing plant.
O’Rourke later told reporters that several immigrants said both they and their spouses work at the plant, one on day shift and one on night shift so someone is always home to take care of their children because their pay is too low to afford child care.
Asked why he thinks the workplace raids took place in Mississippi, O’Rourke said: “I don’t know, other than to strike terror into the heart of this community.”
“And if that were the goal, and I think it is from Donald Trump — we’re seeing a tenfold increase in these kinds of ICE raids in his administration versus the last administration — if that is his goal, he’s getting it done,” he said. “He’s terrifying this community, people who have done nothing to anybody else, pose no threat to America. So, there’s no other reason to raid this community, other than to terrify this community.”
Largest raids of Trump term
Last week’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids at seven plants in six Mississippi communities were the largest conducted at workplaces during Trump’s presidency, with 680 people arrested for being in the country illegally. Images of children weeping as they pleaded for their parents to be released became national news and shook many of the affected communities to the core, touching people beyond those who worked in the poultry industry.
Still, after Trump took office, then-acting Director Thomas Homan said ICE would try to increase all worksite enforcement actions by 400%, part of a larger effort to enforce immigration law.Giwada “Gi Gi” Williams of Canton, Miss., waits to see Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, Aug. 16, 2019, in Canton, Miss. Williams said she is concerned about people who were caught up in immigration raids at Mississippi chicken plants.
Worried workers, worried town
Agusto Lopez Coronado, 42, is from Honduras and said he has lived in the United States for 19 years, working for 10 of those years at the chicken processing plant. He said his wife, who is also from Honduras and had worked at the plant for five years, was arrested during the raid and is now jailed in Louisiana.
“We need permission to work so we won’t be afraid,” Coronado said in Spanish. “We’ve got kids who are growing up and, if we’re not going to work, how are we going to live?”
Canton resident Giwada “Gi Gi” Williams, said Friday she worries about the immigrants and their families.
“Who wants to work at the stinking chicken plants? These people — they get up and go to work,” Williams said. “And then this happens to them?”
O'Rourke policy statement
Also, Friday, O’Rourke released a plan to combat “hate, white nationalism and gun violence” that would institute a voluntary program under which the federal government would buy handguns from owners and a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons. He said that, as president, he’d declare violence associated with white supremacists as organized crime and create domestic terrorism offices within the FBI and other federal agencies to help combat it.
O’Rourke’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, noted that the campaign halted virtually all fundraising while O’Rourke was in El Paso out of respect for the shooting victims, saying in an email to supporters, “We’ve just suffered several of our lowest fundraising days of the campaign.”
“Moving forward, we’re going to be working with a fire under us,” O’Malley Dillon wrote. “We are going to be as clear and as strong as possible in drawing our contrasts with Donald Trump.”
U.S. President Donald Trump met Friday with his national security team to discuss the U.S. negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, the White House said.
The meeting came amid media reports that both sides were close to striking a deal that would decide the fate of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after almost 19 years of conflict in the country.
"The meeting went very well, and negotiations are proceeding," the White House said in a statement following the meeting, which was led by the president, who is on a working vacation at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Following the meeting, Trump said the U.S. was looking for a deal with the Taliban "if possible."
Just completed a very good meeting on Afghanistan. Many on the opposite side of this 19 year war, and us, are looking to make a deal - if possible!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 16, 2019
A statement issued Friday evening by the U.S. State Department said the president discussed the "status of negotiations for peace" and "the path forward in Afghanistan."
Those who met with the president included Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, national security adviser John Bolton, Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford and CIA Director Gina Haspel.
"In continued close cooperation with the government of Afghanistan, we remain committed to achieving a comprehensive peace agreement, including a reduction in violence and a cease-fire, ensuring that Afghan soil is never again used to threaten the United States or her allies, and bringing Afghans together to work towards peace," the statement said.
A senior administration official told Reuters that no big decision was expected to come out of the president's meeting with his national security team, but that the "president wanted to bring U.S. troops home."FILE - Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a consultative grand assembly, known as Loya Jirga, in Kabul, April 29, 2019.
There seems to have been no change in the Taliban's staunch position against holding direct talks with the Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani, which the Taliban calls a U.S. puppet government.
U.S. officials have been insisting, though, that any agreement with the insurgent group would be tied to the start of intra-Afghan talks.
Despite assurances by the U.S., the Afghan government has expressed deep concern about being left out of the direct talks between the U.S. and Taliban. The latest round of talks concluded Monday in Qatar's capital, Doha, where the U.S. delegation and members of the Taliban negotiating team held discussions for nine days to try to iron out differences.
Ghani said Sunday, during a speech on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, that a decision this monumental couldn’t be left to an outsider.
"Our fate cannot be decided outside of Afghanistan, not in the countries of our allies, nor in the capitals of our neighbors," Ghani said in an apparent reference to the direct U.S. talks with the Taliban.
"Our fate would be decided inside this land. We do not want anyone to interfere in our internal affairs," the Afghan president added.
Ghani and his government are adamant about holding the country's presidential elections, which are due in late September, and in which Ghani seeks another five-year term in office.
Amrullah Saleh, Ghani's running mate and former head of the country's spy agency, said on Twitter earlier this month that only a legitimate government elected by the people could negotiate with the Taliban, and that therefore elections must be held.
"Elections will take place. Allow no poisonous propaganda to disturb your patriotism. The link between elections and the peace process is very direct and crucial. No one without a mandate from the people can negotiate settlement," Saleh said.
The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the election by attacking polling centers and campaign rallies. The insurgent group last week warned people not to participate in the elections.
A day after the warning, a Taliban car bomb targeting Afghan security forces killed 14 people and wounded more than 140, mostly children, women and other civilians.
Although both the Taliban and the U.S. are citing progress in their direct talks, a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity told Reuters that "significant differences remained" between the two sides following the end of the eighth round of talks in Doha this week.
The officials said the differences center on U.S. demands that the insurgents publicly denounce ties to al-Qaida and other terror groups and agree to a nationwide cease-fire.
Some in the U.S. Congress are concerned that terror groups including al-Qaida and the Islamic State may find fertile ground inside Afghanistan and pose a threat to the U.S. and its allies if the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and an ally of Trump, tweeted Friday following the president's meeting with the national security team.
Must have robust counterterrorism force with intel capability no matter what Taliban demands in order to protect the USA.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) August 16, 2019
"Share President Trump's ‘hope’ that we can honorably end the war in Afghanistan with the Taliban. Certain that al-Qaida, ISIS, and other radical Islamic groups are not interested in the war ending," Graham added.
Graham insists the U.S. should maintain a counterterrorism force inside Afghanistan, even if a deal is reached with the Taliban.
The U.S. has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan engaged in both train-and-advise missions, as part of the U.S.-led NATO Resolute Support Mission, and in counterterrorism missions against the Islamic State and al-Qaida terror groups.
About 8,000 troops from NATO allies and partners also are stationed in the country, training and supporting the Afghan security forces.
Some of information for this report came from Reuters and The Associated Press.
Members of China’s paramilitary People’s Armed Police marched and practiced crowd control tactics at a sports complex in Shenzhen across from Hong Kong in what some interpreted as a threat against pro-democracy protesters in the semi-autonomous territory.
The sound of marching boots and synchronized shouts echoed from the grounds Friday. Officers in green camouflage stood guard at closed entrances. A stadium security guard said “it wasn’t clear” when the paramilitary police would leave the grounds.
Chinese state media have said only that the Shenzhen exercises were planned earlier and were not directly related to the unrest in Hong Kong, though they came shortly after the central government in Beijing said the protests were beginning to show the “sprouts of terrorism.”Protesters attend a "Stand With Hong Kong, Power to the People Rally" at the Chater Garden, in Hong Kong, Aug. 16, 2019.
From a distance, police could be seen conducting drills in military fatigues, using shields, poles and other riot-control gear. In one exercise, two groups marched in formation with those in front raising shields as if to protect themselves from projectiles. Others behind held red flags and banners. The words “the law” and “prosecuted” could be seen on one.
Outside, dozens of armored carriers and trucks sat in the parking lot of the Shenzhen Bay Stadium, close to a bridge linking mainland China to Hong Kong.
Asked if Hong Kong police could maintain order or if mainland Chinese intervention is becoming inevitable, Hong Kong police commander Yeung Man-pun said that while they face tremendous pressure, “I can tell you we’re confident the police have the capability to maintain law and order.”Anti-extradition bill protesters hold an American flag at a gathering at Chater House Garden in Hong Kong, Aug. 16, 2019.
Weeks of protest
Germany, meanwhile, said it considers China to be a responsible actor that will respect Hong Kong laws guaranteeing freedom of speech and rule of law.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Friday that Hong Kong’s 1997 Basic Law, under which the city was promised a high degree of autonomy when the former British colony returned to China, “is a Chinese law, and as such we naturally expect that the People’s Republic of China, too, won’t call into question the peaceful exercise of these rights.”
Weeks of protests in Hong Kong have been marked by increasing violence and a shutdown of the Hong Kong airport earlier this week. The demonstrators are demanding expanded political rights and the scrapping of legislation that could have seen criminal suspects sent to mainland China.
A weekend of protests began Friday night with a university student-led “power to the people” rally in Chater Garden, a public square in the financial district.
A pro-democracy march is planned for Saturday along with a separate pro-government “Save Hong Kong” rally, ahead of a major pro-democracy rally called for Sunday. Police have denied permission for the march Sunday, but protesters have ignored such denials in the past.A pro-democracy protester holds a sign while attending a rally in Hong Kong Aug. 16, 2019.
Airline CEO resigns
China has pressured foreign and Hong Kong companies to support the ruling Communist Party’s position against the protesters.
The CEO of Cathay Pacific Airways, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent companies, resigned Friday following pressure by Beijing on the carrier over participation by some of its employees in the anti-government protests.
Cathay Pacific said Rupert Hogg resigned “to take responsibility” following “recent events.”
The company chairman, John Slosar, said in a statement the airline needed new management because events had “called into question” its commitment to safety and security.
On Monday, Hogg threatened employees with “disciplinary consequences” if they took part in “illegal protests.”
Last week, China’s aviation regulator said Cathay Pacific employees who “support or take part in illegal protests, violent actions, or overly radical behavior” are banned from staffing flights to mainland China.
Message of 'joy and smile'
On Friday morning, Frenchman Alain Robert, who has been dubbed “spiderman” for his unauthorized climbs of skyscrapers, hung a banner appealing for peace as he scaled the 62-story Cheung Kong Center, a landmark Hong Kong building that is the base for property tycoon Li Ka-shing’s business empire.
The banner showed the Chinese and Hong Kong flags over a handshake and a small yellow sun with a smiley face.
“The banner is to give joy and smile to the people of Hong Kong,” he told the AP as he sat in a taxi about to leave for his climb. He added that he didn’t want to get “mixed up in the political situation.”
Robert, 57, was taken to a police station afterward. It wasn’t immediately clear if he would be charged. He was banned in 2017 from returning to Hong Kong for one year after climbing another building.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday the U.S.-Israel relationship can withstand the “weakness” of President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who shook diplomatic norms this week in barring two members of Congress from visiting the country.
Pelosi told The Associated Press that the “weakness of Netanyahu and the weakness of Donald Trump combined” into a policy that's “a no.”
“We have a deep relationship and long-standing relationship with Israel that can withstand Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu,” Pelosi said. “We cannot let their weaknesses stand in the way of our ongoing relationship.”
She said the U.S. commitment to Israel isn't dependent on either leader, a sign there may not be lasting fallout from this week's incident, particularly in terms of foreign aid, which must be approved by Congress.
In an extraordinary move, Netanyahu, with a push from Trump, barred entry for Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota ahead of their planned visit. Tlaib was later granted a humanitarian exception to visit her grandmother in the West Bank, but ultimately decided against the trip .
Trump views the freshmen congresswomen as among his chief opponents — part of the “squad'' of newly elected liberal lawmakers — and has called them out at his rallies and in racist tweets as he runs for re-election. Trump describes them as the face of the Democratic Party.
Trump complained Friday about Tlaib's decision against taking the trip.
“Rep. Tlaib wrote a letter to Israeli officials desperately wanting to visit her grandmother. Permission was quickly granted, whereupon Tlaib obnoxiously turned the approval down, a complete setup,” Trump tweeted. “The only real winner here is Tlaib's grandmother. She doesn't have to see her now!”
The two Muslim lawmakers support a Palestinian-led boycott of Israel, and barring their entry was an escalation of Netanyahu's attempts to quash the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
Both leaders are up for re-election — Netanyahu in the fall, and Trump next year. Critics of the decision framed it as stoking divisions for short-term political gain at the expense of harming the deep ties that Israel has long enjoyed with both political parties in the U.S.
Pelosi said she had “great, great, great sadness” over the decision, but she was not discouraging other lawmakers from visiting Israel.
“Members will make their own decisions about this, but I would not discourage travel to Israel,” Pelosi said.
“We have a strong relationship with Israel as well as a deep love and respect for the people of Israel. And, again, this is not going to undermine that, try as President Trump will to do that.”
The Los Angeles Opera declined Friday to release any details of its promised investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against opera legend Placido Domingo, the company’s longtime general director, including whether it has begun.
Also Friday, the union that represents opera singers said it plans a meeting in Los Angeles next week to address its members’ concerns ahead of the LA company’s season opener Sept. 14.
Len Egert, the executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, told The Associated Press that the union has been receiving its own reports from members since an AP story earlier this week detailing accusations against the 78-year-old singing star.
Hours after the AP story was released Tuesday detailing the allegations, the LA Opera announced it would engage outside counsel to investigate the “concerning allegations.”
An open secret
Three of the nine women who accused the singer of harassment and abuse of power described encounters they said took place while working with Domingo at the LA organization. The nine women and dozens of others interviewed said Domingo’s behavior was an open secret in the industry and that he pursued younger women with impunity.
LA Opera would not disclose who would be conducting the investigation, how it would be carried out, when it would start or its expected duration.
A spokeswoman for the company said Friday LA Opera will share details when they have information and that there was currently nothing to add beyond the statement released Tuesday.
Domingo is widely credited with raising the profile of LA Opera, where he served as an artistic consultant from 1984 to 2000, artistic director from 2000 to 2003 and, finally, general director from 2003 until now. His current contract runs through the 2021-22 season.
In its initial statement, LA Opera said Domingo “has been a dynamic creative force in the life of LA Opera” but that it is committed to ensuring that its employees and artists “be treated respectfully and feel safe and secure.”
Domingo did not respond to detailed questions from the AP about specific incidents. But he issued a statement calling the allegations “deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate,” adding “I believed that all of my interactions and relationships were always welcomed and consensual.”
The allegations in the AP story sparked a global discussion among opera singers on social media forums about the culture of sexual misconduct in the classical music world and the belief that opera companies have long been aware of bad behavior and tolerated it, particularly when the accused are people in positions of power.
Aside from LA Opera, the other women quoted in the story recounted incidents they said took place at other venues, including Washington Opera and the Metropolitan Opera in New York, ranging from 1988 into the mid-2000s.
Some of the women told the AP that Domingo used his power at the LA company and elsewhere to try to pressure them into sexual relationships, with several saying that he dangled jobs and then sometimes punished them professionally if they refused his advances.
Some performances canceled
The Philadelphia Orchestra and San Francisco Opera announced they would cancel upcoming performances featuring the star. The Metropolitan Opera said it would await the results of LA Opera’s investigation “before making any final decisions about Mr. Domingo’s future at the Met,” where he is scheduled to appear next month.
The American Guild of Musical Artists issued a statement calling for wider investigations across the opera world.
“AGMA became aware of serious allegations of sexual harassment made by multiple women against Placido Domingo. We have contacted our employers to demand investigations into these allegations,” said the statement issued earlier this week.
Since then, “through our confidential reporting system we have been receiving reports from members,” Egert said Friday. “We are providing timely, confidential advice and guidance to these artists.” He did not elaborate.
Egert said that AGMA will be “closely monitoring the internal LA Opera investigation” and has scheduled a membership meeting in Los Angeles early next week, before the start of rehearsals, to address any member concerns on questions. The LA Opera 2019-2020 season starts Sept. 14 with “La Boheme.”
Asked if the union was aware of Domingo’s alleged behavior previously, he said, “AGMA did not receive complaints from its members prior to the recent news reports.”
Thousands of travelers entering the United States experienced delays Friday because of a technology outage affecting Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) processing systems.
Reuters reported that in a tweet at 6:37 p.m. EDT, CBP said that the affected systems were “coming back online” and that travelers were being processed. The agency said there was “no indication” that the disruption was “malicious in nature.”
Earlier, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York said via Twitter that CPB agents were manually processing travelers.
Travelers posted images and video on social media showing long lines at airports.
The outage affected only inbound U.S. international flights, not departures. The delays affected both foreign visitors to the United States as well as U.S. citizens arriving from abroad.
But the Federal Aviation Administration, Reuters reported, said the outage caused no changes in flights.
On an average day, CBP processes around 358,000 air passengers and crew.
This was not the CPB system’s first outage. It was out of service for four hours on Jan. 2, 2017, Reuters said. A Homeland Security inspector general's office report issued in November of that year found “inadequate CBP software capacity testing, leaving the potential for recurrence of processing errors."
HASLET, TEXAS — Acrid gun smoke clouded the sunny entrance of a Texas church on a recent Sunday.
Seven men wearing heavy vests and carrying pistols loaded with blanks ran toward the sound of the shots, stopping at the end of a long hallway. As one peeked into the foyer, the “bad guy” raised the muzzle of an AR-15, took aim and squeezed the trigger.
The simulated gunfight at the church in Haslet was part of a niche industry that trains civilians to protect their churches using the techniques and equipment of law enforcement. Rather than a bullet, the rifle fired a laser that hit Stephen Hatherley’s vest, triggering an electric shock the 60-year-old Navy veteran later described as a “tingle.”
Shootings this month killed more than 30 people at an El Paso Walmart and Dayton, Ohio, entertainment district. But gunmen have also targeted houses of worships in recent years, including a church in rural Sutherland Springs, Texas, where more than two dozen people were killed in 2017.Police officers David Riggall, left, and Nick Guadarrama, center, show students Stephen Hatherley, center rear, and Chris Scott, right rear, how to clear a hallway intersection during a security training session at Fellowship of the Parks campus
Welcome strangers, safely
The anxiety of one mass shooting after another has led some churches to start training and arming their worshippers with guns. Not all security experts support this approach, but it has gained momentum as congregations across the country grapple with how to secure spaces where welcoming strangers is a religious practice.
“Ten years ago, this industry was not a thing,” said David Riggall, a Texas police officer whose company trains churchgoers to volunteer as security guards. “I mean, sanctuary means a safe place.”
In 1993, Doug Walker said security wasn’t at the fore of his mind when, as a recent Baptist seminary graduate, he founded Fellowship of the Parks church in Fort Worth. But six years later, after a gunman killed seven people and took his own life at another church in the Texas city, the pastor said his thinking changed.
Today, the interdenominational church has four campuses and 3,000 worshippers on an average Sunday, Walker said. It has increased security as it has grown, asking off-duty police to carry weapons at church events. And it recently hired Riggall’s company, Sheepdog Defense Group, to train volunteers in first aid, threat assessment, de-escalation techniques, using a gun and tactical skills, such as clearing rooms during an active shooting.
Walker, 51, said there wasn’t a single event that prompted his church to decide its guards needed more training. But Riggall said that after mass shootings congregations reach out.
“Every time the news comes on and there’s another shooting in a school or church or something like that, the phone starts ringing,” Riggall said.
The 46-year-old police officer said that he and a colleague had the idea for the company after the 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. They started doing firearms trainings with parents and, after Riggall became certified under Texas law to train security guards, transitioned to churches.Brett Faulkner, left, fires blanks out of an assault rifle as he and Julia Gant, right, participate in a hostage-taking scenario during a security training session at Fellowship of the Parks campus in Haslet, Texas, July 21, 2019.
‘I’m going to kill this woman’
The company incorporates Christian teachings into its courses and more than 90 people at 18 churches have completed the 70 hours of initial training and become state-licensed guards through its program, Riggall said. The so-called sheepdogs are insured and technically employed by the company. But they volunteer doing security at their own churches, which in turn pay Riggall.
On a Sunday in July, Brett Faulkner stood with an AR-15 in hand and his back to the cross in the sanctuary of Fellowship of the Parks campus in Haslet, a community about 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of Fort Worth. He pointed the rifle at a young woman’s back and yelled at the armed men advancing into the room, “I’m going to kill this woman. It’s going to happen right now.”
Faulkner, a 46-year-old information technology worker, has completed a Sheepdog session but came to another church’s to play the bad guy and keep his skills sharp.
“It really just comes down to caring about the people in that building,” Faulkner said of choosing to guard his small Baptist church.
Faulkner said his congregation re-evaluated its security after recent mass shootings and went with Riggall’s company as a cost-effective option.
“This is a good balance between the cost of paying professionals and relying on untrained volunteers,” he said.FILE - A woman reacts at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue following Saturday's shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Oct. 29, 2018.
Security professionals differ on what balance is right.
After 11 worshippers were shot dead during Shabbat morning services at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, the city’s Jewish community has added layers of defenses.
Since that October attack, congregations that once felt guns were unnecessary or inappropriate have welcomed armed security, said Brad Orsini, security director for The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. But arming worshippers is not an approach the former FBI agent recommends.
“Carrying a firearm is an awesome responsibility,” said Orsini, who served in the Marine Corps before his nearly three decades with the FBI. “Because you have the ability to have a carry concealed permit does not make you a security expert. Because you have a firearm doesn’t necessarily mean you should be carrying it at the church on the weekend.”FILE - Emergency personnel respond to a fatal shooting at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Nov. 5, 2017.
Security on a budget
Sheepdog Firearms, a Birmingham, Alabama-area gun range, offers police-style training to people looking to protect their churches. Owner David Youngstrom acknowledged the eight-hour course doesn’t produce experts.
But, he said, many of the roughly 40 Alabama churches that have sent people to take the class are small, rural congregations with limited means. For them, having armed volunteers can feel like the only option, he said.
And the trainings provide churches with evidence of having a security program in place if a tragedy turns into litigation.
“It gives a good record for something that will hold up in court,” Youngstrom said.
Laws about carrying firearms in houses of worship vary from state to state. But as a general matter of liability, churches training members for security is not much different from a business hiring guards, according to Eugene Volokh, a professor at the UCLA School of Law.
A church could be sued if people were harmed because its security was badly trained, Volokh said, but also if it generally failed to protect people on its grounds. Both can be insured against and either is unlikely, he said.Police officers David Riggall, kneeling, and Nick Guadarrama, right, instruct students Bryan Hetherington, left rear, and Chris Scott, center rear, during a security training session at Fellowship of the Parks campus in Haslet, Texas, July 21, 2019.
Different churches, different approaches
Brian Higgins, a former police chief for Bergen County, New Jersey, and instructor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said he’s seen varied approaches to firearms in his work consulting at houses of worship. Attitudes toward guns differ between urban and rural areas, as do the security needs, he said.
And churches comfortable arming members also draw lines to preserve an environment conducive to worship.
Fellowship of the Parks allows congregants to have concealed weapons in church. But Walker, the pastor, said that other than security, people carrying openly are asked to put their guns away or leave.
“If people open carry who are not uniformed that can be very unsettling,” Walker said. “You may not know if that person is a possible shooter or criminal, so we try to balance it.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the test-firing of a new weapon again on Friday morning, state media KCNA said on Saturday.
North Korea launched at least two short-range ballistic missiles on Friday, South Korea's military said, its sixth roundof weapons launches since late July, complicating efforts to restart talks between the United States and North Korea over Pyongyang's weapons programs.
Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea will travel to Japan and South Korea next week to coordinate efforts to secure the denuclearization of North Korea, the State Department said on Friday.
News of Biegun's trip came after U.S. President Donald Trump said last Saturday that Kim had told him he was ready to resume stalled denuclearization talks with the United States and would stop recent missile testing as soon as U.S.-South Korea military exercises that have been held this month end.
The North has protested against joint U.S.-South Korea military drills, which kicked off last week, calling them a rehearsal for war.
An official at Seoul's defense ministry said on Friday that there was a possibility that the North fired the same type of missiles it used on Aug. 10, which Pyongyang also called "a new weapon" at that time.
Last week, Trump played down the North's recent missile tests, saying they do not violate Kim's pledge to forego nuclear and long-range tests. Trump also said that he had just received a "very beautiful letter' from Kim and added that he could have another meeting with him.
The denuclearization talks have been in a stalemate since a June 30 meeting between the two leaders.
This story is part of an ongoing joint investigation between The Associated Press and the PBS series Frontline on the treatment of migrant children.
WASHINGTON — Dozens of families separated at the border as part of the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy are preparing to sue the federal government, including several who say their young children were sexually, physically or emotionally abused in federally funded foster care.
A review of 38 legal claims obtained by The Associated Press — some of which have never been made public — shows taxpayers could be on the hook for more than $200 million in damages. More than 3,000 migrant children were taken from their parents at the border in recent years and many more lawsuits are expected, potentially totaling in the billions.
The families — some in the U.S., others already deported to Central America — are represented by grass-roots immigration clinics and nonprofit groups, along with some of the country's most powerful law firms. They're making claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act as a precursor to filing lawsuits. The FTCA allows individuals who suffer harm as a direct result of federal employees to sue the government.
``It's the tip of the iceberg,'' said Erik Walsh, an attorney at Arnold & Porter, which has one of the world's leading pro bono programs.
18 claims so far by firm
The firm has so far filed 18 claims on behalf of nine families, totaling $54 million, and Walsh says dozens more are likely.
The government has six months to settle FTCA claims from the time they're filed. After that, the claimants are free to file federal lawsuits.
The departments of Justice and Homeland Security, both named in the claims, did not respond to requests for comment.
Health and Human Services, the agency responsible for the care of migrant children, said it couldn't comment on pending litigation, but that it treats children with dignity and respect.
Last year, HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement cared for nearly 50,000 children who crossed the border by themselves, as well as children who were separated from their families under the zero-tolerance policy.
The agency housed them in foster programs, residential shelters and detention camps around the country, sometimes making daily placements of as many as 500 new arrivals, from babies to teens.
The allegations of abuse and assaults in foster care raise fresh questions about the government's efforts to place younger children with families in lieu of larger shelters and packed detention facilities.
Emotional, physical harm
The legal claims, a recent federal court filing and HHS documents released by Congress earlier this year allege that children have suffered serious emotional trauma after being physically harmed or fondled by other children while in foster care.
Six of the claims for damages involve children who were in foster care. And one recent court filing refers to a migrant child being abused in foster care.
The records released by Congress show the Office of Refugee Resettlement referred at least seven foster care allegations of sexual abuse to the Justice Department in 2017 and 2018. Because some are anonymous to protect the children's privacy, it's unclear if some of the claims are duplicates.
Justice has not responded to repeated queries about those cases from members of Congress.
Three of the four incidents involving physical harm outlined in the FTCA claims occurred at Cayuga Centers in New York, the largest foster care placement for migrant children, housing up to 900 babies and children at a time.
Cayuga Centers did not respond to requests for comment.
One Guatemalan mother whose 5-year-old daughter was placed in Cayuga last year says her little girl still wakes up crying from what she endured at the foster home.
``Now she's scared each time we go out or when she sees a police car or someone in uniform,'' said the mother, who has filed a $6 million claim. ``She says `Mami, don't let them separate us again.' ''
Families who spoke to the AP and Frontline did so on the condition of anonymity over fears about their safety.
New York program
Another 5-year-old Guatemalan girl said a boy grabbed her chest and touched her inappropriately, both in her foster home and during daytime classes at a Safe Haven for Children New York foster program, according to a $3 million injury claim. The girl was moved to a new foster home but suffered verbal abuse from her foster parent's mother, who called her names and locked her alone in rooms as punishment, according to the claim.
A spokesman for Lutheran Social Services of New York, which oversees the Safe Haven foster program, declined to comment.
Two claims blame the government for wrongful deaths: one, seeking $20 million, was filed by the wife of a Honduran father who killed himself in a padded cell after officers pulled his 3-year-old son from his arms.
``The people making these policies intended this level of suffering, and that's what's unconscionable,'' said John Escamilla, who is representing the man's wife and two children.
He said he planned to file a federal lawsuit stemming from his FTCA claim soon.
The government has not settled any family separation cases in the administrative claims stage. But one federal lawsuit is currently in litigation in Massachusetts, and in February, a judge approved a $125,000 settlement for a Honduran mom and her son, then 6, who had been detained for four months and threatened with separation under the Obama administration.
Aseem Mehta, a law student at the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School who worked on the case, said the settlement, the first of its kind, sends a clear message that such claims have legal standing.
'These claims are viable'
``Our case is a benchmark,'' Mehta said. ``The most important takeaway is these claims are viable, and courts will entertain them, and the Department of Homeland Security views them as meritorious; they don't settle cases unless they think there's liability they're exposed to.''
Janet Napolitano, who led Homeland Security from 2009 to 2013, said she recalled a number of tort claims were filed against the agency in her time but said family separations were rare. The Trump administration's failure to swiftly reunify families and children may have left the agency open to lawsuits, she added.
``There very well may be some vulnerability there,'' said Napolitano, now the president of the University of California.
Two of President Donald Trump's strongest allies in Congress pushed back Friday on his administration's plans to slash some $4 billion in foreign aid that lawmakers have already approved.
In a letter, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky discouraged the president “in the strongest possible terms” from going ahead with the cuts to the State Department and United States Agency for International Development budget. The as-yet unsubmitted proposal is widely opposed by other Republicans and Democrats, but Graham and Rogers carry significant weight with the White House.Ranking member Harold Rogers, R-Ky., speaks as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appears before a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on budget on Capitol Hill, March 27, 2019, in Washington.
Graham is a frequent golfing partner of Trump's and is chairman of the powerful Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees State Department and USAID funding. Rogers is the top Republican on the corresponding subcommittee in the House. The top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate foreign affairs committees have also told the administration they oppose the cuts that are being planned under a procedure known as “rescission” and will take action to prevent them.
“We strongly urge you to reconsider this approach,” Graham and Rogers wrote. They said a cut to congressionally approved funding without serious consultation “only undermines our national security interests and emboldens our adversaries.”
The administration hasn't yet formally announced that it will seek the cut, but the Office of Management and Budget, which last year unsuccessfully tried a similar move, has signaled it will try to return to the Treasury roughly $4 billion in unspent money appropriated for United Nations peacekeeping, development assistance, global health programs and military training.
Since taking office in 2017, the Trump administration has sought each year to slash foreign affairs funding by as much as 30% in budget proposals that have been soundly rejected by lawmakers from both parties in Congress.
Tracking eye movement can reveal when a person recognizes another, even when they try to hide it, according to new research.
Attempts to conceal recognition made it easier to spot in the new study, which could be used in criminal investigations to gain information from uncooperative witnesses or suspects.
Lie-detector tests are used in such cases as criminal investigations and U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation interviews, but the results are notoriously unreliable. When asked questions critical to a criminal case, a racing heartbeat or sweaty palms might incriminate a nervous truth-teller, while a practiced liar may be able to control those signs and avoid suspicion.
A team led by Ailsa Millen, a psychology researcher at Britain's University of Stirling, tested a different method to extract information: tracking the movement of people's eyes as they look at photographs of faces. Instead of detecting the physical response to lying, which can be misleading, the researchers looked for the hidden information itself: the knowledge of a familiar face.
"Humans are experts at familiar face recognition. Recognition of a familiar face is fast and reflexive," said Millen.
Your eyes trace a familiar face differently than they do an unfamiliar one. When people look at unfamiliar faces, their eyes tend to dance from feature to feature, pausing frequently but briefly as they try to identify the unknown person. When gazing at familiar faces, people tend to linger on just a few features.
Seeking hidden recognition
The researchers wanted to know if people could control their eye movements when attempting to hide the fact that they recognized a familiar face — or if their eyes would give them away.
They showed 48 students pictures of strangers and familiar professors. They asked participants to try to appear honest while lying about recognizing familiar faces.
The researchers gave half the participants a method they thought might help them hide their recognition: pausing in the same places as they looked at each face, starting from the forehead, then stopping at each eye as they move from one ear to the other, then down to the nose, mouth and chin.
Millen was surprised by how quickly the subjects reacted to both familiar and unfamiliar faces — glancing at just a few features before responding that they did or did not know the person — but the speed at which they reacted didn't prevent the researchers from detecting their recognition of the familiar faces.
"Concealing markers for facial recognition in eye movements is difficult, especially if you know that person well," said Millen. "The harder our participants tried to conceal recognition, the more apparent it was."
In most cases, the participants who were given a hint as to how to hide their knowledge of the familiar person were unable to do so. Like those who were instructed to do their best to seem honest without other instructions, lingering too long on familiar facial features was a giveaway.
A better way to collect information
Millen hopes that her findings can someday be used in a law enforcement setting — not to assign guilt, but to collect information and filter out who is connected to whom in a criminal case.
"I think the work is pretty novel," said Deborah Hannula, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who was not involved in the research. "It's incredibly important to detect whether someone knows something and isn't willing to reveal that in cases that have high importance, like terrorist investigations."
Hannula and Millen agree that while the technique is promising, it needs a stronger experimental base before it can be used in a law enforcement setting.
Millen noted that she and her collaborator explored only one method of hiding recognition, but many other methods could exist, some of which might be more effective. Additionally, it's not yet clear what role the degree of familiarity plays. In order for the method to be applied to law enforcement scenarios, it needs to be effective for faces that are very familiar as well as only slightly familiar.
The research was published in the scientific journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications.
LOS ANGELES - Peter Fonda, the son of a Hollywood legend who became a movie star in his own right, both writing and starring in counterculture classics like Easy Rider, died Friday at his Los Angeles home, his family said. He was 79.
The official cause of death was respiratory failure due to lung cancer.
Henry Fonda's only son carved his own path with his nonconformist tendencies and earned an Oscar nomination for co-writing Easy Rider. He never won an Oscar but was nominated for best actor in Ulee's Gold.
The family said this was one of the saddest moments of their lives and asked for privacy.
WASHINGTON - The Trump administration has informed Congress it plans to sell F-16 fighters worth $8 billion to Taiwan in a move that will increase already high tensions with China.
Two U.S. officials and a congressional aide said the administration informally notified lawmakers of the proposed sale late Thursday. They were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The F-16 deal is highly controversial because China fiercely opposes all arms sales to Taiwan, which it regards as a renegade province, but has specifically objected to advanced fighter jets. The notification also came as U.S. trade talks with China are stalled and amid unrest in Hong Kong that many fear could prompt Beijing to move militarily against the former British colony.
The State Department, which would ultimately authorize the sale, declined to comment, but members of Congress from both parties welcomed the proposal.
The chairman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Reps. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said in a joint statement that it ``sends a strong message about the U.S. commitment to security and democracy in the Indo-Pacific'' and ``will help deter China as they threaten our strategic partner Taiwan and its democratic system of government.''
``With China building up its military to threaten us and our allies, and the People's Liberation Army aiming thousands of missiles at Taiwan and deploying fighter aircrafts along the Taiwan Strait, now more than ever it is critical that Taiwan has the support needed to defend itself,'' said Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The informal notification starts a period of consultations with Congress, and a formal announcement of the sale could be made as early as next month unless lawmakers object.
Just this week, America's top representative in Taiwan said Washington expects the island to continue increasing its defense spending as Chinese security threats to the U.S. ally continue to grow. W. Brent Christensen said the U.S. had ``not only observed Taiwan's enthusiasm to pursue necessary platforms to ensure its self-defense, but also its evolving tenacity to develop its own indigenous defense industry.''
That was a nod to President Tsai Ing-wen's drive to develop domestic training jets, submarines and other weapons technology, supplementing arms bought from the U.S.
Christensen is the director of the American Institute in Taiwan, which has served as the de facto U.S. Embassy in Taiwan since formal diplomatic relations were cut in 1979.
While China and Taiwan split during a civil war in 1949, Beijing still considers Taiwan Chinese territory and has increased its threats to annex the self-governing democracy by force if necessary.
Despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties, U.S. law requires Washington to ensure Taiwan has the means to defend itself.
Since 2008, U.S. administrations have notified Congress of more than $24 billion in foreign military sales to Taiwan, including in the past two months the sale of 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks and 250 Stinger missiles, valued at $2.2 billion, Christensen said. The Trump administration alone has notified Congress of $4.4 billion in arms sales to Taiwan.
China has responded furiously to all such sales and recently announced it would impose sanctions on any U.S. enterprises involved in such deals, saying they undermine China's sovereignty and national security.
Tsai has adamantly rejected Chinese pressure to reunite Taiwan and China under the ``one-country, two-systems'' framework that governs Hong Kong. She and many Taiwanese have said that the people of the island stand with the young people of Hong Kong who are fighting for democratic freedoms in ongoing protests.
Beijing has cut contacts with Tsai's government over Tsai's refusal to endorse its claim that Taiwan is a part of China, and it sought to increase Taiwan's international isolation by reducing its number of diplomatic allies to just 17. China has also stepped up efforts at military intimidation, holding military exercises across the Taiwan Strait and circling the island with bombers and fighters in what are officially termed training missions.
Over the past few days, VOA Mandarin service reporter Suli Yi has spoken to Hong Kong residents at peaceful protests. Any one of them could be your neighbor — law-abiding, family-focused, worried about the future of their community.