A new big brother for Laos?

The Friendship Shield 2023 war games brought 200 Chinese troops and 700 Lao soldiers together for three weeks near the Lao capital Vientiane for joint military exercises. The drills between the two Communist states gave troops from impoverished, land-locked Laos firsthand experience using modern Chinese weapons, opening the way for the Southeast Asian country to replace its Soviet-era and Russian military supplies. Neighboring Vietnam, Laos’ biggest traditional ally, is believed to be watching the Sino-Lao relationship warily, while the U.S. is also concerned about China’s expanding military influence.

Tibetan monk released from prison in poor health after serving two-year sentence

A Tibetan Buddhist monk serving a jail sentence for “sending money for prayer offerings” to the Dalai Lama and to the abbot of his monastery has been released from jail and has returned to the monastery, people in Tibet who are familiar with the situation said.

Authorities arrested Sonam Gyatso on April 3, 2021, while he was vacationing in Chengdu. On Tuesday, he was freed from Menyang Prison near the city of Chengdu in southwest China’s Sichuan province, after completing his two-year sentence, the sources said. 

On Thursday, he returned to Kirti Monastery in Sichuan’s Ngaba county in poor health because of torture and maltreatment in prison, they said. 

Chinese authorities arrested Gyatso, his sister Tsering Lhamo, and another Kirti Monastery monk, Rachung Gendun, for allegedly sending money for prayer offerings to the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism’s spiritual leader, and the head of the monastery through Lobsang Thokmey, the monastery’s manager all of whom live in exile in Dharamsala, India. 

Chinese authorities consider it illegal for Tibetans to contact other Tibetans living in exile and are particularly sensitive about any contact with the Dalai Lama, who fled to India 74 years ago and has been living in Dharamsala ever since. Beijing considers him a separatist seeking to destroy China’s sovereignty by pushing for independence for Tibet.

The three were sentenced to different jail terms, though Lhamo was released this April. Upon release, she sought medical treatment in a Chengdu hospital because she was weak, said one of the sources who declined to be identified for safety reasons. 

Gendrun is still serving a 3.5-year sentence after being sentenced in July 2022. He also had strongly opposed the Chinese government’s “patriotic education” campaign in which Chinese and trusted Tibetan officials forced Buddhist monks and nuns to accept the concept of the unity of China and Tibet, a source with knowledge of the situation previously told RFA. 

Gyatso became a monk at a young age and studied Buddhism at the Kirti Monastery, obtaining the Geshe degree, a higher academic degree in Buddhist philosophy. He later worked in the monastic department and became a mentor to others at Kirti Monastery, where he frequently experienced problems with local Chinese authorities. 

China maintains firm control of the restive Tibet Autonomous Region, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of cultural and religious identity as Buddhists. Tibetans frequently complain of discrimination and human rights abuses by authorities as well as policies they say are aimed at wiping out their national and cultural identity.

Translated by Rigdhen Dolma. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Matt Reed.

China braces for second COVID wave amid public doubts over homegrown vaccines

Chinese experts are warning of a mounting wave of COVID-19 cases, but face ongoing public distrust that homegrown vaccines targeting the XBB Omicron variants will do much to protect people against severe disease or death.

The country’s top respiratory disease expert Zhong Nanshan warned this week that the number of infections will likely reach 40 million a week, rising to a peak of 65 million a week by the end of June.

China recently approved two new vaccines targeting XBB variants, Zhong told the 2023 Greater Bay Area Science Forum in the southern city of Guangzhou on Monday, with three or four new jabs in the pipeline and likely to be approved soon.

More than 80% of new infections in China are now caused by the XBB strain of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, state media quoted the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention as saying, and the proportion continues to rise.

China’s National Health Commission has warned that the XBB strains have greater transmissibility and immune escape than earlier strains of Omicron, with no significant change in its ability to cause severe initial disease.

China’s top respiratory disease expert Zhong Nanshan has warned that COVID infections in the country likely will peak at 65 million a week by the end of June. Credit: AFP file photo

But Chinese Academy of Sciences expert Gao Fu said there is also the threat of long COVID and sequelae caused by the virus, especially as reports are emerging of high proportions of reinfections in Chinese hospitals, the Global Times reported.

“The more times an individual is infected with COVID-19, the higher the risk of sequelae people will face,” the English-language Global Times newspaper quoted Gao as telling an infectious diseases research conference on May 13.

The long-term effects – or sequelae – of COVID-19 infection are “a basic fact” that people shouldn’t shy away from, Gao told the conference.

“We can’t be afraid of COVID but we also can’t make light of it,” he said.

Links to other diseases

Recent studies have shown a link between COVID-19 infection and heart damage, Type 1 and 2 diabetes, cognitive deficits, as well as chronic fatigue and postural tachycardia reported by long COVID sufferers, including children.

While many studies suggest there are higher risks for those who aren’t vaccinated, others say organ damage has been seen even after “mild” initial illness.

Mourners stand outside crematorium as white smoke pours out of chimneys used for cremation in Beijing, Dec. 31, 2022. Credit: Associated Press

The World Health Organization estimated recently that one in 10 cases of COVID-19 could lead to long-term care needs.

Zhong also warned in comments reported in the Global Times on May 15 that while antibodies from an earlier infection once provided protection against reinfection for up to six months, the XBB was able to escape immunity from infection, and it is now nearly six months since China’s initial wave of infections.

The paper cited hospital officials as saying that around 40% of recent cases at the Shenzhen No. 3 People’s Hospital were reinfections.

Experts estimate that the initial wave of Omicron that followed the lifting of three years of lockdowns, compulsory testing and mass quarantines under Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s zero-COVID policy likely infected up to 1.2 billion people in China.

Crematoriums overwhelmed

As the first wave hit an undervaccinated population, funeral homes and crematoriums were working round the clock to deal with a massive wave of deaths, as a U.K.-based computer model estimated that as many as 36,000 people died each day during the Lunar New Year holiday period in February, with cases peaking at 4.8 million a day.

Yanzhong Huang, a senior researcher on global health issues at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington DC, took the government’s own figures on cases and the official projected death rate to come up with a likely death toll of at least one million during the first wave of infections, in an article in Foreign Policy magazine on Feb. 16.

Huang told Radio Free Asia this week that he doesn’t expect the current wave to be so deadly, although he didn’t explain why, given ongoing concerns over vaccine uptake in China, partly due to mistrust of homegrown jabs.

People shout slogans and hold up blank sheets of paper during a protest against COVID-19 restrictions after a vigil for the victims of a fire in Urumqi, in Beijing, Nov. 28, 2022. Credit: Reuters

“I don’t know yet whether this new vaccine is effective against XBB,” Huang said. “I think vaccination is definitely necessary, but I don’t think we should overstate how effective [these vaccines] will be.”

“The vaccines are mostly effective against severe disease, so regarding them as preventive [of infection] isn’t very accurate.”

But he said of the current wave: “It’ll probably be milder, with less of a socioeconomic impact.”

Chinese-language comments on Twitter hit out at homegrown COVID-19 vaccines, saying three jabs had done little to protect anyone during the last wave, with some saying they were “still recovering” from the last jab.

Ren Ruihong, a former executive of the China Red Cross Foundation, said Chinese-made inactivated virus vaccines are generally regarded by the international scientific community as less effective than the mRNA jabs produced in Europe and the United States.

“Most of my friends and relatives aren’t very impressed [by the approval of new vaccines],” Ren said. “They didn’t think the original vaccine did much good the first time around.”

“We were told at the time that it protected against severe disease, but most of them still got seriously ill anyway.”

Ren added: “The newly updated vaccine is still the original inactivated type, so it probably won’t be much of an improvement.”

Huang called on the authorities to lay in more stores of antiviral medicines and encourage vaccination and mask-wearing, rather than returning to lockdowns and mass quarantine restrictions.

Ren said zero-COVID measures are unlikely to return, however, given that local governments have no funds to implement them, citing the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s unwillingness to provoke public protests similar to the “white paper” protests of November 2022.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

US to launch multiple construction projects at Philippine military bases

The U.S. military plans to construct more than a dozen projects at four Philippine sites, including bases it will use under a newly expanded defense deal, a Filipino armed forces spokesman said Thursday.

The United States will fund and build 14 projects at locations, including the Lal-lo Airport in the northern province of Cagayan, which directly faces Taiwan, and on Balabac, an island in Palawan province that faces the South China Sea. The projects will include improvements at Naval Base Camilo Osias in Cagayan and at an army camp in Isabela, another province on the main northern Philippines island of Luzon, the military said.

Philippine military spokesman Col. Medel Aguilar said the projects consist of the construction of a pier, rehabilitation of a runway, establishment of a command-and-control fusion system and construction of a mess hall and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response hangars.

“On the new sites, we have identified the projects in those areas,” Aguilar told reporters as he emphasized that the projects were aligned with military goals.

The projects “will strengthen our capabilities because these EDCA sites will facilitate the conduct of training,” Aguilar said, referring to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, a bilateral pact that was broadened earlier this year.

Not for staging attacks

The construction will happen after Manila agreed under the EDCA to permit Washington to have access to more Philippine bases amid tensions between China and the U.S. over Taiwan and between China, Taiwan and countries that have contending territorial claims in the South China Sea. 

While Aguilar did not say how much would be spent for the projects, the foreign affairs department previously said that Washington had informed Manila about plans to spend at least U.S. $100 million for upgrades at a total of nine military bases, which U.S. troops can access under the agreement.

The EDCA is a supplemental agreement to the Visiting Forces Agreement, a pact that specifically grants legal cover to large-scale joint maneuvers by the two longtime allies. In addition, the two nations are bound by the 1951 Mutual Defense Agreement to aid each other if one comes under attack.

Earlier this month, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. told a security forum in Washington that Philippine bases would not be used to stage attacks against a third country. 

Instead, he played down widespread public fears here that the Philippines would be embroiled in conflict should China attack Taiwan, a U.S. ally considered a renegade province by China.

In the Philippines, U.S. troops may position assets at EDCA sites to respond to emergency situations, including natural disasters. 

“If we will be attacked, of course we can use that. Only if we are attacked, which is remote from happening,” Aguilar said.

‘Common dangers’

The defense treaty says each party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific region on either party “would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.”

The treaty notes that such an attack “is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the Island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.”

Aguilar said projects to be implemented at the new EDCA sites were “discussed at the higher level and as I have said, it’s aligned with the modernization program, the capability upgrade.

“Therefore, it is also us who identified [the sites] and it was agreed on both sides,” he said.

In April when the four bases were revealed, the U.S. Department of Defense said the locations would allow Washington “to respond more seamlessly together to address a range of shared challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Jojo Riñoza in Manila contributed to this report. BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.

American Battery Solutions, Inc. Demonstrates 9540A Module-level Compliance for TeraStor™ SuperCell Assembly

Certified testing process confirms the revolutionary TeraStor™ architecture surpasses UL requirements for thermal runaway safety at the module level, demonstrates no cell-to-cell propagation

BOSTON, May 25, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — American Battery Solutions, Inc.’s Energy Storage Solutions division (ABS ESS), manufacturer of the ultra-high-density TeraStor™ lithium-ion battery energy storage platform, today announced the successful completion of 9540A module-level testing by ESRG and FRA; as planned, witnessed and certified by Intertek.

This represents a critical milestone in demonstrating the unparalleled inherent safety of the TeraStor™ system architecture. The rigorous testing process was executed on a set of five SuperCells containing 90 individual cells in ABS ESS’ robust proprietary configuration.

The TeraStor™ system design incorporates multiple levels of built-in safety features. As such, the third-party testing authorities needed to take extra steps to initiate thermal runaway. “When they were able to do so, the unique fire-safety features of the design certainly shone. The way this architecture prevents cell-to-cell propagation is an industry-first,” said Greg Tremelling, ABS ESS Vice President of Engineering. “No surrounding cells were affected by the event, which is exactly as expected with this revolutionary design.”

The company is continuing with extensive testing and will proceed with unit-level 9540A procedures in the coming months. For more information on American Battery Solutions’ Energy Storage Division and the 7.2 MWh (600MWh/acre) TeraStor™, please visit https://www.americanbatterysolutions.com/ess/ess-home.

About American Battery Solutions’ Energy Storage Solutions Division
American Battery Solutions, Inc.’s Energy Storage Solutions division is a pioneering provider of advanced energy storage solutions. The company designs, develops and manufactures cutting-edge systems, empowering customers to harness the full potential of renewable energy and optimize energy management. With a steadfast commitment to value, reliability, sustainability and innovation, the ABS ESS team of industry veterans aims to revolutionize the energy storage landscape.

ESS Media Relations
American Battery Solutions ESS Division
2 Cabot Road, Hudson, MA 01749 USA

GlobeNewswire Distribution ID 8846768

Myanmar junta arrests rapper who made online complaints about power shortages

Myanmar’s junta have arrested a hip-hop artist for a video published on social media that complained about electricity shortages and said that life was better under the democratically elected government that the military toppled.

Rapper Byu Har, who is the son of prominent musician Naing Myanmar, posted the video on Facebook where he called out the “minister of electricity,” calling the holder of the office, which he could not name, “a fool.” The ministry’s proper name is the Ministry of Electric Power and the minister of electric power is Thaung Han.

“I want to tell the minister of electricity who is wearing that elegant uniform, and the employees under the ministry of electricity that you guys are all stupid fools,” he said in the video. “ Even under the old lady’s [Aung San Suu Kyi’s] government, not only did we have enough electricity without any power outage, her government even lowered the rate of electricity bills.”

The country is currently experiencing power shortages, and residents have told RFA’s Burmese Service that many areas of Yangon, where Byu Har lives, get power for only 10 hours per day – five in the morning and another five in the afternoon and evening. Some areas of the city, such as the area where retired military officers live, are supplied with full power, though.

“You can’t supply enough electricity to us. You can barely supply us every five hours. Even that is not certain,” Byu Har said. 

In addition to the criticism of Myanmar’s electric power ministry, Byu Har also had choice words for the junta’s leader, Sen. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

“The guy who is governing the country is also a stupid incompetent fool himself,” he said. “You guys have no [expletive deleted] skill at all. Even if a fool like me were to govern this country, I promise that we would have enough electricity with no power outages. … I am cursing at you because I don’t have the electricity. Got it? If you want to arrest me, just come.”

A source close to the family confirmed the arrest to RFA and said that Byu Har is being held in the North Dagon Police station in the eastern part of Yangon. His father Naing Myanmar was not available for comment. 

Byu Har and others like him are brave for telling the truth in a public forum like Facebook, human rights lawyer and legal analyst Kyee Myint told RFA.

“What they are saying is all true, but it’s a pain in the neck for people who don’t want to hear such criticisms,” said Kyee Myint. “They criticize neither to gain power nor to ruin the country. They criticize it to help the country get better.” 

He said that criticizing the junta over the electricity shortage was an example of strength and love for the country.

“But the junta arresting him for such criticisms indicates that the country is failing and that the rule of law is not working either,” Kyee Myint said.

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Eugene Whong and Matt Reed.