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One thing that has enabled the latter is the ongoing chaos of the United States presidential transition. While the long delay between the election and the inauguration always creates a degree of confusion over policy and potential for disorder, the angry refusal of President Donald Trump and other Republicans to accept the results has exacerbated this no end.

This was exemplified Wednesday night, as protesters stormed the US Capitol, while lawmakers sheltered and were briefly evacuated. With talk of an “attempted coup” and “terrorism” now dominating conversation, it’s unlikely that many in Washington will be paying much attention to actions beyond America’s borders.

Biden’s team has criticized both, though he still has two weeks until he is in office, while Trump has been focused on fighting his election loss. His secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, did however release a statement late Wednesday threatening sanctions over the Hong Kong arrests.

Both recent actions by Beijing were symbolic of a China that is both emboldened by its relative strength compared to the rest of the world right now, and keen to take advantage of the current chaos in Washington — one of President-elect Joe Biden’s top advisers had urged Brussels to wait before striking a trade deal, only to see Beijing offer concessions to get it secured sooner.

While the US may not have been able to stop either development even in the best of times, that a superpower has been seemingly outmaneuvered will delight many of Washington’s critics in Beijing and elsewhere, who have always felt the US throws its weight around too much internationally.

After veering between criticism and embrace of Beijing for much of his term, Trump took a hard line against China in his last year in office, with his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, pushing sanctions and other action against Beijing in Washington, while attempting to rally an anti-China coalition around the world.
That attempt has been less than successful, however, with only a handful of countries, notably Australia, eager to jump on board — a decision that Canberra may now be ruing as it deals with major blowback from Beijing.
China’s leaders claim that unlike Washington, they do not interfere in the internal matters of other states, and only seek “win-win cooperation.” This is not true, and Beijing wields its influence much like any superpower, from the Belt and Road mega infrastructure initiative, to attempting to shape politics in Australia, Taiwan, and countries across Asia and the rest of the world. Yet the posture of non-interference is nevertheless persuasive to many observers.
This influence has grown as China has emerged as the world’s second superpower, and been accelerated by political chaos and division in Washington, as well as the failure of the US to respond effectively to the coronavirus.

That China is preparing to roll out its own homegrown vaccine, with promises to export hundreds of millions of doses overseas — including throughout the developing world — only serves to underscore this apparent shift.

America's anti-democratic chaos looks surreal from abroad
Both Washington and Beijing tend to hold up the US system as the be all and end all of democracy, despite its many flaws and the fact that the majority of democratic countries do not resemble the US in the way they run their governments. As the US model has begun to show cracks under Trump, this has benefited China’s propagandists, who can use it to argue for the validity of their own authoritarian system of governance.

The violence seen in Washington on Wednesday will likely feed neatly into this narrative. On Wednesday evening, the Global Times, an ultra-nationalist state-run tabloid, ran the headline “Chinese netizens jeer riot in US Capitol as ‘Karma,’ say bubbles of ‘democracy and freedom’ have burst.”

The report, which summarized highly selective reactions to Wednesday’s events on Chinese social media, appeared to revel in what it termed US “double standards.”

“This is the first political coup to happen in the American continent without the involvement of US embassies,” read one mocking quote in the article.

Other, more prosaic state media reports compared the storming of the Capitol and 2019 anti-government protests in Hong Kong, taunting Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi who spoke out on behalf of the city about whether they would do the same for the pro-Trump rioters.

In a regular press conference Thursday afternoon, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying echoed these comparisons, saying “a lot of people are thinking about the fact that this is a déjà vu scenario.”

“I think some people on the US side have very different reactions and wording to what happened in Hong Kong in 2019 and what is happening in the US today, and this stark contrast and the reasons behind it are thought-provoking and deserve serious and profound reflection by all of us,” she added.

“We believe that the American people want security and peace, especially in the current critical situation of the pandemic, and we hope that the American people will enjoy peace, stability and security as soon as possible.”

But such comparisons are facile, given that protesters in Hong Kong were fighting for greater democracy — and Pelosi praised peaceful demonstrations, not the more violent ones that followed — while those in Washington Wednesday were seeking to overturn the results of an election.

The Hong Kong protests also provided the pretense for Beijing’s ongoing crackdown in the city, that Washington, for all its outrage, posturing and even sanctions, has proved powerless to stop.

Bringing China’s most obstreperous territory to heel has been a longtime goal of Beijing’s, but one that was made easier by a weakened US, less influential and forceful on the world stage and less able to rally its allies, for all Trump and Pence’s talk of building an anti-China front.

This year marks the centennial of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, an anniversary Beijing has already promised to celebrate by achieving a “moderately prosperous” society, something which appears in sight after the country wiped out what it terms absolute poverty last year.

Chinese President Xi Jinping may now feel that he is in a position to achieve international objectives too, such as redoubling Beijing’s control over the South China Sea, or forcing a showdown over the democratic island of Taiwan.

In the election campaign, Biden matched Trump for tough-on-China rhetoric, but will likely be hoping for a relative reset in relations with Beijing once he takes office, enabling the US to compete with China from a position of strength going forward.

But with two weeks left until Biden takes office, it remains to be seen if the chaos in Washington will enable Beijing to pursue other long-sought goals.

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)

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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers


Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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