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From the South China Sea to the Himalayan Sino-Indian border, and even in one of its own cities, China has doubled down on its claims of territory, and taken a harder line in response to perceived challenges.

And as those disputes escalated this year with renewed and rising tensions, Xi has bulked up the military and increased its budget, with the instruction to “resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests.”

Here’s what you need to know about China’s key flashpoints in the Asia-Pacific region.

Dotted with small islands, reefs and shoals, the South China Sea is a crucial global shipping route and home to a messy territorial dispute.

Who claims what: China claims it owns almost all of the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea, but at least six other governments also have overlapping territorial claims in the contested waterway: the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The United States doesn’t have any claims in the waters, but has repeatedly challenged China’s claims.

China went ahead and built islands anyway: Since 2014, China has turned numerous obscure reefs and sandbars — far from its shoreline — into man-made artificial islands heavily fortified with missiles, runways and weapons systems, prompting outcry from the other governments.

The US and its allies have pushed back by sailing warships through the South China Sea close to features claimed or occupied by China, in what it calls freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS). They say such patrols enforce the right of free passage in international waters; China argues these are violations of its sovereignty.

But things are escalating now: The US has stepped up its challenges this year; it formally rejected China’s claims as illegal, and sanctioned dozens of Chinese companies for building the artificial islands. In July, two US Navy aircraft carriers conducted joint military drills in the sea for the first time in six years — a strong show of force.

All this has sparked Chinese fury and escalated tensions; China launched a series of ballistic missiles into the sea, with state-run media warning that “China does not fear a war.”

Why this matters: Under international law, whoever owns the contested string of islands in the sea will have the rights to all the resources in its nearby waters like fish, oil and gas. More broadly, whoever controls this sea will also hold power over one of the world’s most valuable trading routes — it hosts one third of all global shipping.

What’s the deal with Taiwan?

Taiwan is a self-governing democratic island of around 24 million people, which split from mainland China in 1949 after the end of a bloody civil war.

China insists Taiwan is its territory: Authorities in Beijing claim full sovereignty of Taiwan, even though Taiwan has never been controlled by China’s ruling Communist Party. The two sides have been governed separately for more than seven decades.

For years, Beijing has attempted to impose diplomatic, trade and military pressure on Taipei, marginalizing it in the international community — for instance, China has successfully blocked Taiwan from joining global agencies like the World Health Organization.

What this means for other countries: Most countries abide by China’s demand that Taiwan not be recognized as an independent nation, publicly observing Beijing’s view there is “one China” — though many governments also maintain close unofficial ties with Taiwan.

Things escalated this summer: Recent months have seen a warming relationship between the US and Taiwan — much to China’s ire.

Two high-profile US officials visited Taiwan in the space of two months, in a symbolic show of support by the Trump administration. In August, the US also sold 66 fighter jets to Taiwan, the biggest arms sale to the island in years.

In response, China carried out a series of military drills and aircraft incursions in the waters and airspace near Taiwan — marking a significant escalation in tensions.

Chinese officials warned in September that “China firmly opposes any form of official exchanges between the United States and Taiwan.” Some have also hinted at the threat of sanctions against US officials.

President Xi has been clear in his ambitions to “reunify” the island with the mainland, and has refused to rule out the use of force. Recent military drills were described in Chinese state media as a “rehearsal for a Taiwan takeover” and threats of invasion have increased sharply as tensions with the US rise.

Why are China and India clashing in the Himalayas?

The China-India conflict is centered around a long-disputed border in the Himalayas.

After fighting a bloody border war in 1962, the two countries drew up a loosely-defined demarcation line called the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

But they disagree on its location: Though the LAC shows up on maps, the two nuclear powers do not agree on its precise location and both regularly accuse the other of overstepping it, or seeking to expand their territory.

They have an uneasy status quo: The countries signed a series of agreements in the 1990s to try to keep the peace, including an agreement that neither side shall open fire within 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) of the LAC.

But things got ugly this year: This June saw the bloodiest Sino-Indian clash in more than 40 years. Troops at the border fought with fists and stones, in a brawl that killed at least 20 Indian soldiers; China didn’t acknowledge any casualties. Both sides accused the other of overstepping the border.
Things heated up in September after each side accused the other’s troops of firing warning shots. It’s believed to be the first time shots have been fired along the border since 1975.
Where things stand now: Officials are now in de-escalation talks; in late September, both sides agreed to stop sending troops to the border, and to strengthen communications.

But a meaningful peacekeeping mechanism could be a long way off — partly because of the increasingly assertive foreign policy on both sides.

Why is China fighting Japan over a few tiny islands?

Both China and Japan have claimed a rocky, uninhabited island chain in the East China Sea as their own.

Located 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo, the islands are known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands in China.

The islands are also claimed by Taiwan, where they are known as the Tiaoyutai islands.

The overlapping claims: Both China and Taiwan say their claims to the island chain extend back to the 1400s, when it was used as a staging point for Chinese fisherman.

However, Japan says it saw no trace of Chinese control of the islands during an 1885 survey, so it formally recognized them as Japanese sovereign territory in 1895. The US occupation of Japan after World War II complicated things — but the islands were eventually returned, and Japan has administered them since the 1970s.

Why this matters: The area has much-coveted resources; it holds a rich fishing ground, and recent surveys suggest that the waters around the islands may contain oil and natural gas deposits.

A Japanese military plane flies over the Senakuku/Diaoyu islands in this file photo.

How things escalated: China and Japan have engaged in tit-for-tat struggles for years, with the issue escalating sharply in September 2012 after the Japanese government formally purchased the islands from their private Japanese owner. This resulted in some of the largest protests seen in major Chinese cities in decades.

Tensions rose again this June after a Japanese city council bill asserted that “the islands are part of Japanese territory.”
China, meanwhile, has flexed its military muscles; Japan announced in June that Chinese government ships have been spotted in waters near the islands every day since April. And in July, Chinese coast guard ships intruded into Japan’s territorial waters multiple times, forcing the Japanese coast guard to block them from approaching Japanese fishing boats.
The number of warplanes from China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) flying close or around Japan’s southwest air zone, which includes the contested island chain, has also increased exponentially in recent years, according to Japan’s Air Self Defense Force (JASDF).

Where things stand now: The two countries have stepped up their rhetoric; Japan has lodged diplomatic protests, and China has accused Japan of infringing on its sovereignty.

The escalation this summer has raised international alarm; under a mutual defense pact with Tokyo, the US is obligated to defend the islands as part of Japanese territory.

What’s going on in Hong Kong?

The semi-autonomous Chinese city of Hong Kong was plunged into a political crisis in 2019 as anti-government protests brought much of the territory to a standstill. Protesters had many complaints, including alleged police brutality and limited democratic freedoms — but at the heart of it all is the city’s conflicted relationship with the central government in Beijing.

Is Hong Kong part of China? Yes — but as a former British territory, it was granted freedoms of press, speech, and assembly when it was handed back to China in 1997. Hong Kong also has its own legal and political systems, currency and trade. These freedoms stand in stark contrast to China’s authoritarian leadership and strict censorship.

So what’s the conflict? Under the handover agreement, Hong Kong is supposed to keep its limited autonomy until 2047 — but many Hong Kongers say China is violating that promise and encroaching on their freedoms. This fear was heightened by a controversial extradition bill last year, which kicked off the protests and was later scrapped.

Meanwhile, China has criticized the movement as a threat to security and stability. Some protesters have also called for Hong Kong independence, and asked other countries for assistance, which China condemned as an unacceptable challenge to its national sovereignty.

How things escalated: In June, China cracked down by imposing a national security law for Hong Kong, entirely bypassing the city’s own legislature. Details of the law weren’t released to the public until it had passed.

China said the law, which grants Beijing sweeping new powers, is necessary to curb unrest; critics say it’s a devastating blow for Hong Kong’s freedoms.

Where things stand now: The law has already been used to make numerous arrests; for instance, several people were arrested in September for using protest slogans, which are now criminalized. Those convicted under the law could face sentences of up to life in prison.

Since it came into force, political parties have disbanded, protest signs were pulled down across the city, and Hong Kongers are fleeing to seek asylum or refuge in other countries.

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France teacher attack: Macron urges Russia to boost anti-terror fight

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image copyrightReuters

image captionA silent march was held in honour of Samuel Paty on Tuesday in the Paris suburb where he was killed

French President Emmanuel Macron has urged Russia to boost co-operation in fighting terrorism after the beheading of a teacher by a Russian-born man.

Mr Macron’s comments came in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who described Friday’s attack near Paris as a “barbarous murder”.

Samuel Paty, 47, was killed after showing controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his pupils.

The attacker was named as Abdullakh Anzorov, an 18-year-old ethnic Chechen.

Anzorov was shot dead by police shortly after the attack close to the teacher’s school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, north-west of the French capital.

image copyrightAFP
image captionSamuel Paty, a well-liked teacher, had been threatened over showing the cartoons

The brutal murder has shocked France.

  • Beheading of teacher deepens divisions in France

On Wednesday evening, Mr Macron will attend an official memorial at the Sorbonne University to award Mr Paty posthumously the Légion d’honneur – France’s highest order of merit.

What did Macron and Putin say?

Mr Macron said he wanted to see a “strengthening of Franco-Russian co-operation in the fight against terrorism and illegal immigration”, the French presidency said.

It provided no further details about Tuesday’s phone call with President Putin.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin published a brief statement quoting Mr Putin as saying that both parties “reaffirmed their mutual interest in intensifying joint efforts in the fight against terrorism and the propagation of extremist ideology”.

What is known about Anzorov?

Anzorov was born in Moscow but had lived in France since 2008. His family is from Russia’s Muslim-majority Chechnya region in the North Caucasus.

He arrived in France with his family as refugees, French media report.

His grandfather and 17-year-old brother have been questioned and released in the aftermath of the attack.

Russia has played down any association with the attacker.

“This crime has no relation to Russia because this person had lived in France for the past 12 years,” Sergei Parinov, a spokesman of the Russian embassy in Paris, told the Tass news agency on Saturday.

Mosque closed amid mass raids

Meanwhile, French media reported that the father of a pupil accused of launching an online campaign against the teacher had sent messages to the killer before the attack.

The father – who has not been named – is accused, along with a preacher described by the media as a radical Islamist, of calling for Mr Paty to be punished by issuing a so-called “fatwa” (considered a legal ruling by Islamic scholars).

media captionFrench minister: Lessons on freedom of expression will continue

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said the two men had been arrested and were being investigated for an “assassination in connection with a terrorist enterprise”.

Police have raided some 40 homes, following the attack. Sixteen people were taken in custody but six were later released.

On Tuesday, Mr Macron said the Sheikh Yassin Collective – an Islamist group named after the founder of the Palestinian militant group Hamas – would be outlawed for being “directly involved” in the killing.

He said the ban was a way of helping France’s Muslim community, Europe’s largest, from the influence of radicalism.

The government also ordered a mosque to close for sharing videos on Facebook calling for action against Mr Paty and sharing his school’s address in the days before his death.

The Pantin mosque, which has about 1,500 worshippers and is situated just north of Paris, will close for six months on Wednesday. The mosque expressed “regret” over the videos, which it has deleted, and condemned the teacher’s killing.

Why was Samuel Paty targeted?

On Monday, anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-François Ricard said Mr Paty had been the target of threats since he showed the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad during a class about freedom of speech earlier in October.

The history and geography teacher advised Muslim students to leave the room if they thought they might be offended.

Mr Ricard said that the killer had gone to the school on Friday afternoon and asked students to point out the teacher. He then followed Mr Paty as he walked home from work and used a knife to attack him.

The issue is particularly sensitive in France because of the decision by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to publish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

A trial is currently under way over the killing of 12 people by Islamist extremists at the magazine’s offices in 2015 following their publication.

media captionRallies in Paris, Toulouse, Lyon and other French cities in support of Samuel Paty

France’s Muslim community comprises about 10% of the population.

Some French Muslims say they are frequent targets of racism and discrimination because of their faith – an issue that has long caused tension in the country.

Related Topics

  • Emmanuel Macron

  • France
  • Paris
  • Vladimir Putin
  • Islamist extremism
  • Freedom of expression
  • Samuel Paty: Beheading of teacher deepens divisions over France’s secular identity

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Nigeria protests: Eyewitnesses say security forces fired at protesters

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Demonstrators have taken part in daily protests across the country for nearly two weeks over widespread claims of kidnapping, harassment, and extortion by a police unit know as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Tuesday saw the state governor impose a 24-hour curfew and deploy anti-riot police to the city.

One witness at the protests, Akinbosola Ogunsanya, said the shooting began after the lights were turned off at the Nigerian city’s Lekki tollgate. “Members of the Nigerian army pulled up on us and they started firing,” he said. “They were shooting, they were firing straight, directly at us, and a lot of people got hit. I just survived, barely.”

Ogunsanya added that barricades on either side of the scene were blocking ambulances.

Another witness, Temple Onanugbo, said he heard what he believed were bullets being fired from his home nearby and that the sound lasted “for about 15 to 30 minutes.”

Speaking to CNN from the scene of the shooting, Onanugbo said he saw “multiple bodies laying on the ground,” when he arrived to help those injured.

CNN has not yet been able to confirm casualties.

The State Government has ordered an investigation into the incident, according to the Lagos Governor’s spokesman, Gboyega Akosile. According to a tweet by Akosile, Lagos Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has also “advised security agents not to arrest anyone on account of the curfew.”

The protests at the Lekki toll gate have been mostly peaceful, with demonstrators singing the national anthem, staging sit-ins, and praying.

Earlier in the day, Sanwo-Olu had imposed a 24-hour curfew, including the closure of all Lagos schools. Only essential service providers and first responders have permission to be on the streets of Lagos, which has an estimated population of more than 20 million people.

“Dear Lagosians, I have watched with shock how what began as a peaceful #EndSARS protest has degenerated into a monster that is threatening the well-being of our society,” Sanwo-Olu tweeted as he announced the 4 pm (local time) curfew.

SARS was disbanded on October 11 and a new police unit to replace it will be trained by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Reuters reported Monday. Protesters are demanding further protections against the police, including independent oversight and psychological evaluation of officers.

Death and severe injuries amid the protests have been reported since the weekend.

Amnesty International said on its Twitter account Tuesday that it has received “credible but disturbing evidence” of “excessive use of force occasioning deaths of protesters.”

A 17-year-old died in police custody on Monday in Kano, a city in the north of the country, after allegedly being tortured, according the human rights group. Many protestors and journalists were assaulted by police and thugs in the capital Abuja on the same day. Videos on social media show dozens of cars belonging to protestors burning and Amnesty International said three people died.

“While we continue to investigate the killings, Amnesty International wishes to remind the authorities that under international law, security forces may only resort to the use of lethal force when strictly unavoidable to protect against imminent threat of death or serious injury,” Amnesty also tweeted.

Other videos show a mass breakout of hundreds of prisoners from the Benin Correctional Center in Edo state in southern Nigeria. It is uncertain who is to blame for the breakout, with protestors claiming it was staged by police. The Nigeria Police Force said in a tweet that protestors carted away arms and ammunition from the armory before freeing suspects in custody and setting the facilities alight.

Edo state governor Godwin Obaseki imposed a curfew on Monday, tweeting about “disturbing incidents of vandalism and attacks on private individuals and institutions by hoodlums in the guise of #EndSARS protesters.”

Riot police have been deployed across the country. According to a tweet from the Nigerian Police Force on Tuesday evening, the Inspector-General of Nigeria’s Police has ordered the immediate nationwide deployment of anti-riot police officers “to protect lives and property of all Nigerians and secure critical national infrastructure across the country.”

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Judge tosses lawsuit challenging DeVos’ sexual misconduct rule for schools, colleges

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Background: The ruling comes as a major victory for DeVos, whose Title IX policies will be a key part of her legacy as secretary. She has said the rule officially codifies protections to hold schools accountable by ensuring survivors are not brushed aside and no student’s guilt is predetermined.

The ACLU had charged that DeVos’ Title IX rule, which took effect in August, violated the Administrative Procedure Act because the provisions “were arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion.” The lawsuit had sought to vacate the rule.

On behalf of four plaintiffs, the ACLU argued that the rule will reduce the number of sexual assault and harassment complaints requiring a response from schools.

The lawsuit took aim at the rule’s definition of sexual harassment, as well as provisions that allow institutions to use a “clear and convincing evidence standard.” The groups that brought the lawsuit also take issue with the fact that DeVos’ rule only holds institutions accountable under Title IX for “deliberate indifference” and only requires a school or school official to respond to sexual harassment if there is “actual knowledge.”

Other legal challenges: The lawsuit was one of four ongoing cases challenging the Title IX rule. The other three are still pending but have been largely unsuccessful. All argue that the Education Department violated the law with its new rule by acting beyond its authority, and that the rule is arbitrary and capricious.

A circuit court judge in the District of Columbia denied a request from attorneys general in 17 states and the District of Columbia to stop the new rule and to block it as legal action continues. Another judge also denied a motion to block the rule from taking effect in New York while the litigation is ongoing. Southern District of New York Judge John G. Koeltl said state officials failed to show they are likely to win in their argument that the Trump administration acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when it finalized its rule.

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