Trump Sets Clock Ticking for TikTok

WHITE HOUSE, (STEVE HERMAN-VOANEWS).- U.S. President Donald Trump played 18 holes of golf Saturday after threatening to halt operations in the United States of a popular Chinese-owned video-sharing social media app.

The White House said it had “very serious national security concerns over TikTok. We continue to evaluate future policy.”

Late Friday, the president said he would likely use an executive order to prohibit the app.

“As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” he told reporters Friday night as they traveled with him from Florida on Air Force One. He indicated he would take action as soon as the following day.

However, a casually dressed Trump was seen Saturday morning by VOA departing the West Wing for his private 325-hectare golf club located 40 kilometers northwest of the White House.

Trump had also told reporters on the flight back home that he did not support a deal that would allow a U.S. company to buy TikTok’s American operations.

Microsoft and other U.S. companies, in recent days, reportedly have been looking to purchase the U.S. operations of TikTok.

Microsoft put its discussions on hold following reporting of the president’s stance, The Wall Street Journal said.

Hugely popular

The app is extremely popular globally. It has been downloaded 2 billion times worldwide, including 165 million times in the United States.

The app features not only entertainment videos but also debates, and it takes positions on political issues, such as racial justice and the coming U.S. presidential election.

Officials in Washington are concerned that TikTok may pose a security threat, fearing the company might share users’ data with China’s government.

When asked by Fox News last month whether Americans should download the app onto their phones, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”

TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, has said it does not share user data with the Chinese government and maintains that it stores U.S. user data only in the U.S. and Singapore. ByteDance has agreed to divest the U.S. operations of TikTok completely in a bid to save a deal with the White House, the Reuters news agency reported Saturday.

TikTok also recently chose former Disney executive Kevin Mayer as its chief executive in a move seen as an effort to distance itself from Beijing.

TikTok General Manager Venessa Pappas uploaded a video Saturday reassuring users that “we’re not going anywhere” and noting that the platform has 1,500 employees in the United States and has been planning on bringing an additional 10,000 jobs into the country over the next three years.

ACLU blasts ban

Trump’s proposed ban is opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

"Banning an app that millions of Americans use to communicate with each other is a danger to free expression and is technologically impractical,” said Jennifer Granick, the ACLU’s surveillance and cybersecurity counsel.

“With any internet platform, we should be concerned about the risk that sensitive private data will be funneled to abusive governments, including our own. But shutting one platform down, even if it were legally possible to do so, harms freedom of speech online and does nothing to resolve the broader problem of unjustified government surveillance,” Granick told VOA.

The U.S. government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an interagency group led by the Treasury Department, opened a national security review of TikTok last year.

CFIUS’s job is to oversee foreign investments and assess them for potential national security risks. It can force companies to cancel deals or institute other measures it deems necessary for national security.

China could retaliate.

"It could take the nuclear option, like banning Apple. Or, it may start to double down on initiatives like the STAR exchange [launched to make China technologically independent],” Abishur Prakash of the Center for Innovating the Future in Toronto, told VOA.

“The biggest mistake the West has made is playing its most powerful card too soon — banning Chinese companies from the richest markets in the world. This is a long-term fight and the TikTok saga is just the beginning,” predicted Prakash, a geopolitical futurist.

Pranksters' actvitity

Some on social media are accusing Trump of singling out TikTok because pranksters used the app to order hundreds of thousands of tickets to his June 20 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which attracted a smaller-than-expected crowd. TikTok is also where comedian Sarah Cooper posts her videos lip-synced to Trump sound bites, which have attracted millions of views.

Cooper uploaded a video Friday mouthing comments made by the president earlier in the day about TikTok.


President Donald Trump, Tik Tok

Fauci ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ About Coronavirus Vaccine

WASHINGTON, (VOANEWS).- The nation’s top infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told lawmakers Friday on Capitol Hill that he was “cautiously optimistic” a coronavirus vaccine would be available in the coming months, as infections continue to rise at an alarming rate in the U.S.

“We hope at the time we get into the late fall and early winter, we will have in fact a vaccine that we can say will be safe and effective,” Fauci told the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. “One can never guarantee the safety and effectiveness unless you do the trial, but we are cautiously optimistic.”

Fauci said a Phase 3 trial, the last phase of the vaccine approval process, recently got underway.

At the hearing’s opening, panel Chairman James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, and the subcommittee’s ranking Republican, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, clashed over whether the Trump administration has a national strategy to contain the coronavirus crisis.

WATCH Hearing

“The administration’s approach to deferring to states, sidelining experts and rushing to reopen has prolonged this virus and led to thousands of preventable deaths,” Clyburn said. “In fact, the United States response stands out as among the worst of any country in the world.”

Scalise dismissed Clyburn’s assessment, arguing with a stack of documents in hand that the administration has indeed issued guidance to the country about how to contain the pandemic.

“These are just a few of the documents that your agencies have published to show states how to safely reopen, to show schools how to safely reopen, to show nursing homes how to care for their patients,” Scalise said to Fauci and the other government experts at the hearing.

“If all governors would have followed those guidelines, thousands more seniors in nursing homes would be alive today, if just five governors would have followed your plan that was developed by President Trump,” Scalise added.

Reopening of schools

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also testified Friday, saying it was in the “public health best interest” for K-12 schools to reopen.

He also discussed a decision by the Trump administration to direct all hospitals to send all coronavirus data to a database in Washington, bypassing the CDC. Redfield said he did not know of the decision until after it had been made.

The hearing was held as the U.S. continues to lead the world in COVID-19 fatalities, with nearly 153,000 out of the global total of more than 675,000, according to Johns Hopkins University statistics.

Map of where US COVID-19 cases are increasing, decreasing
With surges in Southern, Western and Midwestern states, the U.S. also is home to a world-leading 4.5 million infections. The global total as of Friday afternoon EDT was more than 17.3 million.

A U.S. government report released Friday investigated how more than 260 people became infected with the coronavirus at a Georgia overnight camp last month. The report by the CDC and Georgia health officials said the camp took many precautions, including disinfecting and requiring staff to wear masks, but it did not make campers wear masks or ensure proper ventilation in the buildings.

Britain pulls back

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday that he was delaying plans to relax lockdown measures by at least two weeks after the country reported its highest number of new COVID cases since late June.

British health officials registered 846 new cases Thursday. Matt Hancock, minister for health and social care, said a second wave of the virus was rolling across Europe and that Britain must defend against it.

British authorities added Luxembourg to the country’s quarantine list, meaning travelers from there must isolate for 14 days after entering Britain. Spain, which had been dropped from the list, has been reinstated, and other countries may be added.

A small study published Thursday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics said young children carry more coronavirus genetic material in their noses than older children and adults. The study, however, did not measure the rate at which the children transmit the virus to others.

The resurgence of COVID-19 in many countries is “driven in part by younger people letting down their guard during the Northern Hemisphere summer,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday.

Young adults, many without masks, are ignoring social distancing recommendations to pack bars, nightclubs and beaches that have been reopened since authorities lifted coronavirus restrictions.

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro, who tested positive for the coronavirus on July 7 and then negative last Saturday, said that after 20 days indoors he had mold on his lungs. He was being treated with antibiotics. He had repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as “a little flu.”

Brazil, as of Friday afternoon, had 2.6 million confirmed cases and 91,263 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

Among the confirmed cases was Brazil’s first lady, Michelle Bolsonaro, who tested positive on Thursday, according to a statement from the presidential palace. Science and Technology Minister Marcos Pontes also said he had tested positive for the virus, making him the fifth cabinet minister diagnosed publicly.

Botswana lockdown

Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, reimposed a two-week lockdown on Thursday after a surge in new confirmed COVID-19 cases. The increase came as the WHO warned against easing coronavirus restrictions throughout Africa. The WHO said the number of infections on the continent had doubled in the past month.

“We are concerned that ... we will see an increase in cases as we have seen in [other] countries” where restrictions have been eased too soon,” WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said.

She said more than 20 African countries had recorded more new cases than in the previous weeks, with South Africa accounting for the most but increases also reported in Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Moeti said Uganda, Seychelles and Mauritius were doing well in controlling the virus.

Cuba reported nine new cases Thursday, and 37 new cases earlier this week.

Just 10 days ago, Cuba reported no new cases for the first time since the outbreak began in March. Cuba has also reported no deaths for more than two weeks.

Cuba has so far been relatively successful in fighting COVID-19, but the island's top epidemiologist, Francisco Duran, said Thursday that Cubans were getting careless.

Anthony Fauci, Capitol Hill

ExoMars finds new gas signatures in the martian atmosphere

ZETA, (ESA).- ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has spotted new gas signatures at Mars. These unlock new secrets about the martian atmosphere, and will enable a more accurate determination of whether there is methane, a gas associated with biological or geological activity, at the planet.

The Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) has been studying the Red Planet from orbit for over two years. The mission aims to understand the mixture of gases that make up the martian atmosphere, with a special focus on the mystery surrounding the presence of methane there.

Meanwhile, the spacecraft has now spotted never-before-seen signatures of ozone (O3) and carbon dioxide (CO2), based on a full martian year of observations by its sensitive Atmospheric Chemistry Suite (ACS). The findings are reported in two new papers published in Astronomy & Astrophysics, one led by Kevin Olsen of the University of Oxford, UK and another led by Alexander Trokhimovskiy of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Russia.

“These features are both puzzling and surprising,” says Kevin.

“They lie over the exact wavelength range where we expected to see the strongest signs of methane. Before this discovery, the CO2 feature was completely unknown, and this is the first time ozone on Mars has been identified in this part of the infrared wavelength range.”

The martian atmosphere is dominated by CO2, which scientists observe to gauge temperatures, track seasons, explore air circulation, and more. Ozone – which forms a layer in the upper atmosphere on both Mars and Earth – helps to keep atmospheric chemistry stable. Both CO2 and ozone have been seen at Mars by spacecraft such as ESA’s Mars Express, but the exquisite sensitivity of the ACS instrument on TGO was able to reveal new details about how these gases interact with light.

Observing ozone in the range where TGO hunts for methane is a wholly unanticipated result.

Scientists have mapped how martian ozone varies with altitude before. So far, however, this has largely taken place via methods that rely upon the gas' signatures in the ultraviolet, a technique which only allows measurement at high altitudes (over 20 km above the surface).

The new ACS results show that it is possible to map martian ozone also in the infrared, so its behaviour can be probed at lower altitudes to build a more detailed view of ozone’s role in the planet’s climate.

Unravelling the methane mystery
One of the key objectives of TGO is to explore methane. To date, signs of martian methane – tentatively spied by missions including ESA’s Mars Express from orbit and NASA’s Curiosity rover on the surface – are variable and somewhat enigmatic.

While also generated by geological processes, most of the methane on Earth is produced by life, from bacteria to livestock and human activity. Detecting methane on other planets is therefore hugely exciting. This is especially true given that the gas is known to break down in around 400 years, meaning that any methane present must have been produced or released in the relatively recent past.

“Discovering an unforeseen CO2 signature where we hunt for methane is significant,” says Alexander Trokhimovskiy. “This signature could not be accounted for before, and may therefore have played a role in detections of small amounts of methane at Mars.”

The observations analysed by Alexander, Kevin and colleagues were mostly performed at different times to those supporting detections of martian methane. Besides, the TGO data cannot account for large plumes of methane, only smaller amounts – and so, currently, there is no direct disagreement between missions.

“In fact, we’re actively working on coordinating measurements with other missions,” clarifies Kevin. “Rather than disputing any previous claims, this finding is a motivator for all teams to look closer – the more we know, the more deeply and accurately we can explore Mars’ atmosphere.”

Realising the potential of ExoMars
Methane aside, the findings highlight just how much we will learn about Mars as a result of the ExoMars programme.

“These findings enable us to build a fuller understanding of our planetary neighbour,” adds Alexander.

“Ozone and CO2 are important in Mars’ atmosphere. By not accounting for these gases properly, we run the risk of mischaracterising the phenomena or properties we see.”

Additionally, the surprising discovery of the new CO2 band at Mars, never before observed in the laboratory, provides exciting insight for those studying how molecules interact both with one another and with light – and searching for the unique chemical fingerprints of these interactions in space.

“Together, these two studies take a significant step towards revealing the true characteristics of Mars: towards a new level of accuracy and understanding,” says Alexander.

Successful collaboration in the hunt for life
As its name suggests, the TGO aims to characterise any trace gases in Mars’ atmosphere that could arise from active geological or biological processes on the planet, and identify their origin.

The ExoMars programme consists of two missions: TGO, which was launched in 2016 and will be joined by the Rosalind Franklin rover and the Kazachok landing platform, due to lift off in 2022. These will take instruments complementary to ACS to the martian surface, examining the planet’s atmosphere from a different perspective, and share the core objective of the ExoMars programme: to search for signs of past or present life on the Red Planet.

“These findings are the direct result of hugely successful and ongoing collaboration between European and Russian scientists as part of ExoMars,” says ESA TGO Project Scientist Håkan Svedhem.

“They set new standards for future spectral observations, and will help us to paint a more complete picture of Mars’ atmospheric properties – including where and when there may be methane to be found, which remains a key question in Mars exploration.”

“Additionally, these findings will prompt a thorough analysis of all the relevant data we’ve collected to date – and the prospect of new discovery in this way is, as always, very exciting. Each piece of information revealed by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter marks progress towards a more accurate understanding of Mars, and puts us one step closer to unravelling the planet’s lingering mysteries.”

More information
“First detection of ozone in the mid-infrared at Mars: implications for methane detection” by K. S. Olsen et al. (2020) and “First observation of the magnetic dipole CO2 absorption band at 3.3 μm in the atmosphere of Mars by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter ACS instrument” by A. Trokhimovskiy et al. (2020) are published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The studies utilised the Mid-InfraRed (MIR) channel of the Atmospheric Chemistry Suite (ACS) on the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), reporting the first observation of the 3000–3060 cm-1 ozone (O3) band and the discovery of the 3300 cm-1 16O12C16O magnetic dipole band (which both overlap with the 2900–3300cm-1 methane ν3 absorption band) at Mars.

ExoMars is a joint endeavour of the European Space Agency and Roscosmos.

The ACS instrument is led by the Principal Investigator team at the Space Research Institute (IKI) of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN) in Moscow, Russia, assisted by the Co‐Principal Investigator team from CNRS/LATMOS, France, and co-investigators from other ESA Member states.


Lee Teng-hui dies; pivotal figure in Taiwan's transition to democracy

TAIPÉI, (CNA).- Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), who guided Taiwan through a rapid and peaceful transition to democracy while serving as Taiwan's president from 1988 to 2000, has died at the age of 97.

The former president had suffered from deteriorating health, which caused him to reduce the frequency of his public appearances.

On Feb. 8, he was hospitalized at Taipei Veterans General Hospital after choking while drinking milk. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and had been intubated for over five months when the hospital confirmed he died, from septic shock and multiple organ failure, at 7:24 p.m. Thursday.

Lee was born under Japanese colonial rule, educated in Japan and the United States, and cultivated as the successor to Kuomintang (KMT) President Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), and the life he led in many ways reflected the competing powers and influences that held sway in Taiwan over the course of the 20th century.

Later in life, he became a prominent advocate for Taiwanese identity and statehood, founding the Taiwan Solidarity Union -- an act for which he was expelled from the KMT -- and lending support to his one-time rivals in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Lee was born on Jan. 15, 1923, the son of a police officer, in what is now Sanzhi District of New Taipei City.

After graduating from Taipei High School in 1943, Lee received a scholarship to study agricultural economics at Kyoto Imperial University, but, with World War II raging, he volunteered for service in the Japanese Imperial Army the following year, and was assigned to an artillery unit in Kaohsiung.

Lee would later remember going with his older brother, Lee Teng-chin (李登欽), who was stationed at the nearby Zuoying Naval Base, to have "memorial portraits" made, as they awaited deployment in the war's Pacific theater.

While his brother would die in the Battle of Manila in 1945, Lee was sent to officer reserve training in Chiba Prefecture, outside Tokyo, where he survived intensive American aerial bombing in the conflict's final days.

After Japan's defeat, Lee returned to Taiwan, where in 1949 he graduated from National Taiwan University and married Tseng Wen-hui (曾文惠) in a union that would last 71 years and bring the couple three children.

In between periods of government service and university lecturing, Lee continued his education, earning a master's degree from the University of Iowa in 1953 and a doctorate from Cornell University in 1968, both in agricultural economics.

Upon returning to Taiwan, Lee joined the KMT in 1971 and, in 1972, was made a Cabinet member without portfolio responsible for agriculture by Premier Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國).

Chiang became president in 1978, and under his patronage, Lee was appointed Taipei mayor in 1978 and chairman of the Taiwan Provincial Government in 1981.

In 1984, Lee was nominated by Chiang to serve as vice president and he then became president in 1988 following Chiang's death.

Central to Lee's political thinking at the time was the notion of a "Taiwanese KMT," led by him, as the party's first major figure not to come from a mainland Chinese background.

That was complemented by a corresponding formulation of national identity, the "Republic of China in Taiwan," which he felt would allow the country to move beyond what he saw as a detrimental focus on the past.

In 1990, Lee secured the National Assembly's approval for a full six-year term as president. Just days before his March 21 inauguration, however, a student-led pro-democracy demonstration calling itself the "Wild Lily Movement" occupied Taipei's Memorial Hall Plaza.

With the previous year's ill-fated Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing still fresh in the public's memory, Lee invited a delegation of 50 student leaders to the Presidential Office for talks, and committed to initiate a range of democratic reforms beginning that summer.

In the months and years that followed, Lee succeeded in passing constitutional changes that are credited with laying the groundwork for Taiwan's current democracy, including the introduction of direct presidential elections, reform of the since-disbanded National Assembly, and the abolition of a set of emergency executive powers known as the "temporary provisions against the communist rebellion."

As he pursued domestic reforms, Lee also attempted to address the growing international isolation Taiwan suffered at the expense of a newly powerful China.

In 1989, he set a precedent by visiting a non-allied head of state in Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀), and in 1994, launched the "Go South" policy to strengthen Taiwan's investment and trade ties with Southeast Asia.

To secure meetings with regional leaders in the face of Chinese pressure, Lee found a novel solution in "vacation diplomacy," traveling in a personal capacity for talks with figures including the Philippines' Fidel Ramos, Indonesia's Suharto and the Thai King Bhumibol Abulyadej.

In June 1995, Lee attended an alumni event at Cornell University, where he delivered a speech on Taiwan's democratic reforms. The visit so angered Chinese leadership that within weeks, Beijing initiated a series of missile tests in the waters around Taiwan, which persisted through Taiwan's elections the following March.

While the tests, which are now known as the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, were intended to damage Lee politically, their effect on the electorate may have been the opposite -- Lee won re-election with a commanding 54 percent of the vote, while overall turnout exceeded 76 percent.

During his final, four-year term, Lee became more vocal in his support for Taiwan's statehood, characterizing the relationship with China as "state-to-state relations of a special nature."

After choosing not to run in the 2000 elections, Lee presided over Taiwan's first transfer of power, as the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) took office, ending half a century of KMT rule.

In 2001, Lee helped to found the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union, for which he was expelled from the KMT. In the years that followed, he often made statements in support of the DPP's presidential candidates, including an October 2019 endorsement of President Tsai Ing-wen's (蔡英文) re-election bid.

The final known photo of Lee Teng-hui (front right), his wife Tseng Wen-hui(front left) and President Tsai Ing-wen on Feb. 3, 2019.
While Lee's critics accused him of a pro-Japanese bias and the betrayal of his mentor, Chiang Ching-kuo, he was hailed by many in the DPP-aligned "green" camp as the father of Taiwanese democracy.

In one of his last major interviews, a talk with the BBC in 2014, Lee asserted that Taiwan is already independent, and that the country's unfinished task could be better characterized as political normalization.

Of his own historical legacy, Lee was more circumspect, saying he hoped people would remember that "life was good" during his tenure.

Lee Teng-hui in his presidential inauguration ceremony in 1996. (CNA file photo)
(By Elaine Hou, Yeh Su-ping and Matthew Mazzetta)

Photo CNA.

Taiwán, Lee Teng Hui

USAGM Reviewing Foreign Journalist Visas

WASHINGTON, (VOANEWS).- Some 76 foreign journalists working for the Voice of America in Washington are facing the possibility that their visas, many of which expire this month, may not be renewed.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Agency for Global Media said Thursday that the agency is conducting a case-by-case assessment of J-1 renewal applications. The agency has 62 contractors and 14 full time employees who are in the United States on J-1 visas. An unknown number of journalists at other USAGM entities are also affected.

So far none of the journalists seeking J-1 extensions appears to have been rejected outright. But at least one journalist’s deadline for an extension has passed, giving her until the end of the month to leave the U.S. Other VOA journalists have a few weeks left before they could be forced to return to their home countries, where some fear retribution because of VOA’s reporting.

The USAGM spokesperson said the visa review is aimed at improving agency management, protecting U.S. national security and ensuring that hiring authorities are not misused.

J-1 visas are a category of non-immigrant entry permits for individuals with unique skills who are approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs. They are typically issued for a period of several years and are subject to renewal or extension. But the J-1 is also among several visas that were temporarily banned by the Trump Administration in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, and because the administration believes such visa holders take jobs away from U.S. citizens.

Journalism groups including PEN America, the National Press Club and its Journalism Institute issued statements Friday expressing concern that declining to renew the visas could put the safety of those VOA journalists at risk.

Because of its mandate to provide high-quality professional journalism in more than 40 languages, VOA often struggles to find enough American citizens with the needed journalism and language skills to keep its programs on the air. In those cases it has long relied on individuals recruited from the target countries or new immigrants still working their way through the lengthy process of becoming American citizens.

VOA and other government agencies routinely scrutinize J-1 visa renewals, which are filed by the employer and submitted to the State Department. In the past, some foreign journalists at VOA have been forced to leave their jobs because their visa was not renewed. It’s unclear how the USAGM process this year differs from past practice.

“To improve agency management and protect U.S. national security, it is imperative to determine that hiring authorities and personnel practices are not misused. As such, USAGM is undertaking a comprehensive, case-by-case assessment of personal services contractors (PSCs) who are J-1 visa holders,” the USAGM spokesperson’s statement said. At the time of publication, USAGM had not responded to VOA’s inquiry about whether full time staff who hold J-1 visas are also subjected to this year’s review.

USAGM CEO Michael Pack was nominated by President Donald Trump to lead the agency more than two years ago. But with solid Democratic opposition to his appointment, his confirmation was held up until June. Since his confirmation, the heads of the five media networks USAGM oversees have quit or been fired. Pack told the Washington Times in an interview this month that he is working to correct past mismanagement.

“My plan here, and I think everybody in the White House and everybody else knows this, is to hold these agencies accountable to fulfilling their mission, and in [Voice of America’s] case, its charter, and that’s what I plan to do,” he told the newspaper.

The United States, US Agency for Global Media, Visas