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Xi Jinping secures unprecedented third term as China’s president




Hong Kong

Xi Jinping’s unprecedented third term as China’s president was officially endorsed by the country’s political elite on Friday, solidifying his control and making him the longest-serving head of state of Communist China since its founding in 1949.

Xi was reappointed Friday as president for another five years by China’s rubber-stamp legislature in a ceremonial vote in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People – a highly choreographed exercise in political theater meant to demonstrate the legitimacy and unity of the ruling elite.

He received a unanimous 2,952 votes followed by a standing ovation.

The reappointment of Xi, China’s most powerful and authoritarian leader in decades, was largely seen as a formality, after the 69-year-old secured a norm-shattering third term as head of the Chinese Communist Party last fall.

In China, the presidency – or “state chairman” in Chinese – is a largely ceremonial title. Real power resides in the positions of head of the party and military, two key roles that Xi also holds and was reappointed to at a key Communist Party congress in October.

Nevertheless, his reappointment as head of state officially completes his transition into a second decade in power.

And it comes amid a broader reshuffle of leadership roles in the central government, or the State Council, and other state organizations that further increases Xi’s already firm grasp on the levers of power.

Li Qiang, one of Xi’s most trusted prot?g?s, is expected to be chosen China’s premier on Saturday.

Traditionally, the premiership is an influential role in charge of the economy, although over the past decade, its power has been severely eroded by Xi, who has taken almost all decision-making into his own hands.

On Friday, the National People’s Congress (NPC) also appointed other key state leaders, including Zhao Leji as the body’s head and Han Zheng as the country’s vice-president.

The newly appointed leaders all took a public oath of allegiance to the Chinese constitution inside the Great Hall of the People.

The NPC also approved a sweeping plan to reform institutions under the State Council, including the formation of a financial regulatory body and national data bureau and a revamp of its science and technology ministry.

The overhaul is seen as a further step by Xi to strengthen Communist Party control over key areas of policymaking.

While Xi has secured a firm grip on power, he faces a myriad of challenges both at home and abroad.

The Chinese economy is struggling to recover from three years of harsh zero-Covid restrictions, investor confidence is waning, and a demographic crisis is looming as the country registered its first population decline in six decades.

China is also facing a series of diplomatic headwinds from Washington and other Western capitals, as relations plummeted in recent years over Beijing’s human rights record, military build-up, handling of Covid and growing partnership with Russia.

In unusually direct remarks Monday, Xi accused the US of leading a campaign to suppress China and causing its serious domestic woes.

“Western countries led by the United States have contained and suppressed us in an all-round way, which has brought unprecedented severe challenges to our development,” Xi told a group of government advisers representing private businesses on the sidelines of the NPC meeting.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Xi on his extended term, according to Russian state media.

“I am confident that working together, we will ensure the further growth of fruitful Russian-Chinese cooperation in various fields,” Putin said.

Putin also noted that Russia highly appreciated Xi’s personal contribution “to strengthening relations of comprehensive cooperation and strategic interaction” between Moscow and Beijing, TASS said.

No Chinese leader had held the title of head of state for more than 10 years, including Communist China’s founding father, Chairman Mao Zedong.

Liu Shaoqi, who took over as state chairman from Mao in 1959, was sacked in 1968 and persecuted to death a year later during Mao’s tumultuous Cultural Revolution.

After Mao’s death, paramount leader Deng Xiaoping introduced presidential term limits in China’s constitution in 1982 to avoid the kind of chaos and catastrophe seen under Mao’s life-long rule.

Deng also led institutional reforms to bring a greater separation of positions and functions between the party and the state.

However, those efforts have been severely undermined by Xi, who greatly expanded the party’s hold on power – and his own grip over the party.

In 2018, China’s legislature abolished presidential term limits in a ceremonial vote, effectively allowing Xi to rule for life.

CNN’s Sandi Sidhu contributed to this report.

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US agency assessment backing Covid lab leak theory raises more questions than answers — and backlash from China




Editor’s Note: A version of this story appeared in CNN’s Meanwhile in China newsletter, a three-times-a-week update exploring what you need to know about the country’s rise and how it impacts the world. Sign up here.

Hong Kong

The US Department of Energy’s assessment that Covid-19 most likely emerged due to a laboratory accident in China has reignited fierce debate and attention on the question of how the pandemic began.

But the “low confidence” determination, made in a newly updated classified report, has raised more questions than answers, as the department has publicly provided no new evidence to back the claim. It’s also generated fierce pushback from China.

“We urge the US to respect science and facts, stop politicizing this issue, stop its intelligence-led, politics-driven origins-tracing,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on Wednesday.

The Department of Energy assessment is part of a broader US effort in which intelligence agencies were asked by President Joe Biden in 2021 to examine the origins of the coronavirus, which was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

That overall assessment from the intelligence community was inconclusive, and then, as now, there has yet to be a decisive link established between the virus and a specific animal or other route – as China continues to stonewall international investigations into the origins of the virus.

Four agencies and the National Intelligence Council assessed with low confidence that the virus likely jumped from animals to humans through natural exposure, while one assessed with moderate confidence that the pandemic was the result of a laboratory-related accident. Three other intelligence community elements were unable to coalesce around either explanation without additional information, according to a declassified version of the 2021 report.

The majority of agencies remain undecided or lean toward the virus having a natural origin – a hypothesis also widely favored by scientists with expertize in the field. But the change from the US Department of Energy has now deepened the split in the intelligence community, especially as the director of the FBI this week commented publicly for the first time on his agency’s similar determination made with “medium confidence.”

Intelligence agencies can make assessments with either low, medium or high confidence. A low confidence assessment generally means the information obtained is not reliable enough, or is too fragmented to make a more definitive judgment.

And while the assessment and new commentary has pulled the theory back into the spotlight, neither agency has released evidence or information backing their determinations. That raises crucial questions about their basis – and shines the spotlight back on gaping, outstanding unknowns and need for further research.


– Source:

Scientists largely believe the virus most likely emerged from a natural spillover from an infected animal to people, as many viruses before it, though they widely acknowledge the need for more research of all options. Many have also questioned the lack of data released to substantiate the latest claim.

Virologist Thea Fischer, who in 2021 traveled to Wuhan as part of a World Health Organization (WHO) origins probe and remains a part of ongoing WHO tracing efforts, said it was “very important” that any new assessments related to the origin of the virus are documented by evidence.

“(These are) strong accusations against a public research laboratory in China and can’t stand alone without substantial evidence,” said Fischer, a professor at the University of Copenhagen.

“Hopefully they will share with the WHO soon so the evidence can be known and assessed by international health experts just as all other evidence concerning the pandemic origin.”

A senior US intelligence official told the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the new Department of Energy assessment, that the update to the assessment was conducted in light of new intelligence, further study of academic literature and in consultation with experts outside government.

The idea that the virus could have emerged from a lab accident became more prominent as a spotlight was turned on coronavirus research being done at local facilities, such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It was further enhanced amid a failure to find a “smoking gun” showing which animal could have passed the virus to people at Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market – the location linked to a number of early known cases – amid limitations to follow-up research.

Some experts who have been closely involved in examining existing information, however, are skeptical of the new assessment giving the theory more weight.

“Given that so much of the data we have points to a spillover event occurring at the Huanan market in late 2019 I doubt there’s anything very significant in it or new information that would change our current understanding,” said David Robertson, a professor in the University of Glasgow’s School of Infection and Immunity, who was involved in recent research with findings that supported the natural origin theory.

He noted that locations of early human cases centered on the market, positive environmental samples, and confirmation that live animals susceptible to the virus were for sale there are among evidence supporting the natural origins theory – while there’s no data supporting a lab leak.

“The extent of this evidence continually gets lost (in media discussion) … when in fact we know a lot about what happened, and arguably more than other outbreaks,” he said.

Efforts to understand how the pandemic started have been further complicated by China’s lack of transparency – especially as the origin question spiraled into another point of bitter contention within rising US-China tensions of recent years.

Beijing has blocked robust, long-term international field investigations and refused to allow a laboratory audit,which could bring clarity, and been reticent to share details and data around domestic research to uncover the cause. However, it repeatedly maintains that it has been transparent and cooperative with the WHO.

Chinese officials carefully controlled the single WHO-backed investigation it did allow on the ground in 2021, citing disease control measures to restrict visiting experts to their hotel rooms for half their trip and to prevent them from sharing meals with their Chinese counterparts – cutting off an opportunity for more informal information sharing.

Citing data protection, Beijing has also declined to allow its own investigatory measures, like testing stored blood samples from Wuhan or combing through hospital data for potential “patient zeros,” to be verified by researchers outside the country.

China has fiercely denied that the virus emerged from a lab accident, and has repeatedly tried to assert it could have arrived in the country for the initial outbreak from elsewhere – including a US laboratory, without offering any evidence supporting the claim.

But a top WHO official as recently as last month publicly called for “more cooperation and collaboration with our colleagues in China to advance studies that need to take place in China”- including studies of markets and farms that could have been involved.

“These studies need to be conducted in China and we need cooperation from our colleagues there to advance our understandings,” WHO technical lead for Covid-19 Maria Van Kerkhove said at a media briefing.

When asked about the Department of Energy assessment by CNN, a WHO representative said the organization and its origins tracing advisory body “will keep examining all available scientific evidence that would help us advance the knowledge on the origin of SARS CoV 2 and we call on China and the scientific community to undertake necessary studies in that direction.”

“Until we have more evidence all hypotheses are still on the table,” the representative said.

CNN’s Hannah Rabinowitz, Jeremy Herb and Natasha Bertrand contributed reporting.

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India’s opposition vows to keep ‘raising questions about Adani group’ after spokesperson arrested




New Delhi

When dozens of security personnel crowded onto the runway of New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Airport on Thursday, it was not to capture a terrorist or fleeing criminal mastermind, or even to apprehend an unruly passenger.

It was to arrest an opposition politician who had allegedly “disturbed harmony” — by misstating the Prime Minister’s middle name.

Pawan Khera, the spokesperson for the Congress party, had been on his way to his party’s national convention when he was forced off his plane and arrested by police.

His alleged crime? Disturbing communal harmony by making a jibe at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whom he had referred to on live TV last week as “Narendra Gautamdas Modi” in reference to embattled business magnate Gautam Adani.

Adani, seen as a close ally of Modi and one of the wealthiest people in the world, saw his net worth halved in less than two weeks last month after a report by financial research firm Hindenburg leveled allegations of stock market manipulation and fraud against the Adani Group. The Adani Group condemned the report as “baseless” and “malicious.”

Police from the state of Assam said they had deployed a team to New Delhi to arrest Khera for questioning after a case was registered on Wednesday for his “objectionable remarks about the Prime Minister.”

“[Khera] was trying to disturb the communal harmony in society, (according to) sections of the Indian Penal Code under criminal conspiracy,” Prasanta Kumar Bhuyan, Assam police spokesperson, told CNN.

But the arrest of Khera has set the stage for a dramatic showdown between India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress party, which has accused the government of stiffling dissent in the world’s largest democracy of 1.3 billion people.

Scores of Congress politicians responded to the arrest by sitting on the airstrip in protest. Khera was released hours later, after India’s Supreme Court ordered him to be released on interim bail. But his brief detention set off a media frenzy in the country, dominating prime time news and headlines.

Speaking to reporters after his release on Thursday, Khera said he was “asked to deplane as if I was a terrorist.”

“This is not the only example of people’s rights and liberties being curtailed. Today it’s me, tomorrow it could be anyone,” he said.

Congress member Supriya Shrinate, who was traveling with Khera at the time of his arrest, added, “If this isn’t tyranny, then what is?”

The Congress party said in a statement that Khera’s arrest was “undemocratic,” and “arbitrary,” adding: “We vehemently oppose this dictatorial behavior.”

“This charade is not going to deter us from raising questions” about the Adani group and its alleged ties to Modi, it said.

CNN has contacted a BJP national spokesperson for a comment but has not yet had a response.

Speaking to Indian news channel NDTV late Thursday, the BJP chief minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma, said: “Police have all the rights to arrest (Khera).

Khera’s arrest comes weeks after the country banned a documentary from the BBC that was critical of the Prime Minister’s alleged role in deadly riots more than 20 years ago. Indian tax authorities raided the BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai earlier this month citing “irregularities and discrepancies” in the BBC’s taxes. The BBC defended its documentary and said it was complying with the tax investigation.

Days before Khera’s arrest, Sarma, the Assam chief minister, had warned there would be consequences to his remarks about Modi.

“India will not forget or forgive these horrible remarks of Congressmen,” he wrote on Twitter on Monday.

CNN has not yet been able to reach Khera and his lawyers.

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At least two killed as militants storm Karachi police headquarters




Islamabad, Pakistan

At least two people were killed and 11 were injured after militants stormed the police headquarters in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, according to officials.

Up to 10 militants attacked the police station with hand grenades and shots were fired, an eyewitness told CNN. The Sindh provincial minister for labor, Saeed Ghani, confirmed the attack to CNN, adding the incident was ongoing.

Pakistan’s Taliban, known as Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attack, according to spokesman Mohammad Khorasani.

Multiple shots could be heard ringing through the area where the headquarters is located, according to footage from the scene, and eyewitnesses described hearing multiple explosions.

The injured are being treated at a hospital, and one of them is in critical condition, according to Murtaza Wahab Siddiqui, a senior leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the ruling party in Sindh province where Karachi is located.

Earlier, Edhi Ambulance Service said a police officer and a janitor died in the attack, while four police rangers were among the injured.

The attack prompted the Sindh provincial government to declare a state of emergency in Karachi, according to its spokesperson, Sharjeel Memon.

Pakistan’s Taliban have been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the US State Department since September 2010.

Pakistani authorities have yet to confirm any group’s involvement.

Rescue teams have reached the site of the attack, according to video released by Chhipa Ambulance Service, in which gunfire could be heard.

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