China says 13,000 Xinjiang ‘terrorists’ arrested since 2014
Monday, March 18
BEIJING (AP) — China has arrested nearly 13,000 people it describes as terrorists and has broken up hundreds of “terrorist gangs” in Xinjiang since 2014, the government said in a report Monday issued to counter criticism of internment camps and other oppressive security in the traditionally Islamic region.
The lengthy report said the government’s efforts have curbed religious extremism but gave little evidence of what crimes had occurred. The far northwestern region is closed to outsiders, but former residents and activists abroad say mere expressions of Muslim identity are punished.
Criticism has grown over China’s internment of an estimated 1 million Uighurs (WEE-gurs) and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups. China describes the camps as vocational training centers and says participation is voluntary. Former detainees say they were held in abusive conditions, forced to renounce Islam and swear allegiance to China’s ruling Communist Party.
The camps sprang up over the past two years at extraordinary speed and on a massive scale, as monitored by satellite imagery. China maintains a massive security presence in Xinjiang and efforts to independently verify claims by Uighur activists are routinely blocked.
The new report said “law-based de-radicalization” in Xinjiang has curbed the rise and spread of religious extremism.
It said 1,588 terrorist gangs have been crushed and 12,995 terrorists seized since 2014. Over that time, 2,052 explosive devices were seized and more than 30,000 people were punished for taking part in almost 5,000 “illegal religious activities,” the report said. It said 345,229 copies of “illegal religious publicity materials” were also seized.
China’s government has spent decades trying to suppress pro-independence sentiment in the region fueled in part by frustration over an influx of migrants from China’s Han majority. Beijing authorities say extremists there have ties to foreign terror groups but have given little evidence to support that.
Despite the region’s religious, linguistic and cultural differences with the rest of country, China says Xinjiang has been Chinese territory since ancient times.
Experts and Uighur activists believe the camps are part of an aggressive government campaign to erode the identities of the Central Asian groups who called the region home long before waves of Han migrants arrived in recent decades.
Monday’s report sought to underplay Islam’s role in the region’s historical makeup, saying that while it “cannot be denied that Xinjiang received the influence of Islamic culture,” that did not change the “objective fact” that Xinjiang’s culture is a facet of Chinese culture.
“Islam is not the natural faith of the Uighurs and other ethnicities, nor is it their only faith,” the report said.
China has sought to defend itself against charges of cultural genocide, painting its critics as biased and seeking to smear China’s reputation and contain its rise as a global power.
The report shows the “vague and broad definition of ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’ by the Chinese government,” said Patrick Poon, a China researcher for Amnesty International.
“It’s exactly because of the Chinese government’s arbitrary and vague definition of these terms that leads to mass arbitrary detention of many ordinary people in Xinjiang,” Poon said.
Poon cited the many families that have lost contact with relatives who are suspected of having been detained.
“It’s simply not normal at all for people losing contact with their relatives if they are merely receiving ‘vocational training’ as the Chinese government claims,” Poon said.
China’s reputation for taking a hard line against religious minorities, and Muslims in particular, continues to draw global attention.
The man arrested in last week’s New Zealand mosque attacks said in his online manifesto that China is the nation that most aligns with his political and social values.
Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, an overseas Uighur advocacy group, said China was using the specter of terrorism in an attempt to undermine sympathy for the Uighur cause.
“The purpose of issuing this report is to seek support for their extreme policies and the trampling of human rights,” Raxit said.
In November, China rejected criticism of its treatment of ethnic Muslims, telling the United Nations that accusations of rights abuses from some countries were “politically driven.”
At a U.N. review of the country’s human rights record, China characterized Xinjiang as a former hotbed of extremism that has been stabilized through “training centers” which help people gain employable skills.
Last week, a U.S. envoy on religion called for an independent investigation of the detentions and for the release of those being held, describing the situation in Xinjiang “horrific.”
Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, said China has done nothing to assuage concerns from the U.S. and others over the detention of Uighurs, Kazakhs and members of other Muslim minority groups.
Brownback described China’s explanation of the reasons behind the camps as “completely unsatisfactory answers.”
China is already listed by the U.S. among the worst violators of religious freedom, and Brownback held open the possibility of sanctions and other punitive measures “if corrective actions aren’t taken.”
The report is “part of the Chinese government’s efforts to diffuse the international community’s growing criticisms of its abusive policies in Xinjiang,” said Maya Wang, a senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch based in Hong Kong.
The government’s counter-offensive on Xinjiang “appears to reflect its nervousness about its international image,” Wang said, citing in particular Muslim-majority countries where China is promoting its massive “belt and road” infrastructure initiative.
“If the Chinese government is so certain that it has nothing to hide in Xinjiang, then it should allow independent international observers such as the U.N. into the region,” Wang said.
From the Editors of E – The Environmental Magazine
Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard that China and other nations have gone gangbusters with reforestation projects that are ambitious enough to have a significant impact on cutting carbon emissions. Why aren’t we also doing this here in the U.S.? — Mickie Infurcia, Hamden, CT
A recent Boston University (BU) study tracking satellite data of vegetation coverage found that the world is indeed getting greener overall, largely thanks to an ambitious reforestation program underway in China.
“China alone accounts for 25 percent of the global net increase in leaf area with only 6.6 percent of global vegetated area,” says lead researcher Chi Chen of BU’s Department of Earth and Environment. “This is equal to the net greening in the three largest countries, Russia, the United States and Canada, that together hold 31 percent of the global vegetated area.”
China’s reforestation efforts date back to the 1970s when the government started requiring every citizen over age 11 to plant at least three saplings every year to augment official government-backed reforestation projects. The result has been the planting of some 66 billion trees across some 12,000 miles of Northern China over the last few decades, with the so-called “Great Green Wall of China” expected to snake along some 2,800 continuous miles by 2050.
China isn’t the only country hell-bent on reforestation. Pakistan embarked on its Billion Tree Tsunami campaign in 2014 and is well on its way of achieving its goal of restoring healthy forests to some 350,000 hectares of degraded land. Meanwhile, Australia’s “20 Million Trees Program” aims to re-establish green corridors and urban forests across the country while mitigating climate impacts by facilitating the planting of 20 million trees by 2020. Another major reforestation effort with global impact is happening in Brazil, where the non-profit Conservation International is helping restore 30,000 of the hardest hit hectares across the so-called “arc of deforestation” in the Amazon rainforest as a key part of that country’s Paris climate agreement goal of reforesting 12 million hectares by 2030.
Here in the U.S., our forebears chopped down practically every tree they could until around 1920, but then we started to regain some of the lost tree cover over the next 40 years as abandoned farms reverted back to forest. Since then, we are barely net positive in forest cover as tree planting campaigns by the U.S. Forest Service and the non-profit Arbor Day Foundation have made up for losses from development and logging. That said, increased reforestation is not a major part of American efforts to meet climate mitigation targets given more practical ways we can achieve quicker overall emissions reductions.
Beyond the U.S., though, there is still lots of “low-hanging fruit” around the world in the form of other areas that would be good candidates for reforestation. The non-profit World Resources Institute (WRI) maintains the Atlas of Forest & Landscape Restoration Opportunities, which includes global overlay maps on current forest coverage, potential forest coverage, forest condition and human pressure on forest landscapes. According to WRI, upwards of two billion hectares of degraded or logged over forest lands around the world are ripe for restoration work if only we can muster the political will to make it happen.
CONTACTS: Chi Chen, sites.bu.edu/cliveg/people/doctoral-students/chi-chen/; EarthTalk’s “What Is The Great Green Wall of China?” earthtalk.org/green-wall-china/; Australia’s 20 Million Trees Program, nrm.gov.au/national/20-million-trees; Arbor Day Foundation, arborday.org; WRI’s Atlas of Forest & Landscape Restoration Opportunities, wri.org/applications/maps/flr-atlas.
EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. To donate, visit www.earthtalk.org. Send questions to: email@example.com.
Scientists back temporary global ban on gene-edited babies
By MALCOLM RITTER
AP Science Writer
Wednesday, March 13
NEW YORK (AP) — An international group of scientists and ethicists on Wednesday called for a temporary global ban on making babies with edited genes.
It’s the latest reaction to last November’s announcement that gene-edited twins had been born in China, which was widely criticized.
Mainstream scientists generally oppose making babies with altered DNA now, citing safety and ethical issues that must be addressed first. Such genetic changes may be passed to future generations, unlike gene editing done in parts of the body not involved in reproduction.
So news last year that Chinese scientist He Jiankui claimed to have edited DNA of embryos provoked widespread condemnation.
Some scientists had called for a moratorium before the latest proposal, which carries no legal authority. It came from 18 researchers from seven countries who published a commentary in the journal Nature. They included prominent gene-editing experts Feng Zhang and David Liu of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They receive money from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports The Associated Press Health & Science Department.
The researchers want a temporary ban on research designed to produce a baby from sperm, eggs or embryos that bear altered DNA. Roughly 30 nations already prohibit making babies from such “germline” gene editing, the authors said. It’s essentially banned in the U.S.
This “will place major speed bumps in front of the most adventurous plans to re-engineer the human species,” they wrote. “But the risks of the alternative … are much worse.”
The moratorium would allow time for discussion of technical, scientific, societal and ethical issues that must be considered, they said.
Among the proposals: Individual nations should pledge to block such research for a specific period, perhaps five years. After that, each country could decide on its own about what to allow, but only after taking steps like providing public notice, joining international discussions about the pros and cons, and determining whether its citizens support proceeding with such gene editing. The proposal does not cover gene-editing experiments that don’t involve trying to establish a pregnancy.
In a letter to the journal, Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, said he supported the moratorium idea.
Restoring tropical forests isn’t meaningful if those forests only stand for 10 or 20 years
March 18, 2019
Matthew Fagan, Assistant Professor of Geography and Environmental Systems, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Leighton Reid, Faculty Associate, University of Missouri-St. Louis
Margaret Buck Holland, Associate Professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Disclosure statement: Leighton Reid receives funding from the National Science Foundation (grant DEB-1313788). He is affiliated with the Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development at Missouri Botanical Garden. Margaret Buck Holland and Matthew Fagan do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of Maryland, Baltimore County provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Tropical forests globally are being lost at a rate of 61,000 square miles a year. And despite conservation efforts, the global rate of loss is accelerating. In 2016 it reached a 15-year high, with 114,000 square miles cleared.
At the same time, many countries are pledging to restore large swaths of forests. The Bonn Challenge, a global initiative launched in 2011, calls for national commitments to restore 580,000 square miles of the world’s deforested and degraded land by 2020. In 2014 the New York Declaration on Forests increased this goal to 1.35 million square miles, an area about twice the size of Alaska, by 2030.
Ecological restoration is a process of helping damaged ecosystems recover. It produces many benefits for both wildlife and people – for example, better habitat, erosion control, cleaner drinking water and jobs.
That’s why the Bonn Challenge is so exciting for geographers and ecologists like us. It brings restoration into the center of global discussions about combating climate change, preventing species extinctions and improve farmers’ lives. It connects governments, organizations, companies and communities, and is catalyzing substantial investments in forest restoration.
However, a closer look shows that a struggle remains to fully realize the Bonn Challenge vision. Some reforestation efforts provide only limited benefits, and studies have shown that maintaining these forests for decades is critical to maximize the economic and ecological benefits of establishing them.
Putting trees back on the land
So far, 48 nations and 10 states and companies have made Bonn Challenge commitments to restore 363,000 square miles by 2020 and another 294,000 square miles by 2030. The United States and a Pakistani province have already fulfilled their commitments, restoring a total of 67,000 square miles.
Restoring forests poses political and economic challenges for national governments. Letting forests grow back inevitably means pulling land out of farming. Natural forest regeneration mainly occurs where farmers have abandoned poor quality land, or where governments discourage poor farming practices – for example, near wetlands or on steep slopes. Opportunities for natural regeneration elsewhere are limited.
As a result, much forest landscape restoration under the Bonn Challenge focuses on improving existing landscapes using trees. Restoration activities may include creating timber or fruit plantations; agroforestry, or planting rows of trees in and around agricultural fields; and silviculture, or improving the condition of degraded forests.
The U.N. Decade of Ecosystem Restoration seeks to restore some 5 billion acres of deforested and degraded landscapes and seascapes between 2021 and 2030.
One early success, the “Billion Tree Tsunami” in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, has exceeded its 350,000-hectare pledge through a combination of protecting forest regeneration and planting trees. Similarly, Rwanda has restored 700,000 of the 2 million hectares it pledged, primarily through agroforestry and reforesting erosion-prone areas, and created thousands of green jobs.
However, these “restored forests” are often poor replacements for natural habitat. For animals dwelling in tropical forests, agroforestry and tree plantations can look more like green deserts than forests.
Many tropical forest wildlife species are only found in mature tropical forests and cannot survive in open agroforests, monoculture tree plantations or young natural regeneration. Truly restoring tropical forest habitat takes a diversity of forest species, and time.
Nonetheless, these working “forests” do have ecological value for some species, and can spare remaining natural forests from axes, fire and plows. In addition, scientists have estimated that restored forests could sequester up to 16 percent of the carbon needed to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, while generating some US$84 billion in assets such as timber and erosion control.
Restored, but for how long?
Benefits for wildlife and Earth’s climate from forest restoration accrue over decades. However, many forests are unlikely to remain protected for this long.
In a 2018 study we showed that forests that naturally regenerated in Costa Rica between 1947 and 2014 had only a 50 percent chance of enduring for 20 years. Most places where forests regrew were subsequently re-cleared for farming. Twenty years represents about a quarter of the time needed for forest carbon stocks to fully recover, and less than one-fifth of the time required for many forest-dwelling plants and animals to return.
Unfortunately, 20 years may be more than most new forests get. Studies in Brazil and Peru show that regenerating forests there are re-cleared even faster, often after just a few years.
This problem is not limited to natural forests. Agroforests worldwide are under pressure. For example, until recent decades, coffee and cocoa farmers in the tropics raised their crops in agroforests under a shady canopy of trees, which mimicked the way these plants grow in nature and maximized their health. Today, however, many of them grow their crops in the sun. This method can improve yield, but requires pesticides and fertilizer to compensate for added stress on the plants.
Poor management of coffee and cacao farming is a leading cause of deforestation in Peru. Local and international organizations are working to conserve and restore forests through better farming practices.
And although timber plantations sequester additional carbon with every harvest and replanting, their replanting is dependent on shifting market demand for wood. Once they are harvested after six to 14 years of growth, tropical timber plantations can be abandoned as a bad investment and replaced with higher-yielding row crops or pasture.
Solid foundations for recovery
If the Bonn Challenge is to achieve its goals, nations will have to find ways of converting short-term restoration pledges into long-term ecosystem recovery. This may require tightening the rules.
Some countries have pledged to protect unrealistically large areas. For example, Rwanda committed to restore 77 percent of its national territory, and Costa Rica and Nicaragua pledged to restore 20 percent of their territories apiece. Another flaw is that the Bonn Challenge does not prevent countries from deforesting some areas even as they are restoring others.
It will be impossible to track overall progress without an international commitment to monitor and sustain restoration successes. International organizations need to invest in satellite and local monitoring networks. We also believe they should consider how large international investments in sectors such as agriculture, mining and infrastructure drive forest loss and regrowth.
Countries like Indonesia that may be considering a Bonn Challenge pledge should be encouraged to focus on long-term impacts. Instead of restoring 10,000 square miles of one-year-old forest by 2020, why not restore 5,000 square miles of 100-year-old forest by 2120? Countries like Costa Rica that have already pledged can lock in those gains by protecting regrown forests.
The U.N. General Assembly recently approved a resolution designating 2021 to 2030 as the U.N. Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. We hope this step will help motivate nations to keep their promises and invest in restoring Earth’s deforested and degraded ecosystems.