Topics : Economic uncertainty Although numbers have dwindled, China is still recovering from the COVID-19 outbreak that first appeared in central China late last year and spread globally — sparking accusations Beijing had mishandled its initial response, leading to nearly 330,000 deaths and economic carnage worldwide.The pandemic has also sent US-China tensions spiraling to new heights, with Trump this week saying Beijing was responsible for “mass worldwide killing”.China’s economic growth shrank 6.8 percent in the first quarter because of the virus, its first contraction in decades.Li had originally been expected to announce a 2020 growth target of around six percent — but the pandemic has scrambled expectations, leaving millions of Chinese jobless and imperiling countless businesses.In a statement published after the speech finished, the government announced it would increase its military budget by 6.6 percent in the year.The budget will be set at 1.268 trillion yuan ($178 billion) for the year — the second biggest in the world after the US but continuing a trend of slowing increases.China’s rapidly growing and modernizing armed forces are a source of concern in the United States and neighboring Asian countries nervous about Beijing’s rise.The NPC’s highly choreographed annual meetings are conducted amid great pomp aimed at underlining Communist Party control, but this the session was delayed more than two months as China struggled with the coronavirus outbreak, and reduced to only a week.The session began with a minute’s silence for the country’s coronavirus victims. China moved to impose a controversial security law on Hong Kong at the opening of its annual parliamentary session on Friday, with Premier Li Keqiang also warning of the “immense” economic challenges caused by the coronavirus.Li’s opening speech to the 3,000-member National People’s Congress (NPC) is China’s version of the US president’s “state of the union” address, and he went straight into the threat posed by the pandemic that emerged on Chinese soil.”At present, the epidemic has not yet come to an end, while the tasks we face in promoting development are immense,” Li told mask-wearing delegates in Beijing’s cavernous Great Hall of the People, while also touting China’s success in suppressing the contagion. The draft proposal, to be debated by Beijing’s top leaders, will “guard against, stop and punish any separatism, subversion of the national regime, terrorist group activities and such behaviors that seriously harm national security”.It would authorize Chinese lawmakers to directly enact long-delayed Hong Kong security legislation itself at a future date, rather than leaving it up to the territory’s administration.China has made clear it wants legislation passed after Hong Kong was rocked by seven months of massive and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests last year.Wang Chen, deputy chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, told delegates Beijing must “take powerful measures to lawfully prevent, stop and punish” anti-China forces in Hong Kong.A bid to enact such legislation in 2003 was shelved after half a million people took to the streets in protest. But the controversial initiative has been put back on the table in recent years as the pro-democracy movement has gained pace.”This is the end of Hong Kong, this is the end of ‘One Country, Two Systems’, make no mistake about it,” Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok told reporters, referring to China’s description of the territory’s status.”One Country, Two Systems” gives Beijing ultimate political sway over Hong Kong but allows the former British colony to retain liberties unseen elsewhere in China.”Xi Jinping is burning Hong Kong,” said Lee Cheuk-yan, Hong Kong’s Labor Party leader, referring to the Chinese president.Stocks tumbled in the city Friday on news of the security law move.US President Donald Trump promised to respond “very strongly” once details emerge, and US senators introduced legislation to impose sanctions on any entity involved in curbing Hong Kong’s autonomy.Targets could include police who crack down on demonstrators, Chinese officials involving in Hong Kong policy, and banks that conduct transactions with anyone who infringes on its freedoms. Hong Kong under siegeThe most controversial move at this year’s NPC is a measure that would impose security legislation in Hong Kong — immediately denounced by the US and pro-democracy figures in the financial hub who called it a death sentence for the territory’s unique freedoms. Citing “great uncertainty” ahead, Li took the rare move of refraining from announcing a 2020 growth target for China’s coronavirus-battered economy, offering only a vague promise to address mounting joblessness and improve living standards.
Nearly all Facebook employees are working remotely due to the pandemic.”We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our Black community,” Facebook said in response to the AFP request for comment.”We encourage employees to speak openly when they disagree with leadership.”Facebook was aware some workers planned the virtual walkout and did not plan to dock their pay. A presidential call To make matters worse, US media revealed Sunday that Zuckerberg and Trump spoke by telephone on Friday.The conversation was “productive,” unnamed sources told the Axios news outlet and CNBC. Facebook would neither confirm nor deny the reports.The call “destroys” the idea that Facebook is a “neutral arbiter,” said Evelyn Douek, a researcher at Harvard Law School.Like other experts, she questioned whether Facebook’s new oversight board, formed last month to render independent judgments on content, will have the clout to intervene.On Saturday, the board offered assurances it was aware there were “many significant issues related to online content” that people want it to consider.Facebook, meanwhile, is directly affected by Trump’s counter-attack against Twitter.The president signed a decree Thursday attacking one of the legal pillars of the US internet, Section 230, which shields digital platforms from lawsuits linked to content posted by third parties while giving them the freedom to intervene as they please to police the exchanges. The clash between Twitter and Donald Trump has thrust rival Facebook into turmoil, with employees rebelling against CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s refusal to sanction false or inflammatory posts by the US president.Some Facebook employees put out word of a “virtual walkout” to take place Monday to protest, according to tweeted messages.”As allies we must stand in the way of danger, not behind. I will be participating in today’s virtual walkout in solidarity with the black community,” tweeted Sara Zhang, one of the Facebook employees in the action. Network in revolt Twitter and Facebook both have in place systems to combat disinformation and dangerous content — appeals to hatred, harassment, incitement to violence and the like.But Facebook exempts political personalities and candidates from these restrictions.Zuckerberg’s position has not gone down well with many of his employees.”I don’t know what to do, but I know doing nothing is not acceptable,” Jason Stirman, a member of Facebook’s research and development team, wrote on Twitter.Other Facebook employees spoke out on Sunday.David Gillis, a member of the design team who specializes in product safety and integrity, said he believed Trump’s looting and shooting tweet “encourages extra-judicial violence and racism.””While I understand why we chose to stay squarely within the four corners of our violence and incitement policy, I think it would have been right for us to make a ‘spirit of the policy’ exception that took more context into account,” he wrote.Nate Butler, a Facebook product designer, added: “I need to be clear – FB is on the wrong side of this and I can’t support their stance. Doing nothing isn’t Being Bold. Many of us feel this way.” “Mark is wrong, and I will endeavor in the loudest possible way to change his mind,” Ryan Freitas, the design director of Facebook’s News Feed, tweeted Sunday, adding that he was organizing about 50 other employees who share his view.At the root of the discord is Twitter’s unprecedented intervention last week when it tagged two Trump tweets about mail-in ballots with messages urging people to “get the facts.”Zuckerberg reacted by telling Fox News that private social media platforms “shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.” Trump retweeted the interview.On Friday, Twitter responded once again to a Trump tweet, this time after he used the platform to warn protesters outraged by the death at police hands of an unarmed black man that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”Twitter covered up the tweet with a message warning it “violated Twitter Rules about glorifying violence.” Viewers had to click on the message to see the underlying tweet.The message also was posted on Facebook, but Zuckerberg decided to let it stand unchallenged.”I’ve been struggling with how to respond to the President’s tweets and posts all day,” he wrote Friday in a post. “Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric.”But, Zuckerberg went on to say that “our position is that we should enable as much expression as possible unless it will cause imminent risk of specific harms or dangers spelled out in clear policies.” Topics :