GSF: global scientific and technological cooperation still mainstream

GUANGZHOU, China, Dec. 13, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — The Greater Bay Science Forum 2021 (GSF), themed “Exploring the Future, Sharing Scientific Achievement”, concluded on December 13 in Guangzhou, China. A strong message came out of the three-day event is that global scientific and technological cooperation is still the mainstream despite the trend of anti-globalization.

The forum, initiated by the Alliance of International Science Organizations (ANSO), attracted more than 100 academicians and experts from around the world to have in-depth exchanges on science frontiers such as life sciences, nanoscience, network communication, sustainable development, marine science, and intelligent industrial software. It has become the consensus of its participants to promote shared innovation and the development of the world’s scientific undertakings and better benefit humankind.

Andrea Baccarelli, professor and Chair of the Environmental Health Sciences in Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, said in his congratulatory message to the forum via video, “It is really a moment to this event. I’m so impressed by GSF and its mission, particularly in a time like today. It’s fundamental to have focusing on the science communication.” He also expressed his willingness to work together with scientists and colleagues in Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

Sarah Gille, physical oceanographer of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Sverdrup Gold Medal Winner of American Meteorological Society (2021) said, “This (GSF) is an exciting moment in science. We face immense challenges, including caring for our environment and addressing climate change, challenges that will draw on every area of scientific expertise. These challenges also represent opportunities allowing us to do new science and train new scientists into our fields, and to shape our research to address big societal questions.”

Chief Executive of Hong Kong SAR Carrie Lam expressed in her video address that Guangdong and Hong Kong have been cooperating closely in different fields, including scientific and technological innovation. Hong Kong will continue to work closely with Guangdong to jointly promote the construction of the Greater Bay Area.

Chief Executive of Macao SAR Ho Iat Seng said in his video address that Macao will further collaborate with the innovation resources of other cities in the Greater Bay Area to strengthen industrial technology innovation.

Speaking at the forum, Ma Xingrui, governor of Guangdong Province, said that Guangdong is thoroughly implementing the innovation-driven development strategy and accelerating the construction of a strong province of scientific and technological innovation, led by the construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. He believes that GSF is a grand event for global scientists that integrates functions such as scientific exchange and discussion, demonstration of scientific achievements, as well as promotion of scientific consensus and innovation mechanism, which is of great significance to promote scientific exchange and mutual learning among countries.

Zhong Nanshan, academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a renowned respiratory disease expert said that cooperation and joint efforts, domestic and international, are needed for fighting the epidemic. “If one place can’t handle it, the whole world can’t handle it. No country is safe, until all countries are safe.”

Bai Chunli, academician with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and president of ANSO, said the Alliance has joined hands with global innovation partners to address livelihood and science and technology challenges, and has continued a number of joint research programs around global scientific topics such as fighting COVID-19 jointly.

He said, it is expected that GSF will play a pivotal role in providing Greater Bay Area solutions for global science and technology innovation governance.

South Africa’s Ramaphosa has COVID-19 But Symptoms Mild, Presidency Says

South Africa’s 69-year-old President Cyril Ramaphosa tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, though is showing only mild symptoms, the presidency said.

“The President started feeling unwell after leaving the State Memorial Service in honor of former Deputy President FW de Klerk in Cape Town earlier today,” the statement added.

At the memorial service, a mask-wearing Ramaphosa gave a eulogy to the last leader of South Africa’s white minority government, who helped negotiate an end it.

“The President, who is fully vaccinated, is in self-isolation in Cape Town and has delegated all responsibilities to Deputy President David Mabuza for the next week,” the presidency added.

In the past few days, a nationwide outbreak believed to be linked to the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been infecting around 20,000 people a day. South African scientists see no sign that the variant causes more severe illness.

Source: Voice of America

18 WFP Aid Trucks Commandeered in Northern Ethiopia

For the second time in a matter of days, food aid for starving Ethiopians has been stolen from the World Food Program in northern Ethiopia, the United Nations said Monday.

“On the evening of December 10th, a group of armed actors – believed to be either from the Ethiopian National Defense Forces or an affiliated allied military force – entered the Disaster Risk Management Committee compound in Kombolcha and took 18 WFP trucks by force,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters. “The armed individuals then used the trucks in several locations for their own purposes.”

He said 15 trucks have been returned, but three remain unaccounted for.

“The safety and security of U.N. and partner staff remain our highest priority and we call for the immediate and safe release of our staff, colleagues, and vehicles,” Haq said.

The WFP has informed the federal government and local authorities in the town of Dessie, whom the spokesman said are assisting in the recovery the three trucks. The towns are in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia, which has seen aid needs skyrocket in recent months.

The U.N. says 3.7 million people in Amhara need humanitarian assistance due to the conflict between federal government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Force (TPLF). Fighting has been going on for more than a year, and in July, it spilled over into the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar.

On December 7 and 8, the U.N. said three WFP trucks were commandeered by military personnel and used for their own purposes. WFP warehouses in Dessie and Kombolcha were also looted, and large amounts of food stocks were taken, including nutritional items for malnourished children.

The U.N. said some of their staff had been held at gunpoint. Aid distribution was suspended following that incident.

A U.N. spokesman said recent “mass looting” in Kombolcha was reportedly carried out “by elements of the Tigrayan forces and some members of the local population.”

Source: Voice of America

Cameroon Military Denies Torching Houses, Killing Civilians

Villagers in Cameroon’s conflicted Northwest region claim military troops searching for rebels this past week killed at least 13 civilians, including children. Cameroon’s military denies the allegations.

Cameroonian government officials and non-governmental organizations say several dozen civilians have fled Mbengwi, a commercial town in the English-speaking Northwest region to safer localities, including Bamenda, capital of the English-speaking Northwest region; Bafoussam, a French-speaking western town; and Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde.

Peter Chefor escaped to Yaounde Saturday after his home was set on fire. He accuses Cameroonian troops fighting separatists in Mbengwi of burning down his home.

“When I looked through the window (of my house), I saw the military outside rough handling my son,” he said. “At that point, one of the military guys’ legs was already on my son’s head, so I shouted that he is my son, they should not kill him. He is not an Amba (separatist) fighter.”

Chefor, his wife and two children now live with his younger brother in Yaounde.

Roman Catholic Church officials in Mbengwi say at least 13 civilians, including children, were killed and about 20 houses torched in Mbengwi over the past week. Mbengwi residents and rights groups say several youths were also arrested and their whereabouts remain unknown.

Rights groups have strongly criticized the civilian deaths, the arrests, the destruction of houses and other property, and looting.

The Cameroon military has denied that its troops are committing atrocities in Mbengwi.

Eyong Tarh, an official with the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, said the government should investigate and punish troops for what he calls retaliatory attacks on civilians accused of collaborating with separatist fighters.

“After eyewitnesses’ testimonies, video evidence and satellite imagery, the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa in collaboration with the Cameroon Anglophone Database of atrocities, confidently attest or confirm that the burning of homes was caused by the defense forces (Cameroon military) and there is no way that can be refused or denied,” Tarh said.

Tarh said it is unfortunate that civilians accused of collaborating with separatist fighters are either killed or have their houses burned by the military, while people accused of collaborating with the military are either killed or their houses burned by separatist fighters.

Ayaba Cho Lucas is Commander of the Ambazonia Defense Forces, ADF, a group that says it fights for the independence of the English-speaking regions of Cameroon. He refers to the state he and others hope to create as “Ambazonia,” and denies that separatist fighters are committing atrocities.

“Ambazonia is our land, our hope, it is our place of respite,” he said. “You think if you burn our homes, you molest our children, they will give up. Make no mistake. We will turn the armored cars into dust. We will fight till the end.”

Both the Cameroon military and separatist fighters accuse each other of attacking civilians.

Army spokesman Captain Cyrille Serge Atonfack Guemo said in a statement Monday that a reconnaissance mission was hit by an improvised explosive device and the military deployed troops to fight separatists on the road linking Mbengwi and Bamenda, both English-speaking northwestern towns.

Military officials said the army lost one tactical vehicle in the battle, and that four separatist fighters were killed.

The separatists say none of their fighters died and that at least seven government troops were killed last week when fighters destroyed a military armored car in Mbengwi.

Separatists have been fighting since 2017 to form an English-speaking state within the majority French-speaking country.

UN officials say the conflict has killed more than 3,300 people and displaced more than half-a-million.

Source: Voice of America

Self-Censoring by Chinese Educational, Cultural Program Worries African Educators

The Chinese government is promoting Chinese language and culture through Confucius Institute programs worldwide, including in Africa. Some educators say they’re concerned about what they say is censorship in Chinese-funded programs.

Steve Wakoli has been working for three years to perfect his skills in kung fu, a popular martial art taught at the Kenyatta University Confucius Institute.

He’s also a teacher at the institute, where hundreds of students are learning about Chinese culture and language at the facility named after the ancient Chinese philosopher whose teachings are a cornerstone of life in East Asia.

There are about 525 Chinese-funded Confucius Institutes worldwide, including 54 in Africa, according to a 2019 U.S. Senate report by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Jacob Ratemo is one of more than 500 students enrolled here.

He says learning about Chinese language and culture will help him find better work. But Ratemo acknowledges the classes avoid subjects that are politically sensitive in China.

“But the advantage is, especially when you are at the university level, you can access such matters. I can go to VOA News on a regular basis and see what is going on in China. I can go to Google and get that information. So, yes, I can admit there are a few challenges when you ask those questions to the Chinese themselves,” Ratemo said.

According to the Senate report, “Confucius Institute funding comes with strings that can compromise academic freedom.” For example, the Chinese teachers sign contracts with Beijing pledging not to damage China’s national interests.

Confucius Institute management turned down VOA’s requests for comment.

Teacher Steve Wakoli says the institute’s syllabus does not allow much time for politically sensitive topics and debate.

But analysts say the Confucius Institutes suppress discussions on topics like Taiwan and Hong Kong to protect their funding from the Chinese government. Martin Oloo is a political analyst in Kenya.

“Indeed, there have been issues around whether or not the institute is being used to propound what would be seen as anti-democracy, anti-human rights, and those concerns are founded in terms of what is the official Chinese policy on Taiwan, on Hong Kong,” Oloo said.

China considers Taiwan a wayward province and has not ruled out the use of force to reunite it with the mainland. Beijing imposed a national security law for Hong Kong in 2020 and many forms of dissent are criminalized.

Educator Jonathan Waseya told VOA that the institutes are doing an injustice to students by limiting their learning and exposure to different ideas.

“Yes, the opportunity comes in through the Confucius Institutes funded by China — that is OK. But can you get as an individual to talk about Taiwan, to talk about Hong Kong, talk about Korea, talk about North and South Korea and how the whole bigger picture fits into the geopolitics of today,” Waseya said.

With so many signing up for classes at the Confucius Institutes, education experts say it is critical that students find other avenues to learn about topics that Beijing may consider politically sensitive.

Source: Voice of America

Tigray Rebels Said to Recapture Lalibela, UNESCO World Heritage Site

Residents of the Ethiopian town of Lalibela, a U.N. World Heritage site, say Tigray rebels have captured the area from federal forces for a second time.

Town residents who spoke to Reuters said the rebel forces captured Lalibela on Sunday, following the exit of Ethiopian troops.

The eyewitnesses say that for reasons that are unknown, government soldiers began to leave Lalibela Saturday night and they heard an exchange of fire from a distance.

Neither the Ethiopian government nor the Tigray forces have commented on the situation in Lalibela.

However, AFP has reported that the TPLF has launched attacks on many towns around Lalibela. TPLF affiliated media also report an engagement with Ethiopian forces around the Gashena area, 59 kilometers from Lalibela.

Ethiopian government troops took over Lalibela, home to 11 ancient rock-hewn churches, two weeks ago, driving out the TPLF forces who had been in control of the town since the beginning of August. The town was freed a week after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed went in to battle to lead the fight against the Tigray rebels.

Lalibela Church, a UNESCO-recognized world heritage site, is a place of pilgrimage for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. Recently, government run news outlets reported on preparations to celebrate the upcoming Ethiopian Christmas at the site.

Speaking to AFP, residents of the town say the TPLF rebels were tough on residents but treated the holy site well during their months’ stay.

The Ethiopian government accuses the TPLF rebels of destroying hospitals and basic infrastructures in areas they occupy.

Source: Voice of America