Late US Senator McCain Honored for Defending Russian Human Rights
U.S. Sen. John McCain was posthumously given the 2018 Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Award in a ceremony in London on Thursday night. The award recognizes those who have fought for human rights in Russia and is named after a lawyer who was killed in a Moscow jail in 2009.
John McCain’s daughter Meghan accepted the award on behalf of her late father. In a speech she contrasted his legacy with what she called the “bloody-handed dictator of Russia.”
“John McCain defended and vindicated the memory of ordinary men and women with integrity, like Sergei Magnitsky. Vladimir Putin has them murdered. John McCain was a strong man. Vladimir Putin is weak man’s idea of a strong man. John McCain on his death was remembered with gratitude and praised by the nation he served and loved. Vladimir Putin knows well that the greatest risk to his own life is his own people, and that he will be remembered as a tyrant and a thief,” Meghan McCain told the audience in London.
John McCain became a prominent critic of Donald Trump’s dealings with Russian leader Putin, criticism that the U.S. president strongly rejected.
McCain died in August from brain cancer at age 81.
Several other awards were made Thursday night, including to Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, and to the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who is serving a 20-year jail term in Russia.
Magnitsky was beaten to death in police custody in 2009 after investigating a $230 million tax fraud allegedly carried out by senior Russian officials.
Bill Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, employed Magnitsky to investigate the fraud. He campaigned for the U.S. to adopt the Magnitsky Act in 2012, which allows the withholding of visas and the freezing of assets of human rights offenders. John McCain was key in pushing the legislation through Congress. Several other countries have since adopted similar legislation, including Canada and Britain.
“And so starting next year, we’re not just going to honor Russian heroes, but in the spirit of the global Magnitsky Act, we’re going to honor heroes from around the world,” Browder said Thursday night.
Meanwhile this week, the United States used the Magnitsky Act to sanction 17 Saudi officials accused of killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
US Denies Exploring Extradition of Turkish Cleric to Appease Ankara
The U.S. Justice Department denied it was planning to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, following a media report suggesting Washington was looking into the extradition in exchange for Ankara’s easing of its pressure on Saudi Arabia.
“The Justice Department has not been involved in nor aware of any discussions relating the extradition of Fethullah Gulen to the death of Jamal Khashoggi,” Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas Oxman said.
NBC News reported Thursday that the Trump administration had been seeking ways to extradite Gulen, as a means to persuade Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to ease pressure on Saudi Arabia over the killing of Saudi journalist Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last month.
Gulen lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania and denies Ankara’s accusation of involvement in a failed coup in Turkey in 2016.
On Thursday, the U.S. State Department denied any deal to extradite Gulen, but spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, “We continue to evaluate the material that the Turkish government presents requesting his extradition.”
Turkish media reported Friday that President Donald Trump spoke by phone with Erdogan, and the two men “agreed to shed light on the Jamal Khashoggi murder in all its aspects and that any cover-up of the incident should not be allowed.”
Gulen’s extradition is a top diplomatic priority for Turkey, but Ankara has dismissed any talk of a deal.
“Turkey’s pending request for Fethullah Gulen’s extradition from the United States and the investigation into Khashoggi’s murder are two separate issues. They are not connected in any way, shape or form,” said a senior Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“At no point did Turkey offer to hold back on the Khashoggi investigation in return for Fethullah Gulen’s extradition,” he added.
Analysts point out it’s doubtful Washington could make such an offer, given Gulen’s extradition is a matter for the courts, which experts say is a potentially lengthy and challenging process. Also, given that Erdogan sees the Saudi crown prince as his chief rival in the region, his goals may extend well beyond an extradition.
Trump has sought closer ties with Saudi Arabia to counter Iranian influence in the Middle East, as well as to increase arms deals between Washington and Riyadh.
VOA’s Mehmet Toroglu and Dorian Jones contributed to this report.
Pence Announces ‘US-ASEAN Smart Cities Partnership’
At a summit with Southeast Asian countries in Singapore, Vice President Mike Pence announced a new “U.S.-ASEAN Smart Cities Partnership” that he says will spur renewed American investment in the region’s digital infrastructure. VOA White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara brings the details from Singapore.
Court Papers: US Gets Indictment Against Wikileaks’ Assange
American prosecutors have obtained a sealed indictment against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, whose website published thousands of classified U.S. government documents, a U.S. federal court document showed Thursday.
The document, which prosecutors say was filed by mistake, asks a judge to seal documents in a criminal case unrelated to Assange, and carries markings indicating it was originally filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, in August.
A source familiar with the matter said the document was initially sealed but unsealed this week for reasons that are unclear at the moment.
On Twitter, Wikileaks said it was an “apparent cut-and-paste error.”
U.S. officials had no comment on the disclosure in the document about a sealed indictment of Assange. It is unclear what charges Assange faces.
But Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the prosecutors’ office that filed the document that was unsealed, told Reuters, “The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing.”
Reuters was unable to immediately reach Assange or his lawyers to seek comment.
Prosecutors sought to keep the charges confidential until after Assange’s arrest, the document shows, saying the move was essential to ensure he did not evade or avoid arrest and extradition in the case.
Any procedure “short of sealing will not adequately protect the needs of law enforcement at this time because, due to the sophistication of the defendant, and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged,” the document reads.
It adds, “The complaint, supporting affidavit, and arrest warrant, as well as this motion and the proposed order, would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.”
U.S. officials have previously acknowledged that federal prosecutors based in Alexandria have been conducting a lengthy criminal investigation into WikiLeaks and its founder.
Calls for prosecution
Representatives of the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have publicly called for Assange to be aggressively prosecuted.
Assange and his supporters have periodically said U.S. authorities had filed secret criminal charges against him, an assertion against which some U.S. officials pushed back until recently.
Facing extradition from Britain to Sweden to be questioned in a sexual molestation case, Assange six years ago took refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy, where initially he was treated as a welcome guest.
But following a change in the government of the South American nation, Ecuadorean authorities last March began to crack down on his access to outsiders and for a time cut off his internet access.
Kasich: Midterm Turnout Suggests Opening for Independent Bid
Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Thursday while he remains undecided about another presidential run, the midterm election results could suggest a greater opening for an independent or third-party candidate.
Kasich made his second trip this year to New Hampshire, where he finished second in the state’s leadoff Republican presidential primary in 2016.
“I’m encouraged every time I come back here,” he told reporters in Concord before meeting with supporters. “I know everybody’s wondering how I’m going to make a decision, when I’m going to make a decision. I don’t know, but what’s most important to me is that I can have a voice that can be a healing voice for the country.”
Asked about his previous speculation about running as a third-party or independent, Kasich said all options remain on the table.
“I think there’s a vast ocean in the middle. The middle has been numb, they didn’t know what to do. But they did something they haven’t done in 100 years, they voted. They turned out in unbelievable numbers to say we’ve had enough,” he said. “Where that takes us, I can’t quite tell. But if you have this big ocean in the middle, there’s perhaps a chance for something that’s unique in American history.”
Kasich elaborated a bit later in Manchester, noting the rapid pace of innovation in technology and medicine.
“In an era of all this change, why wouldn’t we think there could be fundamental political change?” he said. “The day will come, I think. When it will happen, I don’t know.”
The former congressman has been one of President Donald Trump’s most outspoken Republican detractors, and said the president will have a hard time getting re-elected as a divider. He said the midterm elections showed the Republican Party needs to change its message on separating families at the border, health care and other issues.
“To me, there is a very positive message. And that is: Americans don’t want the negativity. They don’t want the chaos. They don’t want the divide,” he said.
In contrast to Trump, who characterizes the media as an enemy of the people, Kasich spoke later at the annual First Amendment Awards given by Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications. The school is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded by the late president and publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader.
“The press is the one thing that holds the rich and the powerful accountable so we normal citizens can make up our minds about the current state of affairs, about our culture, about the world, about what we can do, and think and take action about,” Kasich said.
Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of New Hampshire Republican Party, backed Kasich’s 2016 primary bid and wrote him in on the general election ballot rather than vote for Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton. He refused to vote for any midterm candidate who supports Trump, leaving him with a nearly blank ballot.
“The election results to me suggest that enough Republicans are disgusted with the Trump administration that it’s now costing other Republicans their chance to win,” he said.
Kasich noted while many Republican governors lost, Ohio elected another Republican to replace him.
“Why is that? A big factor is because no one was left behind in the state over the last eight years,” he said. “People in Ohio feel pretty good. They’re not angry. They don’t feel left out. They feel like why would I change, we’re going in the right direction.”
But back at home, the Republican-controlled Ohio General Assembly spent Thursday thumbing its nose at the absent governor . Lawmakers overrode Kasich’s veto of a measure expanding their power to revisit rules written and finalized by the government’s executive branch. The Ohio House also passed a “stand your ground’ gun bill and a restrictive heartbeat abortion bill like one Kasich vetoed in December 2016. Both measures still need to be voted on by the Ohio Senate before a bill reaches Kasich’s desk.
Pence Announces US-ASEAN ‘Smart Cities Partnership’
In Singapore, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has offered the Trump administration’s support for Southeast Asia’s digital and urban infrastructure development. In his remarks at the U.S. ASEAN Summit, Pence announced the new “U.S.-ASEAN Smart Cities Partnership.”
“This effort will spur renewed American investment in the region’s digital infrastructure, advancing prosperity and security in Southeast Asia,” Pence said, adding that it will enhance Washington’s cooperation on cybersecurity with the regional bloc.
Smart Cities is a buzzword among ASEAN member countries as they face two mega trends, urbanization and digitalization. Southeast Asian nations are rapidly increasing in population, and a large portion of their people are gravitating toward cities, creating multiple challenges ranging from traffic congestion, water and air quality, to digital security.
Speaking to reporters, Pence called ASEAN an “extraordinary part of the world filled with remarkable people” and highlighted the administration’s desire for greater economic engagement with the regional bloc. He said the U.S. has only “begun to explore the way that our investments and the economies of this region can contribute to growth and jobs and opportunity in the United States.”
ASEAN smart cities network
Singapore, as the chair of ASEAN, proposed the creation of a network of 26 Southeast Asian smart cities in April 2018. The country is known for being very innovative in terms of incorporating digital technology in urban planning, and other Southeast Asian nations are eager to emulate that success.
The ASEAN Smart Cities Network is envisioned as a collaborative platform where up to three cities per ASEAN country work toward a common goal of smart and sustainable urban development that maximizes digital technology.
Tan Chee Haw, Singapore’s chief Smart City officer explains the three pillars with which digital technology will improve the lives of citizens. One is the digital economy, which is about “creating a vibrant and innovative digital economy that can create new jobs, opportunities to help people and businesses.” Second is the digital government concept, to transform the way that governments deliver services that is “citizen-centric.” The third is “digital society” which focuses on ensuring all segments of the population to be digital ready and can benefit from these initiatives.
US technology and innovation
The United States is still seen by the region as a leader in innovation and a natural partner in the smart cities initiative.
“The most advanced technologies do come from the U.S.,” said Lim Tai Wei, senior research fellow at the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore. ASEAN countries would like to know how “they can work with American companies and partners in order to strengthen ASEAN’s position as a network of smart cities,” he said.
The partnership will offer opportunities for American companies to develop urban digital infrastructure ranging from payment mechanisms to smart transit systems.
The head of Southeast Asia for the consultancy group Control Risks, Angela Mancini is skeptical on how much the United States can actually offer, considering “it has its own challenges with infrastructure and technology.”
Free and open Indo-Pacific
The Smart Cities Partnership is part of what Pence said is proof of the U.S. commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, which he calls “steadfast and enduring.” He stressed that Washington “seeks collaboration, not control, and we are proud to call ASEAN our strategic partner.”
On the security front, Pence stressed Washington’s commitment to “uphold the freedom of the seas and skies, where we stand shoulder to shoulder with you for freedom of navigation and our determination to ensure that your nations are securing your sovereign borders.”
Pence said the Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision “excludes no nation.” However, a big part of the strategy is aimed to protect freedom of navigation, particularly in light of China’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea. “We all agree that empire and aggression have no place in the Indo-Pacific,” he said.
Pence said the Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision “excludes no nation.” However, a big part of the strategy is aimed to protect freedom of navigation, particularly in light of China’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.
Stephen Nagy, professor of politics and international studies at International Christian University in Tokyo, believes the Trump administration has stepped up its military commitment to the region. Nagy said, “I do think there’s a lot of evidence that the United States will make a bigger commitment.”
The U.S. government will want “partnerships,” he said, and Australia and Japan are “increasing their burden” to ensure the United States is not only the one helping ASEAN’s security.
An urban region
The United Nations reported that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. Already home to 53 percent of the world’s urban population, Asia will see this proportion expand to 64 percent by 2050.
The 26 Southeast Asian pilot smart cities are Bandar Seri Begawan, Bangkok, Banyuwangi, Battambang, Cebu City, Chonburi, Da Nang, Davao City, DKI Jakarta, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, Luang Prabang, Makassar, Mandalay, Manila, Naypyidaw, Phnom Penh, Phuket, Siem Reap, Singapore, Vientiane, and Yangon.
VOA’s Nike Ching, Ahadian Utama and Ralph Jennings contributed to this report.
Southern California Fires Uproot Hollywood Celebrities
Thousands of firefighters in California are battling deadly wildfires in northern and southern parts of the state. So far 56 people in the state have died as a result of the fires. Many more have lost their homes. The wildfires in Southern California have been sweeping through many affluent communities near Los Angeles. Some residents are now returning home. Among them, celebrities are who posting their thoughts and experiences on social media. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Debut of China AI Anchor Stirs up Tech Race Debates
China’s state-run Xinhua News has debuted what it called the world’s first artificial intelligence (AI) anchor. But the novelty has generated more dislikes than likes online among Chinese netizens, with many calling the new virtual host “a news-reading device without a soul.”
Analysts say the latest creation has showcased China’s short-term progress in voice recognition, text mining and semantic analysis, but challenges remain ahead for its long-term ambition of becoming an AI superpower by 2030.
Collaborating with Chinese search engine Sogou, Xinhua introduced two AI anchors, one for English broadcasts and the other for Chinese, both of which are based on images of the agency’s real newscasters, Zhang Zhao and Qiu Hao respectively.
In its inaugural broadcast last week, the English-speaking anchor was more tech cheerleader than newshound, rattling off lines few anchors would be caught dead reading, such as: “the development of the media industry calls for continuous innovation and deep integration with the international advanced technologies.”
It also promised “to work tirelessly to keep you [audience] informed as texts will be typed into my system uninterrupted” 24/7 across multiple platforms simultaneously if necessary, according to the news agency.
Local audiences appear to be unimpressed, critiquing the news bots’ not so human touch and synthesized voices.
On Weibo, China’s Twitterlike microblogging platform, more than one user wrote that such anchors have “no soul,” in response to Xinhua’s announcement. And one user joked: “what if we have an AI [country] leader?” while another questioned what it stands for in terms of journalistic values by saying “What a nutcase. Fake news is on every day.”
Others pondered the implication AI news bots might have on employment and workers.
“It all comes down to production costs, which will determine if [we] lose jobs,” one Weibo user wrote. Some argued that only low-end labor-intensive jobs will be easily replaced by intelligent robots while others gloated about the possibility of employers utilizing an army of low-cost robots to make a fortune.
A simple use case
Industry experts said the digital anchor system is based on images of real people and possibly animated parts of their mouths and faces, with machine-learning technology recreating humanlike speech patterns and facial movements. It then uses a synthesized voice for the delivery of the news broadcast.
The creation showcases China’s progress in voice recognition, text mining and semantic analysis, all of which is covered by natural language processing, according to Liu Chien-chih, secretary-general of Asia IoT Alliance (AIOTA).
But that’s just one of many aspects of AI technologies, he wrote in an email to VOA.
Given the pace of experimental AI adoption by Chinese businesses, more user scenarios or designs of user interface can be anticipated in China, Liu added.
Chris Dong, director of China research at the market intelligence firm IDC, agreed the digital anchor is as simple as what he calls a “use case” for AI-powered services to attract commercials and audiences.
He said, in an email to VOA, that China has fast-tracked its big data advantage around consumers or internet of things (IoT) infrastructure to add commercial value.
Artificial Intelligence has also allowed China to accelerate its digital transformation across various industries or value chains, which are made smarter and more efficient, Dong added.
Far from a threat to the US
But both said China is far from a threat to challenge U.S. leadership on AI given its lack of an open market and respect for intellectual property rights (IPRs) as well as its lagging innovative competency on core AI technologies.
Earlier, Lee Kai-fu, a well-known venture capitalist who led Google before it pulled out of China, was quoted by news website Tech Crunch as saying that the United States may have created Artificial Intelligence, but China is taking the ball and running with it when it comes to one of the world’s most pivotal technology innovations.
Lee summed up four major drivers behind his observation that China is beating the United States in AI: abundant data, hungry entrepreneurs, growing AI expertise and massive government support and funding.
Beijing has set a goal to become an AI superpower by 2030, and to turn the sector into a $150 billion industry.
Yet, IDC’s Dong cast doubts on AI’s adoption rate and effectiveness in China’s traditional sectors. Some, such as the manufacturing sector, is worsening, he said.
He said China’s “state capitalism may have its short-term efficiency and gain, but over the longer-term, it is the open market that is fundamental to building an effective innovation ecosystem.”
The analyst urges China to open up and include multinational software and services to contribute to its digital economic transformation.
“China’s ‘Made-in-China 2025’ should go back to the original flavor … no longer Made and Controlled by Chinese, but more [of] an Open Platform of Made-in-China that both local and foreign players have a level-playing field,” he said.
In addition to a significant gap in core technologies, China’s failure to uphold IPRs will go against its future development of AI software, “which is often sold many-fold in the U.S. than in China as the Chinese tend to think intangible assets are free,” AIOTA’s Liu said.