Month: February 2024

Republican-led Alabama Legislature Passes Bill to Protect IVF


Odysseus Lunar Lander Makes History, Then Tips Over

A lunar landing more than 50 years in the making is a partial success. Plus, the U.S. says Russia may launch a nuclear weapon into orbit. The Kremlin calls it spin. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi brings us The Week in Space.


US Moon Lander Odysseus ‘Still Kicking’ a Week After Sideways Landing


Athletes’ Village Handed Over to Paris Olympics Organizers  

Paris — The organizers of the Paris Olympics took possession of the newly built athletes’ village on Thursday on schedule, reinforcing growing confidence that they will be ready for the Games.

At an inauguration ceremony in northern Paris, chief organizer Tony Estanguet received a symbolic key for the complex in front of VIPs including President Emmanuel Macron.

“It’s a demonstration that we have honored our commitments,” Macron told reporters, who told workers they should be “proud” of delivering the village “on time and in budget.”

Organisers will spend the next four months fitting out the village with more than 300,000 items of furniture and decoration ahead of the first arrivals by athletes from July 18.

The site comprises around 40 different low-rise tower blocks and will include a 24-hour restaurant, an alcohol-free bar and leisure area, as well as training facilities.

The French state has contributed 646 million euros ($700 million) in public money, with the remainder from France’s biggest real estate companies which have developed different areas of the 52-hectare site.

After the Olympics and Paralympics, a third of the 2,800 apartments will be sold off to private homeowners, a third will be used for public housing, and the rest will be for rent including for students.

Each building is different, with stark differences in facade design and color.

“We wanted architectural diversity which is a feature of European towns,” Nicolas Ferrand, head of the games infrastructure group Solideo, told Macron.

Seine-Saint-Denis is the poorest and most crime-ridden area of mainland France and is the focus of public investment for the Games.


US Investigating Potential Security Threats From Connected Cars


Cricket Tournaments in Indian-Administered Kashmir Boost Local Economy

Srinagar, Indian administered Kashmir — The blanket of snow covering one of the prominent cricket grounds at the Magam neighborhood of Budgam district on the Indian side of Kashmir has melted. The ground is set to host a monthlong local cricket tournament from March 3. Hundreds of youths from various parts of the valley will compete for a $3,000 cash prize.

Cricket, originating in Britain, was historically enjoyed for fitness and leisure. It is the second most popular sport worldwide after soccer with approximately 2 billion fans and is the most commonly played game in the Himalayan region. However, the sport has now become a source of income for thousands of individuals in Kashmir amid rising unemployment.

“Every year hundreds of tournaments are organized by local people without any help from the government. Thousands of people, including players, commentators, broadcasters, umpires, etcetera make a living by being part of these tournaments,” Mushtaq War, a local cricket tournament broadcaster on social media, told VOA. “The match fee varies according to the talent of an individual ranging from $10 to $75 per game,” he added.

According to War, everyone associated with local cricket tournaments makes enough money to support their families.

“Sixty-four teams will be part of the Magam tournament,” War said. “The entire money will be circulated among the people involved in the tournament directly or indirectly,” he added.

Imtiyaz Ahmad Munshi, a member of local cricket organization Cricket Fraternity Dalgate, told VOA that funds to host local tournaments primarily come from tournament fees and sponsorships provided by local businessmen.

“Teams hailing from north, south, and central Kashmir participate in these tournaments after paying the entry fee,” Munshi said. “Local businessmen support organizers by sponsoring these events,” he said, adding that sponsors in return receive benefits such as “tax reductions for promoting sports.”

Munish alleged organizers lack support from the Jammu Kashmir Cricket Association, or JKCA, a registered Society that runs cricket in Jammu and Kashmir, and J&K Sports Council, a government body responsible for the promotion and development of sports in J&K, despite the fact that they are promoting and encouraging youngsters to participate in sports related activities.

Majid Dar, a JKCA Cricket Development official, told VOA that the cricket body of Kashmir only facilities the events affiliated with BCCI, the governing body of Cricket in India. ‘We cannot provide any kind of facility to anyone. We have a busy schedule and besides all this we provide employment to 150 people in Jammu and Kashmir,” Dar said.

“JKCA is not visible when it comes to organizing local cricket tournaments. Moreover, J&K Sports Council charges a hefty amount from organizers to conduct cricket tournaments,” Munshi said. “We don’t refuse to pay the money but we expect the J&K Sports Council to maintain the fields at least,” he said, adding that at present even a brief drizzle renders the grounds unfit for play for several days due to “water accumulation.”

“Players and organizers have on multiple occasions contributed from their own pockets to maintain the condition of the ground,” Munshi said. “Youth expect the same level of commitment from the government,” he added.

Nuzhat Gull, secretary of the J&K Sports Council, told VOA her office collects fees from organizers of commercial tournaments, clarifying that such events do not fall under the Prime Minister’s Sports Development Scheme. The scheme is designed to enhance sports infrastructure and foster sporting activities throughout India.

“We don’t impose fees for non-commercial sporting events,” Gull told VOA. “However, for commercial cricket tournaments organizers are required to cover expenses and the department doesn’t offer exemptions in such instances,” she said.

Faisal Dar, a young cricketer from the Dalgate neighborhood of Srinagar, expressed disappointment and highlighted the disparity between the efforts of local communities and the government in actively involving youth in sports.

“Government officials often only help those they favor leaving the rest feeling ignored,” Dar said. “We would have been happier if the government built better sports facilities and helped folks like us who rely on local tournaments for a living,” he added. Gull told VOA the criticisms of the council are “all baseless,” and refused further comment.

Dar said they approached authorities many times to install high-intensity artificial light to promote night sports in Kashmir, especially in Srinagar and other major cities and towns.

“Not much has been done regarding the installation of the night lights,” Dar said. “Locals are taking on responsibilities that should be handled by the government yet the government claims credit for everything,” he added.

The people organizing local events, Dar said, have saved the lives of many individuals. He said that many athletes were depressed or were using drugs because of unemployment.

“These organizers let them play cricket again and even helped them find jobs thus allowing them a fresh beginning in life,” he said. “If this is not service to humanity, I wonder what is?” he said, adding Kashmir needs such attempts or else people will suffer a lot “physically as well as mentally.” 


Biden Issues Order Seeking to Protect American Data from Foreign Adversaries


Biden Deemed ‘Healthy, Active, Robust’ During Annual Physical Exam

washington — U.S. President Joe Biden’s is a “healthy, active, robust 81-year-old male who remains fit to successfully execute the duties of the presidency,” his physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, said in a statement released by the White House on Wednesday, following Biden’s annual physical examination. 

“The president feels well, and this year’s physical identified no new concerns. He continues to be fit for duty and fully executes all of his responsibilities without any exemptions or accommodations,” O’Connor said following Biden’s visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, earlier Wednesday.  

The checkup included consultations with optometry, dentistry, orthopedics, physical therapy, neurology, sleep medicine, cardiology, radiology and dermatology specialists, O’Connor said.  

It’s Biden’s third physical since taking office, amid concerns about his age as he seeks a second term.  

“They think I look too young,” Biden joked to reporters at the White House after his checkup. “There is nothing different than last year,” he said.

According to the summary, Biden is currently being treated for several conditions, including obstructive sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflux, seasonal allergies, arthritis and sensory peripheral neuropathy of the feet. He also has atrial fibrillation with normal ventricular response, a type of asymptomatic irregularity of the heartbeat.  

His doctor pronounced his conditions as “stable and well-controlled,” with “three common prescription medications and three common over-the-counter medications.”  

The symptoms were similar to those described in Biden’s 2023 physical exam report that noted the president’s “stiff gait,” due to “a combination of significant spinal arthritis, mild post-fracture foot arthritis and a mild sensory peripheral neuropathy of the feet,” and “occasional symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux,” that made him have to clear his throat often.     

President didn’t undergo cognitive test 

Recent events have highlighted Biden’s potential age-related issues, including the president being described in a special counsel report as an “elderly man with a poor memory.”      

In pushing back on reporters’ questions about his age, Biden insisted that his “memory is fine” but shortly after mistakenly referred to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi as the president of Mexico. That and two other mistaken references to world leaders’ names in recent weeks fueled further attacks by his rivals.     

Responding to reporters’ questions during her briefing on Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden did not undergo a cognitive test as part of his physical because the president’s physician, “doesn’t believe that he needs one.” 

As president, Biden passes a cognitive test “every day,” Jean-Pierre underscored. 

A poll by the George Washington University shows 35% of respondents say Biden was in good enough physical health to serve effectively as president, and 38% said he has the mental soundness to serve effectively as president.  

This is lower that what respondents say about the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump, who is four years younger. For Trump, the numbers are 54% and 46%, respectively. 

“These figures indicate that this is a big problem for Biden,” Todd Belt, professor of politics at George Washington University, told VOA. “The campaign has changed course to attack Trump on his vulnerabilities on the mental soundness issue.” 

Biden did exactly that during an appearance on a late-night television show earlier this week, by referencing a video in which Trump appeared to forget his wife’s name.  

Americans concerned about Biden’s age

Trump was 70 when he took office in 2017, which made him the oldest American president to be inaugurated until Biden broke his record at 78 in 2021. The former president has also made blunders, including praising Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for his leadership of Turkey, and confusing his Republican rival, Nikki Haley, with former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.   

A February ABC News/Ipsos poll conducted after the release of the special counsel report indicated concerns among 59% of Americans regarding the age and capability for a second term for both candidates, although more Americans are worried about Biden compared with Trump, said Clifford Young, president of Ipsos Public Affairs.   

“Age is an Achilles’ heel, is an anchor for Biden,” Young told VOA. “It was four years ago. Without a doubt, it will be this year.”   

Though not publicly announced in advance, the timing of Biden’s physical was anticipated, given the increasing focus on his age and health in the context of his reelection campaign ahead of the November election. 


Older US Adults Should Get Another COVID Shot, Say Health Officials

new york — Older U.S. adults should roll up their sleeves for another COVID-19 shot, even if they got a booster in the fall, U.S. health officials said Wednesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Americans 65 and older should get another dose of the updated vaccine that became available in September — if at least four months has passed since their last shot. In making the recommendation, the agency endorsed guidance proposed by an expert advisory panel earlier in the day.

“Most COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations last year were among people 65 years and older. An additional vaccine dose can provide added protection … for those at highest risk,” CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen said in a statement.

The advisory panel’s decision came after a lengthy discussion about whether to say older people “may” get the shots or if they “should” do so. That reflects a debate among experts about how necessary another booster is and whether yet another recommendation would add to the public’s growing vaccine fatigue.

Some doctors say most older adults are adequately protected by the fall shot, which built on immunity derived from earlier vaccinations and exposure to the virus itself. And preliminary studies so far have shown no substantial waning in vaccine effectiveness over six months.

However, the body’s vaccine-induced defenses tend to fade over time, and that happens faster in seniors than in other adults. The committee had recommended COVID-19 booster doses for older adults in 2022 and 2023.

Virus still a threat

COVID-19 remains a danger, especially to older people and those with underlying medical conditions. There are still more than 20,000 hospitalizations and more than 2,000 deaths each week due to the coronavirus, according to the CDC. And people 65 and older have the highest hospitalization and death rates.

Some members of the advisory panel said a “should” recommendation is meant to more clearly prod doctors and pharmacists to offer the shots.

Dr. Jamie Loehr, a committee member and family doctor in Ithaca, New York, said that with the “should” recommendation, “I am trying to make it easier for providers to say, ‘Yes, we recommend this.'”

In September, the government recommended a new COVID-19 shot recipe built against a version of the coronavirus called XBB.1.5. That single-target vaccine replaced combination shots that had been targeting both the original coronavirus strain and a much earlier omicron version.

Vaccine uptake has declined

The CDC recommended the new shots for everyone 6 months and older and allowed that people with weak immune systems could get a second dose as early as two months after the first.

Most Americans haven’t listened. According to the latest CDC data, 13% of U.S. children have gotten the shots and about 22% of U.S. adults have. The vaccination rate is higher for adults 65 and older, at nearly 42%.

“In each successive vaccine, the uptake has gone down,” said Dr. David Canaday, a Case Western Reserve University infectious-diseases expert who studies COVID-19 in older people.

“People are tired of getting all these shots all the time,” said Canaday, who does not serve on the committee. “We have to be careful about over-recommending the vaccine.”

But there is a subset of Americans — those at higher danger of severe illness and death — who have been asking if another dose is permissible, said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University vaccines expert who serves on a committee workgroup that has been debating the booster question.

Indeed, CDC survey data suggest that group’s biggest worry about the vaccine is whether it’s effective enough.

Agency officials say that among those who got the latest version of the COVID-19 vaccine, 50% fewer will get sick after they come into contact with the virus compared with those who didn’t get the fall shot.


AI – Charting Rules of the Road

Artificial intelligence touches nearly every aspect of our digital lives, but there are few laws governing its use. In this episode of our web series about AI, VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at how lawmakers and tech developers are making rules for something that is changing nearly every day.


What Might Happen Without a Leap Day? More Than You Think

NEW YORK — Leap year. It’s a delight for the calendar and math nerds among us. So how did it all begin and why?

Have a look at some of the numbers, history and lore behind the (not quite) every four-year phenom that adds a 29th day to February.

By the numbers

The math is mind-boggling in a layperson sort of way and down to fractions of days and minutes. There’s even a leap second occasionally, but there’s no hullabaloo when that happens.

The thing to know is that leap year exists, in large part, to keep the months in sync with annual events, including equinoxes and solstices, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.

It’s a correction to counter the fact that Earth’s orbit isn’t precisely 365 days a year. The trip takes about six hours longer than that, NASA says.

Contrary to what some might believe, however, not every four years is a leaper. Adding a leap day every four years would make the calendar longer by more than 44 minutes, according to the National Air & Space Museum.

Later, on a calendar yet to come (we’ll get to it), it was decreed that years divisible by 100 not follow the four-year leap day rule unless they are also divisible by 400, the JPL notes. In the past 500 years, there was no leap day in 1700, 1800 and 1900, but 2000 had one. In the next 500 years, if the practice is followed, there will be no leap day in 2100, 2200, 2300 and 2500.

Still with us?

The next leap years are 2028, 2032 and 2036.

What would happen without a leap day?

Eventually, nothing good in terms of when major events fall, when farmers plant and how seasons align with the sun and the moon.

“Without the leap years, after a few hundred years we will have summer in November,” said Younas Khan, a physics instructor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Christmas will be in summer. There will be no snow. There will be no feeling of Christmas.”

Who came up with leap year?

The short answer: It evolved.

Ancient civilizations used the cosmos to plan their lives, and there are calendars dating back to the Bronze Age. They were based on either the phases of the moon or the sun, as various calendars are today. Usually they were “lunisolar,” using both.

Now hop on over to the Roman Empire and Julius Caesar. He was dealing with major seasonal drift on calendars used in his neck of the woods. They dealt badly with drift by adding months. He was also navigating many calendars starting in many ways in the vast Roman Empire.

He introduced his Julian calendar in 46 BCE. It was purely solar and counted a year at 365.25 days, so once every four years an extra day was added. Before that, the Romans counted a year at 355 days, at least for a time.

But still, under Julius, there was drift. There were too many leap years! The solar year isn’t precisely 365.25 days! It’s 365.242 days, said Nick Eakes, an astronomy educator at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Thomas Palaima, a classics professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said adding periods of time to a year to reflect variations in the lunar and solar cycles was done by the ancients. The Athenian calendar, he said, was used in the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries with 12 lunar months.

That didn’t work for seasonal religious rites. The drift problem led to “intercalating” an extra month periodically to realign with lunar and solar cycles, Palaima said.

The Julian calendar was 0.0078 days (11 minutes and 14 seconds) longer than the tropical year, so errors in timekeeping still gradually accumulated, according to NASA. But stability increased, Palaima said.

The Julian calendar was the model used by the Western world for hundreds of years. Enter Pope Gregory XIII, who calibrated further. His Gregorian calendar took effect in the late 16th century. It remains in use today and, clearly, isn’t perfect or there would be no need for leap year. But it was a big improvement, reducing drift to mere seconds.

Why did he step in? Well, Easter. It was coming later in the year over time, and he fretted that events related to Easter like the Pentecost might bump up against pagan festivals. The pope wanted Easter to remain in the spring.

He eliminated some extra days accumulated on the Julian calendar and tweaked the rules on leap day. It’s Pope Gregory and his advisers who came up with the really gnarly math on when there should or shouldn’t be a leap year.

“If the solar year was a perfect 365.25 then we wouldn’t have to worry about the tricky math involved,” Eakes said.

What’s the deal with leap year and marriage?

Bizarrely, leap day comes with lore about women popping the marriage question to men. It was mostly benign fun, but it came with a bite that reinforced gender roles.

There’s distant European folklore. One story places the idea of women proposing in fifth century Ireland, with St. Bridget appealing to St. Patrick to offer women the chance to ask men to marry them, according to historian Katherine Parkin in a 2012 paper in the Journal of Family History.

Nobody really knows where it all began.

In 1904, syndicated columnist Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer, aka Dorothy Dix, summed up the tradition this way: “Of course people will say … that a woman’s leap year prerogative, like most of her liberties, is merely a glittering mockery.”

The pre-Sadie Hawkins tradition, however serious or tongue-in-cheek, could have empowered women but merely perpetuated stereotypes. The proposals were to happen via postcard, but many such cards turned the tables and poked fun at women instead.

Advertising perpetuated the leap year marriage game. A 1916 ad by the American Industrial Bank and Trust Co. read thusly: “This being Leap Year day, we suggest to every girl that she propose to her father to open a savings account in her name in our own bank.”

There was no breath of independence for women due to leap day.

Should we pity the leaplings?

Being born in a leap year on a leap day certainly is a talking point. But it can be kind of a pain from a paperwork perspective. Some governments and others requiring forms to be filled out and birthdays to be stated stepped in to declare what date was used by leaplings for such things as drivers’ licenses, whether Feb. 28 or March 1.

Technology has made it far easier for leap babies to jot down their Feb. 29 milestones, though there can be glitches in terms of health systems, insurance policies and with other businesses and organizations that don’t have that date built in.

There are about 5 million people worldwide who share the leap birthday out of about 8 billion people on the planet. Shelley Dean, 23, in Seattle, Washington, chooses a rosy attitude about being a leapling. Growing up, she had normal birthday parties each year, but an extra special one when leap years rolled around. Since, as an adult, she marks that non-leap period between Feb. 28 and March 1 with a low-key “whew.”

This year is different.

“It will be the first birthday that I’m going to celebrate with my family in eight years, which is super exciting, because the last leap day I was on the other side of the country in New York for college,” she said. “It’s a very big year.”


China Users on Banned Social Platforms Need Protection, Advocates Say

washington — Rights advocates are urging international social media platforms to do more to prevent Chinese authorities from obtaining the personal information of users. The call comes after two popular Chinese social media influencers alleged on X and YouTube that police in China were investigating their followers and had called some in for questioning.

Social media platforms such as X and YouTube and thousands of websites — from The New York Times to the BBC and VOA — are blocked in China by the country’s Great Firewall. But increasingly, even as social controls tighten under the leadership of Xi Jinping, many in China are using virtual private networks to access X, YouTube and other sites for news, information and opinions not available in China.

Li Ying, who is also known online as Teacher Li, is one of the social media influencers who issued the warning on Sunday. Li came to prominence as a source of news and information following a rare display of public dissent in 2022 in China, protesting the government’s draconian zero-COVID policy. His account on X has now become a hub for news and videos provided by netizens that the Chinese government considers sensitive and censors online.

In a post on Sunday, Teacher Li said, “Currently, the public security bureau is checking my 1.6 million followers and people in the comments, one by one.”

He shared screenshots of private messages he received from followers over the past few months, some of which claimed that police had interrogated individuals, even causing one person to lose their job.

VOA could not independently verify the authenticity of the claims, but court records in China and reports by rights groups have previously documented the country’s increasing use of social media platforms banned in China to detain, prosecute and sentence individuals over comments made online.

The Chinese Embassy spokesperson in Washington, Liu Pengyu, said he was not aware of the specifics regarding the social media influencers.

“As a principle, the Chinese government manages internet-related affairs according to law and regulation,” Liu said.

Influencers warn followers

News of the crackdown on followers of social influencers comes amid a flurry of reports about China’s hacking capabilities. Last week, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that cyberattacks on U.S. infrastructure were “at a scale greater than we’d seen before.”

A recent document dump detailed how private companies are helping China to hack foreign governments across Southeast Asia and to unmask users of foreign social media accounts.

Wang Zhi’an, a former journalist at China’s state broadcaster CCTV who has a million subscribers on X and 1.2 million followers on YouTube, says his followers have reported similar problems.

In response, both Wang and Teacher Li have urged their followers to take precautions, suggesting they unfollow their accounts, change their usernames, avoid Chinese-made phones and prepare to be questioned.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Li’s followers on X had dropped to 1.4 million. VOA reached out to Li for comment but did not receive a response as of publication.

Authorities reportedly tracking followers

Maya Wang, acting China director at Human Rights Watch, said China is putting more effort into policing platforms based outside of the country as more Chinese people move to the platforms to speak out.

She said the recent reports of authorities tracking down followers is just a part of China’s long-standing effort to restrict freedom of expression.

“I think the Chinese government is also increasingly worried about the information that is being propagated, transmitted or distributed on these foreign platforms because they have been, thanks to these individuals, very influential,” Wang said.

A recent leak of documents from I-Soon, a private contractor linked to China’s top policing agency and other parts of its government, described tools used by Chinese police to curb dissent on overseas social media, including one tool specifically created to surveil users on X.

Hackers also created tools for police to hack email inboxes and unmask anonymous users of X, the documents show. The leak revealed that officers sometimes sent requests to surveil specific individuals to I-Soon.

Wang said it is incumbent on social media companies to make sure their users stay safe.

“I would want to direct these questions to Twitter [X] to ask — are they adopting heightened measures to protect PRC [People’s Republic of China]-based users?” she said. “I think Twitter [X] needs to investigate just how exactly this kind of information is being obtained and whether or not they need to plug some loopholes.”

Yaqiu Wang, research director for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan at Freedom House, said that besides better protecting their users’ privacy, the companies should also put in more effort to combat China’s clampdown on freedom of speech.

“They should have steps actually helping out activists to protect their freedom of speech,” she said. “Big social media companies should widely disseminate information to their users, like a manual or instructions of how to protect their account.

“They need to be more transparent, so users and the public know whether government-sponsored hacking activities are going on,” she added.

VOA reached out to X, formerly known as Twitter, several times for comment but did not receive any response by the time of publication.

Xiao Yu contributed to this report.


Odysseus Moon Lander Likely Has 10 to 20 Hours of Battery Life Left, Company Says 


US Plans Clean Energy Projects for Native American Tribes, Rural Areas


LogOn: AI’s Newest Advance: Realistic High-Definition Video From a Few Words

The latest innovation in artificial intelligence is photorealistic video created from just a few words. Deana Mitchell has the story in this week’s episode of LogOn.


Renewal of US-China Science and Tech Pact Faces Hurdles

STATE DEPARTMENT — With a science and technology agreement between the United States and People’s Republic of China due to expire Tuesday, the State Department said it is negotiating to “amend, extend, and strengthen protections within” the agreement but declined to specify if the U.S. would extend the deal.

“We are not able to provide information at this time on specific U.S. negotiating positions or on whether the agreement will be extended past its current expiration date,” a State Department spokesperson told VOA.

The Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement is a framework for U.S. governmental collaborations with China in science and technology.  

U.S. officials have said the STA provides consistent standards for government-to-government scientific cooperation between the U.S. and China.  

While the agreement supports scientific collaboration in areas that benefit the United States, U.S. officials acknowledge the challenges posed by China’s national science and technology strategies and its domestic legal framework.

Critics, including U.S. lawmakers, point out China’s restrictions on data and a lack of transparency in sharing scientific findings. Washington is also concerned about personal safety of American scientists who travel to China, as well as Beijing’s potential military application of shared research.

A report by Congressional Research Service said China’s cooperation under the agreement has not been consistent. For example, “China reportedly withheld avian influenza strains required for U.S. vaccines and in 2019, cut off U.S. access to coronavirus research, including U.S.-funded work at the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” said the CRS.

Advocates for renewing the agreement want to maintain some level of official and unofficial contacts amid strained relationship between the two countries.  

During a recent discussion hosted by the Washington-based Institute for China-America Studies (ICAS), panelists said the STA is “important symbolically” and gives confidence to researchers on both sides to deepen their engagement with counterparts.

“In the event of the agreement’s non-renewal, the mutual confidence that sustains and underpins collaboration is bound to suffer,” said ICAS in its post-event summary.

Dean Cheng, a senior advisor to the China program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said the American system is far more open, so China will typically be able to gather information regardless of whether there is an agreement.

“The STA is no guarantee that American scientists will, in fact, be able to access Chinese research, information, or scholars, whereas the Chinese side will use the STA as a means of establishing an even greater presence in the U.S.,” Cheng told VOA, adding the “strategic advantage” under the deal will likely be with the PRC.

The STA was originally signed in 1979 by then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter and then-PRC leader Deng Xiaoping. Under the agreement, the two countries cooperate in fields including agriculture, energy, space, health, environment, earth sciences and engineering, as well as educational and scholarly exchanges.

U.S.-China science and technology activity increased in November 2009 with new agreements on joint projects in electric vehicles, or EVs, renewable energy, and the creation of the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, or CERC, a 10-year research effort between the U.S. Department of Energy and China’s Ministry of Science and Technology.

The agreement has been renewed approximately every five years since its inception, with the most recent five-year extension occurring in 2018. Last August, it received a six-month extension as officials from the two countries undertook negotiations to amend and strengthen the terms.


Peru Declares Health Emergency Amid Rising Dengue Outbreak


2 Exiled Chinese Bloggers Warn of Police Interrogating Their Followers

SHANGHAI — Two prominent Chinese bloggers in exile said that police were investigating their millions of followers on international social media platforms, in an escalation of Beijing’s attempts to clamp down on critical speech even outside of the country’s borders.

Former state broadcaster CCTV journalist Wang Zhi’an and artist-turned-dissident Li Ying, both Chinese citizens known for posting uncensored Chinese news, said in separate posts Sunday that police were interrogating people who followed them on social media, and urged followers to take precautions such as unfollowing their accounts, changing their usernames, avoiding Chinese-made phones and preparing to be questioned.

Li Ying, known as Teacher Li, came to prominence as a source of news about the White Paper protests, a rare moment of anti-government protests in mainland China in 2022. Teacher Li’s account on X, formerly known as Twitter, @whyyoutouzhele now posts news and videos submitted by users, which cover everything from local protests to viral videos of real-life incidents that are censored on the Chinese internet.

In a post Sunday evening, Teacher Li suggested people unfollow his account. “Currently, the public security bureau is checking my 1.6 million followers and people in the comments, one by one.”

Li shared screenshots of private messages he received from followers over the past few months, which claimed that police had interrogated individuals, and that one person had even lost their job.

As of Monday afternoon, Li had dropped down to 1.4 million followers on X.

International social media platforms like X and YouTube are blocked in China but can still be accessed with software that circumvents the country’s censorship systems.

Wang, who has a million subscribers on X and 1.2 million followers on YouTube, also told his fans to unsubscribe.

Li, Wang and the Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Over the past decade, Beijing has cracked down on dissent on Chinese social media, with thousands of censors employed both at private companies and with the Chinese state.

Chinese users expressing critical opinions online have reported being called, harassed or interrogated by police, with some called in for questioning and ordered to take down certain posts or delete their accounts. In some cases, users have been detained, with some spending up to two weeks in jail and a small number sentenced to years in prison.

More recently, Beijing has extended its reach to tracking non-Chinese platforms such as Facebook, Telegram and X. A recent leak of documents from I-Soon, a private contractor linked to China’s top policing agency and other parts of its government, described tools used by Chinese police to curb dissent on overseas social media, including one tool specifically created to surveil users on X.

Hackers also created tools for police to hack email inboxes and unmask anonymous users of X, the documents show. Sometimes, officers sent requests to surveil specific individuals to I-Soon, the leak revealed.

Li said he would not stop posting even if people unfollowed, but he urged his followers to take basic digital safety precautions.

“I don’t want your life to be impacted just because you wanted to understand the real news in China,” Li said, in an additional post. “You only want to understand what’s happening, but the price is quite high