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International

From Tiananmen to Hong Kong, China’s crackdowns defy critics

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BEIJING (AP) — From the deadly crushing of Beijing’s 1989 pro-democracy protests to the suppression of Hong Kong’s opposition four decades later, China’s Communist Party has demonstrated a determination and ability to stay in power that is seemingly impervious to Western criticism and sanctions.

As Beijing prepares to hold the Winter Olympics opening next week, China’s president and party leader Xi Jinping appears firmly in control. The party has made political stability paramount and says that has been the foundation for the economic growth that has bettered lives and put the nation on a path to becoming a regional if not global power.

While many have benefitted economically, the price has been paid by those who wanted more freedom, from ethnic groups in the far western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang to the largely student-led protesters in Hong Kong in 2019. The party leadership was divided when an earlier generation of student protesters took control for weeks of the symbolically important grounds of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. The hardline leaders won and the protesters were crushed rather than accommodated, a fateful decision that has guided the party’s approach to this day.

“The world came up with the assumption that with economic engagement with China, China would thrive, which would give birth to a powerful middle class, which would give birth then to a civil society which would give birth then to a democracy that would make China a responsible stakeholder in the world arena,” said Wu’er Kaixi, who as a university student helped lead the 1989 protests and now lives in exile in Taiwan.

That assumption, he added, proved naive and wrong.

Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics manifested hope that reforms might be on the way, bringing greater space for free speech, independent labor unions and protection of the cultural and religious identities of ethnic groups. Tibetan groups staged protests in China and abroad, disrupting the torch relay.

Nearly 15 years later, on the eve of the Winter Games, the reality is far different. Tibet remains firmly under Communist Party control, and the government launched a fierce crackdown against the Turkic Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang in 2017 and enacted new laws and loyalty requirements to drive out opposition in Hong Kong in response to massive protests that turned violent in 2019.

Under Xi, who came to power in 2012, the party has clamped down on dissident voices and anyone who challenges its version of events, from a #MeToo movement that flourished briefly to citizen journalists who exposed the crisis and chaos in Wuhan in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Xi is now expected to be appointed to a third five-year term as the ruling party’s general secretary this fall, cementing his position as China’s strongest leader since Mao Zedong. With no term limits on the position, Xi could remain leader indefinitely, with no clearly defined rules on succession.

Xi approaches the party meeting bolstered by a strong economy, the ending of separatist violence in Xinjiang and the passage of a sweeping national security law and electoral changes in Hong Kong that have eviscerated the political opposition in the territory.

“Xi Jinping wants to become a leader like Mao,” said Joseph Cheng, a political scientist and veteran Hong Kong pro-democracy activist who now lives in Australia. Mao Zedong founded China’s communist state in 1949 and led the country for more than two decades.

Having maintained relative prosperity and rock-hard political control, Xi and the party face little pressure and see no need to make concessions, Cheng said.

“There are no checks and balances domestically and internationally. As a result, there is an increasingly authoritarian regime,” he said.

The suppression of the Tiananmen protests marked the end of a period of limited political liberalization in the 1980s. The chaos and violence of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution and the decline of the Soviet Union had already impressed on the ruling party that political stability should be maintained at whatever cost.

The crackdown carried out with tanks and assault troops was seen as the only way to ensure continued Communist Party rule and what Xi has since termed the realization of the “Chinese dream” of restoring the country’s position in the world. The events of 1989 remain a taboo topic in China to this day.

Future years saw advocates for free expression and civil rights continue to push the boundaries. Beijing responded to some appeals by releasing pro-democracy activists into foreign exile.

At the same time, the party opened new avenues for education and employment, loosened restrictions on the private sector and welcomed foreign investment. A new generation of young Chinese grew up with heightened expectations and little knowledge of the political turmoil of past years.

Despite their misgivings about the crackdown, China’s booming economy was too much of a draw to ignore, and Western democracies swiftly re-engaged with the regime in the 1990s and 2000s.

More recently, the U.S. has turned against China, viewing what is now the world’s second largest economy as a growing competitor as well as an opportunity. China’s policies in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, and on human rights in general, have brought travel and financial sanctions from the U.S. and others on the officials and companies involved.

Beijing has responded with dismissals and disdain. A diplomatic boycott of the Olympics announced by Washington, the U.K. and others was greeted with contempt by Beijing for what it called a meaningless gesture that would change nothing.

China has sought to redefine human rights as improvements in the quality of life, and cites economic growth and poverty reduction as the real determinants. It has written off campaigns by foreign politicians, trade groups and companies to boycott cotton goods and other products from Xinjiang over allegations of forced labor.

China calls such claims “the lie of the century,” although some experts say the bad publicity may have prompted it to shut down its prison-like system of internment camps.

But activists’ calls to move the Olympics out of China have gone unheeded. A diplomatic boycott won’t stop the athletes from competing. Sophie Richardson, the China director for Human Rights Watch, said the International Olympic Committee lost all credibility on promoting human rights after choosing Beijing for the Winter Games.

Kaixi, the former Tiananmen protester and an ethnic Uyghur, said China could not have succeeded in its defiance without the acquiescence of the international community.

“China can only get away with all this because the world is giving in,” he said.

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Associated Press journalist Johnson Lai in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.

Ken Moritsugu, The Associated Press

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Crime

Despite ample school security plan, Texas shooter found gaps

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By Collin Binkley And Kantele Franko

Robb Elementary School had measures in place to prevent this kind of violence. A fence lined the school property. Teachers were ordered to keep classroom doors closed and locked. Students faced regular lockdown and evacuation drills.

But when an 18-year-old man arrived Tuesday at the school in Uvalde, Texas, intent on killing children, none of it stopped him.

Security failures allowed the shooter to massacre 19 students and two teachers, school safety experts say. The shooting already has led to calls to fortify schools further, on top of millions spent on equipment and other measures following earlier shootings. But more security offers drawbacks, with no guarantee of an end to mass violence. In the worst case, as in Uvalde, it could backfire.

“You can do the best job you can to prevent a school crisis, but we cannot read the minds of all the criminals who are out there,” said Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, a nonprofit that works with schools across the country. “We cannot prevent all crime.”

According to a district safety plan, Uvalde schools had a wide range of measures in place to prevent violence. The district had four police officers and four support counselors, according to the plan, which appears to be dated from the 2019-20 school year. The district had software to monitor social media for threats and software to screen school visitors.

Yet when the gunman arrived at the school, he hopped its fence and easily entered through a back door that had been propped open, officials said. Behind the locked door of a fourth-grade classroom, he gunned down children and teachers.

Amid the attack, nearly 20 officers stood in a hallway because the on-site commander believed the gunman was barricaded in the classroom and children were not at risk, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said at a Friday news conference, saying “it was the wrong decision.”

The case underscores that even the strongest security plans can be undermined by a seemingly simple lapse, said Curtis Lavarello, executive director of the School Safety Advocacy Council, which provides training on school safety. The Texas school appeared to be doing many things right, he said, but none of that mattered once the gunman was able to walk unobstructed into the building and into a classroom.

“All those things on paper mean nothing if they’re not followed in practice. And there seemed to be a number of gaps,” he said.

In the aftermath of the shooting, some Republicans have been calling for further investments in school safety to prevent more attacks. Some have pushed for more armed police in schools, along with metal detectors and measures to make it harder to enter schools.

Among those promoting physical security measures is Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Appearing on Fox News on Wednesday, he brought up 2013 legislation that would have created grants to help schools install bulletproof doors and hire armed police officers among other measures.

If those grants had gone to Robb Elementary, Cruz said, “the armed police officers could have taken him out and we would have 19 children and two teachers still alive.”

Security experts say the Uvalde case illustrates how fortifying schools can backfire. A lock on the classroom door — one of the most basic and widely recommended school safety measures — kept victims in and police out.

U.S. Border Patrol agents eventually used a master key to open the locked door of the classroom where they confronted and killed the gunman, McCraw said at the Friday news conference.

Some argue that investments in school security have come at the expense of student welfare. Lockdown drills that have become routine for a generation of American students have traumatized students and added to strains on mental health, educators say.

Schools need more counselors and psychologists to help troubled students, not stronger buildings, said Dewey Cornell, a psychologist and director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project at the University of Virginia.

“We have systemically reduced the number of support staff in our schools, and focused too much on installing metal detectors and surveillance cameras and electronic door locks, which are very short term and reactive and very expensive,” he said.

In the wake of the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, schools across the country began spending huge sums of money on fortifications including bulletproof glass, metal detectors and armed security.

But such measures can create an atmosphere where students feel uncomfortable and less trusting, and it does not necessarily prevent attacks, said Matthew Mayer, a Rutgers associate professor who works on issues related to school violence.

“You’ll go down these sort of endless rabbit holes of how much security is enough. And when it comes to someone who’s coming in heavily armed, you’re not going to stop them,” Mayer said. “So the idea is you need to figure out why people do this in the first place and have ways — multi-level systems of prevention — to prevent it from happening.”

He advocates for a multi-faceted prevention approach that also includes steps such as improving mental health services, assessing threats more effectively and building trust so students and families are not afraid to speak up if they’re concerned someone has the means or intent to cause harm.

Still, schools can only do so much, he said, and he isn’t optimistic that public outrage over Uvalde will lead to significant change.

“The problem is that a lot of this public reaction, you know, sort of rises like a wave and then recedes over time, and the politicians have been accustomed to riding that out. You know, they make speeches and so forth, and sometimes there’s a commission that gets appointed, and they issue reports,” Mayer said. “But substantive change is lacking.”

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The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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International

Moose is Loose: Canada’s Mitch (Moose) Hooper reaches World’s Strongest Man final

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Not lacking for confidence, Canada’s Mitchell (Moose) Hooper made some bold predictions ahead of his first appearance at the World’s Strongest Man competition.

So far he’s been calling his shots.

In a recent YouTube video, the six-foot-three 315-pounder described his potential for the event and felt first- or second-place qualification results were realistic.

He backed up his talk this week at the Capitol Mall in Sacramento, Calif., by securing a berth in the weekend finals. Not bad for someone who entered the event as a relative unknown.

“I’m pretty in tune with what I’m capable of and what I’m not capable of,” Hooper said. “To put it simply, I knew that if I was one of the favourites I wouldn’t want me to be in that group.”

Strong showings in the loading race, deadlift ladder, car walk and log lift gave Hooper a healthy lead in his six-man group.

He only needed a single point in the wrecking ball hold Thursday to secure first place and one of two group berths in the two-day final starting Saturday.

“I was pretty spot on,” Hooper said of his predictions. “So yeah, I have a pretty good feel for what I can do.”

Hooper, 26, has a varied sporting background. He’s the director and founder of an exercise physiology business in Barrie, Ont., which helps people with injuries and chronic conditions.

Hooper played hockey as a youth, has run marathons and had varsity golf opportunities in the United States.

He played football at the University of Guelph and completed his undergraduate degree in human kinetics before becoming head strength and conditioning coach for the National Basketball League of Canada’s KW Titans.

“I have some family with chronic health conditions,” Hooper said. “I wanted to seek out something a little bit more meaningful. So I found exercise physiology.

“I looked up the No. 1 school in the world and that happened to be the University of Sydney. Off I went.”

Hooper completed his master’s degree in 2019 and “happened to stumble upon” strength sports while Down Under. He entered a few powerlifting competitions and got some attention by winning the Australia’s Strongest Man event.

A video of a Hooper deadlift in competition recently gained steam on social media and it wasn’t long before World’s Strongest Man organizers tracked him down and invited him into the 30-man field.

He hopes a top-three standing after Saturday’s competition would leave him in good shape for a Sunday showdown.

“I wouldn’t be surprised with first, I wouldn’t be surprised with seventh,” Hooper said. “I imagine I’ll land somewhere in between there.”

On a regular day, Hooper said he usually gets up at about six in the morning and eats five or six meals a day. He aims for about 2 1/2 hours of daily training.

“I try to hit 6,000 calories (daily) and about 330 grams of protein,” Hooper said.

“A couple of cartons of egg whites — one in the morning and one at night — that usually gets me covered,” he added.

Deadlift competition and the Flintstone barbell are among the events on tap Saturday ahead of the bus pull, Atlas stones and power stairs disciplines on Sunday.

This is the 45th edition of the World’s Strongest Man. Maxime Boudreault, a native of Kapuskasing, Ont., also advanced along with reigning champion Tom Stoltman of Britain and his brother, Luke Stoltman, the reigning European champion.

Hooper, meanwhile, is showing no signs of rookie jitters against such veteran competitors.

“It’s a psychological thing as much as it is a physical thing,” he said. “Consistency really trumps everything.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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