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Biden’s transition team seeks more internationally focused COVID-19 measures, including rejoining the WHO

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Tuesday morning, Joe Biden‘s transition team shared a link to their overall plan for combatting COVID-19, which seeks a more active role for the federal government in public health and the economy than it has during the Trump administration. Additionally, the plan aims to take a more multilateral approach in dealing with the virus than the current administration has, including rejoining the World Health Organization (WHO).

This comes after Biden announced on Monday a slate of individuals he’s nominating for economic roles in his incoming administration. His most notable picks include former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen for Treasury secretary, Neera Tanden for director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and Cecilia Rouse for chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA). His economic team, if successfully confirmed by the U.S. Senate, will play a vital role in leading the country’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

In sharing the link, the team tweeted that “President-elect Biden believes that the federal government must act aggressively to help protect and support our families, small businesses, first responders, and caregivers affected by COVID-19.”

Also part of Biden’s plan are measures to increase U.S. collaboration with other countries in fighting COVID-19. Notably, the document says that one goal is to “immediately restore our relationship with the World Health Organization, which—while not perfect—is essential to coordinating a global response during a pandemic.”

The WHO has come under intense scrutiny since the start of the pandemic, with critics saying that the organization mishandled the virus and has failed in condemning the Chinese government for lying to the world about the virus and censoring those in China who tried to inform the world about COVID-19. Biden has made public statements in the past where he has said that he wants the U.S. to rejoin the WHO.

Other internationally focused measures listed in the document are: expanding “the number of CDC’s deployed disease detectives so we have eyes and ears on the ground, including rebuilding the office in Beijing,” immediately restoring “the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, originally established by the Obama-Biden administration,” and relaunching and strengthening the “U.S. Agency for International Development’s pathogen-tracking program called PREDICT.”

President Donald Trump has taken a mostly unilateral approach in fighting the virus during the pandemic, with him in October announcing that he was withdrawing the U.S. from the WHO. Furthermore, the president, who was already an aggressive critic of China before the pandemic, has been extremely vocal in his anger toward the country’s authoritarian government regarding COVID-19, having routinely referred to it as the “China virus.”

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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REPORT: China uses psychiatric institutions to suppress dissent

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China has a vast network of psychiatric institutions that it uses to suppress dissent, according to a recent report by Safeguard Defenders, an NGO that focuses on human rights violations in China and other Asian countries. The report compiled data found on 99 victims involved in 144 instances on involuntary hospitalizations in 109 institutions from 2015 through 2021. Of the 99 victims in the report, 80 were petitioners [i.e., those who file complaints against officials] and 14 were activists.

But this is hardly a new phenomenon. “China’s regime has been torturing, maiming, and killing dissidents and others in psychiatric facilities for seven decades,” said Gordon G. Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China and The Great U.S.-China Tech War. “The only way to end the horrific abuse is to end the rule of the Communist Party.”

The report detailed especially harsh treatments, which include: forced medication (in 77 percent of cases), physical restraints on the bed (60 percent), beatings by staff or other patients (25 percent) and electroshock therapy (14 percent). Otherwise normally healthy people were given anti-psychotic and psychotropic medications, causing severe side effects like memory loss, insomnia and tremors. Electroshock therapy was often administered to the victims as they were fully conscious, rather than under anesthesia in small doses as would be clinically appropriate for certain patients.  According to the report, “[Electroshock therapy] without anesthesia is not only unimaginably painful and frightening for the patient but carries serious side effects, including the risk of bone fractures, joint dislocation, muscle tears, disruption of the heart beat and lung damage.”

Family and friends are often used as weapons against the victims. They were not permitted to call or visit the victims in 76 percent of cases, which essentially makes these cases “enforced disappearances.” 11 percent of cases were committed with the assistance of family (either voluntarily or coerced by authorities). Family and friends who petition for the victim’s release are often faced with persecution, and involuntarily commitment themselves.

The peak of psychiatric detentions occurred from 2015 through 2016, which was around the same time as China’s “709 Crackdown” where the government persecuted hundreds of human rights lawyers.

Some of the detentions are rather draconian. As a petitioner who called for local authorities to investigate a robbery in his house, Zeng Jiping was detained for almost two years. For “live tweeting herself splashing paint over a portrait of Xi Jinping,” Dong Yaoqiong received 1 year, 4 months detention. Twenty-nine out of the 99 victims in the report were hospitalized more than once. In two-thirds of cases where data was known, the authorities did not perform a psychiatric evaluation, in direct violation of China’s Mental Health Law.

The report also gives the example of Andy Li, a member of the “Hong Kong 12” pro-democracy protestors, as falling victim to involuntary detention in Hong Kong’ Siu Lam Psychiatric Center in 2021. The report noted that, as Li’s family didn’t know about his detention, “Li’s cases appears to be a worrying sign that the political abuse of psychiatry practiced on the mainland is now being exported into Hong Kong…”

Those who are finally released from their involuntary committals face lasting physical and phycological pain, and stigma within their communities. People seeking damages for their treatment are often faced with doctors and attorneys who do not want to assist them for fear of retaliation from the government.

Conclusion

According to the report, China is using “peace and health asylums” and other healthcare institutions to “punish and remove activists and petitioners from society without the trouble of going through a trial.” While the report details various Chinese laws that are supposed to protect citizens from such involuntary hospitalizations, in reality Chinese authorities do not abide by these laws and the citizens are not protected. The policy of involuntary hospitalizations show the extent to which the Chinese Communist Party will go to suppress dissent.

You can follow Steve Postal on Twitter @HebraicMosaic

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