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EXCLUSIVE China's Tencent in talks with U.S. to keep gaming investments -sources

Tencent Holdings Ltd (0700.HK) is negotiating agreements with a U.S. national security panel that would allow it to keep its ownership stakes in U.S. video game developers Riot Games and Epic Games, according to people familiar with the matter.
Tencent has been in talks with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which has the authority to order the Chinese technology giant to divest U.S. holdings, since the second half of last year, the sources said.
CFIUS has been looking in to whether Epic Games' and Riot Games' handling of the personal data of their users constitutes a national security risk because of their Chinese ownership, the sources added.
Tencent owns a 40% stake in Epic Games, the maker of popular video game Fortnite. Tencent also bought a majority stake in Riot Games in 2011 and acquired the rest of the company in 2015. Riot Games is the developer of "League of Legends," one of the world's most popular desktop-based games.
Tencent is negotiating risk-mitigation measures with CFIUS so it can keep its investments, according to the sources. The details of the proposed measures could not be learned. They typically involve ringfencing the owner of a company from operations that have national security implications. They often call for the appointment of independent auditors to monitor the implementation of these agreements.
One of the sources said Epic Games has not been sharing any user data with Tencent.
The sources cautioned there is no certainty that Tencent will clinch deals to keep its investments and asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential.
A Tencent logo is seen in Beijing, China September 4, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu WangTencent, Epic Games and a CFIUS representative at the U.S. Treasury Department declined to comment.
A Riot Games spokesman said the Los Angeles-based company operates independently of Tencent and that it has implemented "industry-leading practices" to protect player data. He declined to comment on Riot Games' discussions with CFIUS.
CFIUS has been cracking down on Chinese ownership of U.S. technology assets in the last few years, amid an escalation in tensions between Washington and Beijing over trade, human rights and the protection of intellectual property. U.S. officials have expressed concerns that the personal data of U.S. citizens could end up in the hands of China's Communist Party government.
President Joe Biden's administration has maintained the hawkish stance against China inherited in January from his predecessor Donald Trump, albeit with more of a focus on geopolitical issues such as the future of Taiwan and Hong Kong, as well as China's persecution of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Yet many key CFIUS roles have not yet been staffed. This has provided a reprieve to China's ByteDance, which was ordered by Trump last year to sell its popular short video app TikTok but balked at a transaction that would have involved Oracle Corp (ORCL.N) and Walmart Inc (WMT.N). CFIUS has not sought to enforce the divestiture order under Biden.
Epic is locked in a legal fight with Apple Inc (AAPL.O) over access to the iPhone maker's app store. It alleges that Apple forces developers to use its in-app payment systems - which charge commissions of up to 30% - and to submit to app-review guidelines that discriminate against products that compete with Apple's own.
Apple argues that Epic Games broke their contract when it introduced its own in-app payment system in Fortnite to circumvent Apple's commissions. It says the way it runs the app store inspires trust in consumers to open up their wallets to unknown developers. read more
Tencent's vast businesses include video games, content streaming, social media, advertising and cloud services. China has in recent months sought to curb the economic and social power of Tencent and other internet companies such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (9988.HK), in a clampdown backed by President Xi Jinping. Reuters reported last week that Beijing was preparing a substantial antitrust fine for Tencent. read more
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Facebook moderator: ‘Every day was a nightmare’

She said her experience drove her to give evidence: “I just had such a feeling that I needed to do it,” she added in her testimony. “I need to speak for the people that are too afraid, that feel they have too many responsibilities, and they can't afford to take any risks."

拜登的對台政策魯莽而危險

他的做法是在推翻一個40多年來讓美國、台灣和世界獲益的外交假象。美國和台灣越是正式關閉統一的大門,北京就越有可能尋求武力統一。
Illustration by The New York Times; photographs by Al Drago and Tom Brenner for The New York Times, and samxmeg/Getty Images

德语媒体:双赢互惠的德中关系已经成为历史 | DW | 29.04.2021

(德国之声中文网)《南德意志报》发表评论称,如何对待北京是德国政府面临的一个棘手问题,改变北京不可能,但孤立北京也绝不是一个睿智和可行的选项。《南德意志报》外交事务首席记者Stefan Kornelius在题为《德中双赢互惠的时代已经成为过去》的评论写道:
“中国对世界的影响越来越大。中国以惊人的纪律性很快控制住了疫情,从而带来了经济上的优势,而这种优势又提升了中国的发展动力:中国在不断变强变大,中国在大举投资,中国吸引着外来资本,中国在走向现代化,中国在进行发明创造。中国的发展速度令人叹为观止。而中国领导层加强对香港特区政治控制的惊人速度也同样显示出,北京的所作所为都有非常明确的目的。
那么,中国的目的究竟是什么呢? 中国共产党对此并不讳言。德中政府磋商期间,中国总理李克强明确表示:不欢迎外部干涉。中国不允许外界提出批评。中国发出的信号是:你们必须习惯于我们的措辞方式,必须接受我们的少数民族政策。除此之外,你们别无选择。
中国不仅在充分发挥其经济实力所产生的杠杆作用,同时也会将经济杠杆同政治意图结合在一起,以便渐渐打造出一个以中国为样板的世界秩序模式。”
评论指出,中国的战略是,建立起一个以商业利益和政治军事实力为导向的中国式世界秩序,以便同当今的西方模式进行抗衡。评论写道:
“德中政府磋商是以默克尔为首的德国政府试图维持现行秩序以及让中国接受德国或欧盟规范的一种尝试。
但事实却远不是如此乐观:德中之间的依赖关系早已发生了根本性的变化。德国在新疆和香港问题上所表现出的无力也只是表面现象,这种无力早已存在于更深的层面。
受新冠疫情影响,4月28日的德中政府磋商改为视频方式举行。
不应忘记的是,制度之间的抗争是无法回避的。孤立中国,从政治层面上讲,既不可行,也不足取。北京已经撒开了大网。公开抗争已经是唯一,也是最佳的选择:无论是经济、技术、标准规范的层面上,还是在法律执行的层面上,都是如此,即便是军事方面也不例外。德国、欧盟以及整个西方阵营必须要做到更具吸引力、更为优秀,尤其是要更加团结。政府磋商早已成为地缘政治博弈的一个组成部分。”
柏林出版的《日报》也就周三的德中政府磋商发表了评论。评论指出,长期以来,柏林的政治家一直认为,随着经济的发展和中产阶级的壮大,专制政权自然而然地会走向民主。然而,过去几十年来德中关系的发展却显示,中国离民主越来越远,而柏林却变得越来越迎合专制。这篇评论写道:
“欧洲标准并没有得到贯彻,中国的行为方式显然占了上风。在此之前,中国方面就已经叫停了德中人权和法治国家对话。而这个对话本身就是柏林在‘以贸促变’旗帜下一个保全颜面的摆设而已。北京现在干脆不理你这一套。
如果有人认为,采取棱角鲜明的对华政策就能迅速促成北京的改变,显然也是错误的。毕竟人权政策的奏效需要一个滴水穿石的漫长过程。然而,只有坚持自己的原则,守护自己的价值观,才能为自己赢得信誉。而要做到这一点,就不能一味地追求商业利益。机会主义的行为只能改变自身的政策,其必然的结果就是,北京已经越来越不把柏林放在眼里。”
摘译自其它媒体,不代表德国之声观点 
© 2021年 德国之声版权声明:本文所有内容受到著作权法保护,如无德国之声特别授权,不得擅自使用。任何不当行为都将导致追偿,并受到刑事追究。

DNA of Giant ‘Corpse Flower’ Parasite Surprises Biologists

genomicsDNA of Giant ‘Corpse Flower’ Parasite Surprises BiologistsBy Christie WilcoxApril 21, 2021
The bizarre genome of the world’s most mysterious flowering plants shows how far parasites will go in stealing, deleting and duplicating DNA.The world’s biggest flower, Rafflesia arnoldii, is a parasite that spends much of its life inside its vine hosts. New genomic work suggests that the parasites in this group of plants have lost an astonishing share of their genes.

Maizal

They are invisible at first. In their Southeast Asian forest homes, they grow as thin strands of cells, foreign fibers sometimes more than 10 meters long that weave through the vital tissues of their vine hosts, siphoning nourishment from them. Even under a microscope, the single-file lines of cells are nearly indistinguishable from the vine’s own. They seem more like a fungus than a plant.

But when the drive to breed awakens them, the members of the Rafflesiaceae family erupt as immense, stemless, rubbery red “corpse flowers” covered in polka dots, with a putrid smell like rotting meat designed to draw pollinating carrion flies. The blooms of one species, Rafflesia arnoldii, are the largest flowers in the world — each one can be more than a meter across and weigh a whopping 10 kilograms, roughly the heft of a toddler.

More than a decade ago, Rafflesiaceae parasites caught the eye of Jeanmaire Molina, an evolutionary plant biologist at Long Island University in Brooklyn, who wondered if their genomes were as bizarre as their outward forms. Her initial investigations suggested they were. As she and her colleagues described it in a 2014 paper in Molecular Biology and Evolution, they successfully assembled the mitochondrial DNA from one Philippines species of Rafflesia. But they were unable to detect any functional genes from its chloroplasts. The plants seemed to have simply ditched their entire chloroplast genome.

That was almost unthinkable. Chloroplasts are best known for using light to make food, but like all the food-making organelles called plastids, they contain genes that are involved in many key cellular processes. Even malaria parasites still carry a plastid genome, Molina noted, and their last photosynthetic ancestor lived hundreds of millions of years ago.

Recent research compiled the first draft nuclear genome of a Rafflesiaceae parasite, Sapria himalayana.

phichak

This shocking finding has now been confirmed by an independent research team from Harvard University. The draft genome for another member of the Rafflesiaceae family that they recently published in Current Biology is full of surprises, showing how far parasites can go in shedding superfluous genes and acquiring useful new ones from their hosts. It also deepens mysteries about the role of highly mobile genetic elements that don’t encode proteins in enabling evolutionary changes. Perhaps the greatest lesson of the study is how much we still have to learn about genomics, particularly in plants, and in parasites — a category of organisms that includes more than 40% of all known species.

Losing to Win
Like Molina, Charles Davis, a professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University and the curator of vascular plants in the Harvard University Herbaria, was drawn into studying the Rafflesiaceae because they are the most “charismatic and enigmatic of all the quarter-million species of flowering plants,” he said.

He has been trying to reveal their many secrets for nearly 15 years, but a nuclear genome sequence always proved elusive. Finally, his doctoral student Liming Cai (now a postdoctoral researcher in systematic biology at the University of California, Riverside) stepped up to spearhead the project, and with the help of the university’s informatics group and its director of bioinformatics, Timothy Sackton, the team was finally able to put together a draft genome for Sapria himalayana, a species with blooms the size of a human head.

Sapria’s genome follows several trends seen in many other parasitic plants (and in parasites more generally). Like them, Sapria has done away with many genes considered essential to its free-living relatives. Because parasites steal from their hosts, they essentially outsource the labor of metabolism, so they don’t need all the moving biochemical parts of an independent plant cell.

Still, Davis was shocked to see that nearly half of the genes widely conserved across plant lineages had disappeared from Sapria. That’s more than twice as many genes as are lost from the parasitic plants called dodders (genus Cuscuta), and four times the losses in cereal-killing witchweeds (genus Striga). “We knew that there would be loss,” he said, “but we didn’t think it would be on the order of 44% of its genes.”

Samuel Velasco/Quanta Magazine; Source: DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.12.045; Photos: Aneth David (SLU) (Striga); Tyrrhium (Cuscuta); Rohit Naniwadekar  (Sapria)

And that’s in addition to the stunning deletion of the whole plastid genome that Molina’s work on Rafflesia had suggested. The only other organisms known to have jettisoned that genome are single-celled algae in the genus Polytomella, which gave up photosynthesis in favor of absorbing sustenance from the waters around them.

Molina said she found the confirmation of her team’s finding “comforting,” but also confusing, because Rafflesia still seem to make their plastid compartments. “When we did electron microscopy studies, we found plastids,” she said, “so it’s just quite bizarre that the plastids are empty.”

Sapria also seems to have cut other genetic corners. The plants have deleted the noncoding stretches of DNA within many genes. These regions, called introns, are interspersed among the parts of genes that code for the actual protein that is produced.

It might sound as though Sapria and its kin have simply made their genomes smaller and more efficient. But paradoxically, Sapria’s genome is big: an estimated 3.2 to 3.5 gigabases of DNA in total, roughly the same size as ours. What is filling up its genome?

A Life of Theft
For starters, it’s loaded with stolen genes. Davis’ team estimated that at least 1.2% of the plant’s genes came from other species, particularly its hosts, past and present. That might not sound impressive, but this kind of horizontal gene transfer is considered exceptionally rare outside of bacteria. So even a single percent of genes arising this way raises eyebrows.

Because these parasites have been stealing genes for millennia, Cai noted, their genome is like “a huge graveyard of DNA.” By carefully digging through that graveyard and comparing its contents to the genomes of 10 types of vines that seemed like potential hosts, Cai and her colleagues were able to peer back in time. “These horizontally transferred genes are serving as DNA fossils,” she said.

From these fossils, they unearthed “an extinct host-parasite association that dates back to maybe the mid-Cretaceous,” she said. Today, the roughly four dozen known species of Rafflesiaceae all infest vines from a single genus, Tetrastigma. But long before the parasites infested Tetrastigma, they seem to have infested and stolen from peppervines (genus Ampelopsis). This kind of ecological history is all but impossible to deduce from stony fossils: The parasite’s flowers don’t last long, and the thin, threadlike remains of its vegetative body are unlikely to fossilize.

Evolution on Repeat
Yet stolen genes represent only a paltry fraction of Sapria’s huge genome. The vast majority of it consists of copies of DNA sequences called transposable elements (also known as transposons or “jumping genes”). “The genome of this plant is something like 90% repeat elements,” said Sackton.

That high level of repetition is in fact why Davis struggled so long to assemble a draft genome for Sapria. Until about the past decade, genome sequencing technologies were easily stymied by DNA with too many indistinguishable, repetitive sequences. “It’s like trying to do a puzzle of a completely clear blue sky where every piece is exactly the same shape,” Sackton said. “There’s just no way to do it.”

Samuel Velasco/Quanta Magazine; Source: DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.12.045

But Cai and colleagues were able to take advantage of current sequencing technologies, which can handle much longer (and therefore more distinctive) stretches of DNA. Even so, they were only able to reconstruct what they estimate is 40% of the Sapria genome — the rest was still too repetitive.

This abundance of transposable elements is striking, says Saima Shahid, a plant biologist with the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, who studies the functions of transposable elements in plants. It’s about twice what is seen in dodders. And in the other plant parasites sequenced to date, the dominant elements are “retrotransposons,” which move within the genome by first being transcribed into RNA. Sapria, however, is mostly filled with DNA transposons that repeatedly copy and paste themselves into the genome directly. “That’s somethi

大陸連鎖火鍋店海底撈溫哥華分店的攝像鏡頭引發驚恐

印度媒體《周日衛報》(The Sunday Guardian)報道,大陸連鎖火鍋店海底撈在加拿大溫哥華的店內裝設60多個攝像鏡頭,用來拍攝員工的工作情況和用餐的客人,其影像資料可能還會傳回中國總公司。而台灣也因發現了布滿監視器的海底撈店而引發驚恐的消息。

加拿大海底撈公司尚未回應記者查詢,但印度媒體從海底撈溫哥華分店的一名潘姓經理方面得到的解釋仍令人感到不安。這名潘姓經理提到,總公司要求依照中國“社會信用體系“(Social Credit System)的規定,在該分店安裝逾60個攝像鏡頭。該店設有30張桌子,每張桌子約有兩個鏡頭。
當被問及為何海底撈會要求安裝這麼多鏡頭時,潘經理表示,這些攝影機除了用來查看員工有否遵守公司準則工作外,還可用於“追蹤特定人士“。有關影片還會傳送回中國,但該名潘姓經理拒絕說明理由,僅透露是 ”秘密“。
海底撈從2018年登陸加拿大,如今在大多倫多和大溫哥華地區已開設至少四家分店。不顧疫情影響,印度記者走訪溫哥華的海底撈餐廳,發現攝像頭的確無處不在。有的店經理解釋這是為了確保員工和顧客發生糾紛時能有相關證據,從未提過資料會送回中國。
事實尚未弄清,但消息已經傳到台灣引發恐慌。有當地記者探詢發現:台灣的海底撈餐廳也布滿不明用途的監視器。台灣立委陳亭妃21日表示,海底撈必須說清楚,監視器影像到底傳到哪裡?而相關單位也應立即查辦中國天網系統是否在台灣複製、個資是否因此全都暴露。中國是威權政治,天網系統如果在台灣被複製,吃一頓飯不只是讓大家感受壓力十足,甚至因此個資全都暴露,相信大家也會無法接受,相關單位一定要立即查辦。
天網系統是中共利用人臉識別、大數據、人工智慧等技術建構以及結合社會信用體系,透過監視器監控人民、打壓異己,新疆維吾爾族深受其害。

溫家寶憶母文章微信禁止分享

中國前總理溫家寶最近在『澳門導報』發表紀念母親的長篇文章,文中提到在中南海做官如履薄冰,有評論指暗示官場險惡;文末似在遺憾中寄託希望,“我心目中的中國,應該是一個充滿公平正義的國家”,但文章已被微信禁止分享。

打開微信,溫家寶懷念母親的文章雖然還能看到,但被禁止分享,理由是文章“違反微信公眾平台運營規範”,鳳凰網等媒體的轉載內容,也全數被刪除。此舉引起許多中國及海外網友相當關

德國逼港人改用特區護照居留

3月25日爆出港府向14個與香港簽訂工作假期計畫協議的國家包括德國,要求該國不要再承認BNO為有效文件,並建議使用香港特區護照。原來德國一早作出配合,有90後港女於2019年以BNO護照申請到德國工作假期,但轉簽證期間竟被迫改用特區護照護碼,官員解釋“所有用BNO申請到德國的簽證及居留都是錯失”,她終被迫以中國籍身份居留,更擔心德國當局日後會一刀切視BNO港人為中國籍。也因如此出現同一家庭被列三個國籍。

兩年前以BNO護照申請到德國工作假期的90後的草泥馬(化名),因想在當地讀書,2月轉為申請學生簽證,但未取得學生簽證時工作假期簽證已逾期,故當局發出一張“行街紙”讓她可合法過渡。但她發現文件上竟被轉為特區護照號碼,與官員電郵及親身周旋仍不果。她憶述:“雖然我不是英國公民, 但仍然是英國國民,都屬於英國籍,但官員不斷堅持指BNO不是國籍,只是旅遊證件,而香港是中國一部分,所以必需以中國護照居留德國。”但她追問,為何當年德國領事館容許她以BNO申請到德國工作假期?官員向她直言,“職員全部都做錯”,又謂假如港人只有BNO護照,需到中國領事館去續領特區護照,才可辦理居留手續。
草泥馬錶示,因行街紙已被迫改用特區護照,故正式發出居留證時,國借一欄亦被填上CHN(中國籍),擔心日後會造成行政不便,“香港官方文件有機會被德國部門當做廢紙,加上國安法適用於全人類,移民局強迫我改用特區護照,都會覺得是一種白色恐怖。”她現正尋求英國領事館協助,冀他們向德方解釋清楚。
包括草泥馬在內,蘋果日報訪問了五位持特區及BNO護照的在德港人,發現德國不同市政府在處理香港人國籍上做法不一,有港人持BNO護照被列“英籍(GBR)”、“中國籍(CHN)”,甚至歸類為“英屬印度洋領地”(IOT- Indian Ocean Terrorities) 國籍,可謂“各處鄉村各處例”。
90後Calvin於2016年底透過BNO申請語言簽證入境到德國,2019年轉學生簽證時,到馬堡市政府辦理居留證,發現當局將他國籍列為中國籍,他立刻向職員反映資料出錯,“如果我過關時,左手用BNO護照,右手手執寫中國籍的居留證,那麼資料不匹配或會衍生後續問題”。其後當局再發出新一張列有“英屬印度洋領地”國籍的居留證給他,唯因當時Calvin急於出國旅遊,無奈接受。他的居留證今年年底到期,預料當局會繼續列他國籍為“英屬印度洋領地”,否則即承認職員做錯。
另一位持BNO的港人Ron(化名)今年以學生簽證到德國,並居留證亦被列為中國籍。他大感不滿,指要求轉為HKG香港籍,唯職員表示,香港是屬於中國,敷衍了事。
不只各德國市政府處事欠統一,就連同一家庭於同一市政府辦理居留證,均出現三個國籍。持BNO護照的李先生(化名)於2019年以藍卡(即工作簽證)抵德,其太太亦有BNO護照,唯申請居留證時,先生被列為英籍(GBR),太太被列為中國籍(CHN),至於兩名持特區護照的小朋友則被列香港籍。雖目前未有太大影響,但擔心日後太太找工作,將難以中國籍身份提供“無犯罪紀錄”等文件,呼籲當局要正視國籍混亂問題。
曾離婚的梁女士在2013年邂逅現任德國籍老公,持特區護&#2903

Russia, China warn Biden at same time to stay out of Ukraine, Taiwan

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China's plans for Himalayan super dam stoke fears in India

by Patrick Baert and Bhuvan Bagga In New Delhi

The structure will span the Brahmaputra River before the waterway leaves the Himalayas and flows into India, straddling the world's longest and deepest canyon

China is planning a mega dam in Tibet able to produce triple the electricity generated by the Three Gorges—the world's largest power station—stoking fears among environmentalists and in neighbouring India.

The structure will span the Brahmaputra River before the waterway leaves the Himalayas and flows into India, straddling the world's longest and deepest canyon at an altitude of more than 1,500 metres (4,900 feet).

The project in Tibet's Medog County is expected to dwarf the record-breaking Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in central China, and is billed as able to produce 300 billion kilowatts of electricity each year.

It is mentioned in China's strategic 14th Five-Year Plan, unveiled in March at an annual rubber-stamp congress of the country's top lawmakers.

But the plan was short on details, a timeframe or budget.

The river, known as the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibetan, is also home to two other projects far upstream, while six others are in the pipeline or under construction.

The "super-dam" however is in a league of its own.

Last October, the Tibet local government signed a "strategic cooperation agreement" with PowerChina, a public construction company specialising in hydroelectric projects.

A month later the head of PowerChina, Yan Zhiyong, partially unveiled the project to the Communist Youth League, the youth wing of China's ruling party.

Enthusiastic about "the world's richest region in terms of hydroelectric resources", Yan explained that the dam would draw its power from the huge drop of the river at this particular section.

The project in Tibet's Medog County is expected to dwarf the record-breaking Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in central China

'Really bad idea'

Beijing may justify the massive project as an environmentally-friendly alternative to fossil fuels, but it risks provoking strong opposition from environmentalists in the same way as the Three Gorges Dam, built between 1994 and 2012.

The Three Gorges created a reservoir and displaced 1.4 million inhabitants upstream.

"Building a dam the size of the super-dam is likely a really bad idea for many reasons," said Brian Eyler, energy, water and sustainability program director at the Stimson Center, a US think tank.

Besides being known for seismic activity, the area also contains a unique biodiversity. The dam would block the migration of fish as well as sediment flow that enriches the soil during seasonal floods downstream, said Eyler.

There are both ecological and political risks, noted Tempa Gyaltsen Zamlha, an environmental policy specialist at the Tibet Policy Institute, a think tank linked to the Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharamshala, India.

"We have a very rich Tibetan cultural heritage in those areas, and any dam construction would cause ecological destruction, submergence of parts of that region," he told AFP.

"Many local residents would be forced to leave their ancestral homes," he said, adding that the project will encourage migration of Han Chinese workers that "gradually becomes a permanent settlement".

Map showing major dam projects on the upper stream of the Brahmaputra River, Yarlung Zangbo.

'Water wars'

New Delhi is also worried by the project.

The Chinese Communist Party is effectively in a position to control the origins of much of South Asia's water supply, analysts say.

"Water wars are a key component of such warfare because they allow China to leverage its upstream Tibet-centred power over the most essential natural resource," wrote political scientist Brahma Chellaney last month in the Times of India.

The risks of seismic activity would also make it a "ticking water bomb" for residents downstream, he warned.

In reaction to the dam idea, the Indian government has floated the prospect of building another dam on the Brahmaputra to shore up its own water reserves.

"There is still much time to negotiate with China about the future of the super-dam and its impacts," said Eyler.

"A poor outcome would see India build a dam downstream."

© 2021 AFP

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An environmental disaster was uncovered off California after 70 years

Just 10 miles off the coast of Los Angeles lurks an environmental disaster over 70 years in the making, which few have ever heard about. That is, until now, thanks to the research of a University of California marine scientist named David Valentine. 

Working with little more than rumors and a hunch, curiosity guided him 3,000 feet below the ocean's surface. A few hours of research time and an autonomous robotic submersible unearthed what had been hidden since the 1940s: countless barrels of toxic waste, laced with DDT, littering the ocean floor in between Long Beach and Catalina Island. 

Dr. David Valentine

The fact that his underwater camera spotted dozens of decaying barrels immediately in what is otherwise a barren, desert-like sea floor, Valentine says, is evidence that the number of barrels is likely immense. Although the exact number is still unknown, a historical account estimates it may be as many as a half a million.

After 70-plus years of inaction, Valentine's research has finally helped initiate a huge research effort to reveal the extent of the contamination.
But this offshore dump site is only a part of the story of environmental damage from years of DDT discharge along the coast of Southern California — a story which likely won't be closed for decades to come because of its ongoing impact, including a recently discovered alarming and unprecedented rate of cancer in the state's sea lion population, with 1 in every 4 adult sea lions plagued with the disease.
The history of DDT dumpingThe chemical DDT was invented in 1939 and used during World War II as a pesticide helping to protect troops from insect-borne diseases like Malaria. After the war, production of the chemical ramped up and it became routinely used in the spraying of crops, and even over crowded beaches, to eliminate pests like mosquitos.

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But in the 1960s, DDT was discovered to be toxic. Over time, eating food laced with DDT builds up inside the tissues of animals and even humans, resulting in harmful side effects. The EPA now calls it a "probable human carcinogen." In 1972, when the U.S. government started taking environmental pollution seriously with legislation like the Clean Air Act, DDT was banned in the United States.  

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The largest DDT manufacturer in the U.S., Montrose Chemical Corporation, was located along the Southern California coast in the city of Torrance. From 1947 through 1982, Montrose manufactured and distributed DDT worldwide. In doing so, a byproduct mix of toxic sludge made up of petrochemicals, DDT and PCBs was produced.
For decades, that hazardous waste was disposed of in two ways. Some of the toxic pollution was dumped into storm drains and the sewer system, which was then pumped out to sea through outflow pipes, 2 miles offshore of the city of Rancho Palos Verdes.
The rest of the waste was disposed of in barrels which were loaded onto barges and floated 10 to 15 miles offshore to waste dumping sites off Catalina Island and then jettisoned into the ocean.

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While it may seem hard to believe, at least part of the dumping was legally permitted. Back then, Valentine says, the prevailing thought was the ocean's were so huge that they could never be compromised. The mantra was "dilution is the solution to pollution" — in hindsight a naïve notion.

But while the designated dumping site was very deep — in 3,000 feet of water — Valentine says shortcuts were taken, with barrels being dumped much closer to shore. And, in an effort to get the barrels to sink, there is evidence that many were slashed, allowing poison to leak, as they were dropped into the ocean. 
For decades, the existence of these toxic barrels was surmised only by a very small group of scientists and regulators. That's despite a startling report produced in the 1980s by a California Regional Water Quality Control Board scientist named Allan Chartrand, which asserted there may be as many as 500,000 barrels laced with DDT sitting on the ocean floor.
The report was largely ignored. But after nearly 30 years, Valentine dusted it off as he began his quest to see if these barrels existed. 
The inshore toxic waste siteUnlike the deep water dumping sites, the shallower toxic site — called the Palos Verdes Shelf — 2 miles off the beaches of Rancho Palos Verdes was well-known and documented. In 1996, this zone was declared a Superfund clean-up site by the EPA, now comprising a 34-square-mile area. Montrose was sued and after a protracted legal battle ending in late 2000 the companies involved, including Montrose, settled for $140 million.

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Over the past two decades, most of the money has been used by a program called the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program (MSRP) to try to restore the contaminated sites. Half of the funds were allocated to the EPA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to rehabilitate ecosystems impacted by the poison.
DDT gets into the food chain when it is consumed from the contaminated ocean bottom by tiny marine creatures, which are then eaten by small fish, which are then consumed by larger fish and marine mammals, like sea lions. Over time DDT builds up in the tissues and blubber of marine animals, a process called bioaccumulation. To this day, signs all along the Southern California coast warn fishermen not to eat certain fish. Despite this, you cannot get DDT contamination from swimming in the water.
Scientists say the contamination at this shallower water site is the most likely food chain route which leads to DDT building up in sea lion blubber. That's because there is a much greater amount of marine life living in shallower water. But that does not rule out contamination from the much deeper site as well. 

To try to remedy these pollution problems, NOAA has used its share of the funds to manage almost 20 restoration projects off the LA coast, like restoring kelp forest habitat, helping migratory seabirds and restoring 500 acres of critical coastal marsh habitat in Huntington Beach.
The last project of the effort — just completed — was the commissioning of an artificial reef just off the beaches of Rancho Palos Verdes. To accomplish this, NOAA hired a team of scientists from the Southern California Marine Science Institute and Vantuna Research Group at Occidental College to design and deploy the reef. 
The reef building effort was led by Jonathan Williams, a marine biologist from Occidental College. The project involved strategically placing more than 70,000 tons of quarry rock on the ocean bottom just off the beach. Williams says that the reef was an immediate success, with thousands of fish flocking to the rocks.

NOAA Fisheries

This reef site is much closer to shore than the contamination site, which is 2 miles from land. That's by design. Williams says the idea is to construct new habitat for fish and kelp in uncontaminated areas to build up healthy populations of fish. This helps limit the amount of toxins, like DDT, which enters the food chain.
As predators at the top of the food chain, DDT in fish is also a danger to people. Williams says this is especially true of underserved communities who are mostly likely to subsistence fish, eating what they catch. In this way, NOAA's project addresses environmental justice by attempting to make fish more safe to eat. 
Two miles offshore, Williams says that after years of measuring high levels of DDT on the Palos Verdes Shelf, levels have started to drop precipitously, a sign that some of the DDT may finally be starting to break down. 
Discovering the barrelsDespite the fact that the toxic barrels were dumped in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, their existence just became common knowledge this past fall when the Los Angeles Times published a feature on Valentine's work. But his discovery dates all the way back to 2011 when he first decided to see if the rumors of the barrels were true. In 2013 he made another short trip to the site. But his research was not published until March of 2019. 

In all, his time-limited work yielded visuals of 60 barrels. Besides bringing back video of the leaking barrels, his team was also able to collect samples from the ocean floor. One of them registered a contamination 40 times greater than the highest contamination at the Superfund site, indicating that the toxins down deep are still very concentrated.
Armed with this compelling evidence, Valentine said that he "beat the drum" for years, speaking to various government agencies, trying to get some interest, but to no avail. However, when the LA Times story came out, interest finally followed as public outcry grew.
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