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Blockage Poses Costly Threat to Global Supply Chain; Pandemic Deepens Global Economic Divide; Biden Gives First News Conference Since Taking Office; North Korea: 'Newly Developed' Projectile Test a Success; China Denies Separating Uyghur Children from Families; Military in Myanmar Entwined in Country's Economy; Pfizer Vaccine Could be Available for Children Aged 12-15 by Next School Year. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired March 26, 2021 - 00:00   ET


JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from CNN's world headquarters in Atlanta.


Ahead this hour, like a very heavy beached whale, a massive cargo ship still stuck in the Suez Canal and could be there for a week or more. And the consequences can be found most on global supply chains.

When it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, it seems we are not all in this together. The United Nations warns inequality worldwide is growing, with women and children most at risk for being pushed into poverty.

And in the eye of the storm. Dramatic images of just how bad it can get in the middle of a tornado.

Global supply chains and consumers could soon be feeling the impact from a massive container ship blocking the Suez Canal. Shipping traffic continues to back up in both directions. Oil markets are rattled as dozens of tankers carrying millions of barrels of crude, still waiting to pass.

Nearly a third of the world's shipping container volume passes through the canal every day. Now, at a standstill.

A spokesman Rotterdam port in the Netherlands says every port in western Europe will feel the impact.

CNN's John Defterios has more.


JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN BUSINESS EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR AND ANCHOR (voice-over): A traffic jam like no other in the world of trade. At least 160 ships, waiting to transit through the Suez Canal, after efforts to dislodge the giant vessel wedged across it failed.

Attempts were made to free the 224,000-ton Ever Given, using eight tug boats and dredging the surrounding mud and sand. But so far, the vessel won't budge. Canal authorities suspended traffic through the vital waterway Thursday, when it became clear that the rescue plan wasn't going to be quick or easy. A team of Dutch and Japanese salvage experts were drafted in to help and expressed caution over the time it could take.

PETER BERDOWSKI, BOSKALIS CEO: It could be days to weeks, depending on what you come across. You have to realize that the equipment you need is, of course, not necessarily around the corner.

DEFTERIOS: Around 12 percent of the world trade volume passes through the canal normally. And it usually handles the equivalent of $10 billion a day in cargo.

Industry experts are concerned, if the situation is not resolved soon, there could be a big impact on the oil market. Shipping and container rates leading to a rise in the cost of goods that they all depend on.

The Ever Given first became struck on Tuesday after being caught in high winds and a ferocious stand storm, which caused low visibility and poor navigation.

Its owner, Japanese shipping company, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, is bracing itself for lawsuits from affected parties but says their main focus at this critical juncture is re-floating the ship.

John Defterios, CNN, Abu Dhabi.


VAUSE: Don Maier is back with us again. He's the dean of School of Maritime, Transportation, Logistics and Management at Cal Maritime.

Don, thank you for being our returning champion, coming back for another night. You know, if we look at this, the numbers have really started to add up in terms of delayed trade. Lloyd's List did a rough calculation. It is rough, but each day, they say, just over $5 billion of goods are shipped westbound. Four and a half billion heads in the other direction. That gives you a total of $9.6 billion worth of cargo.

It's a delay of $400 million for every hour the canal remains blocked. And this comes at a time when shipping schedules were in disarray because of the pandemic, and congestion has been building at ports because of virus restrictions. And it seems we're now heading into a worst-case scenario territory.

DON MAIER, DEAN, SCHOOL OF MARITIME, TRANSPORTATION, LOGISTICS AND MANAGEMENT, CAL MARITIME: Yes. It's one of those times, John, that all of the different factors are all coming together at one time. So, yes, this definitely is not one of those times where you want to have a ship get stuck in the canal. At this point, especially with those coming -- or with the global economy coming out of the pandemic, and things are just starting to open around. So like you pointed out, there's so much global trade going through the canal that everything is starting to be disrupted. VAUSE: Lloyd based their calculations on the rate (ph) of

containerized goods, which is goods moved in a cargo container, which make up about a quarter of the Suez Canal traffic.

But what of the containers themselves? There's been a global shortage of them for some time. We're seeing even more containers will be out of the system, now, for a significant period of time. And that's part of this chain reaction, right?

MAIER: Yes, that is going to be a huge reaction, as you just pointed out, John. Once that ship gets into Rotterdam to be off-loaded, then all of those containers are going to be off-loaded themselves.

But in the meantime, you have a number of the manufacturers in Asia, primarily in China, that are going to be looking for empty containers to be reloaded. But they don't have those empty containers back because, obviously, the Ever Given is still going to be in Rotterdam.


So now you have an imbalance of just the containers themselves to be reloaded, to be shipped back to put more supplies back into the supply chain. So it's an imbalance of not just the goods themselves, but also the containers. So then, all of a sudden, now you have an increase in the price of the containers being moved from one coast to another.

VAUSE: Is there a basic calculation here? If the canal is closed, say, for four days, it will take four extra days after reopening to clear the backlog?

MAIER: That's correct. So yes, usually, we may -- when I was in industry, we would use about three days that -- I have about three to four days of extra delays that I've built into my schedule, anyway, in every container. So figure about those two or three days, maybe four days of that delay going into a port, may then be caused by an extra six days of delays, too.

So, right now, I could be forecasting about at least a week, maybe a week and a half, does in terms of what that impact is going to be to my supply chain.

So, I need to measure that now in terms of my production schedule, my capacity planning, as well as my inventory planning, as well.

So, I'm not only sure that I can try to limit the amount of impact I have on my end customers.

VAUSE: You know, there are other routes that shipping can take, but there's a reason why they built the Suez Canal. Because all the alternatives basically take a whole lot longer, basically a week or so, maybe 10 days/ That means extra costs.

We also have this -- According to a just declassified memorandum, in 1963, the U.S. government looked at the feasibility of using 592 megaton nuclear devices, spaced at 4 per mile, for 130 miles, to carve out a canal from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, via Israel. You know, clearly, that never happened. But this is my question. Given

there is so much world trade right now, so much shipping out there, is there a need for another canal somewhere, probably, not built by nuclear devices?

MAIER: Yes, if we don't have to use nuclear devices, that would probably be the best option to go with. It is even going to -- starting to be one of those points in time where the infrastructure, really starts to try to keep pace with the global economy. So, the Panama Canal was just expanded in 2014, roughly. The Suez Canal, also expanded.

But in the meantime, our container ships, like the Ever Given, have expanded so much they are larger than the canals themselves again. So that's part of the reason why the Ever Given is actually jammed into the canal right now, is because of the size of the infrastructure, or the size of the ship, given the size of the infrastructure.

So, I agree with you, John, that at some point I think the governments around the world are going to have to get together and figure out another, different global route, in order to move all of our goods throughout the world.

VAUSE: At the risk of, you know, creating another Suez Canal crisis, is there an argument, though, to be made for there's a case for better investment, and better maintaining, and better upgrades of the swiss canal itself?

MAIER: Yes. So I mean, there has been a lot of discussion and some investment already in terms of said the silk road through China. So rather than going through the sea route, maybe actually taking the land drought from China, over to Europe.

That's pretty much the land bridge. Here we have it in the United States. When a container comes into the port of L.A. Long Beach, we can put on train and then rail it all the way across the United States into New York, or Chicago.

So, we have those kind of options. And I think that's probably the next best option we start to look at, because at least in terms of the sea routes, we are limited by the based on the size of our ships, and the draft the ship will have going into certain areas.

Don, is, always appreciate you with.

MAIER: Always John. Thank you very for your time tonight.

VAUSE: Take care.


VAUSE: Israel's final election results are in, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party will have the most number of seats in the coming Parliament, but he still faces an uphill battle to form a new coalition government.

The right-wing Likud Party has 30 seats in the Knesset. The closest challenger, Yair Lapid's party, on 17.

That means the major prime minister must cobble together support from other parties. That's to stay in power. He may strike a deal with the United Arab list, but that could alienated extreme right-wing religious parties, and they would never make a deal with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Any deal making comes against the backdrop of Mr. Netanyahu's corruption trial. He pleaded not guilty for bribery and fraud charges. The court will be hearing evidence in the next phase of trial, April 5th, and they sit April 6.

The E.U. is vying to ramp up speed of coronavirus vaccination production and distribution in Europe over the next few weeks, because it's exporting more vaccine than it's administering.

Seventy-seven million doses have been sent abroad. Nearly 62 million shots have been used by the European bloc. So the E.U. is warning it will ban vaccine makers from further exports until they make good on their local deliveries.


URSULA VON DER LEYEN, EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT: We have to, and want to explain to our European citizens that they get their fair share. And therefore, the second principle is that companies have to honor their contract to the European Union before they export to other regions in the world.


VAUSE: That message was. essentially, directed at the pharmaceutical giant, AstraZeneca, which has short-changed the E.U. while shipping millions of doses to the U.K., which is leading Europe in vaccinations.

The E.U. clamped down in demands for greater reciprocity. I cannot say that word still. It comes as mainland Europe faces a third wave of infections.

The recently vaccinated British prime minister says he does not want to see an embargo, or a blockade, and will keep working with regional partners.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We are on the side of openness. That is where we are. If you had to locate me, ask for the libertarian. One thing I'm firmly libertarian about his free trade. I don't want to see blockades of vaccines, or of medicines. I don't think that's the way forward other for us, or for any of our friends.


VAUSE: This could be Brazil's worst week for the pandemic. On Thursday, the country reported more than 100,000 new infections. That's a new record, brings the overall tally to more than 12.3 million, the second highest in the world after the United States.

On Tuesday, for the first-time, Brazil's daily death toll surpassed 3,000. The spike in cases and deaths is attributed to medical supply shortages, the government's failure to impose consistent restrictions to slow this spread, and also, a lack of vaccines, with people often waiting in long lines and sweltering heat, as well as humidity, only to be turned away.

A pandemic that's killed millions of people worldwide, also causing a more sharply unequal world. The new U.N. report says the global economy is enduring its worst recession in 90 years, with an estimated 120 million people plunged back into extreme poverty.

Vaccine nationalism isn't helping either. Experts say when the vaccines started rolling out earlier this year, the vast majority went to developed countries. The U.N. is now calling for financing to address the expanding inequities.


AMINA MOHAMMED, U.N. DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL: The message of the report is clear, and stark. COVID-19 is the leading -- sharply bifurcated world, leaving hundreds of millions of people behind. And putting the development agenda seriously at risk, without immediate action on financing for development.


VAUSE: Catherine Rampell joins us now. She's CNN's economic and political commentator, and opinion writer for "The Washington Post."

Catherine, it's been a while. Thanks for being with us.


VAUSE: OK, the one thing this U.N. report actually makes clear. When it comes to the impact from the pandemic, especially in economic terms, we are not all in this together. Almost every benchmark, minority groups and less wealthy nations hit the hardest. Here's a little more from the deputy U.N. secretary-general.


MOHAMMED: The pandemic has caused the worst recession in 90 years and disproportionately affected the most vulnerable segments of our societies, including women and youth. We're seeing between 119 and 124 million people, estimated to be the newly pushed into extreme poverty. And the world has lost the equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs.


VAUSE: Those numbers are staggering, and the U.N. is warning of potential loss of decades for development in many countries. So the big picture here, if these inequities are left unchecked, what will be the ultimate impact on everyone? RAMPELL: Well, certainly, the poorest categories will be hurt the

most. Right? I mean, that's obviously true, just based on the astronomical number of people who've been pushed into extreme poverty in the past year. Those countries have been suffering the most.

And I think one of the big takeaways of this past year is that every country has sort of turned inward, right, and has been thinking solely about its own problems, perhaps understandably. But not really thinking about how interconnected we are with other countries and that, if we -- if we in the United States, for example, a rich country, are able to -- you know, if not exactly eradicate the pandemic here, at least keep it at bay, we won't be protected, so long as there is still suffering somewhere else; so long as the virus is still spreading out of control, and potentially mutating somewhere else. That's partially how some of these variants have come about.

So we should be thinking about this as a global project, much more so than we have, and not as a, you know, we'll deal with our problem. You'll deal with yours. They have no relation to one another. In fact, there are self-interested reasons to care about what happens in the very most vulnerable places of the world.

VAUSE: Just a few days ago, the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, talked about the consequences from the pandemic being felt, at least for the rest of his lifetime and maybe beyond that. Here he is.


JOHNSON: I certainly think that this is something that we will all remember and be dealing with in different ways for, probably, for certainly in my case, for as long as -- as I live. It's been an extraordinary moment in our -- in our -- in our history.


The legacy issue, for me, leaving aside all the -- all the other backlogs, is education. And it's the loss of -- of learning for so many children and young people. That's the thing we've got to focus on now as a -- as a society.


VAUSE: Is it possible for children to catch up or make up for their lost time or is this just something they'll just have to learn to live with?

RAMPELL: This is a real risk, that there will be these long-term scars for the COVID generation, children today who have had severe learning disruptions, whether because virtual school is not much of a substitute for in-person classes, or because they're not even able to access virtual school at all, because they don't have sufficient Internet access or other barriers.

We don't know yet the scale of those learning losses and how much children in the developed world, as well as in lower income countries, have really fallen behind. But the early data that we have suggests that children are missing key milestones academically, socially, developmentally.

Now, there are ways to intervene here. Right? It's not as if we have to doom today's children to become, you know, lower-earning workers, as would be suggested, for the rest of their lives, or potentially for the rest of their lives, as would be suggested by that loss of learning. We could be investing right now in additional funding for summer school, for other kinds of, you know, additional instructional time next year.

There have, obviously, been precedents, not quite like this but for interruptions in schooling, and countries have found ways to -- countries or state or municipal governments or what have you have found ways to try to intervene and adapt.

VAUSE: So you're saying we know how to fix it. We just have to have the will and the resources and the desire to fix it.

RAMPELL: We have some idea of interventions that will be helpful, right? I mean, again, the scale of this thing -- this is a global interruption in schooling, most likely. The scale of this thing is unprecedented.

But we do have some sort of case studies that show, OK, you can like, have a serious intervention with more tutoring or more instructional time to help to try to catch children up, or at least the most vulnerable children.

And we kind of know how to do that to some extent. But it requires a lot of planning, and it requires a lot of resources here in the United States. Some additional funding has been allocated for addressing learning losses, but it really doesn't look like enough. Probably more will be necessary. And, you know, it needs to become a -- a more public, political and social conversation about how you get it done, because it's not only about money. It's also about getting teachers on board, getting families on board; how do you think strategically about making sure that these -- these children are not doomed to become a lost generation.

VAUSE: Katherine Rampell, we're going to leave it there. But thank you. Good to see you. Thank you so much for your insights. It's been a good conversation. Appreciate it.

RAMPELL: Thank you.

VAUSE: Well, still to come, the U.S. president is not laughing off the latest missile test by North Korea. With the North claiming to have tested a more -- a new, more advanced missile, it's now Joe Biden's top foreign policy issue.

Also, China's ambassador to the U.S. lashing out at CNN after our exclusive report on Uyghur children separated from their families.


[00:20:46] VAUSE: Well, the coronavirus pandemic, gun control, immigration crisis on the southern border, just some of the multiple issues that the U.S. president, Joe Biden, addressed during a first news conference since he moved into the White House. Here's CNN's Jeff Zeleny with more.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At his first news conference since taking office, President Biden set a new goal of reaching 200 million vaccinations before his first 100 days in office.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No other country in the world has even come close, not even close to what we are doing. I believe we can do it.

ZELENY: As questions in the East Room of the White House turned from COVID to a crisis on the border.

BIDEN: It's unacceptable (ph). Come on.

ZELENY: The president decried the crowded conditions inside detention shelters at the border as unacceptable and insisted his administration was working to control the surge of migrants coming to the U.S. Yet, Biden said he would treat unaccompanied minors humanely, which he said his predecessor did not.

BIDEN: If an unaccompanied child ends up at the border, we're just going to let them starve to death and stay on the other side. No previous administration did that either, except Trump. I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to do it.

ZELENY: Biden vowed to restore the American economy through his Build Back Better plan, pledging to go big on infrastructure and sweeping domestic programs like education. He pressed Congress to act on gun safety and to protect voting rights, blasting the filibuster as a relic of the Jim Crow era. He opened the door to supporting changes in Senate rules to end obstruction and achieve his agenda.

BIDEN: It's been abused in a gigantic way. For example, it used to be you had to stand there and talk, and talk, and talk, and talk, until you collapsed. And guess what? People got tired of talking and tired of collapsing.

ZELENY: He took aim at Republican efforts to severely restrict access to voting, happening in states across the country and on Capitol Hill.

BIDEN: What I'm worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is. It's sick. It's sick.

ZELENY: For the first time, Biden said that it was his intention to seek a second term in 2024.

BIDEN: My plan is to run for reelection. That's my expectation.

ZELENY: When pressed by CNN's Kaitlan Collins, the president, now aged 78, said he also respected fate.

BIDEN: I've never been able to plan four and a half, three and a half years ahead for certain.

ZELENY: On foreign policy, Biden said he was nearing a decision on whether to wind down the 20 -year war in Afghanistan or keep at least some troops in place in hopes of avoiding a Taliban takeover.

BIDEN: We will leave. The question is when we leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, do you believe, though, it's possible we could have troops there next year?

BIDEN: I can't picture that being the case.

ZELENY (on camera): And President Biden made clear again and again that he feels he has the upper hand at this point with the Senate. He's inviting Republicans to come on board with him, but he is not going to wait for them. He said he was elected to get the job done.

So for now, at least, he is trying to push agenda items like that $3 trillion infrastructure plan. He'll be unveiling that next week. He's going to be working on immigration and gun control right along the way, but he knows that time is short for his presidency. He only has a Democratic majority for sure for another year and a half or so, and he made it clear that he plans to use that time wisely.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.


VAUSE: Well, Pyongyang says it tested new technology with the launch of two ballistic missiles on Thursday. And the U.S. president says that now makes the North and its illicit nuclear and missile program his No. 1 foreign policy issue.


BIDEN: We are considering whether our allies and partners, and there will be responses if they choose to escalate. We will respond accordingly.


VAUSE: CNN's Paula Hancocks live now from Seoul.

So Paula, what was very interesting about, you know, the reaction from Joe Biden, how different it was compared to over the weekend, when he kind of laughed off an earlier missile test, and what was interesting is that we didn't hear a lot about North Korea during the campaign. We haven't heard a lot about North Korea for a long time now. And now suddenly, it's the No. 1 issue for the U.S.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, yes. I mean, Pyongyang knows exactly what it is doing when it puts a couple of these missiles into the air just not too long after President Biden takes office.


They know that by doing that, of course, by doing that just one day before a key press conference for the U.S. president that they are going to be top of the agenda once again. We have seen it time and time again. New U.S. administrations coming in.

There is also always something that goes up in the air to catch the attention and to put pressure on the new administration.

And so it is a very different response we're seeing from President Biden now and it is as expected. The weapons test over the weekend was -- was low down on the spectrum, the administration said. And they're correct when it comes to what North Korea could do.

But of course, this one that we saw was a ballistic missile test. And that means it contravenes the U.N. Security Council resolution, so there had to be a stronger response.

Interesting, though, that -- that President Biden was asked when President Obama handed over to President Trump, he said North Korea is the No. 1 foreign policy issue and national security issue you will face. And he was asked, do you agree with that? And he said yes.

As you say, John, just a couple of months ago, North Korea was very low down the priority list.

VAUSE: Also, there are these claims coming from Pyongyang that this was new technology which was used in these missiles. There's some discrepancy over how far they may have traveled. The North saying around 600 kilometers. I saw the report the other day it was around 450, which is significant for a short-range missile. But what more do we know about these claims of, you know, the technology?

HANCOCKS: Well, this is something that Kim Jong-un had warned about. He said that he has new technology. And some of it, we appeared to seen a parade back in October of last year.

And he had said that he wants to test some of this new capability. So this appears, at this point, to be what we saw.

Now, the photos only came out early this morning, so there will be many people, far more qualified than me, poring over those photographs, trying to figure out exactly what the technology behind it was. But North Korea does claim it's a newly-developed, new type tactical guided projectile.

Now, one interesting thing I should point out, though, John, is that Kim Jong-un wasn't actually there. And that's fairly unusual. When there is a new technology or a new missile being launched, he's usually front and center and celebrating when it is successful.

He wasn't there for this one, and we did see him elsewhere, opening a new facility, so showing that potentially, he's focusing more on the economy, and he has his chief weapons developer focusing on pushing the weapons forward, as well.

VAUSE: Paula, thank you. Paula Hancocks, live for us in Seoul.

We'll take a short break. When we come back here on CNN NEWSROOM, as Myanmar's military continues with a killing spree targeting unarmed protesters, one U.N. expert is urging the world to hit the generals where it hurts the most, their moneymaking schemes. That's next.



VAUSE: Welcome back everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause.

Well, the Chinese ambassador has forcefully denied, or tried to, at least, the facts of an exclusive CNN investigation into Uyghur children who have been separated from their families.

CNN's traveled to China's Xinjiang province after Amnesty International accused the Chinese of splitting up thousands of Uyghur Muslim families.

The U.S. and other countries have labeled China's treatment of Uyghurs genocide. But the Chinese ambassador denied all allegations and claimed CNN's investigation was fabricated.

He spoke to CNN's Christiane Amanpour.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: So Ambassador, it turned out later that the children were interrogated in this orphanage for hours about a conversation that they had had with our reporter. What is your reaction? And I guess, why not let these children go? Why detain children in an orphanage? What can be the political reason for stopping them leaving the country and sending them back to Xinjiang from Shanghai?

CUI TIANKAI, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: There has been so much fabrication so far. So I cannot just trust the story.

AMANPOUR: You know that that's not fabricated, Ambassador. Right?

CUI: It's very unfortunate. I think it's very unfortunate, and immoral, to take advantage of any particular family situation and manipulate it. This is not true journalism. It's very unfortunate for CNN.


VAUSE: He went on to insist that until recently, terrorism was the biggest security threat to Xinjiang, adding extremist ideology has been spreading, and China set up education and training centers, just simply to help everyone. He claims those efforts have made a huge difference. Kristie Lu Stout following all this for us from Hong Kong. And

Kristie, what we're seeing now is not just the backlash against, I guess, CNN. Big corporate international brands, which have actually spoken out even really recently, within just, you know, the last couple of weeks, couple months, about forced labor in Xinjiang. They're now seeing huge backlash on social media.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The Xinjiang fallout is now hitting some major international retailers, like H&M, like Nike, Adidas, big western brands. They're now facing a very big boycott in China.

Why? For taking a stand against the alleged use of forced labor in Xinjiang, in the production of cotton.

Now, this all goes back to a Weibo post that was posted earlier this week, by the Chinese Communist Youth League. This is an organization linked to the ruling Communist Party, in which it dug up an old statement from H&M, saying that it expressed deep concern over reports of forced labor being used in the production of cotton in Xinjiang.

That went viral. That unleashed a torrent of online fury. In fact, a viral hashtag saying, I support Xinjiang cotton, has now been viewed four and a half billion times in China.

As you can imagine, H&M is getting hit hard. It has been de- platformed, has been taken off of e-commerce platforms in China, including those run by Alibaba. There are also reports that has been scrubbed off of online maps and online ride hailing services in China. Celebrities are cutting off ties with the retailer.

And it's not just H&M. Other retailers as well, like Nike, and Adidas. I want you to listen to this. A group of angry consumers, in Beijing, who fully support the boycott. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We should boycott them and let them know that China is not a country to be trifled with.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I will resist any brand that has any bad comments about our motherland.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): This is our country. They should get out of China. We can choose to not use it, not to wear it. It is just not necessary for us. I think you should respect our country. They won't have a future here if they try to smear China.


STOUT: Now Xinjiang, of course, has been a major point of friction between China and western powers. You know in December, that was when the United States blocked oil imports of cotton from Xinjiang, over reports of the use of forced labor in that area of China.

Also, in the last week, we've seen the U.S., the E.U., the U.K. slap sanctions on Chinese officials for their role in undermining human rights there.

China has retaliated, slapping sanctions not only on the E.U., but U.K. individuals and entities, accusing them of, quote, "maliciously spreading lies and disinformation" -- John.

VAUSE: Just very quickly, if we still go back to the ambassador to the U.S., denials are all very well and good, but has there been any sort of rebuttal of actual facts by China?

STOUT: No. And China continues to stand by its line, what's happening inside Xinjiang. It says that it is operating these vocational learning centers, training facilities, to help curb the spread of terrorism in Xinjiang.


You know, look, according to the United Nations, there's satellite data that's backing this up. One million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities have been detained in these sprawling complexes. Critics and human rights groups say that they are not vocational learning centers, but they are concentration camps.

Human rights groups point out that forced labor has been used from these camps.

China is not changing its messaging. In fact, it's doubling down, as we heard from Wang Yi, China's foreign minister, in recent months. He said Xinjiang as a shining example of human rights progress, saying, look at the economic development achieved there. That is a human rights shining example for China, according to China.

Back to you.

VAUSE: Kristie, thank you. Appreciate that. Kristie Lu Stout, live for us in Hong Kong.

At least another nine people have been killed by Myanmar's military during pro-democracy demonstrations on Thursday. That's according to a local advocacy group, which counts at least 320 people dead since last month's coup.

A U.N. official says the international response continues to fall short that limited sanctions by individual countries are not enough to stop the bloodshed. One reason is the military, deeply embedded in the country's economic system.

CNN's Ivan Watson explains.


IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The military in Myanmar is responsible for much more than the February 1 coup and ensuing crackdown against protesters. The military has also long been heavily involved in the business of making money.

CHRIS SIDOTI, U.N. INDEPENDENT INTERNATIONAL FACT-FINDING MISSION ON MYANMAR: The military has a tentacle in almost every part of the Myanmar economy.

WATSON: Chris Sidoti was a member of United Nations' fact-finding mission, which published a 2019 report on the economic interests of the Myanmar military.

It concluded that the same generals who have been accused by the U.N. of committing human rights abuses against ethnic groups like the Rohingyas are also in charge of two of the biggest conglomerates in the country. Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited, and Myanmar Economic Corporation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today, MEHL is one of Myanmar's leading conglomerates.

WATSON: Their portfolios include banks, oil and gas extraction, mining, ports, hotels, telecommunications, breweries, and even a golf resort.

A separate 2020 report by Amnesty International exposed the unique relationship between individual combat divisions and the conglomerate, MEHL.

MONTSE FERRER, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL RESEARCHER ON BUSINESS AND HUMAN RIGHTS: Almost every single top officer of the military holds shares in this very large business conglomerate that's collecting profit and dividends.

WATSON (on camera(: At the top of the pyramid, this man, Min Aung Hlaing, the commander in chief of Myanmar's armed forces. He declared himself ruler of the country during the coup of February 1.

But the U.N. report also identifying him as chairman of the Patron Group, part of MEHL's corporate leadership. He's, essentially, a business mogul in an army general's uniform.

(voice-over): That unusual position highlighted at the 2018 launch ceremony for Mytel, a cell phone company joint venture between a Myanmar military-owned conglomerate and a telecommunications company owned by the Vietnamese military.

Min Aung Hlaing shared the stage with Vietnamese top brass.

At a press conference, weeks after the coup, a military spokesman seemed to anticipate the junta would face international criticism. He said, Sanctions are expected. And they've come from, mainly, western governments.

BIDEN: A new executive order, enabling us to immediately sanction the military leaders who directed the coup, their business interests, as well with close family members.

WATSON: The Treasury Department targeted two adult children of Myanmar's top general, accusing them of benefiting, quote, "from their father's position and malign influence."

Washington also sanctioned the adult children's companies, including a restaurant, a media production company, and a chain of gyms called Ever Fit.

(on camera): Despite the sanctions, I can still access an app from Ever Fit on my iPhones app store. I can also download another app called OCCDS. And that stands for the Office of the Commander-in-chief of the Defense Services. It's basically a public relations media platform for Min Aung Hlaing, the military dictator of Myanmar.

(voice-over): On the bloody streets of Myanmar's cities and towns, the death toll continues to grow. The military seeks to crush the popular uprising against the coup.

The struggle over the future of democracy in Myanmar is also a battle over who will control the country's economy.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.


VAUSE: We'll take a short break. When we come back, deadly tornadoes have ripped through the state of Alabama, and that threat is not over yet.



VAUSE: Russian opposition leader and now prison inmate Alexei Navalny, says he is being denied medical care by prison officials.

Documents posted on Thursday, Navalny said his physical health has worsened, and he now has trouble walking. He also alleges, quote, "torture by sleep deprivation."

But Russia's prison service claims Navalny received a full medical examination and is in generally good health.

At this hour, severe storms have been rolling through the southeastern United States. Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee under tornado watches hours after a tornado killed at least five people in Alabama. This next video shows a potential tornado touching down.







(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: Police in Alabama say there has been extensive damage to a number of towns. Roofs of houses have been blown away, trees brought down, and in many places, power is out.

Well, that's all we have for this hour of CNN NEWSROOM, I will be back at the top of the hour, about 15 minutes for now, but in the meantime, WORLD SPORT is up next.