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U.S. Troops Soon Going Home; Iran Warns to Retaliate With Israel; U.S. Pause Johnson & Johnson Vaccine; South Africa Also Pause J&J in Anticipation of Side Effects; Outrage Seen for a Third Day Now in Minnesota; France Suspends Travel from Brazil; Egypt Suing the Owner of Ever Given for Huge Damage; President Biden Wants to Have Face-to-Face Meeting with Vladimir Putin; Biden Propose Summit With Putin To Discuss Ukraine; Military Drills In China Meant To Send Message About Taiwan; U.S. Intelligence Warns Of Global Threats In Annual Report; John Kerry Heads To China, South Korea To Talk Climate; Tiny Plastic Pollution; Crypto-Conundrum, Bitcoin Hits New High. Olympic Games begin In 100 Days Despite Ongoing Pandemic. Aired 3-4a ET
Aired April 14, 2021 - 03:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. You are watching CNN Newsroom. And I'm Rosemary Church.
Just ahead, the U.S. president hopes to bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the attack that sparked the war. We are live in Kabul.
Injections of a second COVID vaccine come to a halt after reports of blood clotting and six women out of seven million doses administered across the U.S.
The Ever Given is stuck again. Egypt has impounded the ship, and is demanding almost a billion dollars for the Suez Canal traffic jam.
Good to have you with us.
Well, a war that began before America's youngest troops were even born may finally end under Joe Biden's watch. Later today, the president is set to announce U.S. forces will leave Afghanistan by September 11th. The hugely symbolic date will be two decades since the 9/11 attacks and the start of America's longest war.
But despite trillions of dollars and thousands of lives lost, Afghanistan remains volatile. Many observers fear a hasty exit by the U.S. will be a win for the Taliban. And any society imposed by the militants will erode basic rights, especially for women, and bolster a safe haven for terrorists. Here is why the White House says now is the time to get out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: But I will say that the president has been consistent in his view that there is not a military solution to Afghanistan. that we have been there for far too long. That has been his view for some time, well documented, well reported on. He believes that and he remains committed to supporting negotiations between the parties, which many of you may be following are resuming next week.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH (on camera): For the latest from Afghanistan, CNN's Nick Paton Walsh joins us live from Kabul. Good to see you, Nick. So, what impact will the withdrawal of U.S. troops in September likely have on the lives of Afghans and on Taliban -- the Taliban's influence and power?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: yes, it is important to remember that if the United States leaves this war before September 11th, the war does not simply end. It will most likely intensify. It is already in a very violent stage with upwards of 2,500 U.S. troops engaged mostly in camps terror missions, but holding back the Taliban when they make the most strident advances.
So, it is likely that on the ground that dynamic will change, if we do not see progress at the negotiating table. Now that is being the main plank of the Trump administration strategy here. They were much clear they simply wanted out, didn't seem to really mind with what they left behind. Joe Biden has always been an advocate of a lesser U.S. presence here. He opposed Barack Obama's surge back in '08, '09 when Obama sent in over 100,000 troops.
Now it's his call and it's quite clear early on he thinks it's time to get out. Remember though, the messaging here is possibly intended to get the Taliban who've twice in the last 48 hours said they are not interested in coming to the renewed effort for peace talks that are supposed to get going Saturday week in Istanbul.
But Joe Biden will have to lay out the details of how this withdrawal will work. He's made it clear through his officials that it will not be conditions based. So that essentially says no matter what happens between now and September, they are still leaving.
That will have a substantial impact on the psyche of the Afghan government who may wonder what they now have to do differently if they are going it alone.
Well, the Taliban who perhaps see an opening that's inevitable in the months ahead, or maybe seeing an opportunity to fashion the political process and on the lives of ordinary Afghans to so many of whom, particularly here in the comparatively prosperous bubble of Kabul will see their lives radically change in the next months ahead most likely.
But We took a look at an area that's been a Taliban stronghold for a matter of years, now a town which may be familiar to many who have spoken of Afghanistan before Musa Qala where many western soldiers have lost their lives, many Afghans too. Here is what we found. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALSH (voice over): If America is leaving Afghanistan after nearly two decades of blood and treasure lost, what world does the U.S. leave behind for ordinary Afghans?
Taliban stronghold Musa Qala is where many American and British soldiers died. Now it's a snapshot of how the Taliban will run Afghanistan as they gain power. We asked six men living there, two on camera anonymously in safety, what it's like, in short, bleak for women, a few smartphones, but for all, Taliban justice and Taliban taxes.
UNKNOWN (through translator): There are consequences if you don't pay, they beat you or imprison you.
WALSH: A broadly medieval society then considering all the billions spent. Except just recently with the odd smartphone allowed, that's how we got pictures of the streets. Taliban roam the market U.S. marines once patrolled 10 years ago. The Americans were based here, a location you can see on the satellite images, not far from the empty shop where the Taliban have their temporary courts, which they call the room, dispensing swift, brutal justice.
UNKNOWN (through translator): Punishment depend on what the other side wants. If the plaintiff forgives a murder the court might not give the sentence. But if the relatives demanded they may. For example, around four years back, three thieves were hanged from the electricity pole on the road out of town for people to see. They had been arrested a few times for robbery, but they did not stop.
WALSH: This footage from a drive around town heads out to the refugee camps by the river, from where U.S. marines used to get shot at, and it's clear few women are allowed on the streets. They still don't go to school. Nobody even dares asked about that we're told. But most men we asked, said women had a good. This is what they meant.
UNKNOWN (through translator): They are not allowed to do business outside of their house, when they go out, they need to dress according to Sharia law. So, for them, it's more important to take care of their homes than working outside.
WALSH: Women can also get a rough justice in this backward world.
UNKNOWN (through translator): One woman pleaded guilty for adultery and she has been in prison for the last five years now. No one knows what will happen to her in the end, the man caught with her was killed by his in laws for bringing shame to his marriage.
WALSH: Fighting is rare here now, and the Americans must just watch from jets, or drones above. In fact, we are told the Taliban only allowed some smartphones in Musa Qala because peace talks meant that U.S. air strikes there had slowed down. The Americans had been using smartphones to track Taliban fighters. Taliban rule in the streets means they set taxes from opium harvest or
shops we were told, or ask for bread or clothes for their fighters when in need. But some said feud between Taliban groups mean people can pay more than once.
UNKNOWN (through translator): Many people have been taken to the Taliban room, locked up for a night or two or have been beaten up. There are different groups of Taliban. It would be better to have a single authorized official getting tax, but every group tries to take tax for their own pockets. That's one problem for people now.
WALSH: Life then goes on much as it did before the Taliban were remove from power after 9/11, it's just a lot of Americans and Afghans loss in the battle in between.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALSH (on camera): So, what about the key question? Is Al Qaeda defeated? The reason why America came here in the first place after 9/11. Well, a treasury report from January the 4th says they are growing in strength here under cooperation with the Taliban. So, in the details of what we hear from President Biden, though, utterly key for Americans whose lives who are altered irrevocably from serving here and for Afghans whose lives will be irrevocably altered by the U.S. swift departure and likely the increase in violence, sadly, that may come after. Rosemary?
CHURCH (on camera): All right. Nick Paton Walsh, many thanks, bringing us that report and joining us live from Kabul.
The U.S. and France are responding with alarm to Iran's announcement that it's ramping up uranium enrichment. Iran says it will increase enrichment to 60 percent, edging closer to the 90 percent level that's needed for nuclear weapons. The U.S. called it a provocative announcement while France said it was a grave development.
The move comes after a weekend attack on the Natanz nuclear site. Iran blames Israel. Israel has had no official comment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I assure you that Natanz will definitely in the near future it will progress with more advanced centrifuges. And if Israel thinks they can prevent Iran and the Iranian people from pursuing the lifting of the sanctions, they've played a very bad gambled.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH (on camera): Indirect talks to try to salvage the Iran nuclear deal are set to resume Thursday in Vienna.
India is reporting a staggering new record in daily coronavirus cases. The health ministry has just announced that almost 185,000 people tested positive in the past day. Now this comes as crowds of Hindu faithful, many not wearing masks, take part in the world's largest religious pilgrimage.
Millions of people are estimated to visit the River Ganges, drawing the Hindu festival. The country's wealthiest state is about to enter a near lockdown for two weeks. Tough new restrictions go into effect at 8 p.m. local time in Maharashtra state, and that includes the city of Mumbai.
Well, U.S. health authorities are calling for the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine to be put on hold while they look into rare and severe blood clots. CDC advisers will hold an emergency review in the coming hours. Six cases of blood clots were reported among American women ages 18 to 48. That's out of roughly seven million doses administered in the U.S.
Dr. Anthony Fauci addressed whether people who have already gotten a single dose shot should be concerned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Someone who maybe had a month or two ago would say what does this mean for me. It really doesn't mean anything. You are OK, because if you look at the frame, the time frame when this occurs, it's pretty tight, from a few days, six to 13 days from the time of the vaccination.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH (on camera): Johnson and Johnson released a statement saying they have been reviewing the rare blood clot cases with European authorities. And quote, "we have made the decision to proactively delay the rollout of our vaccine in Europe."
South Africa is also suspending its rollout of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
CNN's David McKenzie is live this hour in Johannesburg. He joins us now. So, David, South Africa is suspending the rollout of this vaccine due to these concerns over rare blood clots. But for how long do you think they'll suspend this and what impact could it have on the country's vaccination efforts?
DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the answer to your first question, Rosemary, is just it could be just a couple of days. That's at least the hope of the health minister and other authorities here in South Africa. And it must be stress, these are very rare events reported in the U.S., some six or seven cases amongst many millions of people receiving that Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Here in South Africa some 290,000 healthcare workers have received the vaccine as part of a large-scale trial. We were there on day one as they began giving shots to people. Not a single case of that rare blood clot has really surfaced at this point. But out of an abundance of caution just hours after that FDA
announcement they have announced the pause of the vaccine rollout, a vaccine rollout that hasn't really begun in earnest here in South Africa. And it is a complication for South Africa, Rosemary, because the country had already sold off its Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines because that vaccine was seen to be ineffective against mild and moderate versions of the disease in a strain that dominates here in South Africa.
So, they really have been banking on Johnson & Johnson and the Pfizer vaccine to sort out the vaccination rollout. But as I mentioned, they haven't yet started that rollout in earnest. Some 30 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be arriving in stages, some of them a substantial number of them manufactured here in South African.
But there is definitely optimism that this is just a temporary pause. The worry is there was already some hesitancy amongst healthcare workers to receive the vaccine as part of this trial. This will only add to the worries of some about this vaccine and others. So that will be a major goal of the South African government and others to really push the vaccines as this country which is been hit worse than potentially any country on the continent rolls out those vaccine in the coming weeks. Rosemary?
CHURCH: All right. Many thanks to David McKenzie joining us live from Johannesburg.
Mexico says it's working on its own COVID vaccine and it's called Patria. The vaccine is still in the early stages. It passed preclinical studies in animals and will enter human trials sometime in the next few weeks. So far, Mexico has administered about 12 million vaccine doses using six different vaccines made in the U.S., Europe, China, and Russia.
Mexico has the third highest number of coronavirus deaths worldwide, more than 210,000.
You are watching CNN Newsroom. Still to come, as ICU beds fill up in France, the country is halting flights from Brazil. We'll explain why in a live report from Paris.
Plus, Egypt sends a $900-million-dollar bill to the owners of that giant container ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal. How the company's insurer is responding.
CHURCH (on camera): Police confronted demonstrators on the third night of protests over the fatal police shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Minnesota. The daytime protests were peaceful, but as night fell, emotions ran high. Water bottles and fireworks were thrown by protesters, while police used flash bangs to try to disperse the crowd. Police have declared the protests unlawful assembly and have arrested some for defying a curfew. On Tuesday, the police chief as well as the officer who shot and
killed Wright submitted their resignations. One official says they could have a charging decision on Wednesday. The Wright family is demanding justice for their son.
Well, Germany's government has been given more power to fix it patchwork response to the coronavirus. The country reported more than 21,000 new infections on Wednesday, while intensive care units are at peak capacity amid threats of a third wave.
On Tuesday, cabinet members signed a measure to let the government impose national lockdowns and curfews if case levels rise above a certain rate. German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it's a chance for the country to make progress against the virus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): We need to break the third wave of the pandemic and stop the rise in infections. People understand regional differences very well, but they expect visibility and clarity. I am therefore convinced that this is literally necessary to take a new path. And that is exactly what will happen with the legislative process launch today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH (on camera): Well now it's up to the parliament to approve the changes for them to take place.
All right. Well, meantime, France has suspended all flights from Brazil until further notice due to the threat of the Brazilian variant. France's health ministry says nearly 6,000 people are in intensive care for COVID-19, the highest number of ICU patients since April of last year.
And CNN's Jim Bittermann joins me now from Paris with more. So, Jim, talk to us about the latest on ICUs filling up and of course, too, France is suspending all flights from Brazil.
JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, on the Brazil front, I think I have to say it seems to me to be largely symbolic in the sense that people are coming from Brazil already had to confine themselves, had to already quarantine themselves when they arrive in France.
So, they'll have to continue to do that and they may find other ways other than direct flights to come here. So, it is largely symbolic but it's a way of saying that, you know, the Brazilians have to do more to take care of their problems at home. It's kind of sending a covert message there.
As far as the ICU beds filling up, they are right now at a 117 percent occupancy with COVID patients which means that they've gone over the top with the number of beds they had at the beginning of the pandemic last year, 5,000 beds back then. They are now -- very coming very close to 6,000 bed occupied by COVID patients.
And the government is worried about that, no question about it, but at the same time, it's trying to reassure the public, I think. They've let it be known over at the Elysee Palace, the presidential palace that the President Macron will be meeting with some of his advisers perhaps as early as tomorrow to talk about ways to reopen France after all the confinements that have gone on.
It seems a little premature given the way the numbers are running there, 37,000 on average new cases every single day coming out. So, it's perhaps a way of giving people little hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
And the other thing in that regard is that the finance minister today said that basically the aids that have been put into place to help people and businesses during the COVID crisis they are going to continue until the end of the crisis, wherever that may be. Rosemary?
CHURCH: All right. Many thanks to our Jim Bittermann joining us live from Paris.
Egypt has seized the Ever Given, the giant container ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal for six days last month. A court has ordered the ship's owners to pay $900 million in compensation, including the cost of the rescue operation.
More than 400 vessels were blocked from passing through the canal while the Ever Given was stuck.
So, let's bring in CNN's John Defterios, he joins us live from Abu Dhabi. Good to see you, John.
So, almost a billion dollars in compensation? I mean, that seems excessive. How did they come with that number? And are they likely to get anywhere near it?
JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN BUSINESS EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Well, they seem determined to have that number in their mind. Clearly, Rosemary, because once the vessel was free and they wanted to board the ship they said they to get compensated for a billion dollars. They now have a firm number of 916 million.
Broken down into $300 million for reputational damage to the canal itself. Another $300 million for the 24-hour day dredging and the extra tug boats they had to bring in from Italy and Cyprus as well. They had a dozen overall to dislodge the Ever Given as you are suggesting right now.
Now the U.K. Club, which is a consortium of insurers, Shoei Kisen Kaisha which is the ship owner out of Japan had put forward an offer. If you want to get the sequencing, they put that offer, the SCA, the Suez Canal Authority didn't think it was enough. They have now parked the vessel and said it's under arrest along with the crew members on board.
And we have to keep in mind as well that the vessel has $3.5 billion worth of cargo sitting on top as well, with 18,300 containers. So, I think the Egyptians have push the envelope here. They have to be careful of the reputational damage to their own operations if they get too aggressive and don't let the vessel sail, even if they complete the investigation but don't have a sum that they agree upon.
CHURCH: Yes. I mean, there are some suggesting Egyptian authorities are overreaching here by not letting the vessel sail until a claim is settled. What's being said about that?
DEFTERIOS: Well, you know, it's interesting because the Egyptians see it very differently than the international trading community. They feel because they were able to dislodge the vessel within six days and put in that extra effort, the extra spending, that they protected this 30 percent of seaboard traffic that goes through the artery they should be compensated at this level.
The other side of the community is suggesting it's very unusual. I've spoken to some attorneys involved in this and also some shipping executives, not to let the vessel sail. So you say you're going to complete the investigation by the end of the week, what do you find form it? Do you take any responsibility for that vessel going into that very tight southern portion of the canal itself? What happened to the pilots? What recommendations did they give to the captain? Did the captain take the recommendations?
These are all the questions and then in the shipping community, if you have a dispute you can get a guarantee from the insurers and the ship owner and let that cargo get freed and that's not happened just yet. So, this is a very critical moment at the end of this week that we have to watch out for, Rosemary.
CHURCH: Yes. We'll have to watch to see what happens there. CNN's John Defterios joining us live from Abu Dhabi, many thanks.
Time for a short break now. When we come, back to Biden wants a summit meeting with Vladimir Putin. Find out what's topping their agenda.
And later, a new report is warning of a long-term effect of the coronavirus pandemic. The assessment from the U.S. intelligence community. Still to come. Stay with us.
CHURCH (on camera): Alexei Navalny's wife says he has lost more weight and has a hard time speaking. She visited the Kremlin critic in a Russian prison camp on Tuesday then posted about it on Instagram. Navalny announced he was going on a hunger strike on March 31st to protest what he calls a lack of medical care. His wife says she is concerned about his health but he is not giving up.
Navalny was allegedly poisoned by Russian operatives in August last year.
The White House says Joe Biden wants to meet with Vladimir Putin. The U.S. president called his Russian counterpart on Tuesday and proposed a face-to-face summit in a third country in the next few months. The White House says they talked about Russia's recent military buildup on the border with Ukraine.
And Mr. Biden made it clear the U.S. will defend its national interests and response to Russian hacking and election interference.
CNN's international diplomatic editor Nic -- Nic Robertson is live in London, he joins us now. So, Nic, the U.S. and NATO have vowed support for Ukraine, calling on Russia to withdraw troops. And now, President Biden wants a summit with President Putin. Where is all of this going?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, I think you moved from a situation where you have a buildup of troops to a meeting that will potentially discuss more about that buildup of troops. I think perhaps one of the questions many analysts would be asking at the moment is, does the Russian buildup of troops there on the border with Ukraine all the way through to when, whenever it is in the coming months as we're told President Putin and President Biden will have a meeting in a third country.
At the moment, the pushback from NATO has been very strong. The pushback from U.S. officials about this buildup has been very strong. The Russians have been saying that they are working on their own territory. That it's their right, if you will, to have training exercises along the border with Ukraine.
This is something that they've done in years gone by. That position has been one that questions what the United States is doing with its navy in the Black Sea, what the United States is doing to give support to Ukraine.
So, the Russian possession essentially were in our territory doing what we have every right to do. But as Jens Stoltenberg NATO has very clearly said this explanation does not cut with western leaders.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JENS STOLTENBERG, SECRETARY GENERAL OF NATO: Russia's so considerable military buildup is unjustified, unexplained, and deeply concerning. Russia must end this military buildup in and around Ukraine. Stop its provocations and de-escalate immediately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTSON (on camera): So that deescalate conversation face to face between President Biden and President Putin could do that. You know, that we are sort of moving from a situation where there are a very clear and contrasting positions between the Kremlin, NATO, and also the Kremlin and Russia -- the Kremlin and Washington, to position where potentially you can come to a greater understanding.
And I think this is the position that we've been hearing articulated from the White House, saying that they want consistency in their relationship with Russia. That they expect. And we heard this from Jen Psaki, the White House spokesperson, just yesterday saying that they expect difficult conversations with Moscow, but they want to be open and candid in areas where they have differences and work together in areas where they have mutual interest.
For example, the weapons treaty that they found agreement -- both Biden and Putin find agreement on earlier this year. So, there are areas that can be particularly in arms control of mutual interest to both leaders. But this tension along the border with Ukraine, certainly for the moment, is still something that's very tense and the two sides don't have agreement on.
But the very fact that this phone call has now happened and there is talk of a summit, I think gives an indication, an early indication, that the direction of travel here could be de-escalation of that tension. Unclear precisely how that would happen.
ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Alright. Many thanks to our Nic Robertson joining us live from London.
Well, China says its latest military show of force around Taiwan is meant to signal it won't tolerate moves towards Taiwan's independence and doesn't like U.S. Taiwan alliances. It comes as U.S. President Joe Biden sends an official delegation to Taiwan.
CNN's David Culver has details on the complex and potentially dangerous situation.
DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): China is flexing its military might, releasing through state media a flooded dramatic video clips like these. They show Chinese naval exercises that U.S. officials say are aimed to intimidate the people of Taiwan.
ANTHONY BLINKEN, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: And what is a real concern to us is increasingly aggressive actions by the government in Beijing directed at Taiwan.
CULVER: Under the one China policy the people's republic of China and its ruling communist party, consider Taiwan to be part of its sovereign territory. President Xi Jinping has vowed to never allow the self govern democracy to become formally independent, and he will not rule out the use of force if necessary to take the island back.
CAPT. CARL SCHUSTER, U.S. NAVY RET.: He's also signaling to United States we can prevent you from helping Taiwan.
CULVER: In recent months, the Peoples Liberation's army-navy showcasing its capabilities just off Taiwan's eastern coast. Military experts say, that is a pointed effort to demonstrate that China can cut the island off from U.S. military support.
From above, near daily occurrences of multiple PLA aircraft entering Taiwan's air defense zone from the west, a coordinated move that is alarming to some experts. It has sparked strong words from Taiwan's foreign minister.
JOSEPH WU, FOREIGN MINISTER OF TAIWAN: We are willing to defend ourselves and is without any question. And we will fight the war if we need to fight a war.
CULVER: Taiwan's military is no comparison to China's. Where the PLA boast more than 1 million soldiers, Taiwan only has 140,000 troops. China has got roughly 100 intercontinental ballistic missiles and more than 200 nuclear warheads. Taiwan has neither. That is why the island is so heavily reliant on allies, most especially the U.S.
BLINKEN: And, we have a commitment to Taiwan under the Taiwan relations act to make sure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself.
CULVER: But Biden administration officials stopped short of guaranteeing U.S. military intervention should Beijing make a move on Taiwan. Instead, the U.S. has been using it specific fleet to showcase its own strength. This photo from last week showing a navy guided missile destroyer's commanding officers sitting feet propped up, as one of China's two aircraft carriers sail by.
And while the PLA has focused its exercises to Taiwan's east, the USS John McCain cruised to the west of the island last week. The guided missile destroyer, passing through the Taiwan Strait, right between the mainland and Taiwan. In response, Chinese officials said the U.S. was stirring up trouble. U.S. military leaders believe a Chinese attack on Taiwan could be just years away.
PHILIP DAVIDSON, COMMANDER, U.S. INDO-PACIFIC COMMAND: I think the threat is manifest during this decade, in fact the next six years.
JOHN AQUILINO, COMMANDER, U.S. PACIFIC FLEET: My opinion is this problem is much closer to us than most think.
CULVER: The Biden administration facing mounting pressure on the matter, as tensions at sea rise. But some analysts believe, much of what we're seeing is unnecessary hype.
BONNIE GLASER, SENIOR ADVISER FOR ASIA, CSIS: The near term goal is to deter independence, and China has largely achieve that goal. And I don't believe that the Chinese are likely to use force within the next few years. I think they do not want to pay the price.
CULVER: Whatever the intention, former navy captain and U.S. Intelligence officer Carl Schuster says, China's messaging is clearly directed to a specific audience.
CARL SCHUSTER, FORMER NAVY CAPTAIN AND U.S. INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: They want the American people, and the American government to see the cost of helping Taiwan as exceeding the benefits.
CULVER: You well know, Captain, you're going to have Americans who will look at this and they'll say why should Americans be involved in anything over there? Why should they care what's happening with Taiwan? To that you would say?
SCHUSTER: If we won't defend a 70-year partner from a violent aggression, then other countries will look at it and believe we either are not capable or not willing to sacrifice anything for them.
CULVER: David Culver, CNN, Shanghai.
CHURCH (on camera): Warnings about China and Russia are part of the annual threat assessment from the U.S. Intelligence Community. And this year, it's also offering a dire picture of the devastating long term impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
CNN's Alex Marquardt takes a closer look.
ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is an annual report from the intelligence community except we didn't see it last year under President Donald Trump. And this report says what the intelligent community assesses as the biggest threats to the United States in the coming year. It talks about China becoming a near pear rival of the United States, Russia and what it's doing to undermine U.S., influenced. North Korea, Iran, all of this against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.
And that's where we see some of the most traumatic and distressing language and predictions in this report. The intelligence community writes the economic and political implications of the pandemic will ripple through the world for years. The pandemic is raising geopolitical tensions and great powers are jockeying for advantage and for influence.
Russia and China says are trying to take advantage through so-called vaccine diplomacy, gaining influence around the world through the distribution of their vaccines. The report goes on to list other dire ways that the pandemic will hurt countries, particularly lower income countries, writing, some hard hit developing countries are experiencing financial and humanitarian crises, increasing the risk of surges and migration, collapse governments or internal conflict.
The pandemic has driven food insecurity worldwide to its highest point in more than a decade. They will increase the likelihood of an additional health emergency, especially among vulnerable populations in low income countries.
This report traditionally comes out before the heads of the intelligence agencies testifying in front of Congress. But the last time we saw those officials testified together was in 2019. Then under President Donald Trump they contradicted what he had said about Iran and North Korea and he was furious about it. He told them in fact on Twitter to go back to school.
So, last year, 2020, an election year, a very contentious year, the intelligence agencies didn't want to anger the president again. Essentially they didn't want to put themselves out in public to become a target again for the president. So, they pushed back on that hearing.
The Director of National Intelligence at the time offered to do it behind closed doors. That was rejected by the Senate. And frankly, last year, the American people missed out on an important hearing. Americans and people around the world need to hear what this intelligence officials have to say. For example, in 2019, the report and the hearing predicted that the U.S. was vulnerable to a flu pandemic that would be very deadly. Of course, that turned out to be true.
CHURCH (on camera): Let's talk now with CNN's national security analyst Juliette Kayyem, she is also a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. Always good to talk with you.
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST (on camera): Thank you for having me.
CHURCH: So, the annual threat assessment report from U.S. Intelligence indicates China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea all pose serious threats to the U.S. But China is at the top of that list referred to as a near tier competitor challenging the U.S. in multiple arenas. Russia seems a dangerous while both nations are trying to exert more global influence in the midst of this pandemic. So how concerned should we be?
KAYYEM: Very concerned. Because the interesting aspect to this intelligence assessment besides the fact that it was released this year, because you have to remember that at the end of the Trump administration, the intelligence communities did not want to get it out and be criticized by the president. What the intelligence report does is it gives a COVID overlay to our traditional state enemies, China and Russia, in particular. And basically asks, what is the long term National Security impact of COVID itself?
Other countries are going to have impacts in China and Russia. And it's basically saying Russia is going to take advantage of the unrest, of the disruption in so many societies. But China more interestingly is using what we call vaccine diplomacy. Despite the fact that the virus started in China, its capacity right now, China's capacity, to essentially try to utilize vaccine distribution as a way of currying favor may mean that some countries turned away from us. So you have traditional issues, military, trade, economic, diplomatic, and now you have the legacy, if we get there of COVID.
CHURCH: Yes. I wanted to talk about that vaccine diplomacy. Because with China, of course, we've just found out that its vaccine isn't actually -- doesn't have the efficacy that we thought it did. It's around 50 percent. So, that's one problem for China when it comes to exerting that sort of influence globally. But with Russia, with their Sputnik V, we know that some of the
European countries are reaching out to Russia for supplies. Is this a red flag for the United States to get involved and start supplying some of these countries? Because we are seeing Russia exert itself in this department. Aren't we??
KAYYEM: Absolutely. Because speed is now of the essence. And the United States, despite the news about Johnson & Johnson here today, the suspension of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may be just a few days. We are going to be vaccine saturated relatively soon, there is no country that is done.
Their vaccination program beginning with rough starts but with such efficiencies as asked. We will hit in the United States some vaccine hesitancy towards the end of this. So that means of those extra vaccines, where do we want to distribute them? And do we want to distribute them in a way that is diplomatically and security prioritized? So there will be humanitarian efforts in areas like Africa, Brazil and South America that just desperately need them. They just don't have the capacity and then other countries like in Europe that want to buy.
So, this is the race right now and it's a race for speed because every country wants to get back up to normal. I'll just say one quick thing on this, the United States, the impact of COVID on the United States as well, is reflected in the intelligence report. In other words, the fact we could not address COVID and the over 500,000 that we have dead getting close to 600,000 is viewed by the outside world as shocking, embarrassing, showing that we are not resilient, showing that we are not strong.
China and Russia have also taken advantage of that. And so in many ways our response as well has denigrated, you know, our sense of -- sort of American exceptionalism to the outside world.
CHURCH: Understood. And maybe the ability to rollout the vaccine may change that perception of course. But I do want to just go back to that intelligence report where it issues an unequivocal warning about Russian activities, saying it presents one of the most serious intelligence threats to the U.S., as does China.
And we are also seeing more Russian posturing at its border with Ukraine and China trying to intimidate Taiwan, getting quite aggressive in doing that. Both situation are a concern, of course. But if a China attacks Taiwan, how likely is it that the U.S. would be drawn into that conflict? And if it were, what would be the ramifications be?
KAYYEM: Right. So, I think it's very unlikely that we would be drawn into any military confrontation with China. China likely know that, but the long term implications for -- whether it is trade or economic sanctions, or trying to get other allies to assert pressure on China is really the best hand that the United States has right now that is not a military engagement that this administration or any administration would want to get into at this stage.
So, one hopes that China is simply asserting its power, rather than going to essentially activate it. But that is -- when I look out in the world right now, that is one of the most worrisome and unexpected or unanticipated behaviors by China and its motivations may simply be to sort of strut its power to a new administration here in the United States.
CHURCH: Alright. We will be watching this very carefully. Of course, Juliette Kayyem, many thanks. Always great to get your analysis.
KAYYEM: Thank you so much.
CHURCH: And just ahead here on CNN Newsroom, bitcoin soars to a new high but those who mine the cryptocurrency are paying a pretty penny in power bills. We will explain.
CHURCH: U.S. Climate envoy John Kerry is headed to China and South Korea to discuss the Biden administration's global climate ambitions. Kerry's trip makes him the first Biden administration official to visit China and comes amid high diplomatic tensions between both countries. Sources say Kerry will discuss a potential joint U.S.-China effort to battle climate change. Currently China is the number one carbon emitter globally.
Well, researchers say tiny bits of plastic are being picked up by winds and carried across seas and continents. Up to 18 percent of plastic waste ends up in the environment because it's not easily biodegradable. Plastic just breaks down to smaller and smaller particles. A new study has found these particles swept up into the atmosphere and carried for as long as six days.
So, let's turn to our meteorologist Pedram Javaheri, he joined us now with more on this. What were you learning about the consequences of these tiny little pieces of plastic blowing across sea and continents?
PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is not looking good, Rosemary, that is to say the least here when it comes to this particular study from Cornell University in Utah state, kind of putting it all together. And fascinating and sobering finding, as we often see with these studies. But this particular one, a very unique one, because looking at plastics, and of course you are talking about micro plastics or any sort of a complex polymers, whether it be styrofoams, polyethylene, say your shampoo bottle, your water bottles or even your toothbrushes that you dispose in the 80s and 90s.
Those are what is beginning to break down and breaking down to a small enough size to get up into the upper atmosphere. Rosemary, (inaudible) they are being transported and deposited across continents and oceans. So, you talk about how small these can get. And depending on how much sunlight they are exposed to. They can get awfully small. Down to .001 microns in diameter or get this, about 50,000 times smaller than the average diameter of a human hair.
So, we are talking microscopic here. The studies finding quite a bit of this and quite a bit of evidence to support that this is being deposited in vast amounts and large amounts across a large area of the world. And of course, when you get rid of a water bottle it typically ends up in a recycling center or in a landfill or it's incinerated. But about one-fifth of it or roughly 20 percent of it is deposited and eventually broken down and deposited into the air or into our seas.
And of course, you kind of look at the patterns into the oceans. The wave action can knock this large plastic particles together, break them down and make them small enough. And then, in major environment -- major cities I should say. The urban environment, cars are the most responsible. Their tires, there are plastic components. The roads, all of this breaks down and is eventually lofted into the atmosphere.
Rosemary, look at this, across the United States the study found at least 22,000 tons per year or about the weight of 16,000 cars are deposited in micro plastics. So still looking in this and finding exactly what it means for our health, but it isn't looking good and it's a lot of plastic as well.
CHURCH (on camera): Yes. That's a big concern. Hopefully we can come up with some innovative way to deal with that. Pedram, many thanks. I appreciate it.
Well, Bitcoin has surged to a new record high. Just as the cryptocurrency exchange coin base makes it debut on the NASDAQ. The digital currency craze is making some people very rich, but it takes a lot of energy to power the process.
CNNs Clare Sebastian has our report.
UNKNOWN: People are getting rich mining cryptocurrency.
CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Drew Vosk is so passionate about bitcoin, he's an (inaudible) to his house.
DREW VOSK, CRYPTOCURRENCY MINER: This white crypto miner in (inaudible). I never escape.
SEBASTIAN: YouTuber and full-time crypto miner has spent the past few years filling his Virginia home with these mining computers custom designed to both unearth new bitcoin by performing endless mathematical calculations, and to support the network by approving transactions.
VOSK: I exhausted my electric setup in my garage mining farm. My friends and my neighbor next door, I'm like hey, man I'm going to add some electricity to you basement.
SEBASTIAN: Once you pay off your equipment, electricity is the biggest cost. His monthly bill is about $1,000. Right now, with bitcoin's price up 700 percent in the year, he says it's worth it. VOSK: I'm making about $200 a day, mining cryptocurrency. And it's
worth hardware that was previously maybe making say like $50 - $60 a day.
SEBASTIAN: Bitcoin has always been energy intensive. You can see the power of the miners at this Russian Bitcoin farm I visited in late 2017.
Very windy in here. Very windy.
As the price of Bitcoin has risen exponentially since then, and it has become more and more profitable to mine. And that means more energy consumption. Digiconomist, a website that tracks Bitcoin's energy usage estimates it now uses more than Belgium in a year.
ALEX DE VRIES, FOUNDER, DIGICONOMIST: You have a network that is already consuming half of the percent of (inaudible) assumption we can expect the number to double while it's still not capable of serving even the tiniest bit of the world's population. It can only do five transactions per second.
SEBASTIAN: Visas payment network (inaudible), can handle more than 65,000 transactions per second.
The discrepancy noted by the treasury secretary Janet Yellen at a recent New York Times event.
JANET YELLEN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: It is an extremely inefficient way of conducting transactions. And the amount of energy that's consumed in processing those transactions is staggering.
SEBASTIAN: Research shows that most of that energy is fossil fuels, according to the Cambridge Center for Alternative Finance. This month 65 percent of Bitcoin mining is happening in China, dominated by coal. And yet as mining companies searched the globe for the cheapest power, some are hitting on renewable sources, like the Canadian province of Quebec, almost entirely powered by a hydroelectric dams.
JONATHAN COTE, SPOKESMAN, HYDRO QUEBEC: There was this kind of a gold rush we had in 2018. About 300 companies that phoned us or wrote to us wanting to get power.
SEBASTIAN: In response, the region's government put a moratorium on new crypto mining projects and introduced a selection process. In Virginia, Drew Vosk is also looking to renewables. His goal is to eventually run his entire mining operation using his own solar panels.
VOSK: If you slap solar panels on your roof, you can mine for free.
SEBASTIAN: De centralized energy for de centralized money. A sustainable solution to Bitcoin's growing energy problem.
Clare Sebastian, CNN, New York.
CHURCH (on camera): And we will be back with more news in just a moment.
CHURCH (on camera): Just 100 days now until the Tokyo Olympics that were delayed a year by the pandemic, but with daily infections on the rise, some areas are again tightening their COVID restrictions and making matters worse. Officials say very few in Japan have been vaccinated.
CNN's Blake Essig reports from Tokyo.
BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): With each passing moment, the Olympic Games inch closer, already delayed a year because of the pandemic. For volunteer, Barbara Holthus, this is not the Olympic experience she signed up for.
BARBARA HOLTHUS, OLYMPICS VOLUNTEER: It was supposed to be this fun experience in your life, once in a lifetime experience, but now, it's just a really dangerous experience.
ESSIG: With 100 days to go, Tokyo and several other pre fixtures are again enforcing anti virus measures as Japan faces a potential fourth wave of infection.
HOLTHUS: We cannot even yet imagine how bad it could be.
ESSIG: Holthus, Deputy Director of the German Institute for Japanese studies at Sophia University co-edited a book on these games. She has serious concerns for her health and safety.
HOLTHUS: They give us masks and they give us the hand sanitizer, but we are told keep washing your hands, do social distancing, do measure your temperature. Do distance yourself from your family during the time you volunteer, but it is all on us.
ESSIG: That's OK with Philbert Ono. He is eager to help athletes inside the Olympic Village. He says he hasn't been told much beyond that.
PHILBERT ONO, OLYMPICS VOLUNTEER: It's because the organizers doesn't know, you know, what the conditions will be three months from now. They cannot predict the future.
ESSIG: This is the Olympic Village where tens of thousands of athletes, trainers, and officials will be staying during the games. While their movement will be tracked, volunteers working here will be able to go in and out daily. Medical experts say it is a recipe for disaster.
Dr. Hideaki Oka, an infectious disease expert says a safety measures stand now, there's a high chance Tokyo 2020 turns into an Olympic- sized superspreader event. HIDEAKI OKA, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EXPERT (through translator): There is
enough of a possibility due to the mutated virus, those variants will have similar points. But also making new mutations in South Africa, United States, Brazil, Japan, and various other places, all of them will get together in Japan and then there is the concern of a new virus that will spread all over the world.
ESSIG: With participants coming from roughly 200 countries, Oka says changes need to be made now. Movements must be restricted, testing improve and vaccines mandatory. To date, Olympic organizers have delayed the games one year, barred spectators from overseas, and created a COVID-19 safety playbooks. But for now, vaccines are not required for participants. And with less than 1 percent of Japan's population fully vaccinated, it would appear unlikely participants and volunteers will be vaccinated by the start of the games.
OKA: As an infectious disease specialist, I cannot approve holding the games in a situation where not enough vaccinations have been made and enough countermeasures put in place.
ESSIG: Olympic organizers say they are updating their COVID-19 playbooks later this month. While they say they hope the vaccines will soon be available at home and abroad, they are preparing to hold a safe and secure games with or without vaccines. Blake Essig, CNN, Tokyo.
CHURCH (on camera): And you are watching CNN Newsroom. I'm Rosemary Church. I'll be back with more news in just a moment. Do stay with us.