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Polls Open in Iran's Presidential Election; Taiwan is Ramping Up Vaccines Amid COVID Surge; Lebanon Faces Fuel Crisis; Kim Jong-un Admits North Korea Faces Food Shortages; China Ramps Up Pressure on Taiwan; China Ramps Up Pressure On Taiwan; More Olympic Safety Decisions; Sponsors Pushing Back Against Athletes' Snubs; Supreme Court Rejects Conservative Challenge To Obamacare, Upholds Law For The Third Time; A Small Georgia Town Known As The Birthplace Of The KKK Will Celebrate Juneteenth For The First Time This Year. Aired 2-2:45a ET

Aired June 18, 2021 - 02:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[02:00:00]

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Polls are open in Iran's presidential election, but even with the future of Iran nuclear deal on the table, turnout is expected to be low. We're live. We'll tell you why.

Also, Taiwan is now battling its worst outbreak of coronavirus, yet a CNN exclusive report on how the country is working to overcome its low vaccination rate.

And after a warning from the U.N. that North Korea might face a food shortage, a surprising admission from Kim Jong-un.

Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes. Appreciate your company. This is "CNN Newsroom."

Voters in Iran are choosing a new president at this hour in an election widely expected to move the Islamic republic hard to the right, but efforts to revive Iran's nuclear deal could be the ultimate winner.

Conservative Judge Ebrahim Raisi is a favorite to succeed the outgoing moderate, Hassan Rouhani. He supports re-joining the nuclear deal despite being hit with sanctions by the U.S. over his own human rights record. Raisi is a close ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and one of four candidates left in the race. The Shia cleric also has the backing of Iran's powerful revolutionary guard.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in the Iranian capital, Tehran, joining me now. So, Fred, tell us about the turnout first of all, and what is the level of enthusiasm for this election among Iranians?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Michael. Well, the turnout is one of those things. I think you are correctly saying that there are many who fear that the expected turnout would be pretty low this time around. Certainly, if you look at some of the statements that were made early this morning, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he was obviously the first to vote in this election, and he urged people to go to the polls saying that if the turnout was low, that it would weaken Iran, and he is obviously speaking first and foremost about the United States.

There are many who believe because the guardian council, the body that -- that's the candidates who ran in the election, disqualified so many people, leaving only seven candidates in the end. And then also, three of those candidates dropped out in favor of Ebrahim Raisi. Many fear that, you know, that would drop the enthusiasm level.

I think, so far, in the early stages of the voting that we've been seeing, you can see some of the folks who are lining up here to cast their ballots, it's been a little more than, I think, many people expected. This is the second polling station that we've been to. The first polling station that we went to also had a pretty decent line of people.

There is talk of some problems that have happened in the early hours, apparently extended waiting times and some issues also with the voting process. But by and large, it seems as though -- and it's much too early to tell whether or not that really is a trend, that it might be a little higher than people did expect or the authorities possibly did expect.

The people that we spoke equivocally have said that the economy obviously is the biggest issue to them. Of course, this country is still suffering from crippling sanctions of the Trump administration, trying to mitigate that obviously by trying to get the U.S. back into compliance with the Iran nuclear agreement. Of course, Iran, also back into full compliance with Iran nuclear deal. Michael?

HOLMES: Tell us more about him. He is a hardliner. What could we expect his position would be in terms of relations with the west?

PLEITGEN: Yeah, I think you're absolutely right. Of course, he is very much a hardliner. As you've noticed, he is the head of the Iranian judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi. He is known for someone who is big at dishing out very tough sentences, a lot of death sentences in the past couple of years here in Iran.

I think as far as the relation with the west is concerned, it's obviously not going to get easier for the west and its relations with Iran. There are, however, certain things where I would say there could be some continuity.

If you look, for instance, at the Iran nuclear agreement which, of course, by far the most important issue to the west right now or to the United States when dealing with Iran, Ebrahim Raisi says he is in favor of getting back into full compliance with the JCPOA and also, of course, the U.S. is coming back into the JCPOA.

The reason why he does that is because the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, says he supports those negotiations to get the nuclear agreement back on track. So that is certainly something that even with the new administration is going to continue to be followed.

[02:05:02]

PLEITGEN: Of course, the negotiations that are going on right now in Vienna, they are aimed at trying to get the JCPOA back into place, in its full capacity, before the new administration here in Iran takes office.

The other thing and this is very important to Iranians, of course, especially, is economic policies. While you had the Rouhani administration for a very long time, they were looking to internationalize, if you will, the economy. They were looking for outside investment into the economy.

Ebrahim Raisi is really someone who says he wants the economy here to be completely autonomous because Iranians fear that new sanctions could be levied against them in the future. They are saying, for instance, the U.S. is quite unpredictable in its relation with Iraq.

So you could see very different mode of operating when it comes to the economy here, but as far as the negotiations for the nuclear program or the nuclear deal are concerned, that seems to be on track. Michael?

HOLMES: Fred Pleitgen there on the spot for us in Tehran. Fred, appreciate it, thank you so much.

Now, Soraya Lennie is an award-winning Australian-Iranian journalist. She joins me now from Melbourne. Good to see you. You have said that Ebrahim Raisi would mean -- quote -- "hardline control of all branches of government leaving no political room for majority views." Explain what you mean by that.

SORAYA LENNIE, AUSTRALIAN-IRANIAN JOURNALIST: There are three main branches of the Islamic republic that are elected: the presidency, of course, the parliament, and the assembly of experts. We saw last year the guardian council called the reformists and the moderates from running in the parliament. Of course, therefore, you have a hardline parliament because they were the only ones who were allowed to run.

The same thing has happened in the presidency as well. Effectively, we are going to have a hardline president in that office. Now, that means that for the past 20 years, we've seen consistently Iranians voting for reform and moderation, and these are the politics and the views that the majority of Iranians hold.

If you exclude those views from those elected offices, well, where do they go? Effectively, it means that Iranians, the majority of Iranians, their views are no longer represented in elected offices in the country.

HOLMES: Assuming he does win, which he almost certainly will, what do you think his position will be regarding relations with the west, and also in terms of Iran's influence in the region from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon?

LENNIE: Foreign policy is not Raisi's strong suit. Of course, he's a prosecutor, a judiciary chief. So I think that what will happen is the status quo. Iran's regional policies, including vis-a-vis Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Lebanon, will stay the same. This will be just to maintain the status quo.

I think it very rarely will things change (ph), unless you have a very pragmatic president, of course, or somebody who is very diplomatically- driven like the Rouhani administration was.

HOLMES: So, how important is this election, not just in terms of international relations, but for Iranian citizens, if it is indeed a move towards conservatives? Iranians, by all accounts, seemed pretty disillusioned with it all.

LENNIE: I think you're quite right. Your correspondent picked up on that as well. I think the priority here is the economy. The economy has really overtaken reform, I think, as a main priority for Iranians in the past, 15 years. The economic malaise and sanctions and massive pressure from the United States really took hold.

We saw the reform, civil liberties, the push for release of political prisoners, really became casualties in this economic problem. So I think this is a priority right now, fixing the economy, reducing inflation, specifically, and of course, the unemployment rate.

HOLMES: Yeah. A lot of Iranians have a lot of hope in the JCPOA, the nuclear deal, which, of course, Donald Trump pulled out of. How might the election impact the future of the nuclear agreement, especially now that the Biden administration wants back in? But, you know, with hardliners running the show, how does that impact all of that?

LENNIE: What is happening now is that the JCPOA, when it was really sort of fragmented in terms of its support, it has really become state policy to comply with the JCPOA, to continue that agreement. So I think talks in Vienna will continue, as they were.

Of course, the Rouhani administration regardless of who wins in this election is still in power until the new president is sworn in in August. There's a small window here in which these talks in Vienna can continue. I think it's in everybody's interest, including the new president's interest, to get this deal inked while Rouhani is still in power.

HOLMES: Great analysis, as always. Soraya Lennie in Melbourne there, thank you so much, I appreciate it.

Well, the new Israeli government's harder line towards Hamas was again on display late Thursday with a military airstrike in Gaza, the second in three days.

[02:10:00]

HOLMES: Israel says it targeted Hamas military sites after incendiary balloons launched this week from Gaza set dozens of fires in Israel. No casualties reported from either the fires or the airstrikes. Now, the balloons are an old Hamas tactic, been around for a while, but one the new government, obviously, is not going to tolerate any longer. The former Israeli finance minister says Israel decided to change the rules after its last deadly conflict with Hamas in May. There are growing fears the provocations of airstrikes could fracture the ceasefire agreement reached just one month ago.

Taiwan is racing to catch up when it comes to COVID vaccinations. It says Beijing has gotten in the way. But the tables might turn as soon as next month. We will go live to Taipei to explain how.

Also, a new crisis in Lebanon is already reeling from multiple disasters. Why government officials say that the worst may yet be to come. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Welcome back. Starting today, every adult in England aged 18 and older is eligible to get vaccinated across the U.K. More than half of all adults are now fully vaccinated and about four in five have received at least one dose.

Yet, the U.K. is still seeing a rise in case numbers. More than 11,000 new infections reported Thursday, the most since February. That's due in part to the spread of the delta variant first identified in India, which is far more transmissible, according to the experts. A study shows young adults and children also are fueling what they call an exponential growth in COVID infections.

Meanwhile, Taiwan will start administering its next round of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines starting today. The island has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the world and accuses Beijing of slowing access to those shots. But a new vaccine developed in Taiwan could soon be a game-changer.

CNN's Will Ripley is in Taipei with an exclusive report for us. Will, Taiwan doesn't have a lot of options vaccine wise because getting enough foreign-made vaccines has proved to be a real struggle, hasn't it?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Michael. The leadership of this island, President Tsai Ing-wen, and her health minister are really counting on these locally-produced vaccines to be the solution in the short, medium, and long term to get this island vaccinated and up to that all elusive state of herd immunity because they are still on level three restrictions right now.

You look at the case numbers and how much they have just skyrocketed. Just over the last month, you've seen a six-fold increase in total cases, a 41-fold increase in total deaths. You have lives on the line.

[02:14:59]

RIPLEY (on camera): You have a vaccine manufacturer that's ready to ramp up production. But there is a big unanswered question, efficacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

RIPLEY: At Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corporation --

You must be so busy right now.

UNKNOWN: Yes.

RIPLEY: You can feel energy in the air. This company is the first in Taiwan to submit its COVID-19 vaccine to government health officials for emergency use authorization. Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen, hopes locally-made vaccines will be ready for the public by late next month.

Taiwan is battling its most severe outbreak of the pandemic. The government is struggling to get enough foreign vaccines in a region where China often calls the shots.

Tensions are high. Taipei accuses Beijing of blocking access to foreign vaccines, a claim China denies. That makes the work happening here crucial.

This is the room where they package and label box after box of these single dose syringes. Each box contains 100 of these. The company says they can scale up production and eventually produce 40 to 50 million doses a year.

CHARLES CHEN, CEO, MEDIGEN VACCINE BIOLOGICS: On one hand, I feel exciting that our vaccine is coming. But on the other hand, I also feel very sad. You know, one month earlier, maybe we are able to save more people's lives.

RIPLEY: This is Medigen CEO Charles Chen's first interview since his company applied for emergency use authorization.

What would you say to people here in Taiwan who might be reluctant to take a domestically-produced vaccine?

CHEN: Once the data and the result are transparent and convincing, I think people very much will be convinced.

RIPLEY: Chen says that data shows their vaccine is safe. It produces antibodies in 99.8 percent of patients. What they don't know is the efficacy rate. Taiwan had almost no active cases until just over a month ago.

How do you develop a vaccine when you don't have active cases?

PAUL TORKEHAGEN, OVERSEAS BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR: This is a difficult question.

RIPLEY: Overseas business development director Paul Torkehagen says Medigen just finished phase two clinical trials.

TORKEHAGEN: So what we did is we designed a really, really large phase two. Usually, a phase two is about a few hundred people. Our phase two is 3,800 participants. So we wanted a very large amount of safety data.

RIPLEY: Since you don't know efficacy, is it too soon to get emergency use and start vaccinating people?

TORKEHAGEN: What's the consequence of not vaccinating and being not protected?

RIPLEY: Will you be getting your vaccine, your company's vaccine --

CHEN: Yes.

RIPLEY: -- if that is available?

CHEN: Yes.

RIPLEY: No question?

CHEN: No question.

RIPLEY: But there are questions. How effective is Taiwan's vaccine? Here, it's a matter of life or death.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

RIPLEY (on camera): It is really an extraordinary position that Taiwanese vaccine developers were in. They worked more than 250 days and didn't have a single local case. It is an enviable position for any country in the world, but it made it much more difficult for them to figure out whether this vaccine actually works.

So, they are relying on a technique called immunobridging that the U.S. FDA has yet to decide whether they are buying into it. Other countries are very similar.

They don't know because immunobridging basically compares the amount of antibodies that the Taiwanese vaccine produced with another vaccine that's already been approved for emergency use authorization. They look at the efficacy rate of the vaccine and if the antibodies are about the same, then they assume the efficacy rate is similar for the Taiwanese vaccine.

But until these phase three trials currently underway are finished, Michael, they won't have the confirmed efficacy rate. So, do regulators here just decide to approve the vaccine using this new technique? Even though there are questions about whether it works or do they wait months and months, which means that more cases could spread, restrictions could continue which causes economic damage, because those foreign vaccines are just so slow to arrive.

HOLMES (on camera): Yeah, yeah, a real dilemma. Will, good to have you there on the spot there in Taiwan. Will Ripley, thanks.

After surviving wars, pandemic, and so many other disasters, Lebanon now faces another crisis. It's running out of gas, petrol, electricity as well. As Ben Wedeman reports, first, the famous Lebanese ability to get by is being tested more than ever.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As if Lebanon didn't have enough problems already, along comes another, a petrol shortage.

UNKNOWN: Suddenly the whole country is, you know, destroyed within a couple of months and it's just too much to bear.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Lebanon's currency has lost 90 percent of its value in less than two years. Inflation is soaring. A massive blast in the Beirut port killed more than 200 people last year.

[02:20:01]

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Coronavirus killed thousands more. And the country hasn't been able to form a proper government in almost a year. Taken all together, it's grim.

UNKNOWN: We're going to hell.

WEDEMAN (on camera): These long lines outside the gas stations are a manifestation of a much bigger problem of a government that's bankrupt, that's broke, that doesn't have enough hard currency to import fuel, to keep the lights on.

(Voice-over): Also in short supply, fuel to run the country's decrepit power plants. The normal lengthy power outages are getting even longer. The electric grid is antiquated. Those who can afford it depend on private generators to make up for the difference.

RAYMOND GHAJAR, LEBANESE ENERGY MINISTER: It's getting tougher.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Lebanon's caretaker energy minister, Raymond Ghajar, warns as bad as things are now, worst may be yet to come.

GHAJAR: The blackout will be a true blackout, not a public electricity blackout. It will be complete darkness. I think this is, you know, it is a calamity. It's not the scenario that's livable.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Iraq has reportedly promised to provide cut rate fuel, but it hasn't arrived yet. And meanwhile, Lebanon's squabbling politicians do nothing to fix the country's many problems.

UNKNOWN: We are just buying time. We are taking that (INAUDIBLE) without reforms, without a complete solution for the (INAUDIBLE).

WEDEMAN (voice-over): And Lebanon is running out of time, fuel, and it seems everything else.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Beirut.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

HOLMES (on camera): North Korea's leader is admitting that food shortages in his country are very real. The state news agency says Kim Jong-un called the food situation -- quote -- "tense." He spoke after the United Nations predicted that food shortages are coming later this year. Kim also taking stock of the Biden administration and its possible moves on North Korea, and his statement hints at how he might deal with the current White House.

Paula Hancocks is keeping an eye on all of this for us. She joins me now from Seoul. I guess, Paula, how unusual to have this sort of admission from Kim Jong-un? Do we know how bad it is?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the key question, Michael. At this point, we don't know exactly how bad it is, but we know that it must be pretty bad for the leader to have so publicly said that there was an issue, saying that the people's food situation is now getting tense, according to state-run media.

So it is not unprecedented that Kim Jong-un has admitted to some weakness within the country itself. But certainly, the level to which he is speaking about it and the way he's speaking about it shows that the situation is pretty dire.

Now, we know that the crops last year were impacted in some areas by typhoons, by flooding. We know that COVID-19 has meant that the borders have been shut tight from effectively January 2020, so no humanitarian aids coming in. There is no trade across the border with the main trading ally, China.

And so the gap in what North Korea can grow and what North Korea needs for its people to survive is always a fairly hefty gap, but that means that can't be plugged up by humanitarian aid or by China.

So this is something that the United Nations is very concerned about. There was a report just a couple of weeks ago that came out from the food and agricultural report, saying the food gap could be the equivalent of more than two months of food, saying there could be a harsh, lean period between August and October of this year.

There is no indication, Michael, at this point that North Korea is considering opening up the border. Recently, there were murmurs this could happen. It didn't happen. Even for humanitarian aid, which the U.N. special envoy for North Korean human rights has called on North Korea to open up the border to be allowed in, it still doesn't seem as though that is going to be possible.

So what we are hearing from the top really, Kim Jong-un, is that more needs to be done from within the country. But the fact is that there are some severe issues at stake. The border is shut. There are crops that have been destroyed. We know at this point that North Korea does not have enough in order to feed its population over the next year. So it will be a key to see whether or not they do open up the border in any shape or form.

Now, we also now hearing from Pyongyang residents that there have been rise in prices, not just from the imported goods, we know from last year, those have been off the shelves and very hard to come by, but even locally-produced goods now are doubling or tripling in price in some cases, making it extremely difficult for the regular residents to get by.

[02:25:03]

HANCOCKS: Michael?

HOLMES: All right. Paula Hancocks in Seoul, a comprehensive wrap up. Thanks, Paula.

Copies of Hong Kong's pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily is selling out fast one day after its chief executives and top editors were arrested. The front page quotes the paper CEO saying, we must fight on. Hong Kong officials say the executives and journalists they arrested were involved in what they call a conspiracy to compromise national security.

It's the latest escalation in Hong Kong's crackdown against pro- democracy activists and journalists. The paper's founder, Jimmy Lai, is serving a 14-month prison sentence for his involvement into protests in 2019.

A quick break. When we come back here on the program, tensions spike between China and Taiwan as Beijing flies military aircraft very close to the island. Why criticism from the G7 might be behind China's actions. Stay with us. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: And welcome back to our viewers all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes. You're watching "CNN Newsroom." You're very welcome.

It has been a geopolitical flashpoint for more than 70 years, and now, tensions between China and Taiwan might be reaching new and worrying heights.

On Tuesday, Beijing flew 28 military planes like these into Taiwan's air defense I.D. zone. Taiwan's ministry defense says that is the largest incursion since the island started reporting such events last year. The latest flights come just days after G7 leaders scolded China for a number of issues and emphasized the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

All right, let's bring in Drew Thompson now via Skype. He's a visiting senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore. Thank you so much for being with us.

So China is ramping up pressure on Taiwan. The live fire drills, we mentioned the military flights in the Taiwan Strait at record levels. Mainland rhetoric on Taiwan is getting tougher and tougher. Where do you see all of these indicators heading in terms of the risks that some see that China could retake Taiwan by force?

DREW THOMPSON, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE: Well, I think there's a key risk of that happening, but it's a relatively low one. It's important to remember that this, as you pointed out, this tension has been in place for more than 70 years.

[02:30:00] THOMPSON: And China has been ramping up and escalating its military coalition against Taiwan. And that's both the signal to Taiwan, what they call independence forces, as well as to the Unites States, and increasingly Japan, and now the G7 as well.

So what we have is, really, still a very static situation where deterrence is working, and China is deterred from using force, but they are not deterred from using pressure and coercion. So it's still a very risky situation. But it's unclear if China is actually going to resort to the use of force, or simply continue to use political pressure, gray zone tactics, and military shows, of course, such as we saw earlier this week.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: So, what if China, as some have suggested, one option would be implementing a blockade. I mean, what would that mean in terms of impacts, but also in terms of pressure on the West to protect Taiwan?

THOMPSON: Well, two things to remember. A blockade is a declaration of war under international law, under the rules of the law of war, that it would be an active declaration of war on China's part. So blockade goes far beyond what we're currently seeing in terms of gray zone pressure and coercion. So the U.S. would be pressured to respond very forcefully as with Japan, because a blockade on Taiwan would have very negative consequences for the global economy, for shipping in the Western Pacific. So be very detrimental.

I think the other thing to consider, and certainly Taiwanese Military planners consider a blockade to be the first step in a continuum of force to be used against China, it would ultimately against Taiwan - it would ultimately be ending in an invasion of Taiwan by China itself.

HOLMES: Right. It's interesting, because unlike predecessors, China's President Xi Jinping, he has made clear his ambition to resolve the Taiwan issue as opposed to continuing the status quo. I mean, he said the situation "cannot go on generation to generation, explain them why Taiwan is so important to the mainland, and why she would take that position".

THOMPSON: Well, Xi Jinping, of course, has put forward a series of ideas and concepts that essentially articulate his leadership and his governance. And one of those concepts is the China dream of national rejuvenation, which we presume, would also include the unification with Taiwan. So he is very much staked, his concepts of Xi Jinping and the China dream is reunifying with Taiwan. The problem is that's not happening peacefully. The people of Taiwan themselves are not motivated to join such a dramatically different political and social system as China. They're happy to do business, trade and invest with Taiwan - with China, but Taiwanese don't want to become part of China.

So this is not going to happen naturally or peacefully, and Xi Jinping is really the only leader so far that has had the military ability to use force. The PLA has grown so steadily in the last 20 years, averaging 10 percent growth, expanding its navy, expanding its air force. It now has the ability to protect power in a way that Xi Jinping could actually harness to achieve a policy objective, and none of the previous leaders in China have had that ability. So that's one of the reasons we're so concerned, it's not whether or not it may happen, it's that now it actually could.

HOLMES: Well put (ph). Real quick, we're almost out of time. We've got members of the U.S. Congress making moves to shore up U.S. support for Taiwan. But while the U.S. is Taiwan's biggest source of weaponry, and so on, it's almost an arm's length support, in many ways, deliberately ambiguous. Do you believe the U.S. or other nations would actually step into defend Taiwan militarily, if China moved to blockade or invade? Do you think they would make that move?

THOMPSON: So a decision to defend Taiwan, in the event of an outright attack, would really be a Presidential level decision, and it would be very much dependent on context. And there would be a number of factors that would go into that decision, including whether or not Taiwan somehow provoked it, by say declaring independence without coordination. Or perhaps it could be a calculation on the part of the U.S. that its credibility and the rest of its alliances depend on the defense of Taiwan.

And that all doesn't even consider the intrinsic value of Taiwan to the United States. It's the 10th or 11th largest trading partner of the United States. It's a major component of U.S. global supply chains. It's an exporter to the world of computer technology and integrated circuits. So, Taiwan is really a vital resource for the world. And the question is, how would their security, if the rest of the world and these other countries change, should China take over Taiwan, and I think it would change for the worse.

[02:35:00]

So these countries do have a vested interest in ensuring Taiwan is able to maintain its current status quo.

HOLMES: Very delicate times. Drew Thompson there in Singapore. Appreciate the analysis. Thanks so much.

THOMPSON: My pleasure.

HOLMES: Well, Japan says it is getting a handle on the coronavirus ahead of the Olympics. But now the challenge is figuring out how many spectators can safely be allowed in Olympic venues. We'll discuss that coming up.

Also sponsors pushing back after athletes remove their products from press conferences. We will tell you what European football's governing body has to say about it.

(COMMERCIAL BEAK)

HOLMES: Tokyo Olympic organizers are trying to decide how many people they should allow into the Olympic venues. Now on Wednesday, the committee's top medical adviser said there could be up to 10,000 spectators, but only in areas where there are no states of emergency. Now, those are set to expire in nine prefectures on Sunday, even though the government is trying to keep quasi-emergency measures in some areas for a bit longer.

And over the last couple of hours, discussions have been happening on the pros and cons of allowing spectators. Selina Wang is in Tokyo for us. Tell us more about this sort of quasi-state of emergency and what it means for the notion of spectators which is something most experts do not want to see.

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Michael, exactly. Japan's top COVID-19 adviser just said that it's "desirable to have no spectators at the Olympic Games". No surprise, but the experts said that this would be the lowest risk option. But Michael, the question is how is the Prime Minister, how were Olympic organizers going to respond to that advise? The government has said that in places where no emergency measures are in place, there could be up to 10,000 people at venues.

So on June 20, the state of emergency in Tokyo and other parts of the country, is going to expire. It will then shift into a quasi-state of emergency. None of these declarations are hard lockdowns. And under a quasi-state of emergency, measures will include asking restaurants to close early, but they can still now serve alcohol until 7 p.m.

Now the big issue for medical experts is that the Olympics could lead to a big rebound in COVID-19 cases, as people move around more. And to try and avoid that, Olympic organizers just announced today that they would ask spectators to go straight from their homes to the Olympic venues and back, to not stop at any restaurants, to eat alone if they can, to socially distance themselves, and advise against any drinking and partying in the streets. So, not going to be the usual festive vibe, even for the spectators that can go to the Olympic Games.

And the Prime Minister on television yesterday is urging the public to watch the games on TV, to avoid that rebound in COVID-19 cases.

[02:40:00]

But Michael, of course, we've been talking about this lackluster COVID-19 vaccine rollout here in Japan. We're just weeks away but still only about six percent of the Japanese population fully vaccinated. The Prime Minister has said they're going to speed that up to as many as 1 million doses a day. But even at that rate, you would still have less than a quarter of the population here fully vaccinated by the time the games begin.

HOLMES: All right, Selina Wang there in Tokyo with the very latest. Good to see you. Selina, thanks.

European football's governing body is reminding players to respect the corporate sponsors who help pay the bills for the sport. It comes after several big name players at the Euro 2020 tournament this week, removed bottled drinks provided by sponsors at news conferences. CNN's Clare Sebastian with more on what UEFA is telling the teams.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: European football's governing body, UEFA, has made it clear it has had enough of players removing the branded bottles of sponsors from the tables at press conferences. This all started, of course, with Cristiano Ronaldo, who with one skillful double-handed move, managed to not only snub a top sponsor, Coca Cola, but set off a trend. The next was Paul Pogba of France who removes a bottle of non-alcoholic Heineken from the table at his press conference. He is known, of course, to be teetotal. And that was followed up with making up the hat-trick by Manuel Locatelli of Italy, who also removed the Coca Cola bottles.

The UEFA put out a statement today saying the UEFA has reminded participating teams that partnerships are integral to the delivery of the tournament, and to ensuring the development of football across Europe, including for youth and women. Now teams do have a contractual obligation, of course, but marketing experts have said this has also been a wake-up call for sponsors in terms of how they do their marketing around events like this.

DAE HEE KWAK, DIR., CENTER OF SPORTS MARKETING RESEARCH, UNIV. OF MICHIGAN: Going forward, when the product - the sponsor product itself doesn't really fit with the tournament or athletes don't really endorse those products, then you probably want to use alternative approach to leverage those sponsorship opportunities by telling more authentic stories why you are supporting this event, why you are behind this tournament, how exciting you are so that you can tap into the fan passion, not like in your face approach, though here is a coke bottle.

SEBASTIAN: Coca Cola hasn't commented on this. They referred us to a statement from UEFA, which explains that players are offered a variety of drinks at press conferences, including Coca Cola, Coke Zero, and water. And this has of course revived the debate around whether unhealthy food and drink brands should in fact have commercial partnerships with sports franchises. Now, experts say the likelihood is brands like Coca Cola are not going to disappear from sports sponsorships, but Bottle Gate, as it's now being referred to, could prompt them to change their strategy. Clare Sebastian, CNN, New York.

HOLMES: Thanks for watching everyone. Spending part of your day with me, I'm Michael Holmes. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, @holmescnn. Stay tuned for World Sport. I'll see you in about 15 minutes or so.

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