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Japan Contends with Pandemic, Tropical Storm and Games; New South Wales Officials: COVID Restrictions are Working; Indonesia Has Become Epicenter of Outbreak in Southeast Asia; French Lawmakers Approve Bill Expanding Health Pass Use; At Least 149 Killed in Flooding, Landslides in India; U.S. Diplomat in China for Talks Amid Soaring Tensions; Pakistan Taliban Leader Reacts to Gains by Afghan Taliban. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired July 26, 2021 - 00:00   ET

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


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to CNN NEWSROOM, everyone. I'm Michael Holmes. Appreciate your company.

[00:00:22]

Coming up here on the program, the spirit of competition well underway in Tokyo, and there are signs Japan is gradually embracing the games, too, despite the pandemic.

Coronavirus isn't the only threat looming over the games. Now there is a tropical storm headed that way.

And as the Taliban gain ground in Afghanistan, we speak with Pakistan's Taliban leader. It's a CNN exclusive.

Welcome, everyone. The Summer Olympics in full swing in Tokyo. The quest for gold heating up in the third full day of competition.

Organizers in Japan said more than 70 million people tuned in to watch the opening ceremony in Japan. And now here it is, where things stand. Eighteen athletes won gold Sunday, China leading the gold and overall medal count.

But officials have confirmed at least 153 COVID cases so far. One of the new cases was a resident of the Olympic Village. That brings the total number of cases from the Village to 16.

And Japan not just contending with a pandemic but also bracing for a tropical storm expected to bring rain and strong winds for the games this week.

Now, CNN Sports' Patrick Snell is here with me on set in Atlanta. Blake Essig is where it's all happening in Tokyo. So let's start with you, Blake.

And we've talked a lot over the months about public opposition for these games, and I'm sure that still exists. But since the actual start of competition, have you seen a softening of that in terms of mood? BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, Michael,

for months, we've talked about how unpopular these games have been with the Japanese people. All the way up until about a week before the opening ceremony, poll after poll showed that the vast majority, up to 80 percent, wanted the Olympics either canceled or postponed.

The reason: concerns over health and safety. And that really hasn't changed, with cases in Tokyo surging and Olympic related cases also piling up.

But despite all that, since competition began last week, it seems like the mood around this made-for-TV event is starting to change. IOC officials say that nearly 70 million people in Japan watched preliminary competition events last week, and that same number watched the opening ceremony and history being made as Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron.

The CEO of Olympic broadcaster says it was the most watched event in Japan over the past decade. And so far, about 80 percent of all of Japan, about 126 million people, have been watching these Olympic Games.

And now, after two days of full competitions, Japan's performance at these games is also getting people even more excited. So far, Japan has won the second most medals, 5 golds, and a silver. And they're doing it in historic fashion.

On Sunday, Yuto Horigome of Japan won the first-ever gold medal in skateboarding. A huge moment for Japan and skateboarding.

And even though the buzz and excitement is a far cry from what you would expect from a city hosting the Olympics, people are trying to experience the games in any way possible.

I attended a live public viewing over the weekend, where 500 people set in an auditorium for about seven hours to watch the cycling road race, cheering with wood clappers to experience that Olympic atmosphere as a community.

We've also talked with people outside of venues who had tickets for events. They say they're devastated that spectators have been banned and were taking pictures of the venue just so they have the memories that they can look back on.

While others, of course, are saying that a lot of people, even though these games are taking place and there is that general excitement, people are afraid to express that excitement given the controversy and general negativity towards these Olympics.

So while it does seem like support for the games is shifting, there's no question, Michael, it's still a tale of two cities here in Tokyo.

HOLMES: Absolutely. Well, hopefully, the locals can enjoy it a little, like they should.

Blake Essig there in Tokyo. Appreciate it. And now Patrick Snell joins me here in Atlanta. Great storylines

continue. An eventful day, to say the least, in the aquatic center. As long as you promise to mention Australia. Let's start with a proud day for team GB.

PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT: I promise we'll mention a very proud day for Australia, as well, Michael. Guaranteed. But allow me, please, to start with this.

This is really a case of dominance personified. The name Adam Peaty powering himself to victory to win gold. This was in the men's 100 meters. Again, off the back of his 2016 trial, the 26-year-old from England. Not just the defending champion, Michael. Also the world record-holder, as well. Let's not forget that, in this event.

His time on this occasion 57 seconds 37, Great Britain's first goal at these games, Peaty's third career Olympic medal.

Why is this so special for us? Brit Peaty now the first British swimmer to defend an Olympic crown. Arno Kamminga of the Netherlands is second, and the Italian swimmer Nicola Martinenghi with the bronze.

Elsewhere -- you're going to like this one.

HOLMES: I will.

SNELL: I know. You want to read it, or I do it?

Let me set the scene, first of all. U.S. swimming star Katie Ledecky -- this is in the 400 meters freestyle action this Monday. Looking to add to her triumph in Rio five years ago, but the world record holder up against a formidable rival in the Australian Ariarne Titmus.

Now, there's a thrilling contest between these two, but there would only be one winner. And it goes the way of the Australian in this eagerly anticipated showdown, Titmus winning gold. Her time, officially, 3 minutes 56 seconds, 69. That now the second fastest time ever, behind Ledecky's world record of 3:56:36.

Ledecky, a five-time gold medalist, winning silver. Really impressive. She wins silver. She won't be happy with that. She wins silver, but her time, 3:57:36, that's the fourth fastest time ever.

HOLMES: Wow.

SNELL: Titmus's win giving Australia its second gold medal of the 2020 games and fifth medal overall so far, Michael.

HOLMES: Australia went crazy.

SNELL: Yes.

HOLMES: Let me tell you.

SNELL: Yes, terrific. And look, also within the last few minutes, this. Caleb Dressel, U.S.

swimming star, and his compatriots in the four by 100-meter freestyle relay. They were victorious, with the gold-medal-winning time for them of 3:08:97, is the fifth gold for the United States that these games. And the 12th total medal for the Americans.

By the way, Dressel's third Olympic gold. Plenty going on in the pool, I'm sure you'll agree.

HOLMES: I've been watching it, I must say, when I'm meant to be working.

SNELL: Meant to be working, right?

HOLMES: I called you up and asked for the right channel to be watching here at CNN.

(CROSSTALK)

HOLMES: And I spent -- exactly.

Plenty of other news. And also, I couldn't believe this. This bizarre scenes with the triathlon.

SNELL: It's a strange one.

HOLMES: Yes.

SNELL: We did get a winner, but let me set the scene for you. A gold winner for Norway, by the way, this Monday, but only after a really bizarre false start.

We had confusion abounding everywhere. But half of the competitors actually diving into the water to try and start their swim while a boat -- yes, a boat -- was actually still blocking many of them on the platform.

We did get an eventual winner, though. It would be Kristian Blummenfelt with a time of one hour, 45 minutes, 4 seconds. A really powerful late surge from him.

Norway's first gold at these games. Great Britain's Alex Yee winning silver. And Hayden Wilde of New Zealand taking the bronze.

But this busy Monday, Michael, continues. So much going on, so much still to come. We've got the women skateboarding we were just talking about, weren't we?

HOLMES: yes.

SNELL: Before we went on air. We've got surfing with the Brazilian superstar Gabriel Medina. I tease a lot here, because I spoke with him recently before he left South America to go to Tokyo. He's competing. We're going to have a feature to be with him on WORLD SPORT, which is coming up in about 38 minutes from right now.

HOLMES: Can you be more precise?

SNELL: And in tennis, a win earlier for Japanese superstar Naomi Osaka.

HOLMES: Yes.

SNELL: Novak Djokovic, as well, in action later on.

HOLMES: Osaka to the final 16. Good for her.

SNELL: Yes.

HOLMES: And we were -- we were talking about scheduling. I was watching before we came on air. And it was extraordinary. Two 13-year- olds. I saw two performers, and they're both 13.

SNELL: Yes.

HOLMES: A Brazilian and, I think, a Japanese.

SNELL: And both extremely talented in what they did. That's something we're following, particularly after what we saw, the historic side of things. On the men's competition over the weekend, historic first for Japan, there.

HOLMES: Yes.

SNELL: We're following this. It's just compelling storylines everywhere you look.

HOLMES: You get -- you get me excited. All right, we're going to talk a little bit later. We'll talk next hour and WORLD SPORT in, I guess it's about 37 minutes now. Patrick Snell there.

Well, as Olympic organizers battle to keep COVID-19 rates down, countries in Southeast Asia, well, they're still struggling to contain what has been a devastating wave of the virus. Malaysia remains one of the hardest-hit nations right now.

On Sunday, the country's health ministry reporting a record number of new COVID cases, more than 17,000. And Malaysia has now passed one million total cases since the start of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Australia's prime minister, Scott Morrison, condemning mask protests against new COVID restrictions down under. It comes as the country sees new infections climb.

Let's take a closer look at the situation there and in other countries across the Asia Pacific region.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want freedom! We want freedom!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want freedom! We want freedom!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want freedom! We want freedom!

HOLMES (voice-over): Reckless and self-defeating. That's how Australia's prime minister, Scott Morrison, described the thousands of people who marched in anti-lockdown protests in Sydney over the weekend.

[00:10:07]

SCOTT MORRISON, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Millions of Sydney's service (ph) has stayed home. They're the ones who are bringing an end to the lockdown sooner. Not those who are putting themselves at risk, those around them at risk, particularly the police at risk, and that was a very selfish act.

HOLMES: Morrison says the protesters who police say defied social distancing restrictions, put in place to try to contain the highly- contagious Delta variant, could actually make the lockdown last longer.

Officials in the state of New South Wales say the tough measures are working, despite the case numbers continuing to rise. The premier says without them, new infections would be through the roof.

That type of surge, exactly with the city, Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is also trying to control. A number of new confirmed cases in the country on an almost vertical trajectory over the past few weeks. Some people say a lockdown in Hanoi, imposed this weekend, is long overdue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I think authorities should have put the city under lockdown earlier, because a few days ago, I saw many people who were not abiding by the social distancing regulations.

HOLMES: Indonesia is extending its COVID-19 restrictions by a week, though the government says there has been an improvement in the number of new cases in several provinces in Java.

But the number of deaths in the country remains consistently high, surpassing 1,501 in one day last week.

The government says it will add more intensive care units to ease the burden in some hospitals.

Malaysia, too, suffering from a rise in new COVID cases. It recently surpassed a total of one million infections since the start of the pandemic.

But one bright spot on the horizon, hikers once again returning to the peak of Japan's Mount Fuji, which had been off-limits due to the coronavirus for the past year. Climbers are encouraged to maintain social distance and hike in smaller groups. But officials hope it is one lifting of restrictions that could lift some spirits.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HOLMES: Now, as we just mentioned, Indonesia extending some COVID restrictions by a week as it struggles with a massive surge in COVID cases. Indonesia posting record daily death tolls for three consecutive days last week.

Officials are noting that new infections have fallen recently, and say adjustments will be gradually made to existing restrictions. And that includes allowing some markets, restaurants and other businesses to open with certain limitations. But the numbers are terrible.

I'm joined now by Ade Soekadis, the executive director of Mercy Corps in Indonesia, coming to me live from Jakarta via Skype.

Good to see you, but not a good story. As high as the numbers are, health experts are saying both death and case numbers have been undercounted, but even the official per capita death rate is three times the global average. Hundreds of children have died. How bad is it?

ADE SOEKADIS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MERCY CORPS IN INDONESIA: It is still bad, even though there's some opposition in the Jakarta government, but I think that the situation is still quite bad. The numbers of the death rate is still quite high, over 1,000 the last ten days, even though they say the cases are going down. But in reality, the positivity rate is quite high, in the upper 30s. So it's still quite alarming and concerning, Michael.

HOLMES: Yes, and more than 100 doctors have died from COVID this month, double the figure from last month. How much pressure is there on the health system?

SOEKADIS: It is still overwhelming. I mean, the healthcare facility as well as healthcare workers are overworked and overwhelmed. You can see people in hospitals still lining, even though the positivity rate is going down. You still see doctors getting sick of COVID also.

Hospitals are being overloaded because of a lack of facilities available there.

So it is still big pressure on the health care systems. Even though it seems that the positivity rate is going down. But still, if you look at the numbers, it is actually quite high and is still above the ideal positivity (ph) rate. So it is still concerning about the health care situation.

HOLMES: As you point out, the government set some that -- restrictions have seen a slight improvement, though they've been extended into next month, though.

But isn't it true that many poor people in Indonesia, they can't afford to stay home? They -- they need to work to survive. What -- what more needs to be done to support people?

SOEKADIS: That is true, Michael. The nation doesn't have good social safety net programs. So if you don't work, if you don't go to work, you can't put food on the shelf. Or you go to the factory, to get your wages or to get your income. It is very impossible for those lower level economy groups to survive. You know, it's actually a very, very concerning situation.

[00:15:06]

That's why I think it is understandable the government is trying to put an ease on restrictions for those lower-level income groups for they can open their shops and stalls, so they can get their -- their food on the table, basically.

HOLMES: Yes, in many countries, we've seen vaccine hesitancy, resistance to getting the shot. Is there similar resistance in Indonesia?

And only 7 percent or so of Indonesians have been vaccinated. Is there resistance? And also most of the vaccines in Indonesia are Sinovac, the Chinese vaccine, which shows a much lower efficacy. Give us a vaccine status report.

SOEKADIS: Yes, the lower number of vaccination rate is not really reflects the hesitancy of people to get the vaccine. It is actually to do with the logistical situation. I think the rollout of the vaccine is not as fast as the government wants it to be. You know, 7 percent fully vaccinated, 16 percent first vaccine.

But when you look at the size of Indonesia, an island, thousands (ph) hexameters of across, logistically, it's very challenging. But also because of the way the government rolls out the vaccine, through large population center.

So in terms of, as you said, Sinovac, I think it is better to get vaccinated than not to get vaccinated at all, even though there's some issue. People say that it's less -- has less efficacy. But I think some studies indicate that if you get vaccinated by Sinovac or Sinopharm vaccine, it's still better compared to not getting the vaccine at all.

So, yes, I think it's still -- the vaccine, even though the Chinese vaccine, less efficacy, but it's better than not having vaccine at all.

HOLMES: Yes, that is true. Ade Soekadis with Mercy Corps, thanks so much. Appreciate your time.

SOEKADIS: Thank you very much. Have a good day.

HOLMES: Now, France is fighting a fourth wave of coronavirus infections, and the French Parliament has been taking action. Lawmakers approving a bill requiring vaccinations for healthcare workers, and it makes a health pass mandatory to enter a number of businesses like restaurants, bars, and theaters.

Jim Bittermann with that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Even before it reached the Parliament, the new health pass law seems to have had the impact that the government wanted.

After President Emmanuel Macron's July 12th announcement that the French would soon have to carry a certificate, attesting to vaccinations, or a negative COVID-19 test, for even the simplest of daily activities, appointments for vaccinations skyrocketed.

According to the vaccination reservation center, at least 4.7 million people have signed up in the two weeks since.

On a visit to the French overseas territory of Tahiti, Macron said the anti-vaccination protestors in the streets, like those in the streets this weekend, who believe that they should be free to reject vaccinations, are wrong.

EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): That is not freedom. That is called irresponsibility. It is called selfishness. Society only holds together when the freedom of each person is respectful of the other. And therefore, it is based on rights and duties.

BITTERMANN: But perhaps, just as influential as the president's vaccination shaming, is the influence of other countrymen. According to health ministry statistics, about half of the adult population has now been fully vaccinated. A number that will, no doubt, only grow in coming days as a health pass is required for more and more activities.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, Gilles, France.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: South Africa's president says the country will start rolling back COVID restrictions after passing through an intense third wave. President Cyril Rampaphosa added that limits on public gatherings would remain, but alcohol sales would resume during the week, and that nightly curfew would begin an hour later.

While cases were still rising in some areas, the president said overall figures support the new moves.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CYRIL RAMAPHOSA, SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: The latest figures suggest that we have, largely passed the peak of the third wave of infections toward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Now, according to Johns Hopkins University, less than 4 percent of South Africans are fully vaccinated.

Still to come here on the program, rescue crews are in a race against time to find survivors after heavy monsoon rains caused deadly flooding and landslides in western India. We're live in New Delhi.

Also, some Olympic venues will likely see some soggy weather in the next few days. We'll have the latest from the CNN Weather Center on the tropical storm headed towards Japan. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:21:50]

HOLMES: Rescue operations are underway after a landslide in northern India on Sunday. Have a look at that video there. You can see the large rocks, tumbling down the mountain, destroying a bridge below.

Officials say at least 9 people were killed and two others injured after a boulder hit the vehicle they were traveling and. At least one bystander was also hurt.

And in western India, at least 149 people have died after monsoon rains triggered landslides and flooding there.

CNN's Vedika Sud joins me now from New Delhi. We spoke around this time yesterday. What has changed? What is the latest?

VEDIKA SUD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Michael, still 64 people are missing, and as you said, almost 150 people are dead. And these are the latest figures we have from officials there.

Now, the five districts which are extremely hit by the rains and the landslides. There have been five landslides reported until now in the state of Maharashtra. Here's a look at the worst affected areas, and how survivors are hoping to find their loved ones.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUD (voice-over): Another body, recovered, adding to the grim death toll in western India. Rescuers race against time, combing through survivors after a landslide hit this village. Some 180 kilometer southeast of the financial capital of Mumbai.

GOVIND MALUSARE, VILLAGER (through translator): There were five people inside: my mother, my brother, his wife, and two children. Out of the total, family only the boy's body has been recovered. The other family members have still not traced.

SUD: In a nearby district, distraught survivors look on. Torrential monsoon rains have left behind a trail of destruction. Homes have been swept away, farmlands inundated, bridges cut off. Livelihoods, destroyed. Many denied a proper cremation.

ANKUSH RAJARAM, VILLAGER (through translator): We did not have material to cremate bodies. It was raining heavily. We dug a pit and buried everyone together.

SUD: Many have been evacuated from vulnerable areas. Some waited on rooftops to be rescued. Authorities are not only battling flooding. The spread of the virus

looms large. Maharashtra has the second highest number of active cases of COVID-19 in the country, after Kerala.

Plus, 35 percent more rain than normal has fallen on the state since the beginning of monsoon season. Experts say the cause is clear.

CHANDRA BHUSHAN, ENVIRONMENTALIST: This is not possible without climate change. In fact, all of the attribution studies are clear that the kind of acceleration in hydrological system, extreme rainfall events that we are getting across the world, would not have been possible without human interference.

SUD: For a country that's experienced two cyclones and the deadly collapse of a glacier in just the last 16 months, the intensity of this monsoon is another sign that India is on the front line of the climate crisis.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SUD: Thirty-five percent additional rain since the first of June this year, in the state of Maharashtra. Adjoining areas, also adjoining states, are suffering with an additional rain percentage that's happening in their areas, as well, Michael.

[00:25:13]

And the environmentalists say this is a sign that India can no longer ignore. Michael?

Vedika, thank you.

well, Michael. The environmentalists say, this is a sign that India can no longer ignore -- Michael.

HOLMES: All right, Vedika, thanks. Vedika Sud there in New Delhi.

Now, two storm systems are threatening Asia right now. One of them, Tropical Storm Nepartak, is headed for Japan, as we've been reporting over the last couple of days.

Olympic venues will likely see some nasty weather over the next couple of days. Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins me now to tell us exactly what we're going to see.

What do you know, Pedram?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, Michael, this storm system certainly could have gotten far worse. It could have gone a little further towards the south. It could have been significantly stronger. Both not the case.

Three hundred kilometers north of Tokyo is where we'll end up, but there are outdoor venues to the north, in part moved to the north because of the cooler temperatures.

And we're going to watch this carefully. Of course, we've got In-Fa, back over towards portions of China, we'll touch on that momentarily.

But when you take a look at the storm system here, of course, we know rainfall are going to be a primary concern. Because the wind speeds, 50, 60, maybe 70 kilometers per hour, that is not it. Not an impressive storm system, not on satellite depiction, and certainly not by the amount of rainfall it's going to bring, even.

It's the persistence, and it's the impacts starting sometime Tuesday afternoon, continuing all the way into Tuesday night, and Wednesday afternoon that will be really felt across this region. Really, the northern half of Japan.

So, we'll watch this carefully, the forecast across areas such as Tokyo will keep the weather somewhat unsettled over the next three days. Now, we'll keep a possibility generally 30 to 40 percent chance here to see a few thunderstorms pop up.

Again, it's that northern portion of the region, where rainfall is going to be more prevalent. Now, across portions of eastern China, not far away from Nihongo (ph) Bay, this is where the storm system In-Fa is located and producing a tremendous amount of rainfall across portions of Shanghai and just to the north.

And much more moisture to work with. It is kind of tapping into the bay and eventually across the Yangtze River, as it works its way inland. So it will tap into additional moisture, bring with it as much as two to 300 more millimeters of rainfall. A lot of wet weather. It is a wet season, but this is a tremendous amount of it with a tropical system, Michael, that we'll continue to follow.

HOLMES: Yes. All right. Pedram, thanks so much. Pedram Javaheri there.

Now, incredible pictures from northwest China. A massive sandstorm washing over Dunhuang City on Sunday. Just have a look at that. Rolling over those buildings there.

The city is on the edge of the Gobi Desert, so it's somewhat accustomed to seeing sandstorms. China's state news agency reports this storm reached as high as 100 meters.

The storm took -- overtook an expressway in just a few minutes. Visibility, of course, down to dangerous levels.

Police had to direct stranded vehicles to get people off the road safely.

A top Chinese diplomat is blaming the U.S. for the country's strained relationship. Just a couple of days after China's foreign minister warned the U.S. to stop boasting of its superiority.

Now, the pointed rhetoric comes as America's No. 2 diplomat, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, is in China for a two-day visit.

For more on this, let's turn to CNN's Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong. So this is the second top-level meeting between these two countries, since Joe Biden took office. I imagine expectations not high for breakthroughs.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Expectations are low, but the stakes are high in this high-level meeting between the U.S. and China taking place today in Tianjin.

Ahead of this meeting, U.S. officials said that Wendy Sherman, the U.S. deputy secretary of state, would be seeking guardrails with China in order to better manage competition, and to avoid conflict.

But we've also been hearing from Wang Yi, the Chinese state councilor, as well as the foreign minister of China, who has been speaking to state-run media, seeding this message that no country is superior to others.

Now, a meeting has already taken place today between Wendy Sherman and the vice foreign minister, Xie Feng. The ministry of foreign affairs has released a statement from Xie Feng, detailing their take of the meeting. We'll bring it up for you.

But according to Xie, he says this: "The China-U.S. relationship is now in a stalemate, faces serious difficulties. Fundamentally, it is because some Americans portray China as an imagined enemy. We urge the United States to change its highly misguided mindset and dangerous policy," unquote.

Now, the upcoming meeting between Sherman and Wang Yi is taking place at a time of deepening tension between the U.S. and China, especially after that first high-level meeting between both sides that took place in March in Alaska that erupted in that very public confrontation since then.

There have been nonstop diplomatic barbs exchanged between both sides, tit-for-tat sanctions, most recently, earlier this month. You remember the Biden administration issued that business warning on Hong Kong. It slapped sanctions on Chinese officials in Hong Kong.

[00:30:07]

In response, China on Friday slapped sanctions on American entities and officials, including Wilbur Ross, the former U.S. commerce secretary.

Tensions have become so fraught, little wonder that political watchers and China analysts like Willy Lam say, you know, the possibility for any positive or concrete outcomes to come out of today's meeting in Tianjin are quite low. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLY LAM, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR, CHINESE UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG: Given the fact that both sides have so many things not in common, including mutual imposition of sanctions, accusations of hacking, geopolitical contention in the South China Sea, Taiwan, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong. This is not the meeting to resolve differences.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STOUT: Willy Lam there.

Now, if talks go well today, it could set the stage for a possible summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping, and U.S. President Joe Biden to, perhaps, take place at the G-20 summit on the sidelines there in Italy in October -- Michael.

HOLMES: All right. Kristie Lu Stout on top of all of that for us. Appreciate it there in Hong Kong.

We have to take a quick break, but when we come back, the Pakistani Taliban leader speaks exclusively with CNN as war rages across the border between Afghan forces and Taliban militants.

Also, scenes of celebration on the streets of Tunisia's capital after the president sacks the prime minister. A tense time there in Tunis. We'll have the details, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Welcome back to our viewers all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

A top U.S. general says American forces will continue airstrikes in Afghanistan to support Afghan forces battling the Taliban. Militants have gained ground, plenty of it, in recent months. After launching a sweeping assault as the U.S. withdraws.

Now, those Afghan Taliban gains grabbing the attention of Pakistan's Taliban leader just across the border.

CNN's Nic Robertson has the details in this exclusive report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): As Afghanistan's Taliban gained ground, so Pakistan's Taliban, the TTP, take heart. In his first ever TV interview, their leader, Noor Wali Mehsud, answers questions CNN sent him via intermediaries at an undisclosed location near the Afghan-Pakistan border. The gun at his side, a message of war.

[00:35:05]

NOOR WALI MEHSUD, LEADER OF PAKISTAN'S TALIBAN (through translator): The Afghan Taliban victory is the victory of the entire Muslim people. Our relations are based on brotherhood, sympathy, and Islamic principles.

ROBERTSON: Mehsud's three predecessors were all killed by U.S. drone strikes for fighting alongside Afghan Taliban, targeting U.S. forces. Their bloody record includes the 2009 attack that killed nine people, including seven CIA officers and contractors, at a base close to the Pakistan border.

And the massacre of 145 people, mostly children, in a Pakistan school in 2014. Mehsud became leader in 2018, and the U.N. later designated him a global terrorist and added him to the sanction list for his ties to al-Qaeda.

Today, he denies those al-Qaeda links and that his group is still fighting alongside the Afghan Taliban.

MEHSUD (through translator): Our fight is only in Pakistan. And we are at war with the Pakistani security forces. We are firmly hoping to take control of the Pakistani tribal regions and make them independent.

ROBERTSON: But, while Pakistan's army has fought a decades-long counter-insurgency against the TTP and Pakistan, Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, and the army have backed the Afghan Taliban, although they deny it.

Now, as the Afghan Taliban win territory, blowback for Pakistan looms.

MICHAEL SEMPLE, PROFESSOR, QUEEN'S UNIVERSITY, BELFAST: The risk for Pakistan is that a stronger Afghan Taliban can actually reduce its cooperation with the ISIS in controlling the -- the TPP. And it's that which empowers the TTP.

ROBERTSON: The TTP are already demanding Shariah law, curtailing girls' education.

AYESHA SIDDIQA, RESEARCH ASSOCIATE, SOAS SOUTH ASIA INSTITUTE: They would like to implement Sharia and Pakistan, and Pakistan's territories. Already, there is a lot of fear.

ROBERTSON: For the past two decades, U.S.-Pakistan relations have been complicated by Pakistan's alleged dual-track approach of support for the U.S., while covertly backing the Afghan Taliban. It's a delicate balance Afghan Taliban gains threaten.

SEMPLE: The TTP are now banking on an Afghan Taliban victory. And they are confident that they will be able to continue their fight against Pakistan, in the event of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.

SIDDIQA: It's Pakistan which will be in greater pain than Afghanistan. It will be threatened much more.

ROBERTSON: From his undisclosed location, Mehsud is coy, hinting at the gains that could be coming his way.

MEHSUD (through translator): According to the teaching of Islam victory, of one Muslim is necessarily helpful to another Muslim. But how the victory of Afghan Taliban will prove helpful for the Pakistani Taliban? Time will tell.

ROBERTSON: In the meantime, despite his denials, expectation is Mehsud's fighters will keep backing the Afghan Taliban.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HOLMES: Now, we're now following a developing story out of Tunisia, where the president has sacked the prime minister and frozen parliament in a move that sparked some cheers in the capital.

Large crowds turning out in Tunis, in support of the president's announcement, although his opponents accuse him of launching a coup. President Kais Saied said his actions were in line with the constitution and that he would assume executive authority with the assistance of a new prime minister.

Many protesters in Tunis, voicing their anger against the moderate Islamist party, the largest in parliament. This as the COVID crisis adds to the country's economic and political turmoil.

Jordan's king is calling his half-brother's role in an alleged plot, amateurish and disappointing. You may recall, Jordanian officials accused former Crown Prince Hamza of being part of a plot to destabilize the kingdom back in early April.

In videos obtained by the BBC, Hamza criticized Jordan's leadership and denied the allegations. He said he'd been isolated over concerns about alleged criticism of the government, or the king, but days later, Hamza pledged loyalty to the king.

Here's what the king now tells our Fareed Zakaria about the situation.

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KING ABDULLAH II, JORDAN: We've had to look at many characters that are trying to use people's frustrations and legitimate concerns of challenges that we have in making their lives better, to really push on their own agendas and ambitions.

What I think made this so sad, that one of the people was my brother, who did it in such an amateurish and really disappointing way. From our point, the intelligence services, as they always do, gather information.

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It got to a point where they had legitimate concerns that certain individuals were trying to push my brother's ambitions for their own agendas and decided, quite rightly, to nip it in the bud, and quietly.

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HOLMES: Now, earlier this month, a top advisor to the king and a member of the royal family were sentenced to 15 years in prison for sedition.

Coming up next on CNN NEWSROOM, the victims of Florida's Surfside condo collapse, remembered at a memorial concert.

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HOLMES: A memorial concert held on Sunday in Battle Harbor in Florida to honor the victims of the Surfside condo collapse. It's been a month since the Champlain Towers South building came crashing down in the middle of the night, killing at least 97 people.

Members of the community spoke at Sunday's memorial, including the mayor, and the names of the victims were read aloud.

Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'm Michael Holmes. WORLD SPORT coming up next. I'll see you in about 20 minutes.

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