World

Former police officer found guilty over death of George Floyd. Joe Biden takes lead on global action on climate. Melbourne nurse tells story of Uygur husband jailed in China. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Derek Chauvin found guilty of murdering George Floyd

Members of George Floyd’s family and, at right, the Reverend Al Sharpton arriving at the Minneapolis courthouse on Monday.
Credit: Kerem Yücel / AFP

Great power rivalry

United States: In January, during his first few minutes in the Oval Office, US President Joe Biden signed a letter to rejoin the Paris climate accord, reversing a decision by Donald Trump to withdraw.

Biden has since put climate change at the centre of his foreign policy, presenting it as an opportunity for the US to take a global leadership role and to promote co-operation with other countries, including China. But Biden also intends to directly rebuke nations that refuse to commit to stronger climate commitments.

In a speech on Monday, Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, outlined Biden’s threat, warning that American diplomats will challenge countries which are “setting the world back” through deforestation or a refusal to wean off coal.

“If America fails to lead the world on addressing the climate crisis, we won’t have much of a world left,” he said.

Blinken’s comments were a prelude to a two-day climate summit hosted by Biden on Thursday and Friday. About 40 world leaders were expected to attend including Xi Jinping.

The summit followed talks last weekend in Shanghai between the US and China, the world’s two biggest carbon polluters. The talks were attended by John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, who was the first senior Biden administration official to visit China.

Kerry and his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, agreed to support global action on climate change but made no concrete commitments. Biden has signalled that he views China as a geopolitical rival but wants to co-operate in select areas such as climate change. However, as Pang Zhongying, of the Ocean University of China, said this week, Beijing is sceptical. China, he said, believes that Biden’s climate policy is part of a larger plan to contain it and limit its growth.

“The expectations that climate co-operation could help reverse the downward spiral in bilateral ties are largely misplaced,” Pang told The South China Morning Post.

On Monday, a report by the United Nations weather agency found that the past six years have been the warmest on record and the past decade was the warmest to date. It found global average temperatures in 2020 were about 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, close to the 1.5-degree limit at which scientists believe the world will experience widespread consequences.

“We are on the verge of the abyss,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters.

The neighbourhood

Fiji: A 24-hour curfew was imposed this week around the cities of Nadi and Lautoka after Fiji recorded its first community transmissions of Covid-19 in a year.

Frank Bainimarama, Fiji’s prime minister, addressed the nation on Monday night to confirm a breach at a quarantine facility. He said a soldier working to secure the facility had contracted Covid-19 and entered his room while it was being cleaned, infecting the cleaner, a 53-year-old woman. The woman’s daughter also tested positive.

“Protocol dictates that overlap should not have happened, that is why the woman was not tested before re-entering the public,” he said.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic last year, Fiji has imposed some of the world’s most stringent measures, including an 11pm to 4am nationwide curfew. The island nation, which has about 900,000 residents, has a vulnerable health system but has largely prevented serious outbreaks. Before this week, Fiji had experienced about 70 cases of Covid-19 and two deaths.

Fiji’s economy, which is heavily reliant on tourism, has been badly affected by the pandemic. The government will be keen to quickly contain the current outbreak, particularly as it has been pushing to create quarantine-free travel bubbles with New Zealand and Australia.

Democracy in retreat

China: Five years ago, Mehray Mezensof, a 26-year-old nurse who lives in Melbourne, travelled to Xinjiang in China and met Mirzat Taher, a fellow Uygur. “It sounds silly and so clichéd,” Mezensof told ABC’s 7.30 program this week, “but I feel like honestly it was love at first sight.”

The pair married and planned to live in Australia. But, in April 2017, two days before Taher was due to fly to Melbourne, he was arrested and detained for two years. He had worked for a year in Turkey, which apparently led Chinese authorities to accuse him of being a separatist. He has since spent years in detention centres and concentration camps during several periods of detention.

Two weeks ago, Mezensof learnt that her husband has been sentenced to 25 years in prison. “It just seems so unreal,” she told 7.30. “I just wanted to have a normal, boring life like everyone else.”

Taher’s long sentence was unusual but his detention was not. He is one of up to a million people who have been held in hundreds of camps across Xinjiang.

Human Rights Watch this week said China was committing crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and urged the international community to adopt co-ordinated measures such as trade restrictions and travel bans on Chinese officials and agencies.

Elaine Pearson, the Australia director at Human Rights Watch, said Australia should support a UN inquiry into Xinjiang and encourage other countries – including Muslim-majority countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia – to back such an investigation. She told The Saturday Paper Canberra should adopt targeted sanctions against Chinese officials and entities, as well as introducing Magnitsky-style legislation that allows for such sanctions for human rights abusers.

“Given the gravity of what is happening in Xinjiang, this [Magnitsky] bill should be a priority,” she said. “Other countries have moved ahead and are sanctioning Chinese officials and entities. Australia has really been dragging its feet.”

Spotlight: Derek Chauvin guilty

United States: In May last year, Darnella Frazier, who was then 17 years old, was walking with her nine-year-old cousin to a convenience store in Minneapolis when she saw a white police officer kneeling on the neck of a Black man who had been arrested.

Frazier took out her phone and began to film. The 10 minutes of footage, which showed the murder of George Floyd, was seen across the country and the world. It sparked mass protests against racism and police abuse and helped to secure the conviction this week of Derek Chauvin, the former officer who knelt on Floyd as he repeatedly gasped and cried, “I can’t breathe.”

During the trial, Frazier told the court: “When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they’re all Black.”

On Tuesday, a jury found Chauvin guilty of all charges against him – second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers involved in the arrest will be tried in August.

Chauvin, 45, faces decades in prison. He will be sentenced by a judge in eight weeks.

After the verdict was announced, Joe Biden spoke to Floyd’s family on speakerphone.

“At least, God, now there is some justice,” Biden said.

When the family urged the president to push for policing reforms, he said: “You got it, pal… This gives us a shot to deal with genuine, systemic racism.”

According to a tally kept by The Washington Post, police in America have shot and killed 984 people in the past year. 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 24, 2021 as "Derek Chauvin found guilty of murdering George Floyd".

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Jonathan Pearlman is The Saturday Paper’s world editor and the editor of Australian Foreign Affairs.