News Brief: Turkey-Kurds Battle, Impeachment Poll, U.S. Businesses In China
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The fear among many in the region was if the U.S. got out of the way in Syria, some longtime U.S. allies would be vulnerable. And that is now happening.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Yeah. The Turkish military is on its third day of strikes against Kurdish targets in northern Syria. The invasion has been widely condemned, not just by President Trump's critics but by his most loyal supporters, too. Turkey says it's going after terrorists, but those same Kurdish forces fought alongside Americans for years against ISIS before President Trump pulled U.S. troops, which then gave Turkey a clear path to attack.
Now President Trump says the only response boils down to three choices - send in the military, hit Turkey with economic sanctions or hope that his administration can mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds.
GREENE: Let's go to the region now. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in southeastern Turkey and joins us. Hi, Peter.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So you are right near the border with Syria, where all of this is going on. What are you seeing, and how is this operation playing out so far?
KENYON: Well, the scene is one of black smoke on the Syrian side and the occasional attack on the Turkish side. The figures from the Turkish Defense Ministry have been rising steadily. Yesterday, they said nearly 180 Kurdish militants had been neutralized. Today, that figure was up to 277. Those numbers aren't confirmed. They could certainly change. Turkish civilian fatalities are standing at six, we're told, with seven Syrian civilians reportedly killed and Turkey has one military fatality.
Most of the attacks are from Turkey into Syria, but as I mentioned, there was also a series of attacks on the town of Akcakale in Turkey yesterday that led to the Turkish civilian deaths. And people are fleeing some areas on both sides of the border.
GREENE: Well, Rachel mentioned some of the international criticism of this Turkish operation. What is the reaction there? What voices are you hearing there?
KENYON: Well, obviously, we're hearing some positive support from some of the Turkish residents. There even have been marches in support. And then, of course, there's some very worried, very frightened Syrians. Down on the border yesterday - there are rows of houses right within sight of the border. Many of them are empty, but outside one, we ran into Yusef Salah (ph) with his wife, eight children and a number of other relatives. He said the noise of the mortars and rockets was scaring his children, but now they're starting to get used to it. He said he's from just across the border at Ain Issa in Syria. And he had made arrangements to move out of the border area. But he wasn't doing so for now. Here's some of what he said.
YUSEF SALAH: (Foreign language spoken).
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).
KENYON: Now, what he's saying there is everyone's terrified right now, but if the Turkish army clears out the area around his town on the Syrian side, he would immediately go back there, even if he had to walk. He said he arranged for Turkish documents to move to another province, but because he found his relatives living here, he decided to stay close to them.
GREENE: How far does the Turkish military intend to go here into Syria if they continue this?
KENYON: Well, it seems they're staying within their stated limit of an area about 20 miles deep into Syria. Eventually, they want to stretch that so it's 300 miles wide, all the way to the Iraqi border. At the moment, they're nowhere near that wide. But if and when such a safe zone is established, Turkey plans to return some 1 to 2 million Syrian refugees there.
GREENE: Has the Turkish government responded to all the criticism we've heard of this operation from the international community, Peter?
KENYON: Yes, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been defiant. He says this is a counterterrorism operation and the world should support it. World leaders and humanitarian groups are not doing that. Humanitarian groups, in particular, are warning of hundreds of thousands of people potentially at risk if this goes on.
GREENE: All right. NPR's Peter Kenyon in southeastern Turkey with a close-up view of the military operation that has begun in northern Syria, as we mentioned. Peter, thanks a lot.
KENYON: Thanks, David.
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GREENE: President Trump lashed out at Democrats and leveled some personal attacks at his political rivals in his first campaign rally since the impeachment inquiry began.
MARTIN: He told supporters in Minneapolis last night the Democrats' impeachment probe would help him at the polls in 2020.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The Democrats' brazen attempt to overthrow our government will produce a backlash at the ballot box, the likes of which they have never ever seen before in the history of this country.
MARTIN: The president also took special aim at Joe Biden, crudely describing Biden's relationship with President Obama. This comes after the former vice president called for President Trump's impeachment for the first time this week. And Biden's not alone in that regard.
A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll shows that a slim majority of Americans now approve of the impeachment inquiry. The new NPR results are in line with other prominent polls, including one from Fox News, that showed a majority of registered voters now support Trump's impeachment and removal from office.
GREENE: All right. Let's bring in NPR's senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Hi, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, there, David.
GREENE: So what stood out to you in this campaign event last night?
MONTANARO: You know, it was mostly a greatest hits, but he talked about how much he thinks the impeachment inquiry is illegitimate. And he continued these false attacks on the Bidens. And it really shows that even in a state like Minnesota, which Trump lost narrowly, he's not reaching out to the middle. And that was highlighted last night by these tense protests that took place outside the arena. And it's really emblematic of just how locked in most of the country is. Most people are either strongly against Trump or firmly in his corner.
GREENE: Well, if he's appealing to his base in a room like that, it shouldn't be surprising at all if he's using, like, explosive rhetoric, profanity. I mean, that's part of his appeal to certain voters, right?
MONTANARO: Right. He has to keep them locked in. That's exactly what he's been doing and what he's continuing to do.
GREENE: Does he have reason to be worried about these new polls that Rachel mentioned? We're looking at a slim majority now in favor of this impeachment inquiry.
MONTANARO: Well, you know, one poll can be an outlier, but multiple are a trend. And several this week showed support for the impeachment inquiry on the rise. I mean, the latest PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll shows that a slim majority of Americans are now in favor of the inquiry, and that comes because of a big swing with independents, David. They went from being mostly against the inquiry two weeks ago to a majority now being in favor.
GREENE: So the president is making this argument that moving forward with impeachment would basically amount to undoing his 2016 election victory. Is that argument holding weight with people as these polls come out?
MONTANARO: Well, I mean, the president and his supporters are going to take some solace, at least, in the fact that almost 6 in 10 people in our poll - in our poll said that they would rather see Trump's fate decided at the ballot box rather than through the impeachment process.
GREENE: Oh, so they support the impeachment inquiry but would rather the decision be made by voters.
MONTANARO: And I think that that shows you just how - the reason why people have been so reticent to go forward, how cautious Americans generally are on something like impeachment. And that's why you've seen House Speaker Nancy Pelosi be so cautious about the - about going forward with impeachment for so long.
But Pelosi and others felt like they had no choice but to go forward as the facts continue to come out about the widening Ukraine controversy. And to that point, our poll also found that more than two-thirds think it's unacceptable for a president to do what Trump did in asking a foreign leader for help investigating a political rival. And 61% think he does not share the moral values of most other Americans.
GREENE: All right. NPR's Domenico Montanaro with covering this event last night and also some new poll numbers about the president's impeachment inquiry. Domenico, thanks, as always.
MONTANARO: You're so welcome.
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GREENE: All right. So you have the NBA. You have Vans sneakers. You have the animated series "South Park." These are all brands that have been caught in China's censorship crosshairs.
MARTIN: And the latest American company to run afoul of Beijing is Apple. After criticism from Chinese state media, the tech giant removed an app that was being used by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. This is only the latest clash between American businesses and the Chinese government.
GREENE: And we have NPR technology correspondent Shannon Bond in our studio this morning reporting on this. Hi, Shannon.
SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: All right. So we're talking about U.S. companies trying to avoid upsetting China because that's an important market. Apple, as Rachel mentioned, is now involved. They've now removed an app that was, as I understand it, helping protesters in Hong Kong?
BOND: That's right. This app is called HKmap.live and it - activists were using it to crowdsource location of police at the protests, so they could avoid them.
BOND: Now, Apple says it removed the app because there were public safety concerns - the map could be used to target or ambush police. We've also seen Google, this week, pull a video game where you could pretend to be a protester in Hong Kong.
BOND: But these things - what's happening right now, it's not just about tech. You mentioned Vans sneakers. They were pulled off shelves by store owners in Hong Kong who are upset that the company had taken entries out of a design contest that referenced the protest. "South Park" is off the Chinese Internet now after an episode they did about making fun of censorship. And just this morning, the NBA canceled media appearances by players in China because of this whole tweetstorm issue that they've had earlier in the week. So a lot's going on.
GREENE: This is amazing. I mean, these are U.S. companies giving into pressure from an authoritarian government and country, China.
BOND: Yeah. Well, I mean, China is a big market for this companies. There is 1.4 billion people there and these companies, they want to sell them stuff. So take Apple - they sold $52 billion worth of iPhones and laptops and AirPods in the Greater China region last year. That's a...
GREENE: Big market.
BOND: That's a fifth of their revenue. So...
BOND: ...It's an important, important market. They've removed apps from the AppStore in mainland China before. Most notably, in 2017, they took down The New York Times. They've also taken down virtual private network apps that would allow people to bypass censorship. And there are other companies that have been strong-armed. Fashion companies had to apologize for selling T-shirts suggesting that Hong Kong and Taiwan were independent.
And it's not just China. We're starting to see repercussions back in the U.S. The NBA - at a basketball game just this week in Philadelphia, some fans were kicked out after wearing T-shirts that...
GREENE: Kicked out of a game?
BOND: Yeah. So there's a question about - are they exporting censorship back to the U.S.?
GREENE: I mean, what does this mean for American companies that want to do business in China? How are they watching this and reacting?
BOND: Well, you know, Beijing is really concerned that this movement spreads elsewhere. And, you know, there's a sense that criticism from outside threatens stability. So this - professors I spoke to say companies have had to walk this careful line. But the Chinese government's just going to become more sensitive, not less, if these protests continue.
I mean, these are American icons. They're hugely powerful, they're hugely popular - they're hugely popular in China. If they can't stand up to China, who can?
GREENE: Wow. Quite a moment for U.S. businesses in this whole relationship with China. NPR's technology correspondent Shannon Bond. Shannon, thanks so much.
BOND: Thanks for having me.
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