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Evidence Shows Torture, Mass Detention in Tigray Region; 100+ Foreign Nationals Leave Kabul on Charter Flight; Biden, Xi Spoke Thursday as Relationship Remains Tense Super Typhoon Chanthu is Equivalent of Category 4 Hurricane; Canadian Party Leaders Debate COVID, Climate Change, Reconciliation; China's Crackdown Renews Debate on Gaming Addiction; China's Crackdown Renews Debate on Gaming Addiction. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired September 10, 2021 - 00:00   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone. I'm Michael Holmes. Appreciate your company.


Coming up here on CNN NEWSROOM: evidence of torture, mass detention, and executions in Ethiopia's Tigray region. We'll bring you a CNN exclusive investigation.

Now comes the hard part. After their rapid takeover of Afghanistan, questions persist about whether the Taliban really have the ability to run the country.

And later, a question that has divided psychologists and parents. Are videogames actually addictive?

A CNN investigation has uncovered evidence of the torture, mass detention, and execution of residents in the town of Harar in Ethiopia's Tigray region.

For almost a year now, conflict has raged in Ethiopia's Tigray region, and now bodies are turning up once more, carried downriver into neighboring Sudan from Tigray.

For much of the conflict, the United States, the United Nations, and the international community at large have failed to hold high-level Ethiopian officials to account for their role in the atrocities committed in the region.

Well, now, CNN's findings point to a renewed campaign of ethnic cleansing, one which bears all the hallmarks of genocide as defined by international law. Now, we must warn you that Nima Elbagir's investigation contains graphic and disturbing imagery.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the Setit River, a source of life for the people living along its banks. For weeks, the river has been bringing with it dark secrets from the Ethiopian region of Tigray. Mangled corpses are mysteriously appearing here downstream in Sudan.

(on camera) We just got a call that three bodies were found down at the riverfront. So we're running down to see what we can see.

(voice-over): Gerri rushes down ahead of us. He's Tigrayan but has been living here for years. He's a key point of contact for Tigrayans driven to Sudan by the conflict.

Fishermen usually spot them first and call Gerri. On both sides of the border, Tigrayans keep a grim tally of those believed to have been executed by Ethiopian forces, who somehow end up in the river.

This is an awful job, but one Tigrayans say is their duty.

We reach the first body on this small island. We must warn you: the images you're about to see are very disturbing. From the binds still biting into his skin, it's clear this man suffered a tortured death.

This Tigrayan has been helping to recover the dead. He holds out the body, but the image is too gruesome to show you. His eyes, though, portray the horror in front of him.

(on camera): They pulled the body out, and the stench was immediate. It clearly had been decomposing along the river for a number of days. And he was tied back with a plastic wire, clearly restrained, and part of the skull was collapsed in. Just a horrible, horrible sight.

(voice-over): They move to pick up someone else. Gerri makes notes of the bodies and their markings. He's trying to piece together this mystery for his people. He doesn't trust anyone to do it for them.

Among the flotsam, another body.


GRAPHIC: His legs were amputated.

ELBAGIR: Sudanese authorities take photographs as evidence. This is a crime scene. But the potential perpetrators are far from here, in Ethiopia.

The second body is put into the same body bag. They have such few resources, but are determined to maintain a certain dignity.


They're buried near the river in a shallow grave, in hope that one day they will be exhumed and reburied in their homeland.

For now, though, there are only two shovels and a pick. Others join in, pushing the earth with their bare hands.

Laid to rest on unconsecrated ground, the Christian Tigrayans desperately try to give respect to their dead. Marking the grave with a makeshift cross, held together with a single face mask. A new dawn rises. Witnesses and local authorities tell us it brings

with it 11 new bodies. For months now, we have been investigating atrocities committed by Ethiopian and allied forces in Tigray.

It's clear to us this marks a new chapter in the ethnic cleansing of the region. But here in Sudan, there are survivors. The living speaking on behalf of the dead. Escapees, eyewitnesses from the Ethiopian border town of Humera described to us a renewed campaign of mass incarcerations and executions.

(on camera): The numbers that they're telling us are extraordinary. We're talking about possibly 10,000 people detained just for being Tigrayan, they say.

We begin to piece together the puzzle. We are here in Sudan in Wada Huram (ph). Upstream in Ethiopia is Humera. Based on descriptions from multiple escaped detainees, Humera and its surroundings have become a mass detention facility.

We were able to pinpoint the locations. Andeada (ph) barrack, a storage facility, the electric goods warehouse, Nakama Hari (ph), where electric wire is stored. Detenset (ph), the old prison, and Digrona (ph), the sesame warehouse. The list goes on.

Via eyewitness testimony and satellite imagery, we verified the existence of at least seven mass detention facilities in Humera where torture is rampant. And two outside town, including a military camp and the Hoaja (ph).

These are pictures of Tigrayan victims, husbands, fathers, sons. Many show victims restrained using the same small-gauge yellow electrical wire identified by eyewitnesses as having been stored in the electric goods warehouse in Humera.

CNN spoke to multiple eyewitnesses and international and local forensic experts. Most of the victims were tortured, executed, piled on top of each other, most likely in a facility or a mass grave, before ending up in the river.

After examining the bodies, experts were able to pinpoint one of the techniques used. Victims had their arms tied back at the elbows in an excruciatingly painful torture position.

In the last few weeks, Tigrayans say the bodies of over 60 victims have floated into Sudan from Ethiopia, evidence of a methodical campaign, one which bears all the hallmarks of genocide as defined by international law.

Up in this remote corner of Sudan, this is evidence the world wasn't meant to see.

Gerri takes us to see the first person he laid to rest. The water will eventually reclaim the body, but this was the best Gerri could do. Already beginning to fall apart, the body couldn't be moved, an image which still haunts him.


GRAPHIC: Leaving the body here hurts my heart, but what can I do? To leave your people by the river? Your sister, your brother, not laid properly to rest. When you see that it hurts you, hurts your heart, but what can you do? This is what we have been condemned to.

ELBAGIR: Gerri stays vigilant, looking out towards his homeland. As long as this conflict continues, the threat of more executions, more bodies floating downstream is ever-present.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, Wadi Halfa (ph), eastern Sudan.


HOLMES: Now in a statement issued via a U.S. public relations firm, Mercury, the Ethiopian government said it was investigating the allegations, but that, quote, "in light of several inconsistencies in the allegations, they are working with the relevant authorities to gather evidence and will prosecute any individuals found to have committed crimes to the fullest extent of the law."


Turning our attention now to Afghanistan, where more flights carrying foreign nationals are expected to leave Kabul in the coming days. More than 100 people were flown out of the country Thursday on a Qatar airways charter. That included American, Canadian, British, and German citizens.

U.S. and Qatar praising the Taliban for their cooperation.

Meanwhile, a U.N. envoy says reports of Taliban restrictions on women are on the rise. She also warned that millions are at risk of hunger and poverty without a generous infusion of international aid.

Plus, we are hearing for the first time from two Afghan journalists who say they were beaten by the Taliban for reporting on protests. One says seven or eight people hit them with sticks until they passed out.

CNN's Anna Coren was in Afghanistan just last night. She remains in touch with a number of sources there.

Anna, good to see you. Let's start with these flights. What more do we know about that flight, who was on it importantly, and any indication how many more flights there might be?

ANNA COREN, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you mentioned, Michael, the first international flight to leave Afghanistan since the 30th of August when that final airlift occurred just before midnight, ending the 20-year war in Afghanistan for the Americans.

The Qataris now saying the airport is operational. They held a joint press conference with the Taliban at the airport, saying that this is a first step for the country to be reconnected to the outside world. As far as the flight manifest, we know that it was about 200 people, but Qatar Airways is not saying how many actual people were on board.

But you mentioned that the nationalities among them, Americans. And we heard from the U.S. government, saying that the -- the Taliban is acting in a business-like, professional manner, in helping them get Americans out of the country.

And as you've said, more flights are expected in the coming days. But what does that mean for all the -- the Afghans who perhaps work for U.S. organizations, or just want to leave the country, because they don't want to live under Taliban rule.

Will they be allowed to leave the country? That is the question, Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. And before we let you go, we have seen some incredible bravery from women who continue to take to the streets, to preserve their rights in the face of great danger, we have to say. What are you hearing from them?

COREN: Yes. Absolutely extraordinary. We were expecting hundreds to take to the streets yesterday, Michael. I guess it was an important day on the national calendar in Afghanistan, the Sud day (ph). But that did not transpire.

Instead, we saw, you know, pockets of women, dozens of women take to the streets, but they were violently met by the Taliban who beat them, pushed them, pushed them back. You know, they are out to crush any dissent whatsoever.

The women we are speaking to, Michael, say that they will not be silenced. They will continue to take to the streets to fight for their rights. Fight for a place in this government.

And we have this predicament, Michael. Because you mentioned the U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, you know, appealing to the U.N. Security Council, saying this country desperately needs aid. A government that previously was propped up by 75 percent foreign aid.

We know it's facing a humanitarian crisis, but how do you deal with a Taliban government that is not inclusive, is crushing dissent, arresting journalists, beating, women has -- no women or ethnic minority is represented in this government?

It is a huge conundrum for the international community as to how they are going to deal with this Taliban leadership.

HOLMES: Yes, indeed, Anna, thanks. Anna Coren in Hong Kong for us.

Vanda Felbab-Brown is a senior fellow in the Center for Security, Strategy and Technology at the Brookings Institution. She joins me now from Washington to discuss.

And thanks for doing so. When you take a look at the Taliban's caretaker government, what do you see? Not so much in terms of ideology, although that is relevant, of course, but in terms of ability, the capability to govern, run a country, keep the lights on? VANDA FELBAB-BROWN, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR SECURITY, STRATEGY AND

TECHNOLOGY, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, the Taliban faces tremendous challenges in running a country and remaining in power as a regime. And the government is very aware of that, including particularly the most significant challenge, which is the possibility of internal fragmentation.

So the composition of the current government and some of the initial rulings are very much geared toward pacifying some of the hard-liners.


HOLMES: There has been a brain drain, undoubtedly, these recent weeks, including many technocrats who had the ability to run things. I mean, how big of a challenge does that present, given the real-world needs of running the country? Just maintaining existing services like electricity or water, let alone economic policy or droughts, poverty, and COVID and so on?

FELBAB-BROWN: Well, the governance challenge is in this domain. The technocratic technical capacities are really a huge challenge for the Taliban.

The Taliban as an insurgency and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) government, has excelled in providing order and enforcing rules. It excelled in collecting taxes.

But it has no capacity, really, to actively deliver services, to create structures, build infrastructures, create administrative operations. It has no knowledge of macroeconomic policy. And in fact, the appointment of the top cabinet and some of these cabinet officials are very emblematic of this lack of education, lack of technocratic skills.

And clearly, the only way they can address those larger challenges beyond enforcing order is to be able to lure some of the technocrats back into the government. They have been trying to do so, sometimes at gunpoint. At various parts of the country, forcing those with business technocratic skills to return to work, and/or by relying on international technocratic systems.

HOLMES: Your article in -- in the Brookings website, a fascinating read, by the way. You do point out that the Taliban, of course, isn't monolithic. It has differing views and strengths of ideology.

Do you think there will be a challenge for leadership in maintaining cohesion across those various factions? Is that tougher, now that the common goal of getting the Americans out is over and they're actually in power?

FELBAB-BROWN: It's absolutely much harder for the Taliban now to maintain the cohesion. The group, frankly, a coalition, features very many different factions of highly different desires for power, and also highly different views of what governance in any aspect of governance, from women's rights, political (UNINTELLIGIBLE), inclusiveness, relationships with external actors, relationships with other jihadi groups should be.

And the Taliban will face many challenges in maintaining that cohesion, both in assuring that the various factions, in particular, the powerful leaders had enough access to economic grants (ph) and spoils. Something the Taliban also needs to do with other non-Taliban opposition groups but also with respect to the policies that it puts forward.

So the policies that we are seeing now are really appealing through the most conservative elements and powerful military commanders, whom the Taliban fear could be a challenge, but they will be contested. There are already major different poles of views, and power dynamics within both the cabinet and the top leadership. And they will only increase over time.

HOLMES: Yes, and as your article also points out, there are generational differences, too. A lot of those who will wield power weren't even around in the last incarnation.

We're almost out of time, but I do want to ask you about this, about the role going forward of not just al-Qaeda but crucially ISIS-K, which has former Taliban commanders in its ranks.

Could there be fracturings, defections to the even more hardline ISIS- K, and what threat does it pose to the Taliban?

FELBAB-BROWN: Well, the Islamic state in Khorasan is really the most fundamental threat to the Taliban rule from outside of the Taliban. And it's a fundamental threat in several ways. It is hell-bent on a secretary in war in Afghanistan, which will cause, if it happens, tremendous amount of problems for the Taliban with neighbors such as Iran.

It is for more plugged in with the national jihadi networks. Again, something that generates frictions with external actors, like China, like Russia, like Iran, as well, as of course, the United States. And it can become an role for Taliban commanders, Taliban leaders, or even local militias that are not satisfied with either the Taliban rule, as it will shape up, or with the economic resources they are getting.

HOLMES: Could really be a rocky road ahead. Vanda Felbab-Brown, thank you so much. Appreciate it.


HOLMES: As COVID, again, threatens to overwhelm U.S. hospitals, President Biden says he's losing patients with Americans who won't get vaccinated. Strict new rules could force millions of Americans to finally get the shots or risk losing their jobs.

Also still to come, the president and his Chinese counterpart speak for the first time in more than six months. They have plenty of difficult issues to talk about.


We'll have a live report from Beijing when we come back.


HOLMES: Tens of millions of American workers who have not been vaccinated might soon have to choose between getting the shot or losing their jobs.

President Biden on Thursday unveiling sweeping new rules to compel up to 100 million people, nearly two-thirds of the U.S. workforce, to get vaccinated.

The most stringent requirement: all U.S. government workers and contractors must be fully vaccinated in the next 75 days or risk being fired. The president adding that they'll no longer be able to opt out with just regular COVID testing.

As for the 80 million Americans who have yet to get a single shot, he had this stern message.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. We've made vaccinations free, safe, and convenient. The vaccine has FDA approval. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot. We've been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us.


HOLMES: The administration's harder line comes as U.S. COVID cases and hospitalizations are again reaching critical levels, especially in places with low vaccination rates.

And we are now learning that President Biden spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday evening. It was just their second phone conversation in seven months. And according to the White House, the two leaders discussed a broad range of issues on which the U.S. and China have common interests, as well as ones they disagree on.

CNN's Steven Jiang is tracking all of this for us in Beijing. No shortage of things to talk about. What do we know about the call, Steven?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, Michael, now we know this call lasted 90 minutes, according to the White House, and the tone was respectful, candid, and familiar.

Now apparently, both leaders kept referring back to their previous in- person interactions with Mr. Xi, for example, kept retelling Mr. -- to Mr. Biden what he had told the Chinese leader in their previous meetings, according to the White House.

So the two men obviously trying to establish some sort of good rapport.

And this is really the point here, Michael, as you mentioned, that the two men actually got on the phone and talk, because their previous call was in February, on the eve of the Chinese new year.

And for the two of the most important countries of the world, their top leaders not having regular conversations, that's obviously not conducive to the stability, not only of bilateral relations, but also for the global order.


Now, of course, it's going to be very difficult and still very challenging to see how this one phone call could improve things quickly, given the current state of relations. And also, given the broader context.

The U.S., of course -- in the U.S., of course, Biden has maintained a lot of the Trump-era China policies, and even starting to frame this relationship as democracy versus autocracy, and calling on U.S. allies and partners to form a united front against Beijing.

And here in China, of course, Mr. Xi has been increasingly reasserting the Communist Party's dominance, not just in politics and military, but also in the economy and in every aspect of Chinese society, including even in people's private lives.

That kind of trend has really reflected, being reflected now on its foreign policy, as well, with its increasingly aggressive attitude with the so-called four-year diplomacy.

But, you know, given this context, though, this phone call taking place is important, because it's not going to -- you know, these leaders are not going to dive deep into specific issues. They are really setting the tone. They're being strategic.

And they talk about the overall relations and setting the tone for the next phase. And that's especially welcomed by U.S. officials, because they feel -- they have been complaining about a lack of progress, the results from working-level meetings with their Chinese counterparts, and even complaining about their Chinese counterparts' behavior.

And they say Mr. Biden understands this. That's why they got onto -- got onto this call with Mr. Xi. Because with Xi's increasingly concentrated power, one word and one order from him could change the behavior in how Chinese diplomats engage with their U.S. counterparts, and as you know, it is in these working-level meetings where things are being discussed and sometimes resolved. And that, of course, could have a long-term and wide-ranging implications -- Michael.

HOLMES: Yes, indeed. Steven, thanks for that. Steven Jiang in Beijing for us. Appreciate it.

Well, two dangerous storms are threatening parts of Asia. One of them is a super typhoon. CNN meteorologist Derek van Dam will show you exactly where they're headed when we come back.


HOLMES: Welcome back. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Michael Holmes.

A pair of dangerous storms are expected to cause problems in different parts of Asia. First of all, there is Super Typhoon Chanthu, which is the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane. Now it is brushing the northern Philippines, where Taiwan could feel the biggest impact from that storm.


Conson is a tropical storm at the moment, headed towards Vietnam. Tracking all of this, CNN meteorologist Derek van Dam joins me now with the very latest. What are you seeing? It's a twofer.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. What we're seeing is astounding, specifically with Super Typhoon Chanthu. Because just in the past 48 hours, a storm just blew up over the western Pacific.

In fact, in our rapidly-warming planet, we are seeing this occur more frequently. And according to NOAA, this storm, which increased from a tropical depression 48 hours to go to a super typhoon. That's from 50 kilometers to 260 kilometer-per-hour sustained winds. That's only occurred five times ever, according to NOAA, in terms of recorded history.

So that just puts it into context how incredible this storm has become within the last couple days.

Here it is: 240-kilometer sustained winds. That makes it a super typhoon, and it's just off the northeastern coastline of Luzon in the northern Philippines.

This is an area where Pagasa (ph), the local meteorological agency, has hoisted a signal No. 3. That is an orange signal, meaning that they are warning residents across this area to expect winds in excess of 120 kilometers per hour. Seek shelter in sturdy buildings, stay away from the coast and, of course, low-lying areas where storm surge and localized flooding would be a threat.

Look at the predicted track of the storm. Still a monster super typhoon, as it just skirts the northeast corridor of Luzon. It would go into the open waters and then eventually impact Taiwan in the next 24 to 48 hours. And then into the most populated part of eastern China. That being Shanghai.

Look at the rainfall totals. This is all being influenced by what is called the southwest monsoon, so rainfall totals across this area, even prior to a land-falling tropical system, have been exacerbated.

So we've had rescues ongoing across the central Philippines in advance of Chanthu, and you can see the rainfall totals that we are predicting across this area again, influenced by the southwest monsoon, as this particular typhoon skirts the region.

We're also talking about a tropical storm. Michael mentioned it a moment ago. This is Tropical Storm Conson and traveling towards the central Vietnam coastline within the next 48 hours. More of a rain threat and flood threat for this area but still strong gusty winds.

So much to talk about in the world of tropics. Hardly enough time. But in the meantime, I'll send it back to you, Michael.

HOLMES: All right, Derek. We'll check in with you later. Appreciate that there. Derek van Dam there.

Now, Canada's federal election is now just 10 days away. A short time ago, the country's five main party leaders went head to head in a national debate. They clashed over climate change, COVID relief, and indigenous reconciliation, with some taking a swipe at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for calling this snap election in the middle of a fourth COVID wave.

CNN's Paula Newton joins me now from Canada's capital, Ottawa, with more.

I guess the prime minister is in a pretty tight spot right now, and it seems a lot of Canadians are wondering why he even called this election.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you'd think at this point, Michael, I think the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party, is wondering why he called this election.

Look, this was supposed to be what he and his party believed would be a cakewalk for him, feeling that, perhaps, most Canadians would think he handled the pandemic fairly well. He's in a minority position. He called an election at least two years early and thought he could get into that majority position. That just hasn't happened.

He took what he probably thought would have been a cakewalk, and now it's turned to a tight rope, of sorts. I can tell you, in terms of the polls far too close here.

And tonight's debate, you know, it was, should we say, tame even by Canadian affairs standards. So that's saying something.

Having said that, though, again and again, Michael, the leaders came back to Trudeau and asked him, why are we even having this election in the middle, specifically, of a fourth wave, but also a host of other issues on the agenda?

I want you to look at now, at the primary contender for Justin Trudeau. It's Erin O'Toole talking to Justin Trudeau about why he called an election. Take a look at the exchange.


ERIN O'TOOLE, CONSERVATIVE PARTY OF CANADA LEADER: What did Mr. Trudeau do? You called an election, sir. You put your own political interests ahead of the well-being of thousands of people. Leadership is about putting others first, not yourself.

Mr. Trudeau, you should not have called this election. You should've gotten the job done in Afghanistan. JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER As of the very beginning of

August, well before this election, we were getting flights out of Afghanistan. We got 3,700 people out of Afghanistan.

And over the past weeks, we've been working with the Qataris, for example, on exactly that good news that we've seen of more people, more Canadians getting out of Afghanistan.


NEWTON: You know, the prime minister promised that, look, the election hasn't effected any of that, but there are many people, many Canadians that aren't buying that.


Canadians are in a grumpy mood, Michael. The country is in the middle of a fourth wave. Many students just starting school this week.

And look, this campaign has been contentious. There was an incident a few days ago, where Justin Trudeau was basically hit by some gravel. That incident is being investigated by police. He wasn't hurt. He said it was just a few bits of stone.

But he has been dubbed by a very small, very small vocal group of what you would call anti-mask protesters, anti-vaccine mandate protesters. And it's just added to, really, an edge throughout the country in this campaign.

There are only 10 days to go, as you said, Michael, and I have to say, even tonight, look, most Canadians were more interested in another Canadian at center court tonight, Leyla Fernandez. I know we will have more on that later, and I'm telling it was a joke of a debate.

I just returned, most of us would have been rather watching tennis. It it be very interesting to see what happens in 10 days.


NEWTON: This prime ministership is, right now, up for grabs.

HOLMES: Yes. And it was an extraordinary performance at the U.S. Open. So, yes be proud, Canada.

And the -- the never grumpy Paula Newton in Ottawa. Appreciate it. Always good to see you.

All right. Minecraft, Fortnite, Grand Theft Auto, some of the most popular online video games played by millions across the world, but some people are concerned it's not all fun and games.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a common concern among gamers and parents the world over: Can video games be addictive?


HOLMES: Innocent fun, or a potential addiction? That question about online gaming is often debated among players, parents, and health experts.

In China, the government not only claims the habit can be addictive to minors, but Beijing has now moved to limit their playing time and pushed gaming companies to follow the rules or face punishment.

Kristie Lu Stout joins me now, live from Hong Kong. What you're going to tell us about? I mean, some parents might secretly not hate the idea, but a lot of worries about government overreach and privacy.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And China continues to take aim at the video game sector earlier this week. Chinese regulators summoned its top gaming companies like Tencent, like NetEase (ph) to demand them to put less of an emphasis on profits and to clamp down on the amount of time that minors spend playing these online games.

This comes after those sweeping restrictions were just released, reducing the amount of time that minors are allowed to play online. Kids under the age of 18 in China, according to the Chinese government, only allowed to play one hour between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, Sundays, and public holidays. All in a bid to prevent online game addiction. But this begs the question: is this even effective?



STOUT (voice-over): Playtime is pretty much over for China's young online gamers. Beijing has banned online gamers under 18 from playing on weekdays, and limited their playing to only three hours on most weekends. China's media watchdog says the rules are necessary to combat gaming addiction.

(on camera): It's a common concern among gamers and parents the world over. Can video games be addictive?

(voice-over): In 2018, the World Health Organization introduced gaming disorder as a new mental health condition. Signs include impaired control over gaming, gaming taken precedence over other interests, continuation of gaming despite negative effects, and impaired social functioning and distress.

SHEKHAR SAXENA, HARVARD UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Gaming disorders is a disorder of control, so the person cannot hold onto the amount of time for gaming, and it keeps increasing. It can cause several health problems. Physical, as well as mental.

STOUT: According to the WHO, the characteristics of gaming disorder are very similar to substance use disorders and gambling disorder. But not everybody agrees. According to a 2020 study, co-authored by American psychologist Chris

Ferguson, there is a lack of consensus on the issue of video game addiction. About 60.8 percent of scholars surveyed agreed pathological gaming could be a mental health problem, but 30.4 percent were skeptical.

CHRIS FERGUSON, PSYCHOLOGIST: It's an issue of scholars have been arguing about for, probably, 30 years. And what has happened is there are all these questions about it that are unresolved in this community. Like, even as basic as is this a real thing?

STOUT: For years, China, the world's largest video games market, has worried about the impact of games, blaming it for rising rates of nearsightedness, and setting up boot camps that use military drills to try to kick the habit.

(on camera): And China now wants to combat gaming addiction by restricting how long young players can game online. How effective is this?

SAXENA: Very drastic public health measure. Gaming disorder is only present in a very small minority of all people who game. Because gaming, by itself, is not always harmful.

STOUT (voice-over): But health experts say the question isn't how many hours a child spends gaming, but whether excessive play is a sign of a deeper mental health issue.

FERGUSON: If you just take away the games, you leave them with a pre- existing condition. So it doesn't really fix anything. It kind of just takes away the thing that they were using to distract themselves from their suffering.

STOUT: Experts advise parents to monitor their kids and focus on harm reduction rather than unplugging entirely, and missing out on the occasional thrilling fight to the finish.


STOUT: But China is standing by its new rules. In fact, it's making new moves against the online video game industry. "The South China Morning Post" is reporting that China is temporarily slowing down the approval process for all new online games -- Michael.

HOLMES: Wow, OK. Kristie, thank you. Kristie Lu Stout there in Hong Kong. Appreciate the reporting there.

And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM, spending part of your day with me. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, @HolmesCNN. WORLD SPORT starts after the break. I'll see you in about 15 minutes.



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