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COVID-19 Lockdowns In Europe; Peng Shuai Purportedly Seen In New Videos; NASA To Test Anti-Asteroid Defense System; Migrants Stuck In Limbo At Poland-Belarus Border. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired November 21, 2021 - 02:00   ET




PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hello, I'm Paula Newton. Ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, new video of Chinese star Peng Shuai surfaces. Why the head of the Women's Tennis Association says it is not enough to prove she is safe.

As COVID cases soar across Europe, protests grow over tighter restrictions to curb the spread.

And NASA is getting ready to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid, all, in an effort, to test its planetary defense system.


NEWTON: Our top story: new video from Chinese state media claims to show missing tennis star, Peng Shuai, alive and well. She hasn't been seen since she accused one of China's most powerful former leaders of sexual assault nearly three weeks ago.

One clip published to state media shows her greeting young tennis fans and signing autographs on oversized tennis balls at Sunday junior tennis challenger finals in Beijing.

This video is said to have been taking on Saturday, showing her having dinner with her coach and friends at a Beijing restaurant. CNN has not been able to independently verify when any of these videos were taken. For more on this, CNN's Kristie Lu Stout, in Hong Kong for us.

Thank you for following the story for us, as it has captivated many around the world. These videos, however, these pictures, have done little to put the controversy to rest.

What more can you tell us?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: It's been over the weekend we've seen several individuals with links to Chinese state-run media, share these fresh videos and clips on Twitter, not available in Mainland China. So clearly, they're aiming this at an international audience.

In a series of clips released earlier today, we see Peng Shuai apparently, at a Chinese youth tennis tournament in Beijing. In an earlier set of, clips released on Saturday, we see her, apparently, at a restaurant in Beijing with a Chinese tennis tournament director and as well as two women.

In one 45 second clip, she's not saying anything but the people around her are going out of their way to name check a date. They keep talking about November the 21st, which, is of course, today. CNN has not been able to independently verify these clips.

It was over two weeks ago, on November 2nd, when Peng Shuai made that accusation. She accused a very powerful man, the former vice premier of China, of forcing her to have sex with him. She made this accusation on her verified post on Sina Weibo. It's a popular social media platform in China.

Within 30 minutes, that post was taken down. She has been under blanket censorship, inside of China, since then. No reporting about the allegations, the accusations that she has made, inside of China.

The Women's Tennis Association, voicing concern about her, they have said, they cannot get in contact with her. We heard from the head of the WTA saying, they're willing to put their business in China on the line unless, her allegations are, properly, investigated.

Now we have a fresh reaction from the WTA, to this new video. Let's bring up the statement for you.

The WTA says this, "While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference. This video, alone, is insufficient."

On Friday, Steve Simon, the head of the Women's Tennis Association, wrote a letter to the Chinese ambassador in the U.S. to express their concerns about Peng's situation. The WTA, since telling CNN, they have yet to receive a response.

It is not just the WTA; you have growing international concern, expressed by the White House, by the United Nations, by the international tennis community and its biggest stars. This all comes at a sensitive time, of course, the Beijing Winter Olympic Games now just two and half months away. Paula?

NEWTON: And to put a fine point on, it last week, President Joe Biden brought up the issue, perhaps, of having a diplomatic boycott of those games. Kristie, thank you so much for updating us on that.

STOUT: You got it.


NEWTON: Joining me now is Robert Kuhn. He is a longtime adviser to Chinese leaders and multinational corporations and the author of the book, "How China's Leaders Think."

And, good to see you again on what is a disturbing story, for so many people, as much and as many people have applauded the Women's Tennis Association and obviously, for good reason, this is the point, that I think, perhaps, people miss. The key thing is how China interprets what the WTA is saying.

ROBERT KUHN, AUTHOR AND CHINA ADVISER: This is certainly unprecedented. It is a moving story. We don't know all the facts. I assume the facts will, eventually, come out.

But certainly, this is unprecedented in China, for an ordinary citizen to level this kind of accusation against a senior leader, albeit retired but nonetheless, a senior leader, much revered in China.

That said, the whole approach of China will be to protect the system because China believes that its system is responsible for all the success. China is the second largest economy, bringing 800-plus million people out of poverty, now moving toward what they call common prosperity.

All of those things, they say, are completely dependent upon the leadership of the party, which has been strengthened recently but at the sixth plenum, in their political meeting, where the party is in charge, Xi Jinping is the core of the party, Xi Jinping thought will lead the party's ideology.

So all of that -- and we're heading toward the Winter Olympics, which is very important in China, and, suddenly, this comes on the scene. So China will do everything possible to lower the heat on this story but will not compromise its core point about the absolute leadership of the party, which means that it will not be subject to pressure or make compromises with the so-called independents, what they say, is Western values.

I think that is the one thing we can be sure of.

NEWTON: The other thing I want to get your take on, whether it is the NBA, other professional sports, tennis, businesses, you are saying the Chinese stand firm.

But also how do the Chinese people usually interpret what is happening?

KUHN: In past situations, such as with the NBA tweet about Hong Kong or about concerns around Xinjiang and the Uyghurs and all other kinds of issues, the great majority of the Chinese people, a very large percentage, support the government and support the actions of the government in Hong Kong, in Tibet, regarding Taiwan, in Xinjiang, all of that, because it is based on nationalism.

Nationalism is a powerful human emotion. We see it all over. In China, it has a special potency, because of their sense of a century of humiliation and after China was the greatest nation and the most advanced in science and technology and the greatest economy, for a millennium or more.

They went into this abject poverty and humiliation. So nationalism has this power. So in past situations, nationalism has trumped -- pardon that pun -- all other issues, in terms of the West.

This, potentially, is different because this is not a nationalistic kind of view. It involves the Olympics, in some way, and it may transform into a nationalism. But right now, it is not a nationalistic point of view. It is, maybe, a prurient (ph) point of view, it is a kind of a soap opera, I hate to say that in that way.

So it is different from the Chinese people's point of view, than the past situations, which, we think, is the same.

NEWTON: Robert, always good to see you, appreciate it.

KUHN: All the best.

NEWTON: Riot police, in the Netherlands, faced another night of unrest, as protests erupted over new coronavirus restrictions.


NEWTON (voice-over): This time, it was in The Hague, where protesters set off fireworks and bonfires. The night before a similar protest turned violent, in the port city of Rotterdam.

European officials say, stricter measures are needed, as new cases surge, among the unvaccinated.


NEWTON: Slovakia and the neighboring Czech Republic both reported their highest numbers of new cases to date. Vaccination rates in those two countries are among the lowest in Europe.

And tens of thousands of Austrians filling central Vienna, on Saturday, to protest that country's new vaccine mandate, the first of the kind, in western Europe. Despite the worsening pandemic, many Austrians are angry that they are heading into a another national lockdown this week.

CNN's Barbie Nadeau, joining us, from Rome, with the latest.

Barbie, in terms of what's going on in Austria, it is not just anger. A lot of it is rage.


NEWTON: And people are saying, they just won't abide by these new restrictions and even those new vaccine mandates.

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The situation in Austria is twofold, the people who are not vaccinated, who are angry that they have to get a vaccine by February 1st, and then the people who are vaccinated, who just can't understand why they have to be locked down.

As you said, that anger is turning into rage and let's listen to what we found out. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NADEAU (voice-over): It's the last weekend before a nationwide lockdown, in Austria. Tens of thousands of people, in Vienna, protested the new COVID-19 restrictions.

One protester, says, "I want my freedom back. One would think we live in a democracy but now, this is a coronavirus dictatorship."

Austria is introducing some of the strictest measures in the region, to try to contain the virus. As of Monday, all residents, whether vaccinated or not, are back under a stay-at-home order. No one is allowed to leave home, except to work, shop for essentials or exercise. And, in February, COVID-19 vaccinations will be mandatory.

The decisions have infuriated some in the country. Even though Austria, like many countries in Europe, is experiencing staggering numbers of new infections. The demonstration in Vienna was organized by the country's far right Freedom Party, which says it will combat the new measures, though, the party head couldn't attend, after testing positive for COVID-19.

In the Netherlands, city workers in Rotterdam, are cleaning up, after a night of violent protests over a proposed corona pass, which would limit access to indoor public venues to people who are vaccinated or have recovered from the virus.

Rioters burned cars and threw rocks at police, who responded with warning shots and water cannons. Some residents say they are appalled by how out of control the rally became.

One man says, "I am very angry about it. They renovated the center of the town and a bunch of idiots destroyed it."

Crowds, are also, filling the streets of the capital of Croatia, opposing a COVID passport, for government, in public buildings, which goes into effect on Monday.

Loud, agitated, pockets of discontent around Europe as governments, increasingly, lose patience with vaccine resistance and take more drastic measures, to try to stop the spread of the virus. As people gather indoors, because of the colder weather.

The World Health Organization, saying that another 500,000 people, in Europe, could die by March, unless urgent action is taken. The rallies for personal freedom and against the restrictions taking place in cities across Europe, as strained ICUs across the region, struggle, to keep up with the number of COVID-19 patients, some of them just fighting to stay alive.


NADEAU: You know, when you look at those crowds, though, you have to think, these are really superspreader events. There are so many people out there, so many, not wearing masks, so angry, yelling, screaming, together and that will just make the problem worse --Paula. NEWTON: As you say, they are not wearing masks and the Delta variant is wreaking havoc, already, with the caseload. Barbie, thank you for the update, appreciate it.

The future is uncertain, to say the least, for thousands of migrants stranded near the Poland-Belarus border. Next, we speak with an official from the International Rescue Committee, who's working on aid programs for them.

Plus, NASA has been working on technology that could protect the planet from asteroid strikes like the one that killed off the dinosaurs. The first test mission launches this week. We tell you more, ahead.





NEWTON: Weather permitting, NASA will send a craft into space on Wednesday, with an unusual goal to crash it directly into a near Earth asteroid. It will be a first test for scientists to help protect the planet from the kind of disaster that killed the dinosaurs and is still, I don't have to remind anyone, the stuff of blockbuster movies. Michael Holmes has that.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a space story seen several times in the movies, like in the 1998 sci-fi film, "Armageddon."


HOLMES (voice-over): An asteroid threatens Earth; the military, astronauts, even oil rig drillers try to save mankind. Some cities don't make it but, in the end, the planet survives.

A Hollywood ending, which NASA is hoping to make a reality with its first planetary defense test mission. Scientists say they have identified the kilometer-wide asteroids, like those shown in the blockbusters, and there are no dangers of them hitting Earth in the coming centuries.

But NASA says it wants to study what could be done if an Earth- threatening asteroid is discovered.

On Wednesday, it will launch a mission called DART, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test. It will send an unmanned spacecraft into space and, if successful, it won't return home. DART is set to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and will travel through space for the next nine months. Its destination, a near Earth asteroid named Didymus and its moonlet. NANCY CHABOT, DART COORDINATION LEAD, APL: These asteroids are not a threat to the Earth. There are not a danger to the Earth, they are not on a path to hit the Earth in the foreseeable future. That makes them an appropriate target for a first test.

HOLMES (voice-over): Traveling at a speed of 6.6 kilometers per second, DART will then deliberately crash into the moonlet to try to jolt it from its regular orbit. Scientists back on Earth will monitor the collision using satellite imagery and ground-based telescopes, to see how much the moonlet changes the course.

ANDY CHENG, DART INVESTIGATION TEAM LEAD, APL: If one day an asteroid is discovered on a collision course with Earth, we have an idea of how big that asteroid is and how fast it's coming and when it will hit, that kind of information.

Then we will have an idea how much momentum we need to make that asteroid miss the Earth.

HOLMES (voice-over): The targeted moonlet is a little larger than one of the pyramids in Egypt. NASA says there are 10,000 known asteroids that are just as big or bigger that could, potentially, caused major regional damage if they ever hit the Earth although none of them are tracking this way.

DART's kamikaze mission could provide lifesaving data, if anything ever does get too close -- Michael Holmes, CNN.


NEWTON: Remember, Michael said, as of now, none of them are tracking this way.

We will be right back with more, news in just a moment.






NEWTON (voice-over): Those migrants, of course, making it clear where they want to go from Belarus, some 7,000 people, stuck in limbo, near the Polish border. Now the E.U. says Belarus is using them as pawns, partly, to turn up the pressure on Brussels over its sanctions on Minsk.

Last, week Polish police used water cannons to stop a flood of migrants from crossing. Since then, Belarus has cleared makeshift camps on the border and moved migrants into a nearby warehouse. It is still unclear where they will go next. Most of the migrants, coming from the Middle East in hopes of reaching Germany and other places, in Europe.


NEWTON: For more on this, we are joined by Stefan Lehmeier, a deputy regional director at the International Rescue Committee, the IRC. And he is near the border between Poland and Belarus.

I hope you can hear me and I'm glad to have you here, on what has been an important story. At this point in time, given what you know on the ground, what you have been able to see -- and I appreciate you having been on the ground for very long -- but how is everyone doing?

Are their needs being met, their immediate needs?

STEFAN LEHMEIER, INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE: This, is probably, our biggest problem on the Polish side. The immediate needs of people are not being met, at least not adequately.

There is an exclusion zone, around 3 or 5 kilometers wide, along the border with Belarus. Aid workers and journalists cannot go in there. We know there are people in there, who were able to cross the border, maybe a week or two ago, maybe longer.

There are also maybe people able to cross at this time. When they are in this exclusion zone, they have to hide. They, know if they are detected by the Polish border guards, they will be pushed into Belarus where they will be at risk of violence as well.

So they're in hiding and not able to access services or supplies and food. That puts them at risk and there's even people dying, as you know.

NEWTON: That was my next question, was the issue of access.

Can you clarify for us, who is holding up the access at this point?

LEHMEIER: Right now in this exclusion zone, we have Polish border guards, military and police. Of, course they are operating in that area and beyond. But any assistance that asylum seekers would be able to access, when they're in this zone and exiting it, will only come from local residents.

The only people allowed to enter the zone, who, just out of their good hearts, will try to save lives. And then, at the perimeter of the exclusion zone, our partners are present, waiting for emergency calls that asylum seekers would place and then they will try to geolocate those seekers and provide them lifesaving assistance.

Sometimes we come too late.

NEWTON: It's an incredibly difficult situation, especially as we can see in some of the video there, there are families and young children.

So what do you want Europe and Belarus, to do?

As you know, they have been unable to, really, come to any kind of solution on this.

What do you think they need to do in the coming days?

LEHMEIER: The most immediate thing that needs to change, right now, is that aid workers need access to the exclusion zone. We need to be able to reach asylum seekers, whose lives are at risk.

If we got access, and nothing else will change, it would be hard to provide assistance, because people are in hiding. We need to be able to save people and not be tracked or followed, by border guards who would then immediately detaining these asylum seekers and pushing them back.

If that is the case, and some aid organizations have been collaborating with border guards, people won't even place their emergency calls. So there is a combination of access and people's individual right to asylum, which is an international right that every human being has.

It doesn't mean every person is entitled to asylum but it means that every person's case needs to be heard in a fair procedure. And these are things that are not happening, consistently, right now.

NEWTON: I have to say, the cat and mouse game you are describing, it's disturbing. These are families, people. And people who want a better future, in which they all have a right to have.

The IRC has been active in saying, look, these policies have to change in general, writ large, with Europe.


NEWTON: And it seems to stem from what you had said, due process for all of these people. To get due process, even if that happens quickly, do you think that anything like that could be put in place right now?

If both sides -- and I would say E.U. (ph) and Belarus, could cooperate on getting these people processed?

LEHMEIER: Absolutely. I have no doubt this is possible. If you look at the numbers, we do not know exactly how many asylum seekers are in Belarus now. We do not even know exactly how many are in different parts of Poland.

But let us assume, we are looking at anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000 people, who, in this area who are interested in claiming asylum, this number could be handled easily.

Especially looking at the European Union as a whole, because they've been struggling for years and years, coming to an agreement on how to collaborate and provide asylum to the people who need it. And they have not gone very far.

The one thing that seems to be working in the European Union, in terms of agreement, is sealing the border and pushing people back. This is happening all along the E.U. external border. But solidarity and collaboration within the European Union, when it

comes providing asylum, providing protection, that is the part that isn't working at all. But particularly here, on the Poland-Belarus border, with the numbers that we're seeing, this is feasible, no doubt.

NEWTON: That's a very good point, in relation to everything going on, the few thousand that are, there who are in desperate need, right now, at this hour, as temperatures get colder and their plight more desperate, they can process those people. Stefan, thank you so much for your insights, especially as you're on the ground. We will continue to follow it.

LEHMEIER: Thank you.

NEWTON: Now call it faith, a miracle or a fortuitous coincidence. But this COVID patient in the U.S. woke up from a coma on the day she was supposed to be taken off life support. Listen to this story, 69-year- old Bettina Lerman was on a ventilator for weeks, at a hospital in Portland, Maine.

And her family was, told she would not make it. So they started to plan her funeral. They even picked a casket and a headstone. Then, on the day that they expected her to die, they got a call from the doctor.


ANDREW LERMAN, BETTINA LERMAN'S SON: He goes, "Well, I need you to come up to the hospital right away."

I'm like, "What? Is something wrong?"

And he goes, "Well, your mother just woke up."

I literally dropped the phone.

I was like, what? I mean, because we were supposed to be terminating life support that day.


NEWTON: Good news here, right?

She is making some kind of recovery, thank goodness, so a slow one but definitely an incredible story there.

I am Paula Newton. I want to thank you for joining me. "INVENTING TOMORROW" is next.