Taiwan military says it has right to counter attack amid China threats

By Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan said on Monday its armed forces have the right to self-defense and counter attack amid “harassment and threats,” in an apparent warning to China, which last week sent numerous jets across the mid-line of the sensitive Taiwan Strait.

Tensions have sharply spiked in recent months between Taipei and Beijing, which claims democratically-run Taiwan as its own territory, to be taken by force if needed.

Chinese aircraft crossed the mid-line to enter the island’s air defense identification zone on Friday and Saturday, prompting Taiwan to scramble jets to intercept them, and President Tsai Ing-wen to call China a threat to the region.

In a statement, Taiwan’s defense ministry said it had “clearly defined” procedures for the island’s first response amid “high frequency of harassment and threats from the enemy’s warships and aircraft this year”.

It said Taiwan had the right to “self-defenses and to counter attack” and followed the guideline of “no escalation of conflict and no triggering incidents”.

Taiwan would not provoke, but it was also “not afraid of the enemy”, it added.

MID-LINE “DOES NOT EXIST”

Taiwanese and Chinese combat aircraft normally observe the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait and do not cross it, although there is no official agreement between Taipei and Beijing on doing so, and the rule is observed unofficially.

“Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing. “The so-called mid-line of the Strait does not exist.”

Since 2016 Taiwan has reported only five Chinese incursions across the line, including the two last week.

Late on Monday, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry reported two Chinese anti-submarine aircraft had flown into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone – but not over the mid-line – to the island’s southwest, and were warned away by Taiwanese fighters.

The drills came as Beijing expressed anger at the visit of a senior U.S. official to Taipei.

On Monday, the official China Daily newspaper said the United States was trying to use Taiwan to contain China but nobody should underestimate its determination to assert its sovereignty over the island.

“The U.S. administration should not be blinkered in its desperation to contain the peaceful rise of China and indulge in the U.S. addiction to its hegemony,” it said in an editorial.

China has been angered by stepped-up U.S. support for Taiwan, including two visits in as many months by top officials, one in August by Health Secretary Alex Azar and the other last week by Keith Krach, undersecretary for economic affairs.

The United States, which has no official diplomatic ties with the island but is its strongest international backer, is also planning major new arms sales to Taiwan.

China this month held rare large-scale drills near Taiwan, which Taipei called serious provocation. China said the exercise was a necessity to protect its sovereignty.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard, and Gabriel Crossly in Beijing; Editing by Robert Birsel, Clarence Fernandez and Gareth Jones)

Taiwan denounces large-scale Chinese drills near island

By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan denounced China on Thursday over large-scale air and naval drills off its southwestern coast which it called a serious provocation and a threat to international air traffic.

It urged Beijing to rein in its armed forces.

China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own, has stepped up military exercises near the island, in what Taipei views as intimidation to force it to accept Chinese rule.

Yeh Kuo-hui, from Taiwan’s defense ministry’s operations and planning department, told a hastily-arranged news conference that China’s intentions could not be predicted.

“We must make all preparations for war readiness,” Yeh said, following a news briefing from senior officers describing the Chinese activities over the last two days, and showing a map of Chinese movements.

The drills took place in Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, between mainland Taiwan and the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands, the ministry said. Taiwan says China sent advanced Su-30 and J-10 fighters to participate.

Taiwan Deputy Defense Minister Chang Che-ping said the drills threatened regional stability and endangered international aviation, he said.

“We once again say, do not underestimate the military’s determination to defend our home. We are confident and capable of defending the country,” Chang said.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said the government had shared “information related to China’s threat to key friendly nations”, a likely reference to the United States, Taiwan’s main arms supplier and most important international backer.

China’s defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment. China has held numerous military exercises up and down its coast and near the island in recent weeks.

Taiwan has this week been carrying out live-fire weapons tests off its southeast and eastern coast.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has warned of a rising risk of accidental conflict, saying communication must be maintained to cut the risk of miscalculation.

(Reporting By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry and Timothy Heritage)

U.S. says blocking visas of some Chinese graduate students and researchers

By David Brunnstrom and Ryan Woo

WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States is blocking visas for certain Chinese graduate students and researchers to prevent them from stealing sensitive research, the acting head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said on Wednesday.

Chad Wolf repeated U.S. charges of unjust business practices and industrial espionage by China, including attempts to steal coronavirus research, and accused it of abusing student visas to exploit American academia.

“We are blocking visas for certain Chinese graduate students and researchers with ties to China’s military fusion strategy to prevent them from stealing and otherwise appropriating sensitive research,” he said in a speech in Washington.

Wolf said the United States was also “preventing goods produced from slave labor from entering our markets, demanding that China respect the inherent dignity of each human being,” an apparent reference to alleged abuses of Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region.

Wolf did not give details.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have prepared orders to block imports of cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang over accusations of forced labor, though a formal announcement has been delayed.

Sino-U.S. relations have sunk to historic lows with the world’s two biggest economies clashing over issues ranging from trade and human rights to Hong Kong and the coronavirus.

Earlier, some Chinese students enrolled in U.S. universities said they received emailed notices from the U.S. embassy in Beijing or U.S. consulates in China on Wednesday informing them that their visas had been canceled.

Nearly 50 students holding F-1 academic visas including postgraduates and undergraduates said in a WeChat chatroom the notices stated they would have to apply for new visas if they wanted to travel to the United States.

Many in the chatroom said they were majoring in subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Some said they were postgraduates who obtained bachelor’s degrees at Chinese universities with links to the People’s Liberation Army.

In late May, sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters Washington was planning to cancel the visas of thousands of Chinese graduate students believed to have links to China’s military.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington, Ryan Woo in Beijing; Editing by Richard Chang)

U.S. to require approvals on work of Chinese diplomats in America

By Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Wednesday it would now require senior Chinese diplomats to get State Department approval before visiting U.S. university campuses and holding cultural events with more than 50 people outside mission grounds.

Washington cast the move as a response to what it said was Beijing’s restrictions on American diplomats based in China. It comes as part of a Trump administration campaign against alleged Chinese influence operations and espionage activity.

The State Department said it also would take action to help ensure all Chinese embassy and consular social media accounts were “properly identified.”

“We’re simply demanding reciprocity. Access for our diplomats in China should be reflective of the access that Chinese diplomats in the United States have, and today’s steps will move us substantially in that direction'” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a news briefing.

It was the latest U.S. step to restrict Chinese activity in the United States in the run-up to the November presidential election, in which President Donald Trump has made a tough approach to China a key foreign policy platform.

Pompeo also said Keith Krach, the State Department’s undersecretary for Economic Growth, had written recently to the governing boards of U.S. universities alerting them to threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party.

“These threats can come in the form of illicit funding for research, intellectual property theft, intimidation of foreign students and opaque talent recruitment efforts,” Pompeo said.

He said universities could ensure they had clean investments and endowment funds, “by taking a few key steps to disclose all (Chinese) companies’ investments invested in the endowment funds, especially those in emerging-market index funds.”

On Tuesday, Pompeo said he was hopeful Chinese Confucius Institute cultural centers on U.S. university campuses, which he accused of working to recruit “spies and collaborators,” would all be shut by the end of the year.

Last month, Pompeo labeled the center that manages the dozens of Confucius Institutes in the United States “an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence” and required it to register as a foreign mission.

The State Department announced in June it would start treating four major Chinese media outlets as foreign embassies, calling them mouthpieces for Beijing.

It took the same step against five other Chinese outlets in February, and in March said it was slashing the number of journalists allowed to work at U.S. offices of major Chinese media outlets to 100 from 160 due to Beijing’s “long-standing intimidation and harassment of journalists.”

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)

Pentagon concerned by China’s nuclear ambitions, expects warheads to double

By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China is expected to at least double the number of its nuclear warheads over the next decade from the low 200’s now and is nearing the ability to launch nuclear strikes by land, air and sea, a capacity known as a triad, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

The revelations came as tensions rise between China and the United States and as Washington seeks to have Beijing join a flagship nuclear arms treaty between the United States and Russia.

In its annual report to Congress on China’s military, the Pentagon said that China has nuclear warheads in the low 200’s, the first time the U.S. military has disclosed this number. The Federation of American Scientists has estimated that China has about 320 nuclear warheads.

The Pentagon said the growth projection was based on factors including Beijing having enough material to double its nuclear weapons stockpile without new fissile material production.

The Pentagon’s estimate is in line with an analysis by the Defense Intelligence Agency.

“We’re certainly concerned about the numbers … but also just the trajectory of China’s nuclear developments writ large,” Chad Sbragia, deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, told reporters.

Earlier this year, China’s Communist Party-backed newspaper Global Times said Beijing needs to expand the number of its nuclear warheads to 1,000 in a relatively short time.

Sbragia said China was also nearing completion of its nuclear triad capacity, suggesting China is further along than previously publicly known. China has only two of the three legs of triad operational but is developing a nuclear capable air-launched ballistic missile.

The report said that in October 2019, China publicly revealed the H-6N bomber as its first nuclear capable air-to-air refueling bomber.

Washington has repeatedly called for China to join in trilateral negotiations to extend New START, a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms treaty that is due to expire in February.

China has said it has no interest in joining the negotiation, given that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is about 20 times the size of China’s.

In July, a senior Chinese diplomat said Beijing would “be happy to” participate in trilateral arms control negotiations, but only if the United States were willing to reduce its nuclear arsenal to China’s level.

China’s growing nuclear arsenal should not be used as an excuse for the United States and Russia not to extend New START, Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association advocacy group, said.

It “further reinforces the importance of extending New START and the folly of conditioning extension on China and China’s participation in arms control,” Reif added.

China’s nuclear arsenal is a fraction of the United States’, which has 3,800 nuclear warheads stockpiled, and Russia’s, which has roughly 4,300, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

“PREVENT TAIWAN INDEPENDENCE”

Tensions have been simmering between China and the United States for months. Washington has taken issue with China’s handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak and moves to curb freedoms in Hong Kong. The increasingly aggressive posture comes as President Donald Trump bids for re-election in November.

Another source of tension has been Taiwan. China has stepped up its military activity around the democratic island Beijing claims as sovereign Chinese territory, sending fighter jets and warships on exercises close to Taiwan.

The Pentagon report, based on 2019 information, said China’s military continued to “enhance its readiness” to prevent Taiwan’s independence and carry out an invasion if needed.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Italy says China a key strategic partner, despite U.S. concerns

By Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) – Italy and China need to forge closer ties, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Tuesday, potentially putting Rome at odds with Washington, which has raised alarm over Beijing’s economic ambitions.

Di Maio was speaking after talks with the Chinese government’s top diplomat State Councillor Wang Yi, who was beginning a visit to Europe that will also include the Netherlands, Norway, France and Germany.

Italy became the first major Western economy to join China’s international infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative, when it signed a raft of accords in 2019. However, the move has yielded little for Italy so far.

“It was a very fruitful meeting,” Di Maio said, adding that he had discussed with Wang how to “relaunch (our) strategic partnership from the economic and industrial view point”.

Wang told reporters it was important for China and the European Union to strengthen relations and deepen cooperation to tackle the coronavirus.

U.S. President Donald Trump blames Beijing for the spread of the disease, which emerged in China last year. He also wants to restrict the global development of Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co., accusing it of acting as a Trojan Horse for Chinese cyber spies.

Italy has not joined the United States in imposing restrictions on Huawei and Di Maio made no reference to the company in his remarks. In an apparent reference to tensions with Washington, Wang said China did not want to see a Cold War.

“A Cold War would be a step backwards,” he said. “We will not let other countries do this for their own private interests, while damaging the interests of other countries.”

Di Maio said he had raised the issue of Hong Kong with Wang, saying its citizens’ rights and freedoms had to be respected.

China unveiled a national security law last month which Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters and the West say breaches the 1984 Sino-British treaty that guaranteed Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Drugmakers slash prices to win China’s bulk-buy contracts: state media

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Drugmakers have slashed prices by up to 95% to win state contracts in China’s largest bidding round of its drug procurement program, state media said on Thursday.

Beijing has implemented a national scheme where global pharmaceutical companies and Chinese generic drugmakers vie to sell their products in bulk at public hospitals.

In the latest bidding round for contracts worth hundreds of billions yuan in total, drugmakers cut prices by 53% on average, state media Xinhua reported, citing preliminary results.

It involves 55 types of medicines, more than the previous two rounds.

Drugs open for bidding covered some products that contributed more than $1 billion each to foreign drugmakers’ sales in 2019 but face challenges from generic versions offered by local drugmakers.

They included AstraZeneca Plc’s heart disease treatment Brilinta, and blood-thinner Eliquis, jointly developed by Pfizer Inc. and Bristol Myers Squibb Co (BMS). Contracts for the two treatments were won by Chinese companies, according to preliminary results published by procurement authorities.

A BMS representative said that the company decided not to join the bidding for Eliquis, and that it will speed up introducing new drugs in China.

AstraZeneca did not reply to a Reuters request for comment.

Foreign companies generally quoted higher prices in Thursday’s bidding and barely secured any contracts, said ICBC International Research analyst Zhang Jialin.

More expensive brand-name drugs still had opportunities in the market not covered by the national procurement scheme, thanks to their higher profile among patients and doctors compared with cheaper generic drugs, Zhang said.

Thursday’s bidding also showed China’s generic drugs market starting to concentrate around a few big players, Zhang added.

Units of Shanghai Pharmaceuticals Holding won bids for six products, the parent company said in a filing.

For smaller firms, the bulk-buy scheme might risk driving them close to losses, said Wang Yue, a professor at Peking University’s School of Health Humanities.

“Many companies actually have no power to bargain with the government,” he said. “When the market changes, like when labor and logistics costs rise, the (low drug) prices are hard to sustain.”

For most products in Thursday’s bidding, if a single company won the bid, it could provide up to half of the total procurement volume in the first year. If there were at least four winners, 70-80% of the volume could be shared, procurement authorities said in official guidance last month.

(Reporting by Roxanne Liu in Beijing and Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Editing by Nick Macfie and Mark Potter)

Hong Kong’s Apple Daily vows to fight on after owner arrested

By Yoyo Chow

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s Apple Daily tabloid responded with defiance on Tuesday to the arrest of owner Jimmy Lai under a new national security law imposed by Beijing, promising to fight on in a front-page headline over an image of Lai in handcuffs.

Readers queued from the early hours to get copies of the pro-democracy tabloid a day after police raided its offices and took Lai into detention, the highest-profile arrest under the national law.

“Apple Daily must fight on,” the front-page headline read, amid fears the new law is eroding media freedoms guaranteed when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

“The prayers and encouragement of many readers and writers make us believe that as long as there are readers, there will be writers, and that Apple Daily shall certainly fight on.”

More than 500,000 copies were printed, compared with the usual 100,000, the paper said on its website.

Mainland-born Lai, who was smuggled into Hong Kong on a fishing boat when he was a penniless 12-year-old, is one of the most prominent democracy activists in the city and an ardent critic of Communist Party rule in Beijing.

His arrest comes amid a crackdown on the pro-democracy opposition in Hong Kong that has drawn international criticism and raised fears for freedoms promised by Beijing under a “one country, two systems” formula.

The sweeping security law imposed on June 30 punishes anything China considers secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

The city’s Beijing-backed government and Chinese authorities say the law is necessary to restore order after months of at times violent anti-government protests last year, sparked by fears China was slowly eroding those freedoms.

Hong Kong has since become another source of contention between the United States and China, whose relations were already at their most strained in years over issues including trade, the coronavirus, China’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority and its claims in the South China Sea.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday called Lai a “patriot”, saying Beijing had “eviscerated” Hong Kong’s freedoms.

Britain said Lai’s arrest was further evidence the security law was a “pretext to silence opposition”, to which China’s embassy replied by urging London to stop “using freedom of the press as an excuse to discredit” the law.

‘DANCING WITH THE ENEMY’

Police detained Lai for suspected collusion with foreign forces after about 200 officers searched the newspaper’s offices, collecting 25 boxes of evidence.

Handcuffed and apparently wearing the same clothes after spending the night in jail, he was driven by police on Tuesday to his yacht which police searched, according to media footage.

Beijing has labelled Lai a “traitor” in the past and issued a statement supporting his arrest.

The Beijing-backed China Daily newspaper said in an editorial Lai’s arrest showed “the cost of dancing with the enemy.” The paper added that “justice delayed didn’t mean the absence of justice”.

Police arrested 10 people in all on Monday, including other Apple Daily executives and 23-year-old Agnes Chow, one of the former leaders of young activist Joshua Wong’s Demosisto pro-democracy group, which disbanded before the new law came into force.

Chow was released on bail late on Tuesday, calling the arrest of herself and other activists “political persecution.”

“It’s very obvious that the regime is using the national security law to suppress political dissidents,” she said.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement has managed to sustain broad support across the community.

Shares in Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily, surged for a second day, gaining more than 2,078% from Friday’s close, after online pro-democracy forums called on investors to show support.

Its market value rose as high as HK$5.17 billion ($666.7 million) from some HK$200 million.

In the working-class neighborhood of Mong Kok, dozens of people queued from as early as 2:00 a.m. (1800 GMT) to buy Lai’s paper.

“What the police did yesterday interfered with press freedom brutally,” said 45-year-old Kim Yau as she bought a copy.

“All Hong Kong people with a conscience have to support Hong Kong today, support Apple Daily.”

In another show of support, long queues formed at lunch time at the Cafe Seasons restaurant owned by Lai’s son, Ian, who was also arrested on Monday.

The United States last week imposed sanctions on several top officials over what it said was their role in curtailing political freedoms in Hong Kong. China responded with sanctions on top U.S. legislators and others.

($1 = 7.7501 Hong Kong dollars)

(Additional reporting by Jessie Pang, Carol Mang, Donny Kwok and Clare Jim; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Stephen Coates, Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

U.S. health chief, visiting Taiwan, attacks China’s pandemic response

By Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) – U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar attacked China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday and said that if such an outbreak had emerged in Taiwan or the United States it could have been “snuffed out easily”.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized Beijing for trying to cover up the virus outbreak, first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, and prevaricating on information sharing. China angrily denies the accusations.

“The Chinese Communist Party had the chance to warn the world and work with the world on battling the virus. But they chose not to, and the costs of that choice mount higher every day,” Azar said in Taipei, capital of self-ruled Taiwan, an island China claims as its own.

As the virus emerged, China did not live up to its “binding” international obligations in a betrayal of the cooperative spirit needed for global health, he added, wearing a face mask as he has done for all his public events in Taiwan.

“I believe it is no exaggeration to say that if this virus had emerged in a place like Taiwan or the United States, it might have been snuffed out easily: rapidly reported to public health authorities, who would have shared what they knew with health professionals and with the general public,” Azar said.

“Instead, Beijing appears to have resisted information sharing, muzzling doctors who spoke out and hobbling the world’s ability to respond.”

The United States has the highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths in the world and President Donald Trump has come under scathing attack from critics at home for not taking what he calls the “China virus” seriously enough.

Taiwan has been praised by health experts for its early and effective steps to control the outbreak, with only 480 infections, including seven deaths.

Azar arrived in Taiwan on Sunday as the highest-level U.S. official to visit in four decades, a trip condemned by China.

China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has vowed to bring it under its rule, by force if necessary.

Chinese fighter jets on Monday briefly crossed the median line of the sensitive Taiwan Strait, and were tracked by Taiwanese anti-aircraft missiles, part of what Taipei sees as a pattern of harassment by Beijing.

Washington broke off official ties with Taipei in 1979 in favor of Beijing but is still Taiwan’s biggest arms supplier. The Trump administration has made strengthening its support for the democratic island a priority as relations with China sour over issues including human rights, the pandemic, Hong Kong and trade.

Azar said the world should recognize Taiwan’s health accomplishments and not try to push it out, pointing to Taiwan’s exclusion from the World Health Organization due to Chinese objections.

“This behavior is in keeping with Beijing’s approach to WHO and other international organisations. The influence of the PRC (People’s Republic of China) far outweighs its investment in this public health institution – and it uses influence not to advance public health objectives, but its own narrow political interests.”

Both China and the WHO say Taiwan has been provided with the help it needs during the pandemic, which Taiwan disputes.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Nick Macfie)

Hong Kong police raid on newspaper filmed in real time as China flexes muscles

By James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Six weeks after China imposed sweeping national security laws on Hong Kong, police moved in on media tycoon Jimmy Lai, one of the most outspoken critics of Beijing in the city.

Lai, 71, was whisked away from his home early on Monday morning by national security police, part of a citywide operation that also saw eight other men arrested, including several of his senior executives.

Then, just before 10 a.m., hundreds of police descended on Lai’s corporate Next Digital headquarters, where his flagship Apple Daily is produced and published.

Staffers said they asked police what legal grounds they had for entering. But these questions were largely ignored as more than 200 police streamed in, according to a live feed of the unfolding drama.

Apple Daily’s Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law, who was helping film and comment on the Facebook live feed, could be seen rushing about the building as he tried to report on events breaking in his own newsroom.

“This is, I believe, the first time in Hong Kong that police have initiated a mass search on a media outlet like this,” he said, panting, as he scaled a back staircase with a colleague to get around the mass of police officers.

As news of the raid spread, more than 10,000 people tuned in, watching as Law defied police warnings to stop filming.

The newsroom was lightly staffed at the time.

But the few employees there, some clad in shorts and sneakers, were told to produce identity documents and register with the police. Some demanded to first see a search warrant.

Some desks were festooned with poster art in support of pro-democracy protests last year, and the Umbrella movement of 2014. One read: “Who’s afraid of the truth!”

More police began arriving, and fanned across the newsroom, following by Law as they meandered through the unmanned cubicles in scattershot fashion, lifting a paper here, plucking a folder from a cabinet there.

“What is the scope of your search area?” one voice was heard shouting off camera. A male officer replied that such inquiries should be put to his supervisors.

Several executive offices, including Lai’s, were sealed off with a red cordon and guarded by police.

PREPARED FOR RAID

Two months before, in an interview with Reuters in one of those sealed rooms, Lai said he was bracing for just such a day: shifting assets abroad and making preparations with lawyers.

“Everything will be piled on us,” he had said.

At around 11 a.m., police led the crew-cut Lai into his office in handcuffs. When he went to the toilet, an entourage of around 20 officers followed. Several other senior executives were also shown being taken into the building.

The police said in a statement that they had a court-issued warrant for their search, and that the nine men had all been arrested for suspected national security law violations, including collusion with foreign powers.

The police did not reveal the names or any specific charges for any of those arrested.

The raid, though expected, rattled some staffers.

Months before the law took effect, the newspaper had shredded documents, uploaded digitized files to overseas servers and safeguarded sources, two senior reporters told Reuters, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the situation.

“I had prepared myself mentally for this,” one said. “But emotionally I feel a little conflicted. It’s happened so quickly. The government is finally taking this drastic step to destroy the city’s media freedoms.”

Police carted 25 boxes of evidence from the building and blocked reporters from other outlets from entering.

Senior police on the scene tried at one point to prevent Apple Daily reporters working at their desks, but relented upon fierce objections from staff present.

Law, Apple Daily’s chief editor, said the paper would continue to be published no matter what.

“Business as usual,” he said in a text message to Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Greg Torode and Jessie Pang; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Raju Gopalakrishnan)