- Thousands in Hong Kong launched a massive protest in the city’s airport on Monday, prompting all flights to be canceled.
- Protestors called for the demonstrations after police fired teargas into an enclosed subway station and fired rubber bullets at protestors fleeing another station the day before.
- Also on Monday, Chinese officials referred to the protestors as “terrorists” and Chinese media sources reported that paramilitary forces ran “large-scale exercises” along the Hong Kong border.
Protest in Hong Kong International Airport
Hong Kong’s airport grounded all flights Monday after thousands of people flooded the hub in protest over the police response to demonstrations the day before.
A smaller number of protesters had already been staging a peaceful sit-in over the last three days at the airport, which is one of the world’s busiest, without disrupting services or flights.
However, protest members called for a larger demonstration at the airport after undercover police dressed as protestors fired tear gas inside a subway station during demonstrations on Sunday.
The incident was reportedly one of the only times police have used tear gas in an enclosed area.
Other videos taken at Sunday’s protests showed police firing non-lethal objects in close range at protestors trying to flee down an escalator at another subway station.
Protestors in other parts of the city reportedly injured some police officers after throwing bricks and petrol bombs.
Man-Kei Tam, the director Amnesty International Hong Kong condemned the police’s actions in a statement.
“Hong Kong police have once again used tear gas and rubber bullets in a way that have fallen short of international standards,” he said. “Firing at retreating protesters in confined areas where they had little time to leave goes against the purported objective of dispersing a crowd.”
As a result of Sunday’s violence, Monday’s protest seemed to be specifically targeted at the police, who protestors have long-accused of brutality and abuse of power.
Demonstrators could be seen holding signs that said: “Don’t trust the police,” as well as signs that displayed pictures of the violent clashes between the two groups.
Some protestors reportedly shouted, “Turn back,” and others held signs apologizing for the inconvenience to travelers.
Most of the protestors have dispersed, according to reports, though reportedly a couple hundred still remain in the airport.
Continued Growing Protests
Monday’s protest is not the first time that activists have staged demonstrations in the airport.
In fact, gathering in the airport is one of the tactics that activists have recently been using to disrupt businesses and transportation in Hong Kong, which is a huge commerce center.
Just last Monday, tens of thousands of people brought massive swaths of the city to a standstill during the city’s first general strike in over 50 years.
The most recent demonstrations also do not represent the first time protestors have accused the police of engaging in brutality.
Over the last few weeks, the protests in Hong Kong have become increasingly violent, with protestors clashing with police more often.
Authorities have also ramped up their efforts to arrest protestors. According to reports, police have said 592 people have been arrested since the protests began on June 9.
Those arrested are between the ages of 13 to 76, and some of them face charges that include rioting, which can carry a prison term of up to 10 years.
The Hong Kong protests originally started over a proposed extradition bill that would have allowed certain criminal suspects to be transferred to mainland China.
Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam eventually suspended the bill but did not fully withdraw it. The protestors continued their demonstrations because until the bill was fully withdrawn, it could be brought back at any time.
While the extradition bill continues to drive the demonstrations, the protestors have also expanded their demands to call for broad democratic reforms.
The protestors are also calling for Lam’s resignation, an independent investigation into alleged police brutality, and release and amnesty for protestors who have been arrested, among other things.
Lam’s Response & China
Lam recently responded to the protestors’ demands by saying she will not step down and largely denying their requests.
Speaking for the first time in two weeks last Monday, Lam said Hong Kong is “on the verge of a very dangerous situation” and accused the protestors of having a hidden agenda.
Lam also claimed it was not in her power to demand the release of people who were arrested during protests.
On Friday, Lam said that an investigation into the police would be inappropriate because they are busy responding to the protests. She also pivoted to claim that the protests were hurting Hong Kong’s economy.
While many have said that Lam’s response is predictable and falls in line with her positions throughout this whole ordeal, others have noted that recent responses from China are far more alarming.
On Monday, the Global Times, a state-backed Chinese newspaper shared a video of armored carriers heading towards a city that borders Hong Kong in advance of what the paper referred to as “large-scale exercises,” by a paramilitary unit.
The Global Times also wrote that the “tasks and missions” of the paramilitary unit included “dealing with rebellions, riots, serious violent and illegal incidents, terrorist attacks and other social security incidents.”
On Monday night, China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, issued a headline that said: “Alert! There are signs of terrorism on the streets of Hong Kong.”
“No country can accept terrorist acts in its own country,” CCTV warned. “Hong Kong has reached an important juncture. ‘End violence and restore order’ is the most important, urgent and overriding task of Hong Kong at present!”
A spokesperson for the Chinese government department responsible for Hong Kong also moved to condemn the violence at a press conference.
“The radical demonstrators in Hong Kong have repeatedly attacked police with extremely dangerous tools in recent days, which constitutes a serious violent crime, and now they are descending into terrorism,” the spokesperson said.
“We should relentlessly crack down on such violent criminal acts without mercy, and we firmly support Hong Kong police and judicial authorities in bringing the criminals to justice as soon as possible,” he continued.
The move comes just a little over a week after a video was released showing Chinese soldiers who were practicing firing on demonstrators.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (The New York Times)
South Korean President Makes BTS Official Presidential Envoys
The position is largely ceremonial but will be used by the government to help give a friendly and popular face to national and international initiatives spearheaded by Seoul.
The K-pop band BTS will be adding to its list of global impacts this year after South Korean President Moon Jae-in appointed its members as Presidential Envoys on Wednesday.
The role will include attending international conferences such as the United Nations General Assembly in September.
At these events, BTS will perform “various activities to promote international cooperation in solving global challenges, such as improving the environment, eliminating poverty and inequality, and respecting diversity,” according to Park Kyung-mee, a Blue House spokesperson.
The band has already appeared at U.N. conferences multiple times over the last few years.
Just last year, the group gave a message of hope and reassurance through the U.N. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior appearances at the U.N. have been either as part of U.N. organizations or as private citizens.
Wednesday’s appointment will make them official representatives of South Korea, although they won’t actually engage in any direct diplomacy and instead will be used to promote the country’s ongoing efforts in youth-related projects.
BTS’ success, alongside prior and current K-pop groups, has remained a masterclass of soft diplomacy by the Korean government. For decades, the Korean government has cultivated promoting cultural aspects abroad in the hopes of generating more interest in the country. There are hopes that such efforts will encourage more tourism as well as an elevated image when consumers consider Korean-made products.
Such efforts, beyond cultivating K-pop and raising its stars as semi-official government symbols, also include helping fund Korean restaurants abroad as well as free Korean-language classes taught by Professors of some of Korea’s most prestigious schools.
The news comes as BTS’ newest single, “Permission to Dance,” quickly took the #1 spot on the Billboard top 100. BTS is also partnering with YouTube to promote a Permission to Dance challenge on YouTube Shorts that will begin tomorrow and end on August 4.
Fans will be encouraged to replicate dance moves from the music video, and the group’s favorite clips will be put into a compilation made by them.
See what others are saying: (Yonhap News) (The Korea Times) (All Kpop)
Over 1 Million Chinese Displaced After Record Rainfall
The rain has created waist-high waters throughout the capital of China’s Henan province, drastically affecting the lives of its over 10 million inhabitants.
Trapped in a Flood
The Henan province of central China experienced severe rainfall over the last week that has left at least 25 dead and displaced more than 1.2 million people due to severe flooding, according to figures released by Chinese authorities Wednesday.
Meteorologists claim that the sudden, severe rainfall is caused by Typhoon In-Fa colliding with a high-pressure system over Henan province.
The floods have forced people to wade through waist-high water throughout Zhengzhou, the region’s capital. In one tragic incident Monday, 12 people died after they were trapped in the subway amid rising waters. A similar situation occurred Tuesday, causing multiple lines to be trapped in chest-high water for up to three hours before rescue workers managed to save them. Since then, metro authorities have shut down many of Zhengzhou’s rail lines.
Between Monday and Tuesday alone, Zhengzhou was hit with an estimated 25 inches of rain, equating to about 87% of its average annual rainfall. At one point, seven inches of rain occurred in less than an hour.
In an effort to alleviate rising waters, authorities breached a nearby dam to release floodwaters on Tuesday, although it’s unclear how much that helped as many dams and rivers in the region have overflowed for days.
Elsewhere in Henan, villages have been cut off by landslides and flooding, killing at least four others and leaving some areas without power for more than 24 hours.
Long Recovery Ahead
The region was finally able to begin recovery efforts Wednesday as conditions have begun to die down.
Despite reduced rainfall, the situation has still proven to be dire, leading President Xi Jinping to issue a statement through state media ordering authorities to give top priority to people’s safety and property.
In total, more than 17,000 firefighters have been mobilized for rescue efforts, as well as local volunteers and other rescue crews from other provinces.
Chinese companies have rushed to donate money to help the affected communities, and so far over $300 million has been donated.
It’s likely that for some time, hundreds of thousands in the region will be left without homes as authorities begin the work of ensuring that buildings are safe to return to.
See what others are saying: (South China Morning Post) (BBC) (The New York Times)
Toyota Largely Pulls Olympic Sponsorship Ads Amid Calls for Games To Be Canceled
Locals in Japan are particularly worried about the spread of COVID-19 among athletes at the densely packed Olympic village, something that has already happened despite assurances that it wouldn’t.
Tainted View on Olympics
The Olympic Games continued to face controversy Monday after Toyota, one of the event’s largest sponsors, announced that it would not air any commercials featuring the Olympics in Japan.
The news may come as a surprise since companies often view their ties to one of the world’s largest sporting events as a major selling point and public relations win. However, Toyota’s decision to distance itself instead highlights a growing trend among brands and locals who view the Games as a semi-toxic subject, especially in Japan where most of the population would like the Games canceled or postponed.
The controversy around the Olympic Games largely revolves around the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the decision to host the Games despite rising cases in Japan, concerns about new variants of the virus, and low vaccination rates due to a slow rollout.
Despite Toyota’s recent decision, the company has provided invaluable support to organizers of the Games, including over 3,000 vehicles to transport athletes, crews, and staff. Additionally, the company continues to showcase individual Olympic athletes that it directly sponsors in competitions on its website.
Cardboard “Anti-Sex” Beds
Growing COVID concerns have many on edge, often causing jokes to be taken seriously and spread as misinformation. One such case involved the decision by organizers to use cardboard beds for athletes. Paul Chelimo, from the United States’ track and field team, joked on Twitter, “Beds to be installed in Tokyo Olympic Village will be made of cardboard, this is aimed at avoiding intimacy among athletes.”
“Beds will be able to withstand the weight of a single person to avoid situations beyond sports. I see no problem for distance runners, even 4 of us can do.”
While many understood the statement to be a joke, outlets quickly ran with the sentiment that the beds were actually designed to prevent sex between athletes. Headlines from publications like the New York Post, for instance, read, “Athletes to sleep on ‘anti-sex’ cardboard beds at Olympic Games amid COVID.”
The situation was largely put to rest after Irish gymnast Rhys McClenaghan posted a video jumping on the beds to prove they were perfectly suited for any activity. Officials at the Games went on to clarify that the decision to use cardboard was because it was a cheap, sustainable option that was easy to dispose of after the games without creating much waste.
The fact that the cardboard beds might prove awkward for athletes to use for sex could be a happy accident for the Olympic organizers, as they’ve made it clear that they don’t want attendees having sex to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. They’ve even gone so far as to threaten athletes who have sex during the games with penalties.
In an effort to further dissuade athletes from hanging outside of their dorms or with others, the use of alcohol has largely been banned. Athletes are allowed to have it in their rooms but are supposed to enjoy it while alone.
For many, proof that the Games can’t be protected against COVID-19 has already presented itself, despite assurances from organizers like IOC president Thomas Bach — who said there was “Zero” risk of transmission between athletes and Japanese staff. At least 61 people at the Olympic village have reported contracting COVID since arriving, including at least one U.S. athlete and Japanese workers at the village.
Non-political Games Rocked by Political Tit-for-Tats
The Games have also been rocked with other problems, especially involving Japan and its neighbors.
Korea was forced to take down flags that it had hung from its Olympic Village dorms that read “I still have the support of 50 million Korean people.” The phrase was borrowed from Korean Admiral Yi Sun-Shin, who said, “I still have 12 battleships left,” prior to a lopsided 16th-century naval victory against Japan in the Imjin War.” The phrasing drew outrage from right-wing Japanese groups who asked the International Olympic Committee to have Korea remove the quasi-political statement.
Korea agreed, but only if Japan agreed to use the Rising Sun flag, a standard used by Imperial-era Japan and the Japanese Navy. It’s also one that is often viewed by many East Asians as a symbol as controversial as the Nazi flag is for Westerners.