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Hong Kong Leader Carrie Lam Says She Won’t Resign After Saying She Would If She Could in Leaked Audio

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  • In leaked audio at a private luncheon, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she would step down if she could, criticizing herself for allowing the extradition bill protests to begin under her leadership.
  • Lam later confirmed the validity of the audio but called the comment an example of the “easy choice,” saying she has not tendered a letter of resignation and will see the situation through to the end. 
  • After another weekend of violent protests that included demonstrators hurling firebombs, Hong Kong’s secretary of security said the protests show “elements of terror.”

Lam Leaked Audio

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Tuesday that she has not tendered her resignation nor is she considering doing so after leaked audio emerged of her saying she would quit if she could.

“I have never tendered a resignation to the central People’s government,” Lam said. “I have not even contemplated to discuss a resignation with the central People’s government. The choice of not resigning is my own choice.” 

Reuters published the audio Monday, citing three people in the room with Lam at the time confirming she made the statement. Because the meeting was held under Chatham House rules, a spokesperson for Lam declined to comment on the leak.

Chatham House rules state any information said at such a meeting can be openly discussed, but the comments must remain anonymous. 

“But for a Chief Executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable,” Lam says in the leak. “It’s just unforgivable. If I have a choice, the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology.”

Lam later confirmed her comment in her Tuesday press conference, calling the leak “quite unacceptable.”

She then continued, clarifying her statement by saying she was giving an example of what would be an easy way out, then saying she would not take that route and that she has repeatedly told herself she needs to remain chief executive to help Hong Kong. 

Also in the leaked audio, Lam said Cina does not plan to deploy its army into Hong Kong. For the past few weeks, the People’s Liberation Army has been stationed at the border between China and Hong Kong, where it was seen practicing regular military exercises.

Lam also said neither she nor mainland China have any deadline to end the protests. She said she still expects them to continue into October 1, which will be the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

She also noted that her power is very limited as the mainland fights a trade war with the United States. 

“Elements of Terror”

Violence escalated over the weekend as protesters hurled fire bombs, resulting in Hong Kong’s secretary for security John Lee saying the protest showed “elements of terror.”

“The extent of violence, danger, and destruction have reached very serious conditions,” Lee said. “Radical people have escalated their violent and illegal acts, showing elements of terror.”

Thursday, protesters hurled bricks and other projectiles at the Hong Kong police station. The violence continued Saturday as protesters lobbed more items like rocks and bricks at the government headquarters. Media later reported fires as protesters continued by throwing Molotov cocktails.

Police then met those protesters with pepper spray, tear gas, and water cannons. The water cannons included a blue dye meant to stain protesters and make them easier to identify.

Clashes in the subway systems caused a massive shut down over large areas of the city. Three subway stations were still closed for most of the next day.

Protesters also demonstrated outside the airport on Sunday, stifling traffic to the extent that some travelers resorted to walking to the airport.

In all, 159 people were arrested between Friday and Sunday, including a 13-year-old boy who was arrested for having two gas bombs. 

Monday, riot police patrolled in full uniform, a rare occurrence because they were not responding to active protests at the time; however, thousands of students did skip their first day of classes to participate in more peaceful demonstrations. 

Why the Protests Are Happening

As Hong Kong reels from its third month of protests, citizens are still calling for a full withdrawal to a bill that would allow people from Hong Kong to be brought to mainland China for trial.

The extradition bill was proposed in February, following an alleged murder by a Hong Kong resident in Taiwan. Because the resident had already returned to Hong Kong, he could not face trial in Taiwan as there is no agreement between Taiwan and Hong Kong to transfer suspected criminals. Outrage sparked when the bill to remedy the extradition problem also included extradition to mainland China.

Hong Kong residents fear the bill could give mainland China more influence over the region to the point that they lose some of the freedoms the mainland lacks, such as free speech and free press.

On July 9, Lam said “the bill is dead” after suspending it, but she did not formally withdraw it. Pro-democracy protesters have demanded the bill be withdrawn as part of their demands, along with Lam’s resignation and amnesty for pro-democracy protesters.

Though the protests began peacefully, Hong Kong has seen a steady increase in violence. Protesters previously stormed the city’s Legislative Council Building, smashing glass doors and windows, defacing portraits, and spray painting the walls. This prompted police to respond with tear gas and rubber bullets. 

Protesters have blocked roads and demonstrated in airports and subways, canceling flights and trains.

Another group in white shirts attacked antigovernment protesters with bats and metal bars in July, leading to the injuries of 45 people.

Mainland China has also said it won’t rule out declaring a state of emergency if the protests continue. Currently, it’s considering banning protesters from wearing masks and punishing teachers who encourage students to protest.

See what others are saying: (Bloomberg) (Wall Street Journal) (South China Morning Post)

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Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion

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  • Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
  • The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
  • The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.

Ever Given Still in Egypt

An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.

The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.

The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.

Pushing Back Against The Claim

While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”

“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”

It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.

See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
  • The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
  • Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Radioactive or Bad Publicity?

After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”

While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.

According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.

Something Had To Eventually Be Done

Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.

The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.

The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.

“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.

To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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Greta Thunberg To Skip U.N. Climate Change Conference, Citing Vaccine Inequality

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  • Young environmental activist Greta Thunberg will not attend the U.N.’s climate change conference set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland this November.
  • “Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem,” the 18-year-old tweeted Friday, adding, “Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions.”
  • Since rollouts began late last year, 40% of vaccines have been administered in wealthy and Western countries, according to The Washington Post.
  • Scientists have warned that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg Points To Vaccine Inequality

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she is skipping the UN’s climate change conference.

The COP26 summit is set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November, but 18-year-old Thunberg told BBC she won’t attend because she’s concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on attendance.

In a Twitter thread Friday, she responded to a headline about her plans to miss the summit.

“Of course I would love to attend…But not unless everyone can take part on the same terms. Right now many countries are vaccinating healthy young people, often at the expense of risk groups and front line workers (mainly from global south, as usual…),” she wrote.

“Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem.”

“Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions,” the teen continued.

Thunberg went on to say that if the summit is delayed, it doesn’t mean urgent action should too.

“We don’t have to wait for conferences nor anyone or anything else to dramatically start reducing our emissions. Solidarity and action can start today,” she added before noting that digital alternatives for the conference would also be insufficient.

“High speed internet connection and access to computers is extremely unequal in the world. In that case we would lack representation from those whose voices need to be heard the most when it comes to the climate crisis,” she wrote.

Data on Global Vaccine Distribution Efforts

According to The Washington Post, nearly 20% of people in the United States are now vaccinated, but many other countries are unlikely to hit that same metric by the end of the year, even with international assistance through the Covax program.

Current projections predict it could be years before developing countries distribute enough doses to come close to herd immunity, which scientists say requires inoculating around 70-80% of a population.

Since rollouts began late last year, enough shots have been distributed to fully vaccinate about 5% of the world’s population, but The Post reported that the vast majority have been administered in wealthy and Western countries.

Around 40% of vaccines have been given in 27 wealthy nations that include only 11% of the world’s population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

That’s pretty concerning because scientists also warn that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg’s comments are a blow for U.K. organizers, who have already postponed the conference once from last November because of the pandemic. Even now, there has been speculation that it could be delayed again this year.

Thunberg would not play a formal role at the conference but her decision not to attend is a significant symbolic moment.

At COP25, the young climate change activist gave a headline speech and she typically attends major climate events of this nature. On top of that, reports say this summit was slated to be one of the most consequential climate conferences since the 2015 Paris accord.

On the agenda for this year’s conference discussions were country-level plans for cutting carbon emissions, along with progress on the Paris agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (CNBC) (The Washington Post)

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