- 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)
India Pedestrian Bridge Collapsed 4 Days After Renovations, Killing Over 100 People
The company responsible for the upkeep of the Morbi bridge did not obtain a safety certificate before re-opening.
After seven months of renovations, the Morbi walking bridge in India opened to the public. Four days later, the bridge collapsed, killing more than 130 people.
According to the local government, there were about 200 people on the bridge when it collapsed on Sunday, despite its capacity of 125.
During a campaign event on Monday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the state government had set up a committee to investigate the tragedy.
“I assure the people of the country that there will be nothing lacking in the relief and rescue efforts,” he stated.
Along with the investigation, the state has launched a criminal complaint against Oreva Group, the company responsible for maintaining the bridge. Oreva Group reopened the bridge after renovations without getting a safety certificate from the government.
In response, Oreva Group spoke to a local news outlet and blamed those on the bridge for its collapse.
“While we are waiting for more information, prima facie, the bridge collapsed as too many people in the mid-section of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other,” the group claimed.
The state government has offered compensation for the families of the deceased, but that is not enough for some. One father whose wife and two children died in the collapse told VICE he wants answers and accountability.
“Why were so many people given tickets? Who allowed them? Who is answerable?” he asked.
Indian police have arrested nine people including ticketing clerks and security guards for failing to regulate the crowd, according to Reuters.
Xi Jinping Tightens Grip on China by Eliminating Rivals
Despite the staggering power grab, Xi faces geopolitical competition from abroad as well as social and economic instability at home.
Xi Surrounds Himself With Allies
Chinese President Xi Jinping shook up politics over the weekend when he revealed the government’s new leadership, almost exclusively composed of his own hardline loyalists.
Six men — Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi — will form the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top ruling body.
The four new members are all Xi loyalists, pushing out Premier Li Keqiang and the head of China’s top advisory body Wang Yang, two key party figures outside Xi’s inner circle who retired despite being eligible to serve another term.
For the first time in a quarter-century, China’s 24-member Politburo will be made up entirely of men, underlining the exclusion of women from Chinese politics.
An official account of the selection process said that a top criterion for leadership was loyalty to Xi, and rising officials must stay in lockstep with him “in thinking, politics and action.”
Topping off the developments, Xi officially secured an unprecedented third term as leader, something that was only made possible in 2018 when the government abolished term limits on the presidency. The weekend marked China’s greatest consolidation of political power in a single figure in decades.
As the 20th Communist Party Congress came to a close Saturday, China’s former leader Hu Jintao appeared reluctant as he was suddenly and inexplicably escorted from his seat next to Xi out of the Great Hall of the People.
Some commentators have argued that a tightly knit band of yes men may help Xi fend off internal party dissent, but it could ultimately result in poor governance as his subordinates fear giving him bad news.
The Arc of History Bends Toward China
Despite the extreme concentration of political power, China’s Communist Party stares down a gauntlet of challenges both foreign and domestic.
Beijing remains locked in a strategic competition with Washington, which has sought to contain the East Asian rival’s rise as a global superpower, but the past week’s congress may portend a stubbornly defiant China for years to come.
Xi is expected to use his firmly secure position within the party to pursue his agenda in full force — by strengthening Beijing’s claim over Taiwan, expanding China’s economic foothold in developing countries, and achieving self-sufficiency in strategic technologies such as semiconductors.
At home, China’s economy has faltered during the pandemic, with high unemployment, low consumption, and slow economic growth putting pressure on a government that stakes much of its legitimacy on promises to deliver prosperity to the population. Between July and September, the country’s GDP grew by 3.9%, according to official data released Monday, which is above many analysts’ expectations but still far below the state’s target of around 5.5%.
China’s National Bureau of Statistics postponed the data’s publication last week ahead of the 20th party congress, reinforcing concerns that Xi’s leadership will put politics before economics.
Monday’s announcement roiled stock markets, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index plunging 6%, as well as the Shanghai Composite and the Shenzhen Composite Index both falling by about 2%.
Beijing has also seen increased political resistance from the population, from anti-lockdown protests in Shanghai to widespread mortgage boycotts over delays from real estate developers.
Last week, a man unfurled two large banners from an overpass in Beijing and called President Xi a “dictator” through a megaphone.
Such small-scale demonstrations are not new, but they took place in the capital just before the congress drew enough attention for photos of the stunt to go viral on social media, where an equally swift censorship campaign stamped out any mention of it.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Washington Post)
Elon Musk Walks Back Threat to Cut Ukraine’s Starlink Internet Service
Although the satellites have been invaluable for Ukrainian military operations, outages have left soldiers without communication devices in recent weeks.
Let Them Eat Satellites
SpaceX founder Elon Musk said on Saturday that his company would continue funding internet service for Ukraine after declaring that he would have no choice but to cut it off the day prior.
“The hell with it,” he tweeted. “Even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.”
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the often jocular billionaire was being sarcastic, but in response to another Twitter user he said, “We should still do good deeds.”
SpaceX’s Starlink satellites help the Ukrainian military operate drones, receive intelligence updates and communicate out in the field, which is vital since many regular internet and cellular phone networks have been destroyed by Russia.
At least 20,000 satellite terminals have been donated to Ukraine since the spring, but SpaceX has footed the bill for a small minority of them. According to a letter the company sent to the Pentagon last month, around 85% of the terminals were paid for in part or in full by the United States, Poland, and other entities, who also covered some 30% of the internet connectivity.
SpaceX claimed in the letter that Starlink services for Ukraine would cost over $120 million for the rest of the year and nearly $400 million for the next 12 months.
“We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine, or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time,” it said.
The company, therefore, requested that the Pentagon take over funding for the satellite terminals.
Earlier this month, Musk claimed on Twitter that Ukraine’s Starlink services had cost SpaceX $80 million so far.
On Friday, following CNN’s publication of the SpaceX letter, Musk reaffirmed that his company “cannot fund the existing system indefinitely, *and* send several thousand more terminals that have data usage up to 100X greater than typical households.”
He added, however, that it was not seeking to recoup past expenses.
On Monday, Politico reported that the Pentagon is considering paying for the Starlink satellite network from a fund that has been used to supply weapons and equipment over the long term, according to two U.S. officials who are involved in the deliberations.
Starlink Leaves Ukraine’s Soldiers Stranded
Ukrainian troops experienced “catastrophic” outages in their Starlink communication devices in recent weeks, according to a Financial Times report earlier this month.
The services reportedly stopped functioning at critical moments, such as when soldiers breached the front lines into Russian-controlled territory or engaged in pitched battles.
“They were acute in the south around the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, but also occurred along the frontline in eastern Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk,” an official told the outlet.
Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to annex all four regions and held referendums widely considered to be a sham justification for his conquest of the Donbas.
The regions are also the focus of a massive Ukrainian counteroffensive that has sent Russian troops scrambling in recent weeks.
One Starlink donor reportedly believed the outages were a result of SpaceX’s efforts to block Russian forces from misusing Starlink terminals.
As Ukrainian soldiers liberated Russian-occupied territory, the sources said, public announcements of their gains lagged behind, and so did Starlink’s coverage.
Another official told the outlet that connection failures were widespread and led to panicked calls from soldiers to helplines.
Musk responded to the report by tweeting, “As for what’s happening on the battlefield, that’s classified.”