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China Retaliates With Sanctions on U.S. After Trump Signs Hong Kong Bills

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  • New protests broke out in Hong Kong after pro-democracy demonstrators saw two massive wins over the last week.
  • Last Sunday, pro-democracy candidates won a record number of seats in local elections, while pro-government allies went from 300 to 58 seats.
  • On Wednesday, President Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into law, which authorizes the U.S. to impose sanctions on Hong Kong for human rights abuses, among other things.
  • China responded to the U.S. legislation by suspending U.S. military ship travel to Hong Kong and imposing sanctions on U.S.-based NGOs.

New Protests

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Hong Kong in a fresh round of protests Sunday, following a week of significant wins for pro-democracy activists.

The protests, which picked up after a week of relative quiet, started out largely peaceful before ending in clashes between demonstrators and police later in the day.

Police reportedly fired tear gas and pepper spray at protestors, claiming they were responding to demonstrators who threw bricks and smoke bombs.

As the clashes escalated, protestors reportedly built barricades and vandalized shops that they perceive to be Beijing-friendly.

Meanwhile, the police continued to use tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the demonstrators.

For the pro-democracy activists who have been demonstrating in Hong Kong for nearly six months now, Sunday’s demonstrations were, at least in part, a celebration of recent wins for the movement. 

Elections

The first major victory for the protestors came last Sunday when a record number of Hong Kongers turned out and voted for a record number of pro-democracy candidates in local elections.

According to reports, 71% of eligible voters went to the polls, making it the highest voter turn out since Hong Kong began holding district council elections in 1999.

Source: The New York Times

As a result, in the election where there were 452 seats up for grabs, pro-democracy candidates went from holding only 124 seats to winning 389, giving them way more seats than they have ever won.

Meanwhile, the government’s allies went from holding 300 seats to winning only 58 seats.

The election was widely viewed as a referendum on both the protests and the government’s response to them.

Even though the results seem to show widespread support for the pro-democracy movement, it is unclear how far that support will take the movement.

This is because the district council seats do not have all that much power in Hong Kong’s political system despite the fact that district councils are some of the most democratic bodies in Hong Kong, with nearly all of the council seats being chosen through direct election.

By comparison, only about half of Hong Kong’s powerful Legislative Council is directly elected.

Watch our previous coverage on the situation in Hong Kong

Even Hong Kong’s chief executive is not chosen directly by voters, but instead by a committee that is stacked in favor of Beijing. 

Notably, however, the results of last week’s election will still give the pro-democracy forces more influence on that committee, although it is not scheduled to choose a new chief executive until 2022.

Hong Kong’s current chief executive, Carrie Lam, responded to the election results in a statement the next day.

“Many have pointed out that the results reflect the public’s dissatisfaction with the social situation and deep-seated problems,” Lam said, adding that the government would “listen to the views of the public with an open mind and seriously reflect on them.”

However, according to reports, Lam has not made any efforts to work with the protestors or address their demands since the election.

Ma Ngok, an associate professor of political science at the Chinese University of Hong Kong told the Wall Street Journal that pro-democracy activists restarted their protests again because Lam and the government did not try to communicate with them after the election.

“The people just want to show the government that they will not back down or stay away just because they won,” he said. 

“After the election, the government had a favorable atmosphere to respond because I think the mood had improved on the part of the protesters. It was up to the government to respond and they didn’t.”

U.S. Passes Hong Kong Bill

In addition to huge wins in the recent election, pro-democracy protestors also received a victory from President Donald Trump, who officially signed two bills known as the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into law on Wednesday.

Among other things, the Act requires the State Department to review Hong Kong’s special trade status with the U.S. each year. And perhaps most significantly, it also authorizes the U.S. to impose sanctions on Hong Kong for human rights abuses.

Trump had initially been hesitant to sign the bills, saying in an interview with Fox & Friends earlier that week that he supported the protestors, but that Chinese President Xi Jinping was “a friend.”

He also argued that the bill could hurt the ongoing trade deal negotiations between the U.S. and China.

However, a number of Republicans pointed out that the bills had passed with veto-proof majorities in both chambers and said they would override his veto. Trump ultimately signed the bills.

“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong,” the president said in a statement. “They are being enacted in the hope that Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all.”

China responded by condemning the bills.

“This is a severe interference in Hong Kong affairs, which are China’s internal affairs,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “It is also in serious violation of international law and basic norms governing international relations.”

“We urge the US to not continue going down the wrong path, or China will take countermeasures, and the US must bear all consequences,” the statement later added.

But Sunday’s protests saw a number of Hong Kongers cheering and celebrating Trump’s decision.

Protesters reportedly gathered at a separate event Sunday called the “Gratitude to USA March” where protestors were seen waving American flags and holding signs that said “President Trump, please liberate Hong Kong” and “President Trump, let’s make Hong Kong great again.”

China Retaliates

China’s Foreign Ministry responded to the recent developments, announcing Monday that it was suspending U.S. warship visits to Hong Kong.

“In response to the unreasonable behaviour of the US side, the Chinese government has decided to suspend reviewing the applications for US warships to go to Hong Kong for [rest and] recuperation as of today,” a ministry spokeswoman said in a statement.

The spokeswoman also said that China would be imposing sanctions on several U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations, including the National Endowment for Democracy, Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House, which she accused of supporting “anti-China forces in creating chaos in Hong Kong, and encouraged them to engage in extreme violent criminal acts.”

“They have a large responsibility for the chaos in Hong Kong, and deserve to be sanctioned and pay the price,” she added.

Many experts have said that the new sanctions will not have a big effect on the U.S. They argue the sanctions are largely symbolic and show that China wants to move ahead with a trade deal.

However, on Sunday, Axios reported that a source close to Trump’s negotiating team told them that a trade deal between the U.S. and China was now “stalled because of Hong Kong legislation.”

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The New York Times) (NBC News)

International

Russia Orders Social Media Sites To Block Calls for Navalny Protests

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  • Shortly after his arrest on Sunday, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called for protests to take place on Jan. 23 and was met with a wave of support online.
  • In response, the government ordered tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and Russian-centric VK to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”
  • TikTok has already deleted 38% of posts with such calls while VK and YouTube have deleted 50%, and Instagram has removed 17%.

Navalny Calls for Protests

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s return to Russia and subsequent arrest earlier this week has set off a chain of events in the country.

Since his arrest, Navalny has called for protests to occur on Jan. 23. Now, Russian authorities are taking precautions and arresting his allies in an effort to slow down the momentum of the looming demonstrations. Among their many demands are that Navalny be released.

Throughout the week, thousands of posts shared by younger Russians have raged across social media asking that people partake in the protests. The reach of those posts, however, have been curtailed by the government.

Social media tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and the Russian-centric VK were ordered by the Russian government to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”

Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications watchdog, later stated, “Internet sites will be brought to administrative responsibility in connection with the dissemination of information prohibited by law and aimed at attracting minors to participate in unauthorized mass public events.”

“Participation in such events is in violation of the established procedure, including in a pandemic, and carries risks of harm to life and health,” it added.

Censorship Payoff Unknown

For many of the sites, which are often seen as a way to promote free speech in regimes that are far more restrictive, the order puts them in an awkward position. Still, many have already complied, at least to some extend.

According to Roskomnadzor, Tiktok has deleted 38% of videos calling for minors to attend the protests. VK and YouTube have both deleted 50% of similar posts, while Instagram has removed 17% of posts that violate the regulations.

It’s unclear to what extent this censorship will have on stopping Russians from attending tomorrow’s protests; however, some of the nation’s largest protests in modern history have been organized by Navalny.

See what others are saying: (Moscow Times) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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Accusations Against Chinese Actress Shine Light on the Nation’s Surrogacy Laws

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  • Chinese actress Zheng Shuang is facing major backlash after her former partner, Zhang Heng, accused her of abandoning her two children born through U.S.-based surrogates.
  • Beyond public outcry and losing brand deals, Zheng is likely facing legal consequences after a Chinese government agency said that using a legal loophole to obtain a surrogate from abroad was “definitely not innocent.” 
  • Zheng denies the claims and hasn’t confirmed if the children are actually hers, although she’s listed as their mother on their birth certificates.
  • As for the children in question, Zhang has been taking care of them in the U.S.

American-Based Surrogacy Cause Controversy

Chinese social media users have launched into debates surrounding how the rich and elite circumvent domestic laws in order to obtain surrogate services.

The latest controversy is surrounding actress Zheng Shuang. Though she has never confirmed this publicly, Zheng allegedly went to the U.S. with her-now-ex Zhang Heng and had two children with the help of American surrogates. However, on Monday, Zhang accused Zheng of abandoning the children and leaving him to take care of them in the U.S. The couple reportedly broke up before the babies were born due to Zhang’s alleged infidelity.

According to the South China Morning Post, Zhang’s friend released a voice recording on the Chinese platform NetEase Entertainment. In it, Zhang and Zheng are allegedly having a discussion with their parents over what to do with the then-unborn children. Zheng’s father suggested that they abandon the children at the hospital, while Zheng reportedly expressed annoyance that they could not be aborted so late in pregnancy.

Legal Grey Zone Likely Won’t Help

Beyond public outcries, Zheng lost a recent brand deal with Prada that she signed just eight days before the accusations were made. Additionally, other brand partners, such as Aussie, have distanced themselves from the actress. She also faces multiple awards she has won being revoked as well as potential legal consequences.

Currently, surrogacy is illegal in China; however, the laws have a legal grey zone. Technically, providing surrogacy is what is illegal, but obtaining one from abroad is not explicitly mentioned, even if it goes against the spirit of the law.

The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party commented on the situation in a Weibo video post, saying that using this legal loophole to get a surrogacy was “definitely not innocent.” 

“Surrogacy is banned in China as it uses women’s uteruses as a tool and sells life as a commercial product.,” it continued. “As a Chinese citizen, the act of traveling to the US on a legal loophole is not abiding the law.” 

Following the post, companies like Blued, a gay dating app in China, took down sections of their apps that helped users set up services with surrogacy firms overseas.

Surrogacy is a controversial subject in China, with many actors and actresses obtaining them overseas, but many social media users across the country are against the practice. Officially, the government claims that it “overlooks life” and “tramples the bottom line [of human morality].

Zheng has denied claims that she abandoned any children, and has never confirmed whether or not she actually has any, although she is listed as the mother on the children’s birth certificates.

As for the children in question, even though Zheng’s father suggested abandoning them in the hospital, her ex has been taking care of them in the U.S.

See What Others Are Saying: (South China Morning Post) (Straits Times) (New York Times)

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American Influencer Kristen Gray To Be Deported From Bali

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  • In a viral Twitter thread, influencer Kristen Gray encouraged people to move to Bali like she did while promoting her eBook and other resources on how to do so amid COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Many criticized her for encouraging an influx of travelers during the pandemic. She also sparked conversations about gentrification and was slammed for falsely characterizing Indonesia as queer-friendly.
  • The local government promised to deport her Tuesday, arguing that selling her book and offering paid consultations on traveling to Bali violated the purpose of her visitor stay permit. They also say she was “spreading information that could unsettle the public.”
  • “I am not guilty. I have not overstayed my visa. I have not made money in Indonesian rupiah in Indonesia,” Gray told reporters. “I put out a statement about LGBT and I am being deported because of LGBT.”

Kristen Gray Goes Viral

Officials in Indonesia said Tuesday that they will deport Kristen Gray, an American influencer who has caused international outrage in the last week.

Gray moved to Bali with her girlfriend in 2019 with plans to stay for six months. In reality, the couple ended up staying much longer because of the coronavirus pandemic, and in a viral Twitter thread, Gray shared how positive their experience has been.

Gray pointed to several benefits of moving to Bali in her posts, like its safety, low cost of living, luxury lifestyle, as well as its queer-friendly and Black communities.

She also encouraged others to make the same move and promoted their $30 eBook “Our Bali Life Is Yours” for tips on how to do it. “We include direct links to our visa agents and how to go about getting to Indonesia during COVID,” she even wrote in one post.

Backlash

The thread sparked outrage for encouraging an influx of travelers to a country that has closed its borders over the worsening pandemic. On top of that, it sparked conversations about the gentrification of neighborhoods there.

Bali is a major tourist destination for Americans, Europeans, and Australians in particular, and like areas all over the world, it has suffered from the loss in visitors this year.

However, many online noted that locals have been steadily priced out of certain areas of the island as foreigners open businesses to cater to tourists. Others argue that poorly regulated development is also destroying industries that Balinese people have historically relied on.

Aside from those criticisms, many people also took issue with Gray characterizing Bali as a queer-friendly when the reality for locals is far different.

“It well may be the case for you. However, please recognize that it is because a) you’re a foreigner and b) you have economic leverage since the Indonesian local community is financially dependent on keeping you happy so they don’t mess with you,” a user named Kai Mata said in a viral TikTok.

“Please realize for the rest of us Indonesians on the island, this is not a queer-friendly place. Our gay communities are often shut down and raided by authorities and Indonesia at large has tried to mandate conversion therapy for us the LGBTQ+ Community.

Government Responds

The local government responded to the public outrage over Gray’s thread Tuesday. In a statement, it said selling her book and also offering paid consultations on traveling to Bali violated the purpose of her visitor stay permit, which was valid until January 24.

Gray was also accused of “spreading information that could unsettle the public” by saying Bali is queer-friendly and suggesting foreigners travel there during the pandemic.

According to Reuters, she was being held at an immigration detention facility Tuesday and was to be deported as soon as a flight was available.

In a brief statement to the Balinese press, Gray defended herself. “I am not guilty. I have not overstayed my visa. I have not made money in Indonesian rupiah in Indonesia. I put out a statement about LGBT and I am being deported because of LGBT,” she explained.

Many of her fans believe her and also argue that she is seeing this level of criticism because she is a Black woman.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Reuters) (Vulture)

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