China Retaliates With Sanctions on U.S. After Trump Signs Hong Kong Bills
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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)
U.S. Intel Suggests Pro-Ukraine Group Sabotaged Nord Stream Pipeline
There is no evidence that the culprits behind the attack were acting under the direction of the Ukrainian government.
Europe Braces for Shocking Revelations
A pro-Ukraine group blew up the Nord Stream pipelines last September, intelligence reviewed by U.S. officials suggests.
The New York Times reported the news Tuesday, citing officials who said there was no evidence of involvement by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, any of his top lieutenants, or any government officials.
The strength of the evidence, however, is not clear, and U.S. officials declined to inform The Times on the nature of the intelligence or how it was obtained. They reportedly added that the intelligence indicates neither who the group’s members are nor who funded and directed the operation.
The Times’ sources said they believe the saboteurs were most likely Russian or Ukrainian nationals and that they possibly received specialized government training in the past.
It’s also possible that the group behind the attack was a proxy with covert ties to Kyiv, the report added.
When three of four Nord Stream pipelines were found to be severely damaged last year, the revelation shook markets and sent European gas prices soaring. Nord Stream 1, which was completed in 2011, and Nord Stream 2, which had been laid down but wasn’t yet operational, supplied Germany and by extension the rest of Western Europe with cheap Russian natural gas.
Following the explosions, Poland and Ukraine blamed Russia, and Russia blamed Britain. Other observers speculated that Ukraine might be behind it too.
More Ongoing Investigations
Last month, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh claimed in a Substack article that the United States military carried out the attack and that President Biden authorized it himself. However, Hersh’s report cited only one anonymous source in support of its central claim, so it was largely dismissed as not credible.
Western governments expressed caution on Wednesday in response to The Times report.
“There are ongoing national investigations and I think it’s right to wait until those are finalized before we say anything more about who was behind it,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.
Russia, by contrast, pounced on the opportunity to renew its demand for inclusion in a proposed international probe into the pipeline explosion.
The Ukrainian government denied any involvement in the Nord Stream explosions.
On Wednesday, multiple German media outlets reported that investigators have largely reconstructed how the attack happened, pinning the blame on six people who allegedly used a yacht hired by a Ukrainian-owned company in Poland.
German officials reportedly searched a vessel suspected of carrying the explosives in January, but the investigation is ongoing.
The country’s defense minister suggested the explosions may have been a “false flag” attack to smear Ukraine.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Associated Press) (Reuters)
Turkey, Syria Earthquake Death Toll Rises to 41,000 as Survivors Pulled from Rubble
A pair of brothers spent around 200 hours trapped under debris, living off of protein powder and their own urine.
A Humanitarian Crisis Explodes
The number of confirmed dead from the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria last week has surpassed 41,000.
Millions more people have been left stranded without adequate shelter, food, clean water, or medical supplies.
At night, the region has dropped to below-freezing temperatures.
Now health authorities are worried that the lack of sanitation infrastructure, which was damaged by the quakes, will lead to a disease outbreak.
“We haven’t been able to rinse off since the earthquake,” 21-year-old Mohammad Emin, whose home was destroyed, told Reuters.
He was helping out at a clinic serving displaced people in an open-air stadium, but with no showers and only six toilets, the resource shortage was poignant.
“They are offering tetanus shots to residents who request them, and distributing hygiene kits with shampoo, deodorant, pads and wipes,” added Akin Hacioglu, a doctor at the clinic.
The World Health Organization monitors the population for waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid, as well as seasonal influenza and COVID-19.
Rescuers Race Against the Clock
After more than a week of searching, hopes that more living victims will be found amid the collapsed buildings are fading, but rescuers continue to pull out the final few survivors.
Abdulbaki Yeninar, 21, and his brother Muhammed Enes Yeninar, 17, spent about 200 hours under rubble in the city of Kahramanmaras before they were extracted Tuesday. They told reporters they held on by eating protein powder, drinking their own urine, and swallowing gulps of air.
In the same city, teams dug a 16-foot tunnel through debris to rescue a woman, and to the south, a volunteer mining crew joined the efforts to save another.
With no homes to go back to, some survivors have joined the ranks of volunteers themselves.
In the past week, more than 35,000 Turkish search-and-rescue teams worked alongside thousands of international workers in the effort, according to Turkey’s emergency management agency.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called the earthquakes the “disaster of the century” and said in a statement that at least 13,000 people were being treated in hospitals.
The death toll is expected to rise even further in the coming weeks.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (Al Jazeera)
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon Resigns
“In my head and in my heart I know that time is now,” she said to reporters
Sturgeon Steps Down
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation on Wednesday.
Sturgeon has been Scotland’s longest-serving First Minister and she is also the first woman to ever hold the position. She has been in politics since 1999, leading the charge for Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom. Sturgeon also guided the country through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sturgeon made sure to mention that her decision was not in response to the latest round of political pressure she is facing after her recent controversies regarding gender reform. Rather, her reasons are rooted in her own personal struggle with whether she can continue to do the job well.
“To be clear, I am not expecting violins here. But I am a human being as well as a politician,” she said during a press conference on Wednesday. “My point is this – giving absolutely everything of yourself to this job is the only way to do it. The country deserves nothing less. But, in truth, that can only be done by anyone for so long.
“For me, it is now in danger of becoming too long,” Sturgeon continued. “A First Minister is never off-duty. Particularly in this day and age, there is virtually no privacy. Even ordinary stuff that most people take for granted like going for a coffee with friends or going for a walk on your own becomes very difficult.”
Sturgeon’s Political Future
Sturgeon’s approval ratings are reportedly the lowest they’ve been since she’s been in office. Regardless, many political figures in Scotland, as well as the U.K., have applauded her and her historic service as First Minister.
There are still several unknowns moving forward. There is still no confirmation on who will take over the position. However, Sturgeon did say that she will serve until someone else is elected.
The push for Scotland’s independence is hanging in limbo as well, and no one knows what it’ll look like without Sturgeon’s leadership. She did mention, however, that she does not intend to leave politics fully and will still fight for the cause as a lawmaker in Parliament.
Sturgeon said the support for Scottish independence needs to be solidified and grow.
“To achieve that we need to reach across the divide in Scottish politics,” she said. “And my judgment now is that this needs a new leader.”