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Hong Kong Legislators Brawl Over Leadership, Pro-Beijing Lawmakers Work to Criminalize Mocking the Chinese National Anthem

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  • For the second time in ten days, Hong Kong lawmakers openly clashed in a committee meeting of the Legislative Council.
  • For months, pro-democracy lawmakers have stalled elections for control of the House Committee, which was expected to be won by a pro-Beijing lawmaker.
  • With that, they also stalled proposed legislation that would make it a crime to insult the Chinese national anthem.
  • Despite Monday’s fight, a vote was still held, with the pro-Beijing incumbent winning. A second reading of the anthem bill is expected to be held on May 27.

Hong Kong Legislators Brawl

Hong Kong’s House Committee erupted into a scene of violence on Monday as pro-democracy and pro-Beijing lawmakers fought over the committee’s leadership and a controversial bill that would make it illegal to mock the national anthem. 

In a video capturing the incident, lawmakers push each other as guards hold others back. At one point, one pro-democracy lawmaker threw papers at a pro-Beijing lawmaker who sat in the chairperson’s seat. The end result then led to several pro-democracy legislators being carried out of the chamber by guards. 

While protests on the street are beginning to reappear, social distancing and a coronavirus lockdown had subdued the intense demonstrations that began last year over Hong Kong’s immensely controversial extradition bill. 

Still, this is the second time this month that lawmakers have clashed in the House Committee. The first incident happened on May 8.

Both clashes are a result of a gridlock preventing the House Committee, part of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, from electing a new chairperson. Notably, the House Committee is critical to passing legislation because it vets and ultimately decides whether or not to pass legislation onto the main floor of the Legislative Council.

That means whoever leads this committee has an influence on whether pro-democracy or pro-Beijing bills end up being sent to the main floor.

Kwok Stalls Elections

As to the question of who should lead the committee, lawmakers haven’t been able to answer that because they haven’t been able to hold a vote. 

Going into the elections, the committee was chaired by pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee. Because Lee was a candidate in the elections, however, pro-democracy deputy chair Dennis Kwok actually presided over holding those elections.

At the time, it seemed like the cards were stacked in Lee’s favor and that she would win re-election against the 22 pro-democracy candidates; however, Kwok had prevented the committee from voting on a new chair since late last year by consecutively filibustering meetings.

Notably, that also allowed him to hold up several key pieces of legislation. This is because an earlier session of the committee insisted that no business could be handled until a new chairperson was appointed. 

One of those bills Kwok was stalling would criminalize mocking or disrespecting the Chinese national anthem. Despite Lee giving up her presiding power to run in the election, on May 8, the government scheduled the anthem bill—among others—as “urgent business,” meaning that Lee planned to hold a hearing on it. 

Justifying this, Lee said external legal counsel had advised her that, as incumbent, she still had the power to preside over House Committee meetings. 

But what Lee argued, pro-democracy lawmakers did not buy. About an hour before the House Committee was scheduled to start, lawmakers made a wild dash for the chair’s seat to keep that vote from happening.

Despite this, Lee made it to the seat first and was surrounded by security guards.

That tension then led to physical fights on both sides, and one lawmaker was even carried away on a stretcher. 

During the brawl, lawmakers accused Lee of seizing power, but Lee held up her argument, saying that as the incumbent, she had a duty to conduct the meeting and resolve issues.

Lee then banished pro-democracy members from the room and issued warnings to them about breaching procedural laws.

During that scene, the anthem bill was never voted on. 

Following it, last week, LegCo president Andrew Leung announced he was removing Kwok from presiding over those elections, replacing him with finance committee chair Chan Kin-por, a pro-Beijing politician.

Lee is Re-elected Following Second Fight

On Monday, lawmakers arrived to the committee chamber to find Chan occupying the chairperson’s seat. With that, he was surrounded by a slew of guards. 

Even though Leung appointed him, pro-democracy lawmakers have argued that Chan took the seat against procedural objections, denouncing his appointment “illogical, absolutely unacceptable and groundless.

That then led to Monday’s fight, but even as the protests continued, Chan called for a vote to elect a new chairperson. Ultimately, Lee won re-election.

Still, even with that, pro-democracy lawmakers have said they won’t recognize Lee as the chair, one saying:

“As you can see, this is an illegitimate meeting, without any legal grounds, and Chan Kin-por, in fact, has exercised illegitimate power and so we don’t count Starry Lee as the chairman of the House Committee,” pro-democracy lawmaker Tanya Chan said. 

“They can take away the rules of procedures today, but I am sure the Hong Kong people won’t forget today,” Kwok said. 

The anthem bill is scheduled to see a second reading in the committee on May 27. Currently, LegCo is overwhelmingly pro-Beijing, so it will likely pass.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (South China Morning Post) (CNN)

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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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Japan To Explore Plans for Releasing Fukushima Power Plant Water Into Ocean

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  • Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide is reportedly planning to meet with officials and agencies soon to discuss how to dispose of about a million gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima power plant.
  • The supply of water used to cool down fuel rods is stored on-site, and the government has spent a decade decontaminating it, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Local businesses, particularly fisheries, are still concerned about the release of the water because of ensuing headlines that might lead to public distrust in their products, but Suga insists the water needs to go to make way for safely storing the far more dangerous nuclear fuel rods.

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.

Dangerous Water or Scary Headlines?

As early as next week, Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide will hold a ministerial meeting to discuss the likely release of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

The decision to release the water isn’t sudden, as the recommendation to do so has been around for over a year by various government agencies. Regardless, the decision has consistently faced backlash from local groups, particularly fisheries, over how the move will affect their livelihoods, not because the water is radioactive but because the headlines would look bad and cause fear that their products aren’t safe.

While the water is radioactive, 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. Some scientists, like geological disposal of nuclear waste expert James Conca, have pointed out that “no harm has ever come to humans or the environment from tritium, no matter what the concentration or the dose.”

Delay, Delay, Delay

The issue of the contaminated water has been kicked down the road for years, and Suga wants to resolve it because space is running out on the grounds of the plant. The water storage facilities house over a million gallons of water, which is constantly being added to as some of the stores have rainwater and groundwater seep into them.

The water is considered safe to people but takes a huge amount of space that the government wants to use to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, the rods are dangerous if not properly stored.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said the plan to get rid of the water is sound and meets global standards.    Dumping treated water into the sea is completely normal for a nuclear power plant, even in non-emergency situations.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that it’s a lose-lose situation, with Kishi reporting that he said, “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.”

The sentiment that the headlines would hurt local industries is likely right because even 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 live in the area.

See what others are saying: (Kyodo News) (The Mainichi) (Japan Today)

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