- 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)
South Korean President Makes BTS Official Presidential Envoys
The position is largely ceremonial but will be used by the government to help give a friendly and popular face to national and international initiatives spearheaded by Seoul.
The K-pop band BTS will be adding to its list of global impacts this year after South Korean President Moon Jae-in appointed its members as Presidential Envoys on Wednesday.
The role will include attending international conferences such as the United Nations General Assembly in September.
At these events, BTS will perform “various activities to promote international cooperation in solving global challenges, such as improving the environment, eliminating poverty and inequality, and respecting diversity,” according to Park Kyung-mee, a Blue House spokesperson.
The band has already appeared at U.N. conferences multiple times over the last few years.
Just last year, the group gave a message of hope and reassurance through the U.N. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior appearances at the U.N. have been either as part of U.N. organizations or as private citizens.
Wednesday’s appointment will make them official representatives of South Korea, although they won’t actually engage in any direct diplomacy and instead will be used to promote the country’s ongoing efforts in youth-related projects.
BTS’ success, alongside prior and current K-pop groups, has remained a masterclass of soft diplomacy by the Korean government. For decades, the Korean government has cultivated promoting cultural aspects abroad in the hopes of generating more interest in the country. There are hopes that such efforts will encourage more tourism as well as an elevated image when consumers consider Korean-made products.
Such efforts, beyond cultivating K-pop and raising its stars as semi-official government symbols, also include helping fund Korean restaurants abroad as well as free Korean-language classes taught by Professors of some of Korea’s most prestigious schools.
The news comes as BTS’ newest single, “Permission to Dance,” quickly took the #1 spot on the Billboard top 100. BTS is also partnering with YouTube to promote a Permission to Dance challenge on YouTube Shorts that will begin tomorrow and end on August 4.
Fans will be encouraged to replicate dance moves from the music video, and the group’s favorite clips will be put into a compilation made by them.
See what others are saying: (Yonhap News) (The Korea Times) (All Kpop)
Over 1 Million Chinese Displaced After Record Rainfall
The rain has created waist-high waters throughout the capital of China’s Henan province, drastically affecting the lives of its over 10 million inhabitants.
Trapped in a Flood
The Henan province of central China experienced severe rainfall over the last week that has left at least 25 dead and displaced more than 1.2 million people due to severe flooding, according to figures released by Chinese authorities Wednesday.
Meteorologists claim that the sudden, severe rainfall is caused by Typhoon In-Fa colliding with a high-pressure system over Henan province.
The floods have forced people to wade through waist-high water throughout Zhengzhou, the region’s capital. In one tragic incident Monday, 12 people died after they were trapped in the subway amid rising waters. A similar situation occurred Tuesday, causing multiple lines to be trapped in chest-high water for up to three hours before rescue workers managed to save them. Since then, metro authorities have shut down many of Zhengzhou’s rail lines.
Between Monday and Tuesday alone, Zhengzhou was hit with an estimated 25 inches of rain, equating to about 87% of its average annual rainfall. At one point, seven inches of rain occurred in less than an hour.
In an effort to alleviate rising waters, authorities breached a nearby dam to release floodwaters on Tuesday, although it’s unclear how much that helped as many dams and rivers in the region have overflowed for days.
Elsewhere in Henan, villages have been cut off by landslides and flooding, killing at least four others and leaving some areas without power for more than 24 hours.
Long Recovery Ahead
The region was finally able to begin recovery efforts Wednesday as conditions have begun to die down.
Despite reduced rainfall, the situation has still proven to be dire, leading President Xi Jinping to issue a statement through state media ordering authorities to give top priority to people’s safety and property.
In total, more than 17,000 firefighters have been mobilized for rescue efforts, as well as local volunteers and other rescue crews from other provinces.
Chinese companies have rushed to donate money to help the affected communities, and so far over $300 million has been donated.
It’s likely that for some time, hundreds of thousands in the region will be left without homes as authorities begin the work of ensuring that buildings are safe to return to.
See what others are saying: (South China Morning Post) (BBC) (The New York Times)
Toyota Largely Pulls Olympic Sponsorship Ads Amid Calls for Games To Be Canceled
Locals in Japan are particularly worried about the spread of COVID-19 among athletes at the densely packed Olympic village, something that has already happened despite assurances that it wouldn’t.
Tainted View on Olympics
The Olympic Games continued to face controversy Monday after Toyota, one of the event’s largest sponsors, announced that it would not air any commercials featuring the Olympics in Japan.
The news may come as a surprise since companies often view their ties to one of the world’s largest sporting events as a major selling point and public relations win. However, Toyota’s decision to distance itself instead highlights a growing trend among brands and locals who view the Games as a semi-toxic subject, especially in Japan where most of the population would like the Games canceled or postponed.
The controversy around the Olympic Games largely revolves around the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the decision to host the Games despite rising cases in Japan, concerns about new variants of the virus, and low vaccination rates due to a slow rollout.
Despite Toyota’s recent decision, the company has provided invaluable support to organizers of the Games, including over 3,000 vehicles to transport athletes, crews, and staff. Additionally, the company continues to showcase individual Olympic athletes that it directly sponsors in competitions on its website.
Cardboard “Anti-Sex” Beds
Growing COVID concerns have many on edge, often causing jokes to be taken seriously and spread as misinformation. One such case involved the decision by organizers to use cardboard beds for athletes. Paul Chelimo, from the United States’ track and field team, joked on Twitter, “Beds to be installed in Tokyo Olympic Village will be made of cardboard, this is aimed at avoiding intimacy among athletes.”
“Beds will be able to withstand the weight of a single person to avoid situations beyond sports. I see no problem for distance runners, even 4 of us can do.”
While many understood the statement to be a joke, outlets quickly ran with the sentiment that the beds were actually designed to prevent sex between athletes. Headlines from publications like the New York Post, for instance, read, “Athletes to sleep on ‘anti-sex’ cardboard beds at Olympic Games amid COVID.”
The situation was largely put to rest after Irish gymnast Rhys McClenaghan posted a video jumping on the beds to prove they were perfectly suited for any activity. Officials at the Games went on to clarify that the decision to use cardboard was because it was a cheap, sustainable option that was easy to dispose of after the games without creating much waste.
The fact that the cardboard beds might prove awkward for athletes to use for sex could be a happy accident for the Olympic organizers, as they’ve made it clear that they don’t want attendees having sex to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. They’ve even gone so far as to threaten athletes who have sex during the games with penalties.
In an effort to further dissuade athletes from hanging outside of their dorms or with others, the use of alcohol has largely been banned. Athletes are allowed to have it in their rooms but are supposed to enjoy it while alone.
For many, proof that the Games can’t be protected against COVID-19 has already presented itself, despite assurances from organizers like IOC president Thomas Bach — who said there was “Zero” risk of transmission between athletes and Japanese staff. At least 61 people at the Olympic village have reported contracting COVID since arriving, including at least one U.S. athlete and Japanese workers at the village.
Non-political Games Rocked by Political Tit-for-Tats
The Games have also been rocked with other problems, especially involving Japan and its neighbors.
Korea was forced to take down flags that it had hung from its Olympic Village dorms that read “I still have the support of 50 million Korean people.” The phrase was borrowed from Korean Admiral Yi Sun-Shin, who said, “I still have 12 battleships left,” prior to a lopsided 16th-century naval victory against Japan in the Imjin War.” The phrasing drew outrage from right-wing Japanese groups who asked the International Olympic Committee to have Korea remove the quasi-political statement.
Korea agreed, but only if Japan agreed to use the Rising Sun flag, a standard used by Imperial-era Japan and the Japanese Navy. It’s also one that is often viewed by many East Asians as a symbol as controversial as the Nazi flag is for Westerners.