- 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)
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.”