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Taiwanese President Pledges Support for Hong Kong After China Proposes National Security Law

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  • On Thursday, the Chinese government announced that it was proposing a new national security law aimed at Hong Kong.
  • The law is meant to criminalize any attempts at secession, subversion, or terrorism against mainland China in the autonomous city-state. 
  • Though protests had already been scheduled to oppose different measures being proposed in Hong Kong, they quickly shifted on Sunday to include opposition to the likely-to-be-passed national security law.
  • Also on Sunday, Twainese President Tsai Ing-wen said that Taiwan “stands with the people of Hong Kong.”

China Proposes National Security Law

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said in a Facebook post on late Sunday that she “stands with the people of Hong Kong” as mainland China prepares to implement a sweeping new national security law that pro-democracy advocates argue could strip Hong Kong of its autonomy.

The law, proposed by the Chinese government on Thursday, is a direct response to the massive protests that have rocked Hong Kong since last year following a proposed extradition bill that would have made it easier for the mainland to target Hong Kongers critical of the Chinese government. 

Hong Kong enjoys many freedoms that the mainland lacks. That is because, for more than 150 years, Hong Kong was a British colony. Then, in 1997, Britain handed Hong Kong back to mainland China; however, under a unique agreement called Basic Law, Hong Kong was allowed to retain its freedoms of assembly and speech, with that agreement set to last 50 years. 

The proposed national security law is not the first time China has actively tried to exert more power over Hong Kong over the years, but it is the mainland’s most blatant attempt yet to crackdown on protests.

Notably, it would criminalize a number of acts in Hong Kong, including:

  • Secession, or the right to declare independence from the mainland;
  • Subversion, or undermining the power or authority of the mainland;
  • Terrorism, 
  • Any activities by foreign forces that interfere in Hong Kong. 

The law would also allow mainland China to implement its own law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong to “fulfill relevant duties to safeguard national security.” 

Large Scale Protests Ramp Up for the First Time Since Lockdown

A large scale protest was originally scheduled to be held on Sunday to oppose a bill in Hong Kong’s legislature that would criminalize disrespecting the Chinese national anthem. After China’s announcement of this new bill, the focus shifted.

On Sunday, thousands of protesters ignored social distancing orders as they marched through the streets. This was the first instance of a large scale protest since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

While most of the protest was peaceful, in a scene now not uncommon for Hong Kong, several clashes between protesters and police occurred.

Police threw tear gas to disperse demonstrators, reportedly because the demonstrators had set up roadblocks and thrown objects at officers. Along with tear gas, police also fired other familiar projectiles at protesters, including a water cannon and rubber bullets. 

By the end of the protest, more than 180 people were arrested, four officers were injured, and six other people were hospitalized—including one woman in critical condition.

Alongside that protest, on Sunday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi continued to defend the proposed national security law, saying that it’s aimed only at a: “very narrow category of acts that seriously jeopardise national security.”

He added that the law would have “no impact on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents, or the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investors in Hong Kong.”

“Instead of becoming unnecessarily worried, people should have more confidence in Hong Kong’s future,” he said.

Still, his comments have failed to assuage or persuade pro-democracy advocates. According to The Washington Post, this law could lead to secret police, surveillance, arbitrary detentions, and even propaganda in classrooms.

International Response to the Proposed Law

One of the big questions that remains is to what degree the United States might intervene—especially since the law would criminalize foreign forces interfering with Hong Kong. 

So far, the U.S. hasn’t promised any specific action, but on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called security law a “death knell” and said he strongly urged Beijing to reconsider the “disastrous proposal.”

Late Sunday night, Taiwanese President Tsai said that if the law is implemented, then Hong Kong’s core values of freedom and judicial independence will be severely eroded.

Still, it likely will be implemented as Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that she’ll fully support the law, arguing that it will improve business confidence without eroding freedoms.

On Tuesday, Lam continued to call on citizens to support the legislation, saying, “We are a very free society, so for the time being people have the freedom to say whatever they want to say.”

However, she also added that once the law passes, that could make demonstrations like we’ve seen over the past year illegal. 

Also Tuesday morning, reports indicated that Hong Kong demand for VPN’s surged more than 600% the day that China announced the draft law.

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (BBC) (South China Morning Post)

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Death Toll in Myanmar Surpasses 50 People as Police Continue To Use Live Ammunition

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  • At least 50 people have died across Myanmar since the start of the coup on Feb. 1, with Wednesday being the single largest loss of life to date after 38 were shot by security forces.
  • Despite the danger, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
  • The U.N. Security Council is due to meet Friday to discuss how to deal with the situation in Myanmar in response to calls for a solution from nations and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Growing Violence Across Myanmar

Over the weekend, security forces in Myanmar killed 18 anti-coup protesters and wounded at least 30 more. Across the subsequent three days, that number rose considerably.

According to the U.N., at least 38 people were killed on Wednesday alone.; making it the bloodiest day of the coup so far and raising the overall death toll to over 50. Exact number are difficult to find, as the chaos on the ground precludes outlets from confirming accounts of possibly more deaths.

The violence has occurred across the country, with the deaths largely being tied to the use of live ammunition by security forces. The demonstrations, and the response to them, have been widely captured on camera. Some of the most shocking scenes are of police passing a BA-53 (a Burmese Army variant of the HK G3 military rifle) to fire into protesters.

Despite the death, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Thursday morning saw thousands in the streets who attended vigils for those slain on Wednesday, an increasingly common ritual for the prior day’s deaths.

Sanctions May Not Work

The United States has tried to get neighboring countries to join it and the European Union in sanctioning the Burmese military, but few Southeast Asian countries wanted to sign on, which gives the Burmese military breathing room as most of its diplomatic and trade relations are with neighboring countries.

At the U.N., Security Council members are due to meet on Friday to discuss calls from countries and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to stop the coup and the escalating crackdowns against protesters. However, it’s unclear what more they can do. Sanctions against specific military leaders are often ineffective, yet sanctions on the country as a whole would affect the everyday people they’re trying to support.

Other options include direct intervention, but Justine Chambers, Associate Director of the Myanmar Research Center at the Australian National University, pushed back against this, telling The New York Times, “Unfortunately I don’t think the brutality caught on camera is going to change much.”

“I think domestic audiences around the world don’t have much of an appetite for stronger action, i.e. intervention, given the current state of the pandemic and associated economic issues.”

While it’s unclear what more the international community can do, it’s quite likely that violence will continue in Myanmar as citizens try to peacefully restore democracy.

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

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Saudi Arabia To Require Vaccine for Hajj Pilgrims

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  • Saudi Arabia will require all pilgrims participating in the Hajj this year to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to local media.
  • The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime if they are physically or financially able to.
  • Many believe the inoculation requirement may help allay suspicions over vaccines within certain Muslim communities.
  • Those suspicions have persisted despite Muslim leaders clarifying that there are no theological problems with taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines available.

COVID-19 Vaccines for Pilgrims

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry will only allow people vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Hajj this year, according to local outlet Okaz.

The Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims at least once in their lifetime – assuming they are physically and financially able to. However, requiring a vaccine before taking part in the Hajj isn’t a new thing. In fact, Saudi Arabia already has a list of necessary vaccinations for pilgrims.

For a virus that is among the most virulent in recent history and requiring a COVID-19 vaccine makes sense, especially since the Hajj is among the most densely populated events in the world.

In an effort to combat COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has also introduced restrictions over how many pilgrims can come to Mecca for the first time in modern history.

Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to partake in the Hajj will likely have the added benefit of allaying fears about COVID-19 vaccines in Muslim communities, which account for nearly 2 billion people in the world. While Muslims overall support vaccinations and their religious leaders openly support vaccination efforts, some do doubt vaccines for either political reasons or religious ones.

Changes in Vaccine Hesitancy

Suspicions have arisen due to recent history, notably after Osama bin Laden was located through a vaccine program that acted as a front for the C.I.A. That incident led to a wider-anti vaccine movement in parts of Pakistan that have seen vaccine clinics burned to the ground.

Others are worried over more religious concerns, such as whether the vaccines are Halal, which is roughly the Muslim version of Kosher. To that, most major vaccines say that they are Halal and contain no animal products, such as Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, and AstraZeneca’s,

While other possibly non-Halal vaccines, such as Sinovac’s, have been given the okay from major Islamic authorities, such as Indonesia’ Ulema Council.

The concerns over whether a vaccine is Halal or not may be mute as most imams and Islamic councils have clarified that such dietary restrictions are trumped by the need to save human lives.

While the Health Ministry’s statement is for 2021, it’s possible that the decision will last beyond that based on the pandemic’s progress.

See what other are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The Hill) (Middle East Eye)

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E.U. and U.S. Sanction Russian Officials Over Navalny Detention

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  • The E.U. and U.S. coordinated new sanctions against seven Russian officials tied to the current fate of activist and Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
  • More efforts are expected to follow, with officials claiming that 14 Russian entities tied to the manufacturing of Novichok – the rare nerve agents that supposedly poisoned Navalny – are the next to be sanctioned.
  • Despite the sanctions, Biden’s administration hopes to be able to work with Russia on other world issues, such as nuclear arms in Iran and North Korea.
  • Navalny himself isn’t likely to benefit from the sanctions as he’s serving a 2.5-year prison sentence in one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies.

Coordinated Efforts by E.U. and U.S.

The U.S. and E.U. both announced coordinated sanctions against Russia Tuesday morning over the poisoning, arrest, and detention of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

In particular, seven senior officials are targeted by the sanctions.

  • Federal Security Service Director Aleksandr Bortnikov
  • Chief of the Presidential Policy Directorate Andrei Yarin
  • First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Kiriyenko
  • Deputy Minister of Defense Aleksey Krivoruchko
  • Deputy Minister of Defense Pavel Popov
  • Federal Penitentiary Service director Alexander Kalashnikov
  • Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov.

Both the E.U. and U.S. also plan to add fourteen entities that are involved in making the extremely deadly Russian nerve agent Novichok.

First Step For Biden

These sanctions are the first such action by the Biden administration against Russia and seem to be a tone shift from the previous administration. The Trump administration was considered relatively soft on Russia and only enacted a few sanctions over election interference, which were only softly enforced.

One U.S. official, according to NBC News reportedly said, that “today is the first such response, and there will be more to come.”

“The United States is neither seeking to reset our relations with Russia nor are we seeking to escalate,” the official went on to add.

The man at the center of all this, Alexei Navalny, has been an outspoken critic of Putin who was arrested when he returned to Russia from Germany after being treated for Novichok poisoning.

He was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison over alleged fraud crimes and is reported to have been sent to one of Russia’s worst penal colonies outside of the city of Pokrov to serve out his term.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (NPR) (NBC News)

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