- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered refuge to nearly three million Hong Kong residents on Wednesday.
- Johnson’s announcement came after Beijing passed a highly controversial bill last week meant to severely crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong.
- Among other things, the Chinese government will now be allowed to establish a security force in the city.
- Following Johnson’s announcement, the Chinese government warned the United Kingdom to “step back from the brink” and “abandon their Cold War mentality and colonial mindset.”
- The UK’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has also urged Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Canada to offer visas to Hong Kong residents.
Boris Johnson Offers Refuge to Hong Kongers
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is now pledging refuge and a path to British citizenship for nearly 3 million Hong Kong residents.
The move follows last week’s approval of a proposal for a sweeping national security law passed in Beijing, which has widely been viewed as a blatant attempt to subvert Hong Kong’s freedoms and exert more control over the city.
Johnson, who announced the refuge plan in an op-ed in the South China Morning Post on Wednesday, said, “If China proceeds, this would be in direct conflict with its obligations under the Joint Declaration, a legally binding treaty registered with the United Nations.”
Notably, Johnson plans to extend British National (Overseas) passports to allow Hong Kong residents to come to the United Kingdom for a renewable period of 12 months. They would then be given further immigration rights, including the right to work, which could place them on a route to citizenship.
Currently, about 350,000 people hold BNO passports. Another 2.5 million are eligible for them.
In fact, anyone born before 1997 is able to apply for one, but normally, they would only allow Hong Kongers to remain in the United Kingdom for up to six months. Passport holders would also be unable to apply for work.
Johnson’s response to China’s security law is particularly notable because before 1997, Hong Kong was actually a British colony. It was then handed over to China, where it implemented the “one country, two systems” model.
Johnson noted that this would be one of the biggest changes to the UK’s visa system in British history. He said he will implement it if or when China formally enacts its national security law.
“Britain would then have no choice but to uphold our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong,” Johnson said.
But some in Hong Kong have expressed concern over the offer. Many are afraid that, even if they can apply for jobs in the U.K., they won’t be able to find any. Others fear they’ll be treated like second-class citizens.
“I think it’s a shame in a way that they only offer us an exit, and do not offer to stand by us in our fight for Hong Kong,” veteran activist Lee Cheuk Yan said.
Others have expressed major concerns with young people’s ability to apply for BNO’s, as they would likely not be able to obtain a visa if they were born after 1997.
China Warns UK: “Step Back from the Brink”
China responded Wednesday to Johnson’s offer to Hong Kong residents, though it did not do so with open arms.
“We advise the UK to step back from the brink, abandon their Cold War mentality and colonial mindset, and recognise and respect the fact that Hong Kong has returned [to China],” Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for China foreign ministry, said.
Zhao added that London must “immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs and China’s internal affairs, or this will definitely backfire.”
Part of the reason why China might be so furious with Johnson’s offer is that China likely views it as the UK undermining China’s authority over Hong Kong. On top of that, the offer could also result in a major brain drain from the world financial hub. In fact, three million people is about 40 percent of Hong Kong’s population.
Still, it doesn’t seem like the UK is about to back down. Dominic Raab—the UK’s foreign secretary—has been urging other countries to offer visas to Hong Kong residents including Australia, New Zealand, the United States., and Canada.
On Tuesday, Raab said he’s raised “the possibility of… burden-sharing if we see a mass exodus from Hong Kong.”
Regarding the U.S., this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the U.S. response should “mirror those of other democracies who have opened their doors to Hong Kongers fleeing oppression.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he’s considering the idea of allowing more Hong Kongers to immigrate to the U.S. if this law goes into effect.
Outside of the U.S, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has pledged support to accept Hong Kongers within Taiwan’s borders.
Last week, she said she’s working to “draw up a humanitarian assistance action plan for #HongKong citizens that lays out clear, complete plans for their residence, placement, employment, & life in #Taiwan as soon as possible.”
National Security Bill, Protests, and U.S. Response
On May 21, China proposed the national security law.
China has argued that it’s nothing more than a way to end the violence in the city and that it 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.”
The law itself would criminalize acts like secession, terrorism, subversion, and any activities by foreign forces that interfere in Hong Kong; however, one of the big issues with the bill is the subversion clause, which is so broad that it’s currently unclear what would actually be criminalized.
The bill also allows the mainland to set up its own security force in the city—something it hasn’t been able to do up to this point. That means China would then be able to target people in Hong Kong who criticize the government.
Following the announcement of this bill, people flooded the streets in protest for the time since coronavirus lockdown measures were put in place. Those incidents have led to a number of arrests and clashes with police.
On May 28, that proposal was approved in Beijing.
For her part, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said she’ll support it, but that hasn’t been the case at all for a lot of world leaders.
Other countries like Canada, Australia, and Japan have also expressed concern.
Last week, Pompeo also announced that the U.S. no longer viewed Hong Kong as an autonomous region. Notably, that could give President Trump and Congress the leeway to end Hong Kong’s special trade status, which would then impose in Hong Kong the same trade restrictions the U.S. has on China.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Business Insider) (The Guardian)
E.U. and U.S. Sanction Russian Officials Over Navalny Detention
- 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.
Biden Faces Criticism Over U.S. Airstrike in Syria
- On Friday, the U.S. conducted an airstrike against an Iranian-back militia in Syria after it shot rockets into northern Iraq and injured U.S. service personnel.
- The airstrike marks the first in Biden’s presidency, and while normally a routine response, it caused particular backlash against the president, who campaigned on getting out of “forever wars” in the region.
- Many felt like Biden was more concerned with bombing people in the Middle-East than he was with passing his $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which was being debated by Congress at the time.
- The targeting of an Iranian-backed militia likely didn’t help efforts to start informal talks with Iran on Sunday in an effort to reignite the Iran Nuclear Deal.
Striking Back Against Militias
The U.S. military conducted an airstrike on an Iranian-backed militia in Syria on Friday, marking it as the first such airstrike under President Joe Biden’s term.
The airstrike was conducted as retaliation after the militia launched rockets into northern Iraq; killing civilians, contractors, and injuring a U.S. service member as well as other coalition troops.
Despite airstrikes being a routine response for such situations over the last 20 years, the decision caused Biden to face intense backlash in the U.S.
For many, it set the tone and seemed to contradict some of his earlier stances when running for office. In 2019, for instance, Biden made it clear that he wanted to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, as well as speed up the removal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. However, such airstrikes are often blamed for further entrenching the U.S. in the region.
Biden received criticism across the political spectrum, with only a few conservatives praising the airstrike as a necessary move to protect U.S. troops.
In Congress, many Democrats called the move unconstitutional, a stance the party has had since at least 2018 when Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said a similar airstrike conducted by President Trump required the approval of Congress. The Biden administration pushed back against this, sending a letter to Congress on Sunday saying the president had the power to use limited force without the body’s approval via the War Power Act.
Public Perception in a Downward Spiral
Many Americans have mocked Biden for seemingly feeling comfortable enough to use his executive power to bomb militias while also expressing apprehension toward using that same power to forgive student loans.
Others pushed back against the idea that the airstrike was a form of defensive retaliation
“This latest Biden airstrike is being spun as “defensive” and “retaliatory” despite its targeting a nation the US invaded (Syria) in response to alleged attacks on US forces in another nation the US invaded (Iraq),” wrote one user on Twitter, “You can’t invade a nation and then claim self-defense there. Ever.”
Some of the biggest criticism the president received came from those who said it seemed like his priorities were off-base. Because while the airstrike was conducted, Congress was debating his $1.9 trillion stimulus package.
Civil Rights activist Ja’Mal Green, for instance, tweeted, “We didn’t flip Georgia Blue for Biden to air strike Syria. We flipped Georgia Blue for our $2,000 Stimulus Checks.”
However, it’s worth noting that there’s not much Biden can do right now to push his stimulus package through Congress, other than attempt to convince some on-the-fence senators like Joe Manchin (D-WV). Still, the perception of confused priorities was enough to anger many.
All of this likely didn’t help when the E.U. foreign policy chief, on behalf of all the countries who signed the Iran Nuclear deal, attempted to convince Iran to engage in informal talks to try and restart the deal on Sunday. A proposal was shot down by Iran.
“Considering the recent actions and statements by the United States and three European powers, Iran does not consider this the time to hold an informal meeting with these countries,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh
Nigerian Gunmen Kidnap Over 300 Students From Boarding School
- Gunmen abducted 317 girls from a Nigerian boarding school early Friday morning, making it the second major abduction in the northwest area of the country in over a week.
- Militants loaded some girls on trucks while others were walked into the nearby Rugu forest, which covers hundreds of miles and is spread over three states.
- Authorities believe these abductions are being carried out by armed bandit groups seeking random rather than the jihadist groups in the region.
- According to terror analysts, kidnapping is quickly becoming one of the most thriving industries in Nigeria and has led to 10.5 million Nigerian children being out of school – the most of any nation.
Abductions Before Dawn
Gunmen abducted 317 students early Friday morning from the Nigerian Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara state.
They entered the building shooting, although it’s clear if anyone was hurt, and forced many girls onto trucks while others into the nearby Rugu forest, which covers hundreds of square miles and crosses multiple states. Some girls escaped, but by morning it was clear to the local community that hundreds were taken.
Zamfara police and security forces, backed by Nigerian army reinforcements, said they are in pursuit of the abductors.
This abduction is the second in a little over a week in the northwest area of the country. At the Kagara Government Science College in Niger state, dozens of schoolboys were abducted on February 17.
In December, 344 boys in Katsina state were also abducted before being freed a week later. At the time, the kidnappers claimed a ransom had been paid, a common motivation for such abductions, but security forces say the children were freed after they had surrounded the group.
Was the Kidnapping for Ransom?
Many abductions have a monetary aspect, with ransoms quickly being demanded; however, it’s currently unclear if Friday’s events were carried out by local bandits looking for a payout or one of the nation’s myriad of jihadist groups that occasionally take hostages.
Most are leaning towards believing this was a kidnapping for ransom due to it quickly becoming the nation’s most thriving industry, according to Bulama Bukarti, a terror analyst and columnist of northern Nigeria’s largest paper.
Unfortunately, the constant kidnapping in less-stable parts of the country, along with economic hardships, have caused parents to pull their children out of schools. Currently, there are more than 10.5 million Nigerian children out of school, the most of any nation. The issue is so prevalent that 1 in 5 of the world’s unschooled children are in Nigeria.
The government has struggled to respond to the rise of kidnappings, with officials both on the civilian side and within the military unsure of how to proceed. On one hand, there are those who want to deal with the issue head-on and attack kidnappers, but others want to try and resolve the issue with dialogue.