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China Warns UK to “Step Back From the Brink” After Boris Johnson Offer Hong Kongers Refuge

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  • 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)

International

Israel-Hamas Fighting Continues To Escalate as Tensions Take Over Social Media

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  • Fighting between Israel and Hamas forces within the Gaza strip escalated into Thursday, as both sides have continued rocket attacks and airstrikes, killing nearly 100 and injuring hundreds more.
  • Many fear the violence could turn into a ground war as Israeli forces gather on the border. At the same time, Israel is experiencing domestic conflict as angry Arab and Jewish citizens clash in the streets.
  • Numerous celebrities have spoken out about the fighting, though all faced criticism regardless of whether they shared pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, or neutral stances that called for peace.
  • The backlash highlights how divisive and complicated the over 70-year conflict between Israel and Palestine is.

Escalating Every Day

The situation between Israel and Palestine has dramatically escalated over the last two days, and as of Thursday morning, nearly people 100 are dead across both sides.

Hamas officials at the Gaza Ministry of Health claim that over 480 people have been wounded and 83 Palestinians have died in the conflict. That includes 17 children and at least one top commander, although Israel claims to have killed almost only militants and at least 10 top commanders. In Israel, six Israelis and one Indian national have died while dozens of others were wounded.

On top of the conflict with Gaza, Israel is also facing some of its most violent confrontations in decades between Jewish and Arab citizens. There have been reports of angry Arabs setting vehicles, a restaurant, and a synagogue ablaze. Meanwhile, in other communities, ultra-nationalist Jewish residents enacted their own violence by vandalizing Arab-owned cars.

In addition to this, there have also been accusations of what are described as lynchings by both groups.

Most Arab protesters deny that they are targeting Israelis as a whole, but instead are aiming at the ultra-nationalist, ultra-conservative Jewish communities that make up the vast majority of the Israeli settler movement. These same settler groups are using the Israeli government to force Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, which is one of the catalysts for recent events.

“How hard should you retaliate when they try to hurt you?”

As with any situation regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, opinions are extremely divided. Some appeared to want to show support for their homeland while still having empathy for everyone involved, such as actress Gal Gadot who tweeted, “My heart breaks. My country is at war. I worry for my family, my friends. I worry for my people.”

This is a vicious cycle that has been on for far too long. Israel deserves to live as a free and safe nation, our neighbors deserve the same. I pray for the victims and their families, I pray for this unimaginable hostility to end, I pray for our leaders to find the solution so we could live side by side in peace. I pray for better days.”

The post was widely criticized, with users suggesting that calling the ongoing fighting a “war” implied some kind of power balance. That power imbalance was particularly highlighted in a video by late-night host Trevor Noah. In it, he pointed out that trying to get to “who’s wrong” is a wasted effort, and no matter what, important context will always be left out.

“Like just set aside motives and intentions and just look at technology alone. Israel has one of the most powerful militaries in the world. They can crush Gaza like that,” he added. “Not to mention one of the most powerful defense systems in the world. You shoot a rocket at them and it’s probably not going to do anything because of its defense system.”

“But I just want to ask an honest question here. If you are in a fight where the other person cannot beat you, how hard should you retaliate when they try to hurt you?”

Hard-Line Stances

Noah’s stance was a little more nuanced than many online, as he seemed to imply that Israel should have the ability to at least respond in some way to Hamas’ rocket strikes. Figures such as Bella Hadid didn’t agree. She painted the situation as more black and white, posting an image to Instagram that has one person asking if the conflict was over religion. The other person in the image responds, “They are not ‘fighting,’ Israelis are the oppressors and Palestinians are the oppressed and the situation is about anything but religion.”

That post has led others to use the same format to argue that Bella’s take is a reductionist argument that leaves out any context about the situation that is far more complex than it portrays.

For example, many noted that Bella discounts the importance of religion in the conflict, even though it’s always been a pillar and facet of identity that has helped fuel it. Her sister Gigi also posted about what’s going on, advocating that people look at this from the lens of human rights, as Israel has long been accused of being a de facto apartheid state that unfairly treats Palestinians.

Then there were those like Rihanna who took a “middle-of-the-road” approach. She wrote, “My heart is breaking with the violence I’m seeing displayed between Israel and Palestine!”

“I can’t bare to see it! Innocent Israeli and Palestinian children are hiding in bomb shelters…. There needs to be some kind of resolve! WE are sadly watching innocent people fall victim to notions by government and extremists, and this cycle needs to be broken!”

Pro-Palestinian users were quick to jump at her post, writing things like, “rihanna is giving such “all lives matter energy.” I’m disappointed. It’s not a conflict!! It’s one sided.”

As the outrage online continues, so does the fighting, with both Israel and Gaza firing at each other. There are reports that Israel is building up ground forces across from Gaza, and that the situation may escalate dramatically as at least three rockets were launched into Israel from southern Lebanon, a stronghold of the Islamist group Hezbollah.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Al-Jazeera) (The Independent)

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International

Hamas and Israel Exchange Deadly Strikes Over Conflicts at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah

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  • Tensions between Israel and Palestine have risen dramatically over the last month since Israel restricted access to al-Aqsa mosque, along with other religious and traditional sites during Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month.
  • On top of this, there are ongoing clashes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, where an Israeli court has ordered Palestinian families out of their homes despite a 1956 agreement that stated they could keep their homes after three years.
  • The two situations have jointly fueled weeks of massive protests in Jerusalem, leading to hundreds of injuries.
  • Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, issued an ultimatum to Israel to stop its actions. When the deadline passed Monday night, it launched over 400 rockets into Israel, which retaliated with its own airstrikes.

Actions at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah Fuel Anger

Dozens were killed across Israel and the Gaza Strip between Monday and Tuesday after both sides conducted airstrikes over rising tensions between Israel and Palestinians in Jerusalem.

At play are two unique situations that have led to Palestinians becoming particularly frustrated at what they feel is unjust treatment by Israel. The first is what Palestinians describe as Israeli restrictions on religious and cultural practices during Ramadan. The other is the looming evictions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Eastern Jerusalem.

The religious clashes began about a month ago at the start of Ramadan when Israeli security forces put up barriers to stop people from hanging out at the Damascus Gate, a popular spot during the holiest month in Islam.

The situation was made worse when Israel imposed a 10,000 person limit on prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. The 10,000 person limit meant tens of thousands of Palestinians were turned away or forcibly removed in a series of raids into the mosque and compound, the most recent of which caused a fire in a tree in the area.

Israel tried to de-escalate the ongoing protests by removing the barriers at the Damascus Gate to little avail.

Sheikh Jarrah: Microcosm for Entire Conflict

On top of the situation at the al-Aqsa compound, there have also been also large demonstrations over evictions in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The area was developed in the ’50s by Jordan when it controlled that part of Jerusalem as part of an agreement with Israel. Part of that agreement was that the families living there would be allowed to keep the homes after three years. Jordan eventually lost control of Sheikh Jarrah and seven decades later an Israeli court has ordered Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah to leave their homes.   

The court agreed with the accusation that the homes were illegally built on Jewish-owned land and should be returned to Jewish residents. In turn, Israeli settlers moved into the area and entered homes with families still living inside — a move that has been described as little more than blatant theft.

The evictions at Sheikh Jarrah have led to weeks of massive protests and this past weekend was no different with hundreds of injuries across both sides.

The entire situation was supposed to be settled, at least legally, during a Supreme Court hearing on Monday, but that was postponed until an unknown date, leaving many to feel like the situation won’t be resolved and fueling further protests.

Hamas Issues Ultimatum

In response to all of this, Hamas and its territory of the Gaza Strip decided to issue an ultimatum for Israel to leave the al-Aqsa Mosque complex and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood or it would launch rockets. When that failed to happen at 6 p.m. on Monday, Hamas launched a massive attack of over 400 rockets into Israel. Many fell short or were stopped by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.

However, some did find their targets and injured at least 10 Israelis and killing two. Israel responded by conducting airstrikes against Gaza, reportedly killing 26. Both sides have continued to bombard the other through the last 36 hours with promises to escalate the situation further.

Over the next few days, it’s likely that the death tolls will rise and the bloodshed will be used as its own excuse to continue the violent cycle that the region has been locked in since the middle of the 20th century.

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (Jersualem Post) (The New York Times)

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International

German Catholic Priests Defy Vatican by Blessing Same-Sex Unions

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  • Priests throughout Germany openly defied the Roman Catholic Church and blessed same-sex marriages over the weekend as part of an organized effort that has extended into this week.
  • In the past, the vast majority of willing priests would refuse to bless such marriages due to the ambiguity of the Church’s position, which was clarified in March 2021 as against blessing same-sex unions.
  • The effort by German priests has received some support in progressive nations but has been widely opposed by the greater Church.
  • The Vatican is unlikely to back down from its position; however, the challenge is large enough to potentially set off a debate on the issue within the Church.

Pope’s Stance on Blessing Same-Sex Unions

Catholic priests throughout Germany openly challenged a group of new rules by the Vatican this weekend and set the stage for a large debate over LGTBQ+ issues within the church.

At the center of the debate is a clear and complete ban on blessings of same-sex marriages by the Holy See from March of this year. Pope Francis’ official stance, and thus the Church’s official stance, is that priests cannot bless gay marriages because they are sinful, and the Church cannot “bless sin.”

Blessings are different from engaging in marriage ceremonies themselves and are used to bring marriages carried out by secular officials “into” the church.

The Pope’s stance received a lot of push back both within and outside of the church. Activists around the world felt it was overly restrictive and undermined Pope Francis’ other statements about loving LGBTQ+ members of the church. At the same time, hundreds of clergymen around the world, and especially in Germany, signed open letters with plans to defy the pontiff and bless same-sex unions anyways.

Such blessings weren’t completely unknown in the church because even without the Holy See’s official stance in March, it was assumed by clergymen that such blessings were forbidden; however, some carried them out anyways in secret.

Open Defiance of the Church

That secrecy largely came to an end this weekend in Germany. Sunday morning saw one of the first seemingly organized efforts in that defiance, with priests throughout Germany openly blessing same-sex marriages. The organized effort also includes another event planned for Monday, May 10, including live-streamed services.

Despite the progressive push by parts of the German church, most Catholic dioceses in the country back the Church’s official stance, and that support is even more widespread worldwide.

Beyond doctrinal differences, many German parishes are pushing for more progressive stances to cope with the fact that people are leaving the church in droves, partly because of its social stances. In some respects, those decisions have proven popular. 

As it stands, it’s unclear what will happen next to the priests and bishops who backed blessing same-sex unions, and whether or not other dioceses in progressive countries will take a similar stance and back them. It’s also unlikely that the church will change its stance on same-sex marriages.

In the meantime, hundreds of gay Catholic couples throughout Germany and neighboring countries plan to get their marriages blessed at a Catholic Church for the first time.

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (BBC) (National Catholic Reporter)

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