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Hong Kong Bans Students From Engaging in Politics, Nations Respond to National Security Law

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  • In compliance with Hong Kong’s strict national security law, Hong Kong students are now being banned from engaging in political activity such as singing, skipping class, and posting online.
  • Books and other educational material are being removed from libraries or placed under review if they break four crimes under the law: treason, sabotage, espionage, and terrorism.
  • Critics and nations, like the US, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK, have called the law vague and are reexamining their relationships with Hong Kong.
  • Most recently, Australia suspended its extradition treaty with the city over the recent changes, while also moving to expand visas for Hong Kongers.

Hong Kong University Bans

Students within Hong Kong are now banned from engaging in all political activity as of Wednesday.

This is just the most recent change to Hong Kong life after China’s new national security law was put into effect on June 30. Other changes include banning speech that violates the Four Rules: “treason, sabotage, espionage, or terrorism.”

On Wednesday the city’s education secretary Kevin Yeung announced that “schools are obliged to stop” students from engaging in a ton of political activity, citing that at least 1,600 students under the age of 18 had been arrested at protests.

He added, “We would like to reiterate that no political propaganda activities should be allowed in schools, and no one, including students, should play, sing, and broadcast songs which contain political messages or hold any activities to express their political stance.”

This means activities like posting political slogans, forming human chains, or singing “Glory to Hong Kong” (the unofficial anthem of the protests) are now prohibited. That song, in particular, was targeted because it “contains strong political messages and is closely related to the social and political incidents, violence and illegal incidents that have lasted for months. Therefore, schools must not allow students to play, sing or broadcast it in schools.”

Some of the most serious fighting between protesters and police took place at universities and officials likely hope this move will sap the energy of many pro-democracy protesters, as students were a driving force for the movement.

Hong Kong Quickly Changing

The now banned slogan of the Hong Kong protest.
Photo via Simon Jankowski/Nur Photo

Beyond banning students from protesting, Hong Kong has seen many political activities curbed. Last week, popular slogans associated with the protests were banned for breaking the Four Rules of the national security law. Slogans like “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times!” and “Hong Kongers, build a nation,” are now illegal and seen as undermining Chinese national sovereignty.

One aspect of the national security law and its Four Rules often criticized are that they’re so vague. Nearly any pro-Democracy advocate in Hong Kong is considered to be breaking the law, which over the weekend led to public libraries being forced to review books in their collections that could break these rules.

This meant that a wide array of books are currently “under review” to determine whether or not they need to be banned.

A similar move was made on Monday when Hong Kong’s Education Bureau issued new rules to universities throughout the territory that would also ban books and learning materials.

The rules include banning education materials, “If any teaching materials have content which is outdated or involves the four crimes under the law, unless they are being used to positively teach pupils about their national security awareness or sense of safeguarding national security, otherwise if they involve other serious crime or socially and morally unacceptable act, they should be removed.”

So, what books can be expected to see a ban in schools? If the public library ban is used as a guideline, books by pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong are likely the first to be removed. Activists Joshua Wong and Tanya Chan both had their books removed from shelves while they are “under review.”

Wong was quick to criticize the move, saying on Monday, “If basic freedom still exists under the national security law, how come the book I published when I was still in high school was banned in the Hong Kong public library?”

The activist went on to add, “It’s not only about the political rights any more. It’s not only about the rights of protesters. It’s about the fundamental freedom or liberty that everyone cherish in this city, being eroded and fade out already.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement criticizing the extent to which the national security law is being implemented, “With the ink barely dry on the repressive National Security Law, local authorities — in an Orwellian move — have now established a central government national security office, started removing books critical of the CCP.”

He also lamented that rights Hong Kong previously enjoyed, which were shared by most developed Democratic nations, were now eroded, such as freedom of the press.

For their part, the Hong Kong government under Chief Executive Carrie Lam has tried to spin the new national security law and all of the rules coming out because of it as a good thing for freedom in Hong Kong. On Tuesday she told reporters, “Instead of spreading fear, the law will actually remove fear and let Hong Kong people return to a normal peaceful life and Hong Kong will resume its status as one of the safest cities in the world.”

Freedom of the Press

All of these provisions have caused widespread fear over the freedom of the press, which had widespread freedoms in the city before last week. For example, on Monday the Hong Kong government announced that RTHK, a public broadcaster in the city, would be undergoing a six-month review of their “governance and management.” It’s widely assumed that the means the station will be purged of any anti-Chinese Communist party viewpoints.

Despite this, Lam tried to say that journalistic freedom would still exist in Hong Kong. She told journalists that they wouldn’t face censorship or prosecution under the law by stating, “if journalists can guarantee that they won’t breach this law, then I can also guarantee the same.”

This means journalists are safe from prosecution as long as they don’t report on any facts that break the national security law – a law that is written to apply worldwide. Recent coverage detailed that posts written in America are subject to the law, so journalists critical of the regime face repercussions upon entering Hong Kong.

Nations Respond to Shifts

Since the national security law went into effect, Hong Kong has been quickly changing, which has caused countries to reexamine their relationship with the city. Many nations gave Hong Kong special exemptions on the premise that it was separate and distinct from mainland China.

Since June, the U.S. has stated that they would no longer give Hong Kong special trade exemptions, which added fuel to the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China. The U.S. wasn’t alone, over the last week New Zealand announced it would also review its relationship with Hong Kong and consider new visa and trade rules.

Canada approached the situation from a different angle, announcing last week they would be pulling out of an extradition treaty with the city. That move was followed up by Australia, which announced on Monday that it would also suspend their extradition treaty.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a press conference the country was also changing visas for Hong Kongers, “There will be citizens of Hong Kong who may be looking to move elsewhere, to start a new life somewhere else, to take their skills, their businesses.”

Hong Kong students, graduates, and workers in Australia on temporary visas will now have the opportunity to stay and work for an extra five years, and then apply for permanent residency after that time.

The new system, on the surface, sounds similar how the UK plans to deal with Hong Kongers wishing to move to the UK. Although a deeper looks shows they are quite different, notably the UK’s version applies to people who hold a BNO passport. Those passports holders include over 300,000 people who were born in Hong Kong before the territory was transferred back to China.

Australia’s rules would apply to about 10,000 Hong Kongers living in the country.

Although future student visas would also cover a five-year period; however, Morrison said they were “not expecting large numbers of applicants any time soon.”

China was extremely upset with Australia’s decision and Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian warned that Australia should stop interfering in Chinese affairs. He added that China could retaliate by reminding the Australians that most of their exports go to China.

Throughout the world, democratic leaders like Angela Merkel have been pressured to act as the Chinese Communist Party continues to be a polarizing figure on the world stage.

See what others are saying: (TIME) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

International

New Zealand Considers Banning Cigarettes For People Born After 2004

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  • New Zealand announced a series of proposals that aim to outlaw smoking for the next generation with the hopes of being smoke-free by 2025.
  • Among the proposed provisions are plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and possibly prohibit the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to anyone born after 2004; effectively banning smoking for that generation.
  • Beyond that, the level of nicotine in products will likely be significantly reduced, setting a minimum price for tobacco and heavily restricting where it can be sold.
  • The proposals have proven to be popular as one in four New Zealand cancer deaths are tobacco-related, but some have criticized them as government overreach and worry a ban could lead to a bigger and more robust black market.

Smoke Free 2025

New Zealand announced sweeping new proposals on Thursday that would effectively phase out the use of tobacco products, a move that is in line with its hopes to become a smoke-free country by 2025.

Among a number of provisions, the proposals include plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and bar anyone born after 2004 from buying tobacco products. Such a ban would effectively end tobacco sales after a few decades. The government is also considering significantly reducing the level of nicotine allowed in tobacco products, prohibiting filters, restricting locations where tobacco products can be purchased, and setting a steep minimum price for tobacco.

“We need a new approach.” Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verral said when announcing the changes on Thursday. 

“About 4,500 New Zealanders die every year from tobacco, and we need to make accelerated progress to be able to reach [a Smoke Free 2025]. Business-as-usual without a tobacco control program won’t get us there.”

The proposals received a large welcome from public health organizations and local groups. Shane Kawenata Bradbrook, an advocate for smoke-free Maori communities, told The Guardian that the plan “will begin the final demise of tobacco products in this country.” 

The Cancer Society pointed out that these proposals would help combat health inequities in the nation, as tobacco stores were four times more likely to be in low-income neighborhoods, where smoking rates are highest.

Not Without Flaws

The proposals weren’t completely without controversy. There are concerns that a complete ban could bankrupt “dairy” store owners (the equivalent to a U.S. convenience store) who rely on tobacco sales to stay afloat. 

There are also concerns that prohibition largely doesn’t work, as has been seen in other nations with goods such as alcohol or marijuana. Many believe a  blanket ban on tobacco will increase the incentive to smuggle and sell the products on the black market. The government even acknowledged the issue in a document outlining Thursday’s proposals. 

“Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling,” the document said.

Some are also concerned about how much the government is intervening in people’s lives.

“There’s a philosophical principle about adults being able to make decisions for themselves, within reason,” journalist Alex Braae wrote. 

The opposition ACT party also added that lowering nicotine content in tobacco products could lead to smokers smoking more, a particular concern as one-in-four cancer cases in New Zealand are tobacco-related.

See what others are saying: (Stuff) (Independent) (The Guardian)

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Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion

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  • Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
  • The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
  • The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.

Ever Given Still in Egypt

An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.

The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.

The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.

Pushing Back Against The Claim

While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”

“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”

It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.

See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
  • The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
  • Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Radioactive or Bad Publicity?

After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”

While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.

According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.

Something Had To Eventually Be Done

Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.

The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.

The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.

“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.

To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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