- On Wednesday, a committee within the National People’s Congress — China’s top legislative body — passed a resolution meant to disqualify pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.
- Within minutes of the resolution’s passage, four LegCo lawmakers were immediately removed from office for “endangering” national security.
- All four had previously asked foreign governments to sanction Beijing and Hong Kong over China’s passage of a national security law earlier this summer. China has since used that law to gradually strip away freedoms in Hong Kong.
- Following their ousting, the remaining 15 pro-democracy lawmakers in LegCo announced their intention to resign. LegCo will now be fully stacked with Beijing loyalists.
Four Pro-Democracy Lawmakers Ousted From LegCo
Hong Kong’s legislature is set to lose all of its 19 pro-democracy lawmakers by Thursday, meaning the legislature will now be composed entirely of Beijing loyalists.
On Wednesday, a committee within the National People’s Congress (NPC) — China’s top legislative body — passed a resolution targeting pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong. The resolution states that lawmakers in Hong Kong will be disqualified from office if they support Hong Kong independence, refuse to accept China’s sovereignty, threaten national security, or ask foreign forces to impose sanctions.
Just minutes after that resolution was passed, the Hong Kong government announced it would be disqualifying four legislators in the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo), effective immediately. All four — Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki, and Kenneth Leung — were accused of endangering national security.
In late June, China passed a national security law aimed at cracking down on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Since then, China has effectively taken control of the region — even though it was supposed to remain autonomous until 2047.
Later, in July, those four pro-democracy lawmakers asked foreign governments, including the United States, to implement sanctions on Beijing and Hong Kong. At the time, the Hong Kong government barred them from running for re-election, but they were allowed to continue serving on LegCo.
“If observing due process, protecting systems and functions, fighting for democracy and human rights would lead to the consequences of being disqualified, it would be my honor,” Dennis Kwok said Wednesday following his ousting.
All Pro-Democracy Legislators Resign
The four disqualifications left LegCo with 58 members — 15 of which were pro-democracy lawmakers; however, just hours after those disqualifications, every single pro-democracy lawmaker in LegCo announced they would resign, beginning Thursday.
“There [is] separation of power under… the Basic Law,” Hong Kong’s Democratic Party Chair Wu Chi Wai said, “but today, the decision made by the central government seemed to say that all the separation of powers will be taken away, and all the power will be centralized in the chief executive — Of course, the chief executive is the puppet of the central government.”
“We can no longer tell the world that we still have ‘one country, two systems,’” he added. “This declares its official death.”
That “puppet,” Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, denied that LegCo is about to become a “rubber-stamp parliament” — AKA, a government that will essentially pass any legislation Beijing tells it to. Instead, she said she welcomes diverse opinions in LegCo, but she also stressed the need for China’s resolution to be applied upon LegCo.
“There are many occasions even among the so-called pro-establishment members that our proposals did not get through,” she said in a briefing.
However, China’s representative office in Hong Kong was much more transparent about the goal of this resolution, saying that the city must be ruled by loyalists.
One major question surrounding this story has confused many: Why did those other 15 lawmakers quit, especially since China hadn’t disqualified them? Why voluntarily give up their seats, which still had power even if those lawmakers were in the minority?
In fact, even analysts have noted that a mass resignation like this means democracy activists no longer have access to LegCo, a tool they could use to try to hold lawmakers more accountable to public opinion.
Despite this, as Reuters pointed out, “staying could have been perceived by their supporters as legitimising Beijing’s move and led to discord.”
For the lawmakers’ part, their mass resignation does seem to be a display of unity. While announcing their plans, the 15 held hands and chanted, “Together we stand!”
During that announcement, Wu called their effort a “fight of democracy,” saying, “[We] will never, ever give up.”
While those lawmakers described Wednesday as a dark day for Hong Kong, it’s also one that largely felt inevitable, given China’s recent crackdowns. Since signing its national security law into effect, it has arrested protesters, arrested journalists, raided newsrooms, and instituted propaganda into schools.
See what others are saying: (South China Morning Post) (Reuters) (NPR)
Biden Vows to Defend Taiwan if Attacked by China
Some praised the remarks for clarifying U.S. foreign policy, while others feared they could escalate tensions with China.
Biden’s Remarks Create Confusion
During a Monday press conference in Tokyo, U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would intervene to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.
The remark caught many off guard because it contradicted decades of traditional U.S. foreign policy toward China.
A reporter said, “You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”
“Yes,” Biden answered. “That’s a commitment we made. We are not — look, here’s the situation. We agree with a One China policy. We signed onto it and all the attendant agreements made from there.”
“But the idea that it can be taken by force — just taken by force — is just not appropriate,” he continued. “It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”
Beijing considers the Taiwanese island to be a breakaway province, but Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, has claimed to represent the real historical lineage of China.
Since 1972, the U.S. has officially recognized only one China, with its capital in Beijing. However, Washington maintains extensive informal diplomatic ties with Taipei and provides military assistance through weapons and training.
Successive U.S. presidents have also committed to a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” refusing to promise or rule out a direct military intervention in case China attacks Taiwan.
The strategy is meant to deter China while avoiding a hard commitment to any action.
Biden Sparks Controversy
The White House quickly sent a statement to reporters appearing to walk back Biden’s remark.
“As the president said, our policy has not changed,” the statement said. “He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”
Monday was not the first time Biden made similar remarks regarding China and Taiwan.
Last August, he promised that “we would respond” if there was an attack against a fellow member of NATO and then added, “same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan.”
In October, he again told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the U.S. would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, prompting the White House to hurriedly walk back his statement.
Monday’s remark was received with support as well as criticism.
“Strategic ambiguity is over. Strategic clarity is here,” Tweeted Matthew Kroenig, professor of government at Georgetown University. “This is the third time Biden has said this. Good. China should welcome this. Washington is helping Beijing to not miscalculate.”
“It is truly dangerous for the president to keep misstating U.S. policy toward Taiwan,” historian Stephen Wertheim wrote in a tweet. “How many more times will this happen?”
“The West’s robust response to Russian aggression in Ukraine could serve to deter China from invading Taiwan, but Biden’s statement risks undoing the potential benefit and instead helping to bring about a Taiwan conflict,” he added. “Self-injurious and entirely unforced.”
Biden also unveiled the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a trade agreement signed by the U.S. and 12 Asian nations.
The agreement appeared to many like another move to cut off China from regional trade pacts and supply chains in Washington’s strategic competition with Beijing.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (The South China Morning Post)
Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders
Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.
Azovstal Waves the White Flag
Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.
A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.
The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.
It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.
Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.
Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.
Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.
Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands
After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.
The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.
Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.
The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.
The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.
It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)
Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls
Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.
Hundreds Make It Out Alive
A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.
People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.
The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.
Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.
“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”
63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.
“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.
Putin’s Plans Go Poorly
In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.
On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.
The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”
Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.
After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.
“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.
On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.
Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.
The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”
“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.
Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.