- On Monday, the U.S. State Department sanctioned 14 high-level Chinese officials who were instrumental in crafting a measure that allowed the Chinese government to oust four pro-democracy lawmakers last month.
- In addition to those four ousted lawmakers, all 15 remaining pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong’s legislature then resigned because of the measure.
- The new sanctions bar the 14 officials from traveling to the U.S. and freeze any of their U.S. assets.
- The sanctions are seen as part of an effort by President Donald Trump to solidify his hardline stance against China, but they’re not expected to change Chinese policy regarding Hong Kong. In fact, Hong Kong police have continued to arrest protesters since the sanctions were announced.
U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Chinese Officials
The U.S. State Department on Monday issued sanctions against 14 top Chinese officials for “developing, adopting, or implementing” a measure last month that allowed the Chinese government to remove four sitting pro-democracy lawmakers from their posts in Hong Kong’s legislature.
After those four lawmakers were removed, the legislature’s remaining 15 pro-democracy lawmakers resigned, leaving the Hong Kong government completely stacked with lawmakers loyal to Beijing.
“Beijing’s unrelenting assault against Hong Kong’s democratic processes has gutted its Legislative Council, rendering the body a rubber stamp devoid of meaningful opposition,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday when announcing the sanctions.
The 14 officials cited in the sanction, as well as their immediate families, are now barred from traveling to the U.S. If they have assets in the U.S., those are now frozen. People in the U.S. are also now generally prohibited from doing business with them.
On Tuesday, China’s vice foreign minister, Zheng Zeguang, called the sanctions “arrogant, unreasonable and vile” and argued that the U.S. is interfering with Chinese domestic policy.
Will These Sanctions Be Effective?
The sanctions are not expected to be effective in pressuring China to reverse course with Hong Kong.
While the State Department did go after all 14 vice-chairs of the committee that passed the measure, it did so while stopping short of sanctioning the committee’s chair, Li Zhanshu. That’s because Li holds the country’s third-highest office.
As Sonny Lo, a Hong Kong-based political analyst, told The New York Times, such a move would have sent too strong of a message to Beijing.
“The Americans opted for a kind of watered-down version of sanctions without seriously undermining official interactions between China and America,” he said.
On top of that, this is just the latest in a series of sanctions against Chinese officials by the U.S. government. Previously, the U.S. has sanctioned lawmakers in Beijing over prison camps that target minority Muslims in China; while Beijing officially labels the internment camps as “re-education camps,” they have been condemned for multiple human rights abuses, including ethnic cleansing.
In August, the U.S. also sanctioned Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is frequently described as a puppet of the Chinese government. Luo Huining, the head of the Hong Kong Central Liaison Office, has likewise been sanctioned by the U.S.
“Perhaps I should send $100 to Mr. Trump for him to freeze,” Luo joked at the time of his sanction, noting that he doesn’t have assets outside of China.
While Luo appears personally unaffected, these sanctions do seem to be at least somewhat of an inconvenience to Lam.
“Sitting in front of you is a Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR who has no banking services made available to her,” she told Hong Kong media at the end of last month. “I’m using cash every day for all the things. I have piles of cash at home because the government is paying me cash for my salary because I don’t have a bank account.”
U.S. Sanctions Haven’t Stopped Arrests
While the mental image of Lam crying into a pile of money on her living room floor simply because she’s unable to use a credit card is about as cartoonish as one could imagine, at the end of the day, that’s all it is.
Later in that same interview, Lam herself admits that she believes the sanctions against her are a “unjustiable honor.”
In fact, neither the sanctions against her, nor this latest wave against those 14 officials, has stopped everyday people from being arrested for voicing anti-Beijing sentiment.
On Monday, Hong Kong police arrested eight people for protesting outside of a university during a graduation ceremony last month. According to the government, they violated Hong Kong’s new national security law, which bars people from advocating for Hong Kong independence from China.
As Reuters noted, these latest sanctions have been widely seen as an effort by President Donald Trump “to cement his tough-on-China legacy and also box president-elect Joe Biden, before he takes office on Jan. 20, into hardline positions on Beijing at a time of bipartisan anti-China sentiment in Congress.”
That’s also why the State Department on Monday approved a $280 million sale of advanced military communications equipment to Taiwan, which operates as a self-governing democracy even though China officially claims it as part of its own territory.
Nonetheless, China has threatened to potentially take back the island by force, and it’s even ramped up military flights near Taiwan.
While China has demanded that the U.S. cancel this sale and threatened to punish U.S. companies involved in these deals, in total, the Trump administration has made 11 arms sales to Taiwan. This year’s sales alone total $5 billion.
The Biden administration is currently expected to keep issuing these kinds of sales.
On Monday, the House of Representatives passed a measure that would allow Hong Kongers fleeing to the U.S. to be able to work in the country for up to five years without fear of deportation.
Tom Malinowski (D-NJ.), who sponsored the measure, said that it would allow the country to “self-confidently open our doors.” He also argued that such a move was more substantial than “slap[ping] a few sanctions” on Chinese officials.
That measure now moves to the Senate. It has received bipartisan support from lawmakers.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Associated Press) (Aljazeera)
Police Arrest Hong Kong Man for Booing Chinese National Anthem
The man’s boos were launched during the first time the Chinese national anthem had ever been played for a Hong Kong athlete at the Olympics.
Instulting the Anthem
Hong Kong authorities announced Friday that a man was arrested for allegedly booing and “insulting” the Chinese national anthem while watching the Olympics on Monday.
The unnamed 40-year-old, who identified himself as a journalist, was allegedly watching the Olympics fencing medal ceremony for Hong Konger Edgar Cheung at a local mall. When the anthem began playing, he allegedly began booing and chanted “We are Hong Kong!” while waving a British Hong Kong Colonial flag.
The man’s actions were particularly noteworthy because it was the first time the Chinese national anthem had been played for a Hong Kong athlete in the Olympics. Hong Kongers compete at the Games under a separate committee called Hong Kong, China. The last time a Hong Konger won gold was in 1996 for windsurfing, at which time the British anthem of “God Save the Queen” was played.
Concerns for Freedom of Speech
The man is suspected of breaking the relatively new National Anthem Ordinance, which was passed in June 2020, and has a penalty of up to three years in prison and fines of $6,000 for anyone who publicly and intentionally insults the anthem. The law mirrors one in mainland China, but it has faced considerable scrutiny from increasingly persecuted pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong.
They argue that it tramples the right to free speech, which is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Hong Kong police, however, say that’s not the case and claim that his actions breach common restraints on freedom of speech. Senior Superintendent Eileen Chung said that his actions were “to stir up the hostility of those on the scene and to politicize the sport.”
Police issued a warning that it would investigate reports of others joining his chants or violating the separate National Security law passed last year.
This incident isn’t the only case of alleged politicization of the Games. Badminton player Angus Ng was accused by a pro-Beijing lawmaker of making a statement by sporting a black jersey with the territory’s emblem. The imagery was very similar to the black-and-white Hong Kong flag used by anti-government protesters.
Ng countered that he wore his own clothes to the event because he didn’t have sponsorships to provide jerseys and he wasn’t authorized to print the emblem on a jersey himself.
See what others are saying: (Inside) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)
Canadian Catholic Priest Says Residential Schools Survivors Lied About Abuse
The Roman Catholic Church is facing considerable backlash across Canada for its treatment of indigenous peoples in the residential school system, along with its subsequent efforts to downplay the problem.
Priest Sparks Outrage
Father Rheal Forest was put on forced leave Wednesday following remarks he made over a weeks-long period starting July 10 in which he doubted victims of the country’s infamous residential school system.
Residential schools were a system of schools largely for indigenous children that were mostly run by the Catholic Church with federal government funding. The schools were notoriously cruel and long faced allegations that children had been abused or went missing under their care.
To date, over 1,300 unmarked graves have been found at four former residential schools across Canada, a fraction of the over 130 that used to exist.
Forest, of the St. Boniface archdiocese in Winnipeg, was standing in for a couple of weeks while the main priest at his church was away. During that time, Forest told parishioners that victims of the residential schools, particularly those sexually abused, had lied.
“If [the victims] wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes — lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000,” he said.
“It’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie.”
In that same sermon, he also added that during his time with Inuit groups in the north of the country, most had allegedly said they appreciated the residential school system. Instead, he said they blamed any abuses on lay people working at the facilities rather than priests or nuns.
Forest’s comments drew a ton of backlash, prompting the archdiocese to place Forest on leave. A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that the institution “completely disavow” Forest’s comments, adding, “We very much regret the pain they may have caused to many people, not least of course Indigenous people and, more specifically, survivors of the Residential School system.”
Overall, the archdiocese has attempted to apologize to indigenous communities for its part in the residential school system, with Archbishop Albert Legatt saying in a video that the way forward was by “acknowledging, apologizing, and acting” on terms set by indigenous groups.
Church Allegedly Kept Money From Victims
Forest’s views and subsequent dismissal aren’t the only public relations scandal the Roman Catholic Church faces in Canada.
According to documents obtained by CBC News, the Church spent over a decade avoiding paying out money to survivors per a 2005 agreement. At the time, it, alongside the protestant churches that also ran some residential schools, agreed to pay an amount to victims of the schools in the tens of millions.
Instead, according to an internal summary of 2015 court documents, the Catholic Church spent much of that money on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company, and unapproved loans. It seems that some of this was technically legal, such as a promise to give tens of millions back via “in-kind” services; however, there was no audit completed to confirm that these services actually happened or to prove the alleged value of the services. This led to doubts about whether or not they were done effectively.
The Catholic Church was unique among the signatory churches in the 2005 agreement with its efforts to avoid paying victims. All of the other denominations paid out their sums many years before without issues.
While priests such as Father Forest have supported the Church, there has been internal backlash. Father André Poilièvre, a Saskatoon priest and Order of Canada recipient, said the Church’s actions are “scandalous” and “really shameful,” adding, “It was a loophole. It might be legal, but it’s not ethical.”
With these latest revelations, widespread anger at the Church has triggered allegations that indigenous groups are behind a spree of church burnings across the country.
The entire situation is likely going to continue to smolder as a government commission set up to investigate the schools estimates there will be thousands of more unmarked graves found across Canada.
See what others are saying: (CBC News) (The Guardian) (CTV News)
Tokyo Sets Back-to-Back Records for Number of Daily COVID-19 Cases
Some positive cases were detected among people attending the Olympic Games, including a handful of athletes.
Cases Going Up
The Tokyo Olympic Games found itself in more controversy on Wednesday after Tokyo experienced a record number of daily COVID-19 cases for the second day in a row.
On Tuesday, the city recorded 2,848 new cases of the virus, passing the 2,500 daily new case threshold for the first time since the pandemic began. Then on Wednesday, it shattered the record again with 3,177 new COVID-19 cases.
At least 155 of those new cases were detected among people attending the Games, including a handful of athletes, which contrasts Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s promise that the Olympics wouldn’t be hit with the virus. The spike in new cases has largely been attributed to the delta-variant, something that many countries are dealing with around the world.
Nishimura Yasutoshi, a Japanese economic minister, told a parliamentary panel this week that COVID-19 cases are expected to continue rising for at least a few days. He also explained that many people may have delayed getting tested last week due to holidays, therefore inflating total daily new case numbers.
Governors in prefectures around Tokyo have moved to ask the government for states-of-emergency, which Tokyo is already under.
Doubts About Government Response
The prime minister said in a press conference on Tuesday that “the government has secured a new drug that reduces the risk of serious illness by 70 percent,” adding, “we have confirmed that this drug will be used thoroughly from now on.”
However, he never actually mentioned what drug he was referencing.
“In any case, under these circumstances, I would like to ask the people to avoid going out unnecessarily and to watch the Olympics and Paralympics on TV,” Suga continued.
He also stressed that canceling the Olympics amid the outbreak was completely out of the question, although there have been continued calls from the public and opposition lawmakers for just that.
Beyond refusing to cancel the Games, Suga is facing backlash for refusing to enact strict state-of-emergency protocols. Currently, the measures in Tokyo are almost all voluntary and consist of asking people to stay home, along with requesting restaurants that serve alcohol to completely close and telling all others to shut down by 8 p.m.