- 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)
200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing
The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16.
Children Missing From Hotels
There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.
When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.
In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.
Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.
Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”
Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing.
However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.” The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.”
Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline.
The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)
100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History
Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”
The NHS Grinds to a Halt
Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.
The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.
Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.
When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.
Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.
In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”
Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.
The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.
During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.
Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament
Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.
“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”
“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”
Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”
Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”
“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”
While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.
Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.
If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.
Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (CNN) (The Guardian)
Fortnite Developer Sued By Parents for Making the Game as “Addictive as Possible”
One child mentioned in the lawsuit played over 7,700 rounds of Fortnite in two years.
Epic Games Sued
A Quebec City judge recently approved a 2019 class-action lawsuit accusing Fortnite developer Epic Games of deliberately making Fortnite addictive.
The parents who brought forward the lawsuit claim their children have become so obsessed with the game that in some cases, they’ve stopped eating, showering, or socializing. The lawsuit claims that these kids have played thousands of games since Fortnite’s release in 2017. In one example, a teenager played over 7,700 games in less than two years.
If the lawsuit succeeds, players addicted to Fortnite living in Quebec since September 2017 could receive compensation. The plaintiff’s attorney, Philippe Caron, reports that over 200 parents outside the lawsuit have reached out to him, saying their child’s well-being has diminished since downloading Fortnite. He told The Washington Post that they are very confident about their case.
Epic Games Responds
“We plan to fight this in court,” Natalie Munoz, a spokesperson for Epic Games said to The Post, “We believe the evidence will show that this case is meritless.”
Munoz also said that Fortnite does allow parents to supervise their child’s playtime and require permission for purchases.
The parents involved in the lawsuit are claiming that they were not aware of the dangers playing Fortnite could pose for their children.
“If she had been informed by the defendants of the risks and dangers associated with the use of FORTNITE,” the lawsuit says of one guardian. “She would have categorically refused to allow the game to be downloaded.”