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Archive for the ‘Land of the Hans’ Category

Chaos as Hong Kong lawmakers thwart leader’s annual address

October 16, 2019

HONG KONG (AP) — Furious pro-democracy lawmakers twice forced Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to stop delivering a speech laying out her policy objectives Wednesday, clamoring for her to resign in chaotic scenes that caused her to walk out of the legislature.

Lam was able to deliver the annual address more than an hour later by video, but the reception inside the Legislative Council marked a slap in the face for the embattled chief executive grappling with anti-government protests now in their fifth month.

When Lam started delivering the speech, she was shouted down by chanting pro-democracy lawmakers who held aloft placards showing her waving with hands colored blood-red. She left the chamber and then came back a few minutes later to try again, only to be interrupted one more time. Again, she left. One lawmaker wearing a paper mask showing the face of Chinese President Xi Jinping tossed a placard as Lam was leaving.

Finally, 75 minutes after the previously scheduled start of the lengthy address, Lam delivered it via video link, with China’s yellow-starred red flag to her right and Hong Kong’s flag on her left. Describing the semi-autonomous Chinese territory as going through “major crisis,” Lam said: “People are asking: Will Hong Kong return to normal?”

She appealed for its 7.5 million citizens to “cherish the city,” warning that “continued violence and spread of hatred will erode the core values of Hong Kong.” Standing ramrod-straight, she then launched into a dry and detailed explanation of plans to tackle Hong Kong’s shortage of affordable housing, a long-standing source of discontent, and other welfare issues. With its focus on such minutiae as building new tunnels and freeing up land for development, the 50-minute speech seemed likely to fuel protesters’ criticism that Lam is deaf to their concerns about the future of the territory’s freedoms, unique in China.

Even before Lam delivered it, one of the protesting lawmakers, Claudia Mo, dismissed the address as a “shame and a sham” and said the chief executive had lost all authority. “She is just a puppet on strings, being played by Beijing,” Mo said at an impromptu news conference with other lawmakers outside the chamber after they successfully thwarted Lam’s address there.

They played a recording on a small loudspeaker they said was the sound of police tear-gassing protesters and of protesters’ wails. “These are the voices of people screaming and they are just ordinary Hong Kong people,” said lawmaker Tanya Chan. “Please, please, please Mrs. Carrie Lam, don’t let us suffer any more.”

She and others called for Lam’s resignation. “This is the only way that we can have a good future,” said Chan. Lam had been bracing for trouble in the chamber as her government battles the protests that started in June over a contested extradition bill and have snowballed into a sustained anti-government, anti-police and anti-China movement.

The widespread use of teargas by riot-control squads and 2,600 arrests, some appearing heavy handed, have triggered public disgust with the 30,000-strong police force once considered among Asia’s finest. Hardcore black-clad and masked protesters have responded with widespread vandalism of China-linked businesses, subway stations and other targets, and attacked police with gasoline bombs and other weapons.

This month, two police shootings that injured teenage protesters, the stabbing of a police officer, and the detonation of a small, remote-controlled bomb close to police officers ratcheted up violence to levels unprecedented in the former British colony that reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

Saying rioters are “spreading chaos and fear,” Lam appealed for order and sought to end her address on a positive note. Her Facebook profile was updated before she spoke, with a photo of a smiling Lam against a backdrop of a rainbow over Hong Kong’s harbor.

“We have to put aside differences and stop attacking each other,” she said. “I thoroughly believe that Hong Kong will be able to ride out this storm and move on.”

China-Australia rift deepens as Beijing tests overseas sway

October 03, 2019

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s ban on Chinese telecoms giant Huawei’s involvement in its future 5G networks and its crackdown on foreign covert interference are testing Beijing’s efforts to project its power overseas.

In its latest maneuver, China sent three scholars to spell out in interviews with Australian media and other appearances steps to mend the deepening rift with Beijing _ a move that appears to have fallen flat.

In a recent press conference at the Chinese Embassy in Canberra, Chen Hong, the head of Australian studies at East China Normal University, accused Australia of acting as a “pawn” for the United States in lobbying other countries against Huawei’s involvement in the nascent 5G networks.

“Australia has been in one way or another, so to speak, pioneering this kind of anti-China campaign, even some kind of a scare and smear campaign against China,” Chen said. “That is definitely not what China will be appreciating, and if other countries follow suit, that is going to be recognized as extremely unfriendly,” he said.

After meetings in Beijing last week, Richard Marles, the opposition’s defense spokesman, assessed the relationship as “terrible.” A growing number of Australians are convinced that Beijing has been using inducements, threats, espionage and other clandestine tactics to influence their politics _ methods critics believe Beijing might be honing for use in other western democracies.

“Australia is seen as a test bed for Beijing’s high-pressure influence tactics,” said Clive Hamilton, author of “Silent Invasion,” a best seller that focuses on Chinese influence in Australia. “They are testing the capacity of the Australian democratic system to resist,” he said.

Still, Australian officials have downplayed talk of a diplomatic freeze. They must balance a growing wariness toward China and their desire for strong ties with the U.S. with the need to keep relations with their resource-rich country’s largest export market on an even keel.

Australia relies on China for one-third of its export earnings. Delays in processing of Australia exports of coal and wine at Chinese ports have raised suspicions of retaliation by Beijing. While Prime Minister Scott Morrison appeared to side with President Donald Trump on the issue of China’s trade status during a recent visit to Washington, he sought to temper suggestions by Trump that he had expressed “very strong opinions on China” in their closed-door meeting.

“We have a comprehensive, strategic partnership with China. We work well with China,” Morrison replied. Trump and Morrison did agree that China has outgrown trade rule concessions allowed to developing nations, advantages it insists it should still be able to claim.

Australia also chose to side with the U.S, in shutting Huawei, the world’s biggest telecom gear producer, out of its next generation 5G rollout on security grounds. Huawei, and the Chinese government, objected to that, saying the security concerns were exaggerated for the sake of shutting out competition. But Huawei still renewed a sponsorship deal with an Australian rugby team, saying it hopes the ban will be lifted.

Morrison, the prime minister, has won praise from the Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times for standing up for Gladys Liu, the first Chinese-born lawmaker to be elected to Australia’s Parliament, when she was attacked for her associations with the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party, whose mission is to exert influence overseas.

Hong Kong-born Liu, a conservative, was elected in May to represent a Melbourne district with a large population of ethnic Chinese voters. She says she has resigned from such organizations and any honorary positions she might have held, some possibly without her “knowledge or consent.”

Morrison accused her critics of smearing the 1.2 million Chinese living in Australia. That was a “decent gesture,” the Global Times said. But while it seeks to control damage from the tensions with Beijing, the Australian government has been moving to neutralize its influence by banning foreign political donations and all covert foreign interference in domestic politics.

Opposition lawmakers likened Liu’s situation to that of Sam Dastyari, who resigned as a senator in 2017 over his links to Chinese billionaire political donor Huang Xiangmo. Huang successfully sued Australian media outlets for defamation over the allegations of his involvement in Chinese political interference. But he lost his Australian permanent residency after it was discovered that his company had paid Dastyari’s personal legal bills. Huang also appeared with him at a news conference for Chinese media where Dastyari supported Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, contradicting Australia’s bipartisan policy.

Chen and the other two Chinese scholars recently dispatched to Australia to try to sway public opinion insisted China was without blame. “If we’re talking about Australia-China relations, I think the responsibility totally is on the Australian side,” Chen said. “China always promotes friendship and mutual benefits between our two countries.”

The Chinese scholars singled out for criticism Hamilton and another Australian author, John Garnaut, who has described Australia as the canary in the coal mine of Chinese Communist Party interference.

Hamilton’s book was published last year, but only after three publishers backed out, fearing retaliation from Beijing. It became a top seller. Hamilton told a U.S. congressional commission last year that Beijing was waging a “campaign of psychological warfare” against Australia, undermining democracy and silencing its critics.

In separate testimony, Garnaut, a former government security adviser, told the House of Representatives Arms Services Committee that China was seeking to undermine the U.S.-Australian security alliance.

In 2016, the government commissioned Garnaut to write a classified report that found the Chinese Communist Party has been seeking to influence Australian policy, compromise political parties and gain access to all levels of government.

He has said Australia is reacting to a threat that other countries are only starting to grapple with. “This recognition has been assisted by the sheer brazenness of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s drive for global influence and by watching Russian President Vladimir Putin and his agents create havoc across the United States and Europe,” Garnaut wrote.

“In the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election, it is far more difficult to dismiss foreign interference as a paranoid abstraction,” he added. Garnaut, whose friend Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun has been detained in Beijing since January on suspicion of espionage, declined to comment to The Associated Press.

China wants to make an example of Australia, said Chinese-born Sydney academic Feng Chongyi, who was detained for 10 days and interrogated about his friend Garnaut’s investigation while visiting China in 2017.

“For the last two decades, Australia has been taken for a soft target because of this myth of economic dependence on China, so they believe they have sufficient leverage to force Australia to back off,” said Feng, a professor of China studies at the University of Technology in Sydney.

“They are extremely upset that Australia somehow in the last two years has taken the lead in what we call the democratic pushback” against Chinese interference, he said.

From Beirut to Hong Kong, protests evoke global frustration

October 26, 2019

BEIRUT (AP) — In Hong Kong, it was a complicated extradition dispute involving a murder suspect. In Beirut, it was a proposed tax on the popular WhatsApp messenger service. In Chile, it was a 4-cent hike in subway fares.

Recent weeks have seen mass protests and clashes erupt in far-flung places triggered by seemingly minor actions that each came to be seen as the final straw. The demonstrations are fueled by local grievances, but reflect worldwide frustration at growing inequality, corrupt elites and broken promises.

Where past waves of protests, like the 2011 Arab Spring or the rallies that accelerated the breakup of the Soviet Union, took aim at dictatorships, the latest demonstrations are rattling elected governments. The unrest on three continents, coupled with the toxic dysfunction in Washington and London, raises fresh concerns over whether the liberal international order, with free elections and free markets, can still deliver on its promises.

THE PEOPLE STILL WANT THE FALL OF THE REGIME

Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese poured into the streets after the government floated a new tax on WhatsApp on the heels of an austerity package that came in response to an increasingly severe fiscal crisis.

The protests rapidly escalated into an indictment of the entire post-civil war order , in which a sectarian power-sharing arrangement has transformed former warlords and other elites into a permanent political class. In the three decades since the war ended, the same leaders have used patronage networks to get themselves re-elected again and again even as the government has failed to reliably provide basic services like electricity, water and trash collection.

A similar story has unfolded in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, where a government that distributes power and top offices among Shiites and minority Sunnis and Kurds has calcified into a corrupt stasis, with parties haggling over ministries as services and infrastructure fall into further ruin despite the country’s considerable oil wealth.

“Thieves! Thieves!” protesters in both countries chanted this week.

“Massive economic mismanagement coupled with spiraling corruption have pauperized large segments of the Arab people,” said Fawaz Gerges, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics. “It is no wonder then that millions of Arabs are fed up.”

The protests in both countries target governments that are close to Iran and backed by its heavily armed local allies, raising fears of a violent backlash. Nearly 200 Iraqis have been killed in recent clashes with security forces, and supporters of the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group have brawled with protesters in Beirut.

“There is no magical bullet or easy answer to the severe crisis of governance in Arab lands,” Gerges said. “The struggle will be fierce and long and costly, but there is no turning back.”

RISING UP AGAINST A RISING CHINA

Hong Kong’s protests erupted in early June after the semiautonomous city passed an extradition bill that put residents at risk of being sent to China’s judicial system. At one point, protesters said they had brought 2 million people into the streets.

Authorities were forced to drop the extradition proposal , which was triggered by the need to resolve the status of a murder suspect wanted for killing his pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan. But by then, the movement had snowballed to include demands for full democracy in the form of direct elections for the city’s top leader.

Since China took control of Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, the city’s leaders have been selected by an elite committee made up mostly of pro-Beijing tycoons. Local councillors and half of the Asian financial center’s legislature are directly elected, but the other half are chosen by representatives from the finance, tourism, catering, accounting and other industries, which adds to the public discontent over stifled promises of democracy.

Underlying the Hong Kong protest movement are rising fears about China’s tightening grip on the city and worries that Beijing is reneging on promises not to meddle with Hong Kong’s Western-style civil liberties, such as freedom of speech and an independent judiciary.

Protesters also fear China’s technology-powered authoritarianism. Wearing masks to conceal their identities, they have cut down “smart lampposts” and smashed surveillance cameras. They worry about artificial intelligence-powered facial recognition surveillance systems capturing their biometric data and sending it for processing by Chinese technology giants to track and identify them.

UNREST IN WEALTHY, DEMOCRATIC CHILE

On Friday, an estimated 1 million Chileans filled the streets of the capital Santiago, more than ever took to the streets during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet or the democratic governments that came after him.

The protests were sparked by the subway fare hike but soon morphed into a mass movement against inequality in one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries. At least 19 people have been killed as protesters have clashed with police in recent days.

Protesters tried to force their way onto the grounds of Chile’s legislature Friday, provoking an evacuation of the building. Police fired tear gas to fend off hundreds of demonstrators on the perimeter as some lawmakers and administrative staff hurried out of the legislative building, which is in the port city of Valparaiso.

Marta Lagos, head of Latinobarometro, a nonprofit survey group in Chile, said the protests have exposed the shortcomings of the country’s political system. “There is a failure of the system of political parties in its ability to represent society,” Lagos said.

Struggling to contain the strife, President Sebastián Piñera’s administration announced increases in the minimum wage, raised minimum pensions by 20% and rolled back the subway fare increase.

He put a 9.2% increase in electricity prices on hold until the end of next year, but with analysts predicting his resignation and fresh elections, the consequences of that move could fall to his successor.

CATALAN PROTESTS TAKE A VIOLENT TURN

For years, Catalan separatists have held peaceful, festive marches, but the movement took a violent turn last week when protests erupted over the imprisonment of nine leaders who led a bid for independence from Spain in 2017.

That failed attempt left the separatist movement rudderless, with 12 of its leaders arrested and most of the rest fleeing the country, including former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont.

New activist collectives have emerged in their place, including one calling itself the Tsunami Democratic, which uses its own app and encrypted messages to call for “civil disobedience.”

But one of its first calls to protest, after the Oct. 31 Supreme Court ruling jailing the leaders, turned into a massive siege of Barcelona’s international airport, with rioters clashing with police late into the night.

The group has borrowed some of its tactics and rhetoric from the Hong Kong protesters, and protesters in both places have staged demonstrations in support of one another, though most Hong Kong protesters have been careful not to push for independence from China — one of President Xi Jinping’s “red lines.”

That one movement is struggling against domination by one-party China while the other is rising up against a European democracy is a distinction that has been lost in the tear gas.

Associated Press writers Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong and Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed.

Hong Kong soccer fans loudly boo Chinese national anthem

September 11, 2019

HONG KONG (AP) — Thousands of Hong Kong soccer fans booed loudly and turned their backs when the Chinese national anthem was played before a World Cup qualifier match against Iran on Tuesday, taking the city’s months of protests into the sports realm.

The crowd broke out into “Glory to Hong Kong,” a song reflecting their campaign for more democratic freedoms in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. After the match started, fans chanted “Fight for freedom” and “Revolution of our Times.” One person carried a blue poster that read, “Hong Kong is not China.”

Hong Kong has been roiled by protests since June over an extradition bill that would have sent some residents to mainland China for trial. The government promised last week to withdraw the bill but that failed to placate the protesters, whose demands now include democratic reforms and police accountability.

Security at the Hong Kong Stadium was tight, with fans frisked to ensure they did not bring in political materials and other prohibited items. Iran, Asia’s top team, had sought to move the match, citing safety concerns over the unrest, but the request was rejected by FIFA, soccer’s governing body.

Stadium announcers said 14,000 spectators attended the game. Iran beat Hong Kong 2-0. “Hong Kong people are united. We will speak up for freedom and democracy,” one of the spectators, Leo Fan, said as members of the crowd continued to chant slogans and sing protest songs as they left.

In July, Hong Kong fans chanted slogans and waved banners when English Premier League champions Manchester City played local team Kitchee at the stadium. Many see the extradition bill as a glaring example of the city’s eroding autonomy since the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997. Clashes have become increasingly violent, with police firing tear gas after protesters vandalized subway stations, set street fires and blocked traffic over the weekend.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam renewed an appeal to protesters earlier Tuesday to “say no to violence” and engage in dialogue, as the city’s richest man urged the government to provide a way out for the mostly young demonstrators.

Lam said the escalation of violence, in which more than 150 people including students have been detained in clashes since Friday, will deepen rifts and prolong the road to recovery. She said her decision to formally withdraw the extradition bill and her other initiatives reflected her sincerity to heal society by initiating a direct dialogue with various communities, including protesters.

Billionaire Li Ka Shing, in a video broadcast on local TV, described the summer of unrest as the worst catastrophe since World War II. In his first public comments, Li called youths the “masters of our future” and said the government should temper justice with mercy in resolving the crisis.

“I am very worried. We hope Hong Kong people will be able to ride out the storm. We hope the young people can consider the big picture and those at the helm can give the masters of our future a way out,” Li, 91, told a religious gathering outside a Buddhist temple over the weekend.

Asked about Li’s comments, Lam agreed that the government “can do more and can do better” especially in meeting young people to hear their grievances. But she stressed the government cannot condone violence and will strictly enforce the law.

The unrest has become the biggest challenge to Beijing’s rule since it took over Hong Kong and is an embarrassment to its ruling Communist Party ahead of Oct. 1 celebrations of its 70th year in power. Beijing has slammed the protests as an effort by criminals to split the territory from China, backed by what it said were hostile foreigners.

Beijing rebuked Germany on Tuesday for allowing prominent Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong to visit “to engage in anti-China separatist activities.” Wong met Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Berlin late Monday at an event hosted by the German newspaper Bild.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Maas’ “political show” with Wong displayed disrespect to China’s sovereignty and was an interference in its internal affairs. She urged Germany to avoid sending the wrong signal to “radical, separatist forces in Hong Kong” and said any efforts to solicit foreign support to split the country are “doomed to fail.”

In an immediate response, Wong tweeted that Chinese ‘s strong reaction was “baffling.” Wong, a leader of Hong Kong’s 2014 pro-democracy protest movement, was charged last month with inciting people to join a protest in June. His prosecution came after his release from prison in June following a two-month sentence related to the 2014 protests.

Associated Press videojournalist Harvey Kong in Hong Kong and news assistant Liu Zheng in Beijing contributed to this report.

Duterte in China amid expectation he’ll raise sea disputes

August 29, 2019

BEIJING (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was in Beijing on Thursday for a meeting with counterpart Xi Jinping in which the Southeast Asian leader is expected to discuss a ruling on the disputed South China Sea.

The 2016 Hague arbitration mostly invalidated China’s claim to virtually the entire South China Sea and found that it violated the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. The row over the waters — a major global shipping route thought to be rich in oil and gas reserves — has for years marred China’s relationship with the Philippines and other neighboring countries with territorial claims over the disputed area, where Beijing has transformed a string of disputed reefs into missile-protected island bases.

Duterte, however, has largely avoided the subject in favor of seeking warmer ties with Beijing. Philippine nationalists and left-wing groups have criticized the president for not immediately demanding Chinese compliance with the arbitration ruling, which came the same year Duterte took office.

The Philippine leader briefly mentioned the issue to Xi on the sidelines of an April conference for China’s Belt and Road global infrastructure initiative, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo indicated Duterte will raise the matter in a more direct way during this visit.

It’s unlikely that Duterte’s move will have any effect on China, said Jay Batongbacal, a maritime affairs scholar at the University of the Philippines. “China’s position will not change just because Duterte changes tune,” Batongbacal said. “At best, Duterte might be seen as using the arbitration discussion as a move to leverage other concessions. At worst, it may be just for show.”

China refused to participate in the arbitration case initiated by Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, and has ignored the ruling. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said last week that the country’s stance has not changed.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana asked Beijing this month to explain the activities of Chinese research vessels and warships in what the Philippines claims as its waters, and accused China of “bullying.”

Lorenzana said that China did not ask for permission to send several warships through the Sibutu Strait at the southern tip of the Philippine archipelago on four occasions between February and July. He said two Chinese research ships have also been operating in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Meanwhile, Philippine military spokesman Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo accused China of “duplicity,” claiming the Chinese warships shut off their identification transponders while passing through Philippine waters to avoid radar detection.

China has said it is ready to work with the Philippines to jointly safeguard maritime security and order. In an apparent attempt to ease tensions ahead of Thursday’s meeting, a fishery association in southern Guangdong province apologized this week for colliding with a Philippine fishing boat in June.

The Philippines filed a diplomatic protest after the fisherman said a Chinese vessel rammed their anchored boat and abandoned them as it sank in the Reed Bank. “I feel deep regret that this accident had to happen and I would like to express my deep sympathy to the Filipino fishermen,” the president of the Guangdong Fishery Mutual Insurance Association said in a letter sent to the Philippine Embassy in Beijing.

Gomez reported from Manila, Philippines.

Ties to China shape cautious reaction to Hong Kong protests

August 22, 2019

For Canada and the European Union, they are a “situation.” For President Donald Trump, a potential stumbling block in ongoing trade disputes. And for South Korea, an issue to be monitored. With the notable exception of Taiwan, cautious comments from the few governments willing to speak out on the ongoing protests in Hong Kong fall far short of support for the demonstrators. They are so mild that even the word “protest” itself was left out of the joint EU-Canada statement that was the most recent to infuriate the Chinese government. And the vast majority of countries are unwilling to risk that fury at all.

China’s weapon is also its greatest lure: a population of nearly 1.4 billion. Otherwise known as the world’s largest market, to be opened or closed at will. China has also become a major builder of roads, ports, power plants and other infrastructure in developing countries.

“It’s really an anodyne statement,” Theresa Fallon, a researcher on EU-Asia relations, said of the one released by the EU and Canada. “Of course the Chinese knew that these statements would be made, but they cracked down right away. They have zero tolerance for that. … Everyone is afraid to be punished by China.”

UNITED STATES, CANADA and EUROPE

In the early days of the protests, Trump described them as an internal matter. Then he suggested that Chinese President Xi Jinping could resolve the situation by meeting with protest leaders.

On Sunday, he went a step further and said the use of Chinese troops to quell the demonstrations would worsen the current U.S.-China trade dispute, referring to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

“I mean if it’s another Tiananmen Square, I think it’s a very hard thing to do if there is violence,” Trump told reporters in New Jersey.

He and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about the protests last week, according to Trudeau’s office. The Canadian leader has been among the most outspoken on the protest movement. He said the 300,000 Canadians in Hong Kong represent the region’s largest contingent of foreigners.

“We are going to continue to call upon the Chinese government to respect the ‘one country, two systems’ agreement that they have long abided by,” he said earlier this week.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang avoided commenting on Trump’s remarks directly, but referred to the president’s previous statements on the protests.

“We have noticed that President Trump has previously stated that Hong Kong is part of China, and that they must solve it themselves and do not need advice. We hope that the U.S. side can match its acts to its words,” Geng told reporters.

The European Union joined with Canada in a statement Saturday.

“It is crucial that restraint be exercised, violence rejected and urgent steps taken to de-escalate the situation. Engagement in a process of broad-based and inclusive dialogue, involving all key stakeholders, is essential.”

KOREAS: NORTH vs. SOUTH

South Korea has avoided criticizing China, its largest trading partner and a country believed to have significant leverage over rival North Korea.

“Our government is monitoring the latest moves in Hong Kong with interest and we hope this issue will be settled smoothly,” the Foreign Ministry said in response to a question from The Associated Press.

South Korea is currently preoccupied with stalled negotiations on how to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons and trade disputes with Japan, and that could make Seoul even more reticent.

Choi Kang, vice president of Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said even if there’s a Chinese crackdown in Hong Kong, South Korea would likely end up expressing little more than “regrets” or “hopes for an early, peaceful resolution.”

As for North Korea, the country’s propaganda outlets have accused the United States and other Western countries of using the Hong Kong case as a chance to slander China and interfere in its domestic affairs.

“To take measure for internal affairs belongs to the sovereignty of relevant country,” the North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary last week. “But the Western forces are obtrusively interfering in China’s internal affair to add fuel to the reckless moves of the dishonest elements, saying this or that.”

It didn’t directly refer to the United States but an earlier Rodong Sinmun commentary said that “the Western countries including the U.S. are using (the Hong Kong issue) as a golden opportunity to defame China while raising the level of threat and blackmail against China.”

North Korea has long bristled at any outside criticism of its own human rights conditions as a U.S.-led attempt to bring down its political system.

A Foreign Ministry statement on Aug. 11 said that “we fully support the stand and measures of the Chinese party and government for defending the sovereignty, security and reunification of the country and safeguarding the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.”

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Southeast Asian countries generally have little need or desire to take a public stand on the Hong Kong protests.

Many try to strike a balance between Beijing and Washington, moving toward the Chinese end of the scale in recent years as China has projected its influence more vigorously. The poorer members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar —have become reliant on Beijing’s economic largesse, and virtually all have embraced China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative to help expand their infrastructure, though often with reservations and in the case of the more developed nations, with some hard bargaining.

At the same time, several nations have publicly complained of China’s efforts at expanding its influence, especially its ambitious territorial claims over the South China Sea at the expanse of Beijing’s smaller neighbors.

AUSTRALIA and NEW ZEALAND

The leaders of both Australia and New Zealand have been measured in their comments.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison disagreed last week that the protests were beginning to show the “sprouts of terrorism,” as a Chinese official said, but he didn’t criticize the statement directly.

“My view is one to seek to de-escalate things, to encourage the chief executive of Hong Kong to be listening carefully to what people are saying in Hong Kong and work toward a peaceful and calm resolution of what is a very serious issue,” he said.

Australia warned China against interfering in related demonstrations in Australia after a Chinese diplomat praised Chinese students who clashed with supporters of the protests in Brisbane.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern denied she was constrained in what she could say about China, and said her country’s stand on the protest movement has been consistent. China is a key export market for New Zealand and has overtaken Australia as New Zealand’s largest trading partner. The agricultural-driven economy of New Zealand relies on selling billions of dollars’ worth of milk powder to China, which is used in infant formula.

“De-escalation, peaceful dialogue on all sides, and, of course, a restoration of the ‘One China but two systems’ philosophy that has been in place for a significant period.”

BRITAIN

Britain handed Hong Kong over to Chinese rule in 1997, but 156 years as a colony left a mark.

Its last governor, Chris Patten, called for the government to be “outspoken” in defending the city’s freedom.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has previously described Britain as open for business from China and is now embroiled in Brexit, has been uncharacteristically silent on the protests. But his foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, “condemned violent acts by all sides but emphasized the right to peaceful protest, noting that hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong people had chosen this route to express their views.”

China said Wednesday a staffer at the British Consulate in Hong Kong, who was earlier reported missing while on a trip to the mainland, has been given 15 days of administrative detention in the city of Shenzhen for violating a law on public order. The British Foreign Office has said it is “extremely concerned” about his situation.

TAIWAN

In Taiwan, support for the protests has been widespread, including among young Hong Kongers studying in the self-ruling democracy that China claims as its own territory.

On Saturday, a student group called “Hong Kong Outlanders” organized flash mobs, street film screenings and sit-ins in more than half a dozen cities, including in front of Taipei’s famous Taipei 101 skyscraper that is a frequent destination for Chinese visitors. Support groups have also collected hardhats and set up public outdoor galleries of protest art known as Lennon Walls.

“We understand that the leaders cannot speak up for Hong Kong because of the financial situation. It’s politics and money,” said Dora, a Hong Kong native living in Taiwan, who only gave her first name for fear of reprisal. “But we’re still reaching out for support and help from people of different countries to do whatever they can to help us.”

Public opinion surveys show generally strong but not overwhelming public support for the government’s backing of the protests, perhaps reflecting a general unwillingness for Taiwan to be identified with Hong Kong’s situation.

Though Taiwan was a Japanese colony for 50 years until 1945, Taiwanese are swift to point out that they have been a de-facto independent state since Chiang Kai-shek relocated his Nationalist government there in 1949, rather than a British colony or a special administrative region governed by Beijing.

Perhaps more than anything, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen says and many believe the protests show China’s “one country, two systems” framework that Beijing also proposes imposing on Taiwan simply cannot work.

Tsai has expressed her personal support for the protests and said the island would consider taking in Hong Kong residents seeking asylum, something that drew an angry rebuke from Beijing on Monday. Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for the Chinese Cabinet’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said Taiwan’s offer would “cover up the crimes of a small group of violent militants” and encourage their “audacity in harming Hong Kong and turn Taiwan into a “heaven for ducking the law.”

Ma demanded that Taiwan’s government “cease undermining the rule of law” in Hong Kong, cease interfering in its affairs and not “condone criminals.”

Associated Press writers Jim Gomez and Kiko Rosario in Manila, Philippines, Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, Christopher Bodeen in Beijing, Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand, and Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.

Hong Kong arrests men with gang links over mob attack

July 23, 2019

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong police say they’ve arrested six men, some with links to triad gangs, following a violent attack on pro-democracy protesters at a subway station over the weekend that saw dozens injured.

Senior police official Chan Tin-chu said the men, aged 24-54, were held for “unlawful assembly” and are being investigated for taking part in the attack late Sunday night. Some of them are villagers, and their occupations range from drivers and hawkers to renovation workers, he said.

“Some of them have triad backgrounds,” he said. “I believe that more … will be detained soon. Police will not condone any form of violence.” Police are still investigating the motive for the attack, Chan said, without providing further details on the alleged links to the triads, which refer to powerful organized crime syndicates in Hong Kong. The triads control certain neighborhoods in the city and are believed to have strong political influence.

A gang of white-clad men armed with metal rods and wooden poles beat up anti-government protesters and others inside a subway station in Hong Kong’s Yuen Long neighborhood late Sunday, injuring 45 people, including a man who remained in critical condition.

More than 100,000 people took part in the latest rally in the city earlier that day to demand democracy and an investigation into the use of force by police to disperse crowds at the summer-long protests. Some protesters on Sunday directed their ire at China, pelting its office in Hong Kong with eggs, spray-painting a wall and defacing the Chinese national emblem.

As demonstrators made their way home, the white-clad men descended on a group of them at the subway station. Videos showed them charging into the trains and beating up people who tried to defend themselves with umbrellas.

Police have come under fire for being slow to respond to the violence against the protesters. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said police were stretched thin due to the massive crowds and denied accusations that her government colluded with the assailants.

The assault escalated a crisis that had thrown the former British colony into turmoil after millions of people took to the streets in waves of protest against an extradition bill that would send suspects for trial in China. Critics see it as rising Chinese influence and fear it will chip away at Hong Kong’s freedoms promised under a “one country, two system” formula since it returned to China in 1997.

More protests have been planned, but the latest violence has fueled fears that China’s People’s Liberation Army may intervene.

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