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US senators urge passage of Hong Kong democracy bill as violence in city rises

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US Senator Marco Rubio and Jim Risch, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, initiated a "hotline" process for the Senate to pass their Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act on Thursday.The strategic procedure carried out by the upper chamber's leadership checks for last-minute opposition to an attempt to bring a bill immediately to the floor for a vote.If no senators voice opposition to side stepping a formal vote, the bill passes."The world witnesses the people of Hong Kong standing up every day to defend their long-cherished freedoms against an increasingly aggressive Beijing and Hong Kong government," Rubio said in a press release."Their cries have been met with violence, and young Hong Kong lives have tragically been lost."Now more than ever, the United States must send a clear message to Beijing that the free world stands with Hongkongers in their struggle," Rubio's release said."I thank leaders McConnell and Schumer for their support, as well as Chairman Risch, Ranking Member Menendez and Senator Cardin for their strong partnership on this legislation and look forward to its enactment."Rubio's comments came after China's state-run Xinhua news agency earlier on Thursday quoted Chinese President Xi Jinping as reiterating that Beijing supported the Hong Kong police's use of force to quell the "continuing radical violent crimes".US Senator Marco Rubio and Jim Risch, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, launched a "hotline" process for the Senate to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. Photo: AFP alt=US Senator Marco Rubio and Jim Risch, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, launched a "hotline" process for the Senate to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. Photo: AFPEarlier in the day, China's state-owned Global Times newspaper had published a post on its Twitter account asserting that Hong Kong authorities were preparing to announce the imposition of a weekend curfew. The tweet was later deleted."The world needs to see that the United States will stand up and tell the Chinese Communist Party that what they are doing to the people of Hong Kong is wrong," Risch said."After more than two decades of broken promises, it is time to hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for its erosion of Hong Kong's autonomy. The US stands with the people of Hong Kong, and I look forward to continuing to work with Senate leadership and my colleagues across the aisle to move this bill swiftly."In 2007, Beijing said it would grant universal suffrage to the city in 2017, but that plan was scrapped when the Chinese capital said in 2014 that the candidates had to be chosen by a "nominating committee".Protesters attack the University MTR Station on the East Rail Line and a train carriage near Chinese University of Hong Kong in Sha Tin on Wednesday. Photo: Felix Wong alt=Protesters attack the University MTR Station on the East Rail Line and a train carriage near Chinese University of Hong Kong in Sha Tin on Wednesday. Photo: Felix WongHong Kong increasingly has become a battleground between police and protesters since June, when mass peaceful marches targeted a government proposal, since shelved, to allow the city's criminal ­suspects to be extradited to mainland China.Those protests have since morphed into a larger activism, with Hongkongers demanding the right to vote for their own city leaders.This week, the pro-democracy protests have taken a dark turn. On Wednesday, a 15-year-old boy was hit in the head by what appeared to be a tear-gas canister, according to the city Hospital Authority.A day earlier, a battle between police and protesters turned the a top university's campus into a combat zone.On Monday, a Hong Kong police officer shot a protester, while in a separate incident, protesters apparently set on fire a man who had expressed support for police outside an MTR station.US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed Rubio and Risch in a tweet on Thursday, urging the US government to act quickly to protect the protesters.""The Senate needs to stand with Hong Kong, and I hope we can take action soon"" McConnell said.""I was encouraged by a productive conversation with [Rubio on Wednesday] on legislation to further help the people of Hong Kong."The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act would give the president a mandate to impose sanctions on foreigners determined to be responsible for the extrajudicial rendition to the mainland, arbitrary detention, torture, or forced confession of people in Hong Kong, as well as for other gross violations of human rights in the city.A poster at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Sha Tin expresses support for the proposed US democracy bill amid a demonstration on Wednesday. Photo: Felix Wong alt=A poster at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Sha Tin expresses support for the proposed US democracy bill amid a demonstration on Wednesday. Photo: Felix WongIn addition, the bill would task the Executive Branch to develop a strategy to protect American citizens and others in Hong Kong from rendition or abduction to China, and to report annually to Congress any violations of US export control laws and United Nations sanctions occurring in the city. ""Only international sanctions could impose some constraints on those who order to shoot and those who follow order to shoot. Senate needs to act as soon as possible on the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act"" said Victoria Tin-bor Hui, a board member of Hong Kong Democracy Council (HKDC), a Washington-based pro-democracy non-profit organisation.Samuel Chu, an HKDC managing director, praised Rubio's effort to institute a hotline process that would speed up the bill's passage in the Senate."The quickest way for the Senate to move would be to seek unanimous consent using a hotline," he said."If the Hong Kong bill is hotlined, and that can be done as soon as today, I firmly believe that the full Senate will stand united for Hong Kong"""There is no time to waste, as every day we wake up to new images of a violent crackdown, increased bloodshed, mass arrests and suppressions on the streets, on university campuses, in private residences and even houses of worship"" Chu said.This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2019 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved. Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.



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Trump Signs Off on Trade Deal With China to Avert December Tariffs

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President Donald Trump signed off on a so-called phase-one trade deal with China, averting the Dec. 15 introduction of a new wave of U.S. tariffs on about $160 billion of consumer goods from the Asian nation, according to people familiar with the matter.

The deal presented to Trump by trade advisers Thursday included a promise by the Chinese to buy more U.S. agricultural goods, according to the people. Officials also discussed possible reductions of existing duties on Chinese products, they said. The terms have been agreed but the legal text has not yet been finalized, the people said. A White House spokesperson declined to comment.

The administration has reached out to allies on Capitol Hill and in the business community to issue statements of support once the announcement is made, they said.

U.S. stocks rose to records earlier Thursday as optimism grew that there would be a deal. Trump tweeted that the U.S. and China are “VERY close” to signing a “BIG” trade deal, also sending equities higher.

“They want it, and so do we!” he tweeted five minutes after equity markets opened in New York, sending stocks to new records.

Trump has rejected deals with China before. Negotiators have been working on the terms of the phase-one deal for months after the president announced in October that the two nations had reached an agreement that could be put on paper within weeks.

The U.S. has added a 25% duty on about $250 billion of Chinese products and a 15% levy on another $110 billion of its imports over the course of a roughly 20-month trade war. Discussions now are focused on reducing those rates by as much as half, as part of the interim agreement Trump announced almost nine weeks ago.

In addition to a significant increase in Chinese agricultural purchases in exchange for tariff relief, officials have also said a phase-one pact would include Chinese commitments to do more to stop intellectual-property theft and an agreement by both sides not to manipulate their currencies.

Put off for later discussions are knotty issues such as longstanding U.S. complaints over the vast web of subsidies ranging from cheap electricity to low-cost loans that China has used to build its industrial might.

Officials from the world’s two biggest economies have been locked in negotiations on the phase-one deal since Trump announced it.

The new duties, which were scheduled to take effect at 12:01 a.m. Washington time on Sunday unless the administration says otherwise, would hit consumer goods from China including smartphones and toys.

Before today, Trump’s advisers have sent conflicting signals and stressed that he hadn’t made up his mind on the next steps. Advocates of delaying the tariff increase have argued that continued negotiations with Beijing will enable him to maintain a tough line with China without inflicting the economic damage that more import taxes might bring.

The decision facing Trump highlights one dilemma he confronts going into the 2020 election: Whether to bet on an escalation of hostilities with China and the tariffs he is so fond of or to follow the advice of more market-oriented advisers and business leaders who argue a pause in the escalation would help a slowing U.S. economy bounce back in an election year.

What Bloomberg’s Economists Say…

“The outcome of U.S.-China trade talks will be a key determinant of the trajectory for 2020 growth. At one extreme, a deal that takes tariffs back to May 2019 levels, and provides certainty that the truce will hold, could deliver a 0.6% boost to global GDP. At the other, a breakdown in talks would mean the trade drag extends into the year ahead.”
–Tom Orlik, chief economist
For the full report, click here

Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative leading the negotiations with China, is in a camp that sees progress in talks and wants them to continue without further escalation, according to people familiar with the discussions. That would set up a push to conclude the talks in January, possibly before a State of the Union address to Congress by Trump.

–– With assistance from Justin Sink, Vince Golle and Jennifer Jacobs.





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Boris Johnson Heads for Big Majority in U.K. Election, Exit Poll Says

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(Bloomberg) — Sign up to our Brexit Bulletin, follow us @Brexit and subscribe to our podcast.Prime Minister Boris Johnson is on course to win a decisive election victory, vindicating his gamble on an early vote and putting the country on track to leave the European Union next month. The pound rose.The official exit poll predicted his Conservatives will win 368 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons — a large overall majority of 86 seats. The main opposition Labour Party is projected to secure 191 seats, a loss of 71 since the previous election. The Scottish National Party is seen securing 55.If the forecast is borne out by results, Johnson’s majority — the biggest for his party since Margaret Thatcher’s in 1987 — will give him more power to get his own way on Brexit, especially if he needs extra time to negotiate with the EU. Meanwhile, the plan is to hurry legislation through Parliament to meet the current departure date of Jan. 31.“If the numbers play out the way they seem and we get that stable working majority, then we get real busy, real quick,” Conservative Party Chairman James Cleverly told Bloomberg TV. For an interactive election map, click hereFor Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the projection of heavy losses is a disaster. He staked everything on a radical plan to hike taxes for the rich and nationalize swathes of industry.Senior Labour officials expect Corbyn to announce his resignation as party leader if the exit poll is accurate. Two officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no way he could carry on if the results are as bad as expected.“I thought it would be closer. I think most people thought the polls were narrowing. If it’s anywhere near this, it’s extremely disappointing,” Labour’s economy spokesman John McDonnell told the BBC. “We knew it would be tough because Brexit has dominated this election. We thought other issues would cut through and there would be a wider debate.”For the Scottish National Party, it was a different story. It was playing down the scale of its success until results are declared. The exit poll predicted it would win back all but one of the seats it lost in 2017 and leave just four disctricts in Scotland for the other parties. That would spur leader Nicola Sturgeon to reiterate her demand for another Scottish independence referendum, something Johnson has so far ruled out.The exit poll is based on a mass survey of tens of thousands of people after they cast their ballots. That has generally made it more accurate in predicting the outcome of U.K. elections than snapshot surveys of voters’ intentions conducted during the campaign.The exit poll Parliamentary seat forecast showed:Conservatives to win 368 seatsLabour to win 191Liberal Democrats to win 13Brexit Party to win 0Scottish National Party to win 55Green Party to win 1Other parties to win 22For Johnson, a big majority would mark the culmination of an extraordinary rise to power. After he led the pro-Brexit campaign three years ago, Johnson watched as Theresa May tried and repeatedly failed to negotiate an EU divorce agreement the House of Commons would accept.When she called a snap election in 2017 expecting a landslide, she lost the majority she started with, plunging the U.K. into two years of chaos as a deadlocked parliament failed to agree on the way forward. May was finally forced to resign, allowing Johnson to take over as prime minister in July with a promise to deliver Brexit “do or die” by the end of October.Despite months of threats and bellicose rhetoric, he eventually secured a new Brexit deal with the EU, but couldn’t persuade parliament to rush it into law in time for him to meet his deadline.That was enough to prompt the premier to trigger an early election — the next one wasn’t due until 2022 — in the hope voters would give him the majority he needed, in his words, to “get Brexit done.”If the exit poll proves correct again this year — and most of the results will be declared overnight — Johnson’s bet will have paid off.(Updates with Scotland in eighth paragraph.)\–With assistance from Heather Harris, Robert Hutton and Anna Edwards.To contact the reporters on this story: Tim Ross in London at tross54@bloomberg.net;Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net;Greg Ritchie in London at gritchie10@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson at fjackson@bloomberg.net, Thomas Penny, Rodney JeffersonFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.



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In the Year Since TIME Named Besieged Journalists the Person of the Year, the War Against Truth Has Continued Unabated

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One year ago, TIME named besieged journalists the 2018 Person of the Year, gathered under the rubric the Guardians and the war on truth. Neither that war nor its consequences for democracy have abated in the intervening 12 months.

For Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose henchmen killed and dismembered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate, life goes on much as before. In the spring, after the CIA detected new threats against Khashoggi’s associates, warnings went out to Canada, Norway and Washington, D.C. In November, the FBI arrested two former employees of Twitter, the platform often described as Saudi Arabia’s closest thing to a public square. Both were charged with passing on information about dissidents to bin Salman’s government.

By then, the crown prince had gone back to doing interviews with foreign press. Thirteen months and one day after Khashoggi’s murder, he presided over an IPO that valued the Saudi national oil company at $1.7 trillion, a world record. And in early December, the kingdom convened the Saudi Media Forum, to examine, according to its website, “challenges” facing the news media, “the formation of public opinion in the new environment of communication and etc.”

“Somehow, journalists and businesspeople are attending,” marvels Courtney Radsch, advocacy director for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based nonprofit. “Mohammed bin Salman has gotten off with complete impunity.”

How? Hints lurk in CPJ’s new global survey, which documents what Radsch calls “an environment where it’s increasingly perilous to do journalism.” Imprisonment remains a favored tactic for repressive governments, and Saudi Arabia now ranks third in the number of journalists behind bars, tied with Egypt. China leads, with Turkey second. But naming and shaming works only when shame is enforced.

Photographs by Moises Saman-Magnum Photos for TIME2018: The Guardians

“Where’s my favorite dictator?” U.S. President Donald Trump called out at a Group of Seven meeting in September, searching for Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. The leader of the free world has also heaped praise on the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and China.

Trump being Trump, Americans shrug—but overseas, a message is received.

Consider Myanmar, where the Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who joined Khashoggi as Person of the Year cover subjects, walked out of jail on May 6. Like their sentence, their freedom came at the whim of the generals who have long controlled the country. But as Myanmar is trying to pass as a democracy, the military has grown sensitive to appearances. That’s part of why Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were jailed in the first place: the two embarrassed their government by exposing its involvement in the slaughter of civilians. But steady pressure from outside—Western governments, the U.N., Reuters—brought home that what would really improve Myanmar’s image was freeing the journalists, signaling respect for the democratic norm of press freedom.

It’s a delicate business, and far harder when the norms are ignored.

After Trump made fake news a catchphrase for any report he did not like, governments from Malaysia to Egypt to Uganda made it a legal excuse to criminalize independent journalism. In Cairo, the offices of the independent news website Mada Masr were raided and editors arrested in November, shortly after the site reported that al-Sisi’s son was being demoted for failing to protect his father’s public image. Not even U.S. journalists are safe in Egypt these days: in September, the New York Times revealed that its Cairo correspondent had to escape threatened arrest with the help of the Irish embassy because, under Trump, the U.S. State Department cannot be relied upon to offer protection to American journalists working abroad.

“It’s much worse this year,” says Maria Ressa, chief executive officer of Rappler, the last major independent news site in the Philippines and another of the Guardians. “I posted bail eight times in three months.”

Vibrant, essential and often plain fun, Rappler stands at a crucial nexus for journalism globally. The site functions first as a watchdog to the government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, a profane populist who not only traduces norms but also urges the assassination of Filipino citizens in the name of combatting drugs. But Rappler also rides herd on Facebook, which almost totally dominates the Internet in the former U.S. colony. Before Cambridge Analytica or Russia’s Internet Research Agency became household names in the U.S., Rappler reporters were documenting their government’s use of fake accounts to intimidate critics and drive its divisive narrative online without leaving fingerprints.

The result—sound familiar?—is a profoundly polarized society. As well-meaning people struggle to tell what’s true from what’s false, distrust in all information rises, and many folks end up just believing what they want. The resulting confusion undermines democracy, because democracy after all requires a common understanding of reality. The ones gaining from the confusion are despots, who cast themselves as vessels of public anger while pushing out their preferred version of reality.

“If nothing significant changes,” Ressa warns from Manila, “our dystopian present is your dystopian future.”

At the local level, Americans may still know where their news comes from: they see a reporter in church or an editor at the store. When a gunman obsessed with a news story blasted into the Annapolis, Md., offices of the Gazette newspaper the Capital on June 28, 2018, and killed five people, neighbors offered not emojis but condolence cards and free counseling for the survivors. The Capital staff, designated the fourth set of Guardians, kept working through everything, and report finding both solace and more meaning than ever in what they do.

But local news has also been emaciated by the merciless shift of advertising revenue to digital giants like Google and Facebook; 7,700 media workers lost their jobs in 2019, far more than in the previous three years combined. The cuts reached all-digital newsrooms like BuzzFeed and Vice that supposedly had found a new business model. Meanwhile the success of a handful of outlets like the New York Times at funding first-class journalism by selling subscriptions has so far proved to be the exception.

Tech remains a paradox—delivering more information to people, but in ways that tend to give them less faith in what they’re reading. Last year, TIME concluded there was “urgent work ahead in shaping a communications system guided not by software but by the judgment of citizens, and the social contract implied in the First Amendment: facts matter.” That work remains to be done.

This article is part of TIME’s 2019 Person of the Year package. Read more from the issue and sign up for the Inside TIME newsletter to be the first to see our cover every week.





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