Beijing seethes as House approves Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act

Access Archive

Dear Access member,

Our word of the day is Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act (香港人权与民主法案 xiānggǎng rénquán yǔ mínzhǔ fǎ’àn).

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


Lawmakers wearing Xi Jinping masks and holding posters of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam with bloody hands jeer as she attempts to deliver her annual policy address, at the Legislative Council on October 16, 2019. Reuters / Kim Kyung-Hoon.

1. Beijing seethes as House approves Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act 

“China reacted angrily to the House of Representatives’ passage of a bill paving the way for sanctions against individuals who undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy,” reports the Washington Post

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, approved unanimously Tuesday by the House, requires the U.S. government to consider annually whether it should continue to treat Hong Kong as a separate trading entity from mainland China in response to political developments in the city. That special status has allowed Hong Kong to cement its role as an international financial center and exempts its goods and services from the Trump administration’s tariffs…

Other measures passed in the House on Tuesday would prohibit U.S. exports of military and crowd-control gear used by Hong Kong police.

The bill still needs approval from the Senate and White House to become law, but per the South China Morning Post, support for it “jumped in the US Senate on Tuesday.”

Various Chinese officials condemned the American move as “phony concern” from Washington, and said that it glorifies “the reckless acts of arson, store vandalism and violently assaulting police officers.” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Gěng Shuǎng 耿爽 expressed “strong indignation” and promised that “China will definitely take strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty, security and development interests.” He declined to offer details, saying, “Regarding the specific measures, please follow up on that.” 

Back in Hong Kong, “the leader of a pro-democracy group responsible for some of the largest peaceful protest marches in Hong Kong was attacked on Wednesday, four days before another planned mass rally,” reports the South China Morning Post

Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit [岑子杰 Cén Zijié], convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front, was set upon by at least four non-ethnic Chinese assailants on Arran Street in Mong Kok at 7.40pm, a police source said.

The attack was the second against Sham in less than two months.

The Civil Human Rights Front said Sham had been smashed over the head with hammers and spanners but was conscious when sent to Kwong Wah Hospital in Yau Ma Tei. He was understood to be in stable condition.

Around the time Sham was being attacked, Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥 Lín Zhèng Yuè’é) was “forced to suspend her annual address after being heckled,” reports the BBC

Opposition lawmakers disrupted the Legislative Council session by shouting and projecting slogans behind her.

After a first interruption, the session resumed only to be interrupted again. It was then suspended — and Ms Lam delivered the address by video instead. It means the extradition bill — the trigger for months of protests — could not be withdrawn formally.

The bill was suspended in July, but Wednesday’s meeting was the first time the Legislative Council (Legco) had resumed since it was stormed by protesters in July, and was the first opportunity to withdraw the bill altogether.

But as Chief Executive Lam was about to begin her speech, opposition lawmakers began shouting and climbing on tables. They also projected the words “Five demands — not one less” on the wall behind her. Since the protests began, they have widened from rallies against the bill to five key demands — including universal suffrage.

2. Darkening outlook for a U.S.-China trade deal 

“U.S.-China trade will never be the same,” says Bloomberg (porous paywall): “The terms of the relationship have changed forever, no matter who wins the 2020 presidential election.” That’s not a difficult conclusion to reach. 

Meanwhile, we still don’t know what exactly was discussed last week in Washington, D.C., by negotiators from both countries, nor if what was promised will actually come to pass. Axios said the outlook for phase 1 of the U.S.-China trade deal was “darkening.” If you’ve been reading this newsletter, you know we never thought there was much hope of the two sides coming to any kind of meaningful agreement. 

“Despite a Chinese promise to buy more U.S. farm products, questions remain over how much, the time frame for purchases, and what the U.S. might have to give in return,” reports the Wall Street Journal (paywall). Beijing is pushing the U.S. to drop plans to impose new 15 percent tariffs on $156 billion in consumer goods starting on December 15 and could use the farm purchases as leverage.  

“The deal appears likely to benefit American farmers by increasing Chinese purchases of agricultural goods and gives some other businesses more access to the Chinese market,” says the New York Times (porous paywall):

But the “agreement in principle” is limited in scope, and exact details have yet to be put in writing — a process that has derailed negotiations with China in the past.

American officials said Friday that they would work with China on completing an initial agreement in the coming weeks, with hopes of signing a deal when Mr. Trump and President Xi Jinping attend a summit of global leaders in Chile in mid-November.

3. Xi did not get everything he wanted in Nepal 

Yesterday, the South China Morning Post said that the just-concluded visit of Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 to India and Nepal “was a much-needed win for China at a critical time.” Today, the Economic Times of India pours some cold water on that assertion

Even as China calls President Xi Jinping’s weekend visit to Kathmandu a ‘grand success’, the Nepal government has shelved several proposals at the last minute, including those on an extradition treaty, defense and border road construction. The Himalayan nation is said to have dropped those plans following apprehensions they could infringe on its sovereignty…

ET has learnt that there were apprehensions in sections of the Nepalese government that the extradition treaty will be used to clamp down against Tibetans and deportation of Tibetans to China. Nepal shares a long border with Tibet and is home to around 20,000 Tibetan exiles…

It is for no reason that the proposed pacts were shelved at the last minute. Nepal has witnessed a series of anti-China protests in recent months over a slew of issues from protests against Huawei to financial fraud in which Chinese nationals are involved.  

4. Anti-NBA tweet storm appears state-coordinated 

The Wall Street Journal reports (paywall):

A review of nearly 170,000 tweets, plus analysis from expert information warfare researchers, shows that Morey was the target of what appears to be a coordinated harassment campaign after his tweet on October 4 set off an international furor and threatened the NBA’s future in the world’s most populous country.

In the 12 hours immediately after Morey’s tweet, the Houston Rockets general manager’s account was flooded with comments from pro-Chinese-government accounts that mentioned him more than 16,000 times, according to an analysis by Ben Nimmo, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

“It looks like there were humans at the keyboard for many of these posts,” Nimmo said. “This wasn’t primarily a bot swarm. It was a troll mob. Which is a lot harder to deal with”…

“I’m not saying this is a state-affiliated operation,” [one researcher] said. “But I’ve only seen so many brand-new accounts used at one time when it was a state-affiliated operation.”

The fallout from the NBA affair continues to play out on American editorial pages, suggesting that China’s disproportionate reaction to a tweet may have changed many minds about China, and not for the better. Here are two worth reading: 

Whereas Americans have assumed they could change China since the 19th century, John Pomfret argues in the Atlantic that now it is that Beijing is exporting its values in the form of censorship and intimidation.

“Are China’s tantrums signs of strength or weakness?” asks Zeynep Tufekci, also in the Atlantic. “China is supposed to be savvy. So why is it throwing a fit about a tweet, an app, and a gamer in a mask in the absence of any real threat?” 

In somewhat related news, “Vietnam has pulled the animated DreamWorks film Abominable from cinemas over a scene featuring a map that shows China’s unilaterally declared ‘nine-dash line’ in the South China Sea,” reported Reuters on Monday. The film was a co-production with a Chinese studio. Today, the SCMP says the Philippines’ foreign minister “lashed out” over the nine-dash line and demanded it be cut from the film, also calling for a boycott of DreamWorks. 

—Jeremy Goldkorn


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

China caught traders off-guard with a surprise injection into the financial system via loans to banks, ahead of data on Friday which is expected to show a further slowdown in the domestic economy.

The People’s Bank of China added 200 billion yuan ($28 billion) of one-year cash through the medium-term lending facility on Wednesday. It kept the interest rate steady. The move took traders by surprise as the authorities usually inject liquidity when previously offered loans come due, and the next batch won’t mature until Nov. 5.

Two-year-old TikTok, a rapidly burgeoning social network that lets users share short videos, on Tuesday announced that former Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) and Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) will be part of a team from law firm K&L Gates advising the company on developing a comprehensive approach to vetting objectionable videos and otherwise moderating the content its users post. 

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

Under a secretive deal signed last month with a provincial government in the Solomon Islands, a Beijing-based company with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party has secured exclusive development rights for the entire island of Tulagi and its surroundings.

The lease agreement has shocked Tulagi residents and alarmed American officials who see the island chains of the South Pacific as crucial to keeping China in check and protecting important sea routes…

Even compared to previous Chinese development deals in nearby countries — including a wharf in Vanuatu, whose terms were not publicly released for years — the Tulagi agreement is remarkable for both its scope and lack of public input.

“The current Kashmir shutdown, and in particular the turning off of the Internet and communications, is awfully similar to the one in Xinjiang post-2009 riots,” James Millward, a professor at Georgetown University and an expert in Central Asian history, said. “One wonders if [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi is taking a page from the Chinese book there.”…

“There is a broader, global parallel to what’s happening in Xinjiang and Kashmir, the global nativist trend,” Millward said, pointing to the rapid rise of Hindu nationalism in India and the shift, under Xí Jìnpíng 习近平, away from multiculturalism and toward a unified singular Chinese identity, meaning forced assimilation for ethnic minorities, especially Muslims…

Hikvision, a Chinese state-controlled company and one of the world’s largest developers of sophisticated CCTV surveillance systems, had contracts with Chinese police in Xinjiang, and is now exporting technology to India, according to a recent report from the Carnegie Endowment. Alongside CCTV systems, the use of drones and other aerial vehicles to monitor mosques and the movement of Kashmiris has become pervasive, and there’s even a “smart border” that resembles Chinese efforts to limit the movement of people along the Xinjiang and Tibet borders.

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:


FEATURED ON SUPCHINA

Click Here

Why Chinese people don’t hate their government

It may seem counterintuitive to many Westerners, but many Chinese people, including — and perhaps especially — younger people, seem to be very happy with the performance of their government. Economics, history, culture, and, yes, propaganda all play a role in shaping attitudes.

Chinese commentary: ‘The NBA incident has the entire nation acting crazy’

During the peak of the hysteria over Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s tweet, one of the most popular articles on the Chinese internet — briefly, before it was deleted — was an anonymously published commentary that called for a more measured and sensible response while also criticizing China’s extreme nationalists as “insecure.” “Think carefully, is this worth it?” the author asks. We’ve translated the article in full.


SINICA PODCAST NETWORK

Click Here

Middle Earth #21: Documentaries in China: The Truth About Truth Telling

Ruby Chen, one of the founding members of the Hong Kong–based China Next (CNEX), tells the story of their nonprofit, which is aimed at promoting and producing Chinese documentaries