Hong Kong Hits the Streets

Hundreds of thousands of protesters packed the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday to denounce a plan that would allow the territory's government to extradite residents to mainland China for trial. The demonstrations looked to be the largest since the British handover of Hong Kong in 1997, and more protests are scheduled for Wednesday.


The Background: From 1841, Hong Kong was governed as a British colony. A handover from Britain to China in 1997 was conditioned on a principle of "One China Two Systems," which recognizes Hong Kong as part of China while allowing the territory its own legislature, economic system, judicial independence, and a "high degree of autonomy." The territory is governed according to a "Basic Law," a sort of constitution that guarantees these rights. China has control of Hong Kong's foreign and defense policies.

The Basic Law expires in 2047, and many Hong Kongers fear that Beijing is already trying to strip away the territory's rights. Five years ago, a set of pro-democracy sit-in demonstrations known as the "Umbrella Movement" gained international attention and embarrassed China for nearly three months.

What triggered this latest fight? A Hong Kong citizen named Chan Tong Kai has confessed to murdering his girlfriend during a visit to Taiwan last year. But Chan, back in Hong Kong, can't be returned to Taiwan: Hong Kong has no extradition treaty with Taiwan, and he can't be tried in Hong Kong for a murder committed elsewhere. He did plead guilty to lesser charges and received a sentence of 29 months in prison.

Things got hot when Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's Chief Executive, proposed legal changes that would not only allow Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to Taiwan but also to mainland China. This ignited fears that China could demand that Hong Kong surrender its citizens under any pretext, effectively ending the legal rights protected by the Basic Law.

What does Hong Kong's government say? Lam says Hong Kong must not be a sanctuary for Chinese criminals hoping to escape justice on the mainland, and she argues that Hong Kong's courts will protect its citizens against arbitrary or politically motivated extradition requests from Beijing.

What do the protesters say? They insist that Lam, who rose to her position with Beijing's support, will not protect the rights of the territory's citizens when China pressures her.

What does Beijing say? The state-run China Daily says that "some Hong Kong residents have been hoodwinked by the opposition camp and their foreign allies into supporting the anti-extradition campaign."

The broader fear: Outsiders are also watching this story closely, in part because Hong Kong is home to one of the world's most important financial centers and an airport that serves as transfer point for large numbers of international travelers. Fears that China could seize anyone at any time could have a chilling effect on both.

More broadly, if these protests gain more momentum, will the Hong Kong government, or Beijing, respond more forcefully? That might create a much larger and more dangerous problem.

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Are The US and China on Collision Course in The South China Sea? Senator Chris Coons talks about China's ambitions for a blue water navy and what it means for US security.

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As topsy-turvy as global politics has been over the past several years –Brexit, Trump, the rise of anti-establishment leaders in France, the Philippines, Italy, Pakistan, and Brazil, the surge of the European far right and so on – it's all unfolded during a time when the global economy was actually doing pretty well.

So what happens when the inevitable recession hits? Earlier this week, markets suffered their worst day of the year as investors confronted that question.

Germany's economy, the world's fourth-largest, is shrinking. China's factories are churning at their slowest rate in 17 years. The trade fights between the US and China, the US and Europe, and South Korea and Japan involve countries that together account for half the global economy. And worries about a chaotic British exit from the EU aren't helping either.

Even more worrying than these individual trends, through, is that the zero-sum politics driving all this disruption might also make a global economic swoon harder to get out of.

During the last big economic crisis in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, the world's major economies were able to compromise and coordinate their responses to the recession in ways that avoided an even deeper downturn.

In today's more cutthroat political environment, that kind of cooperation is a lot less likely -- particularly if a downturn fuels even more of social and political polarization within countries that has empowered economic nationalists in the first place.

We're not in a recession yet. But buckle up, because when the next downturn hits, politics is going to make it harder to contain the pain.

President Trump pays homage to a 1980s New York legend to explain his trade policy.

A pivotal weekend in Hong Kong – Some 300,000 demonstrators are expected at Hong Kong's Victoria Park on Sunday, in the 11th straight week of protests. Chaotic and partly violent demonstrations shut down Hong Kong International Airport this week, and tensions are high. Chinese paramilitary forces are reportedly drilling on the mainland close to the Hong Kong border. Xi Jinping, the president of China, knows a military crackdown would cripple Hong Kong's reputation as a stable financial center and could hurt the Chinese economy more broadly. But he may eventually conclude he has little choice but to snuff this out before other restive regions of China get similar ideas. The tenor of the marches this weekend will offer a clue about which way it's likely to go.

Maduro's crackdown on the military – One reason Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has survived an economic collapse, a popular revolt, assassination attempts, and a failed coup by opposition leader Juan Guaido is that the military brass has stuck with him. For one thing, they are tied to the regime's lucrative illegal businesses and black market schemes. But there's also now a stick to go along with that carrot: The New York Times describes Maduro's "growing reliance on torture" and purges of military officers – including alleged coup-plotter Captain Rafael Acosta, who died after being beaten and electrocuted to in a Venezuelan military hospital. We are watching closely to see if there is a point where Maduro screws up the calibration of carrots vs sticks and finds himself at the business end of a rifle in the Miraflores palace.

Trudeau's woes – In many ways Nicolas Maduro's polar opposite, Canada's prime minister has a lot going for him: dreamy good looks; a decent – if not overwhelming – majority for his Liberal Party in Parliament; and a generally safe, resource-rich country with millions of lakes, friendly people, big skies and (relatively) small problems. But earlier this week, an independent ethics commissioner ruled that the prime minister had breached the country's conflict of interest laws earlier this year when he pressured prosecutors to ease off of a bribery investigation of a major Canadian construction firm, because of fears about job losses. Trudeau has accepted the report's findings, but isn't resigning. We're watching to see how this simmering scandal affects Canada's upcoming national elections in October.

Something your salmon friends will never believe – You are a salmon. You are trying to get upriver so you can mate and die. Also you must avoid bears and bald eagles. Now there is a dam in your way of your favorite river. This is a problem. You pause an— WHAT IS HAPPENING. SUDDENLY YOU ARE BEING SHOT THROUGH A PNEUMATIC TUBE AND… just look at this thing.

What We're Ignoring

Japanese robotic tails Researchers at Japan's Keio University have developed a wearable robotic tail that they say could help elderly people and others with balance problems steady themselves. Look, we know that managing an ageing population is one of Japan's most pressing challenges. We also know that automation is one way that countries with shrinking workforces can better support a growing population of retirees. But giving people tails seems like a less efficient way to address these problems than, say, tweaking immigration policy ever so slightly to bring in more young workers, no?