What We're Watching: Hong Kong's end, the Belgian King's "apology," a small swatch of justice for the Rohingya

What We're Watching: Hong Kong's end, the Belgian King's "apology," a small swatch of justice for the Rohingya

Hong Kong's end? Last month we mulled the question: is Hong Kong as we know it over? As of yesterday, the answer is: yes. China has now implemented a new national security law for the city, which criminalizes secession and collusion with foreign forces. The law in effect ends the autonomy granted (by international agreement) to Hong Kong when it reverted from British control to Chinese rule in 1997. Critics fear it will be used to stamp out the remnants of the pro-democracy protests that erupted last year in response to a separate attempt by Beijing to expand its writ over the city. We're watching to see what the city's fearless but increasingly encircled protesters do now. And we're also eyeing the reaction from abroad. Washington has begun rescinding Hong Kong's special trade and investment privileges, and will now treat the city the way it treats the rest of China. The move is meant to punish Beijing, but unlike twenty years ago when Hong Kong accounted for a fifth of China's economy, today it's less than four percent. Those who suffer most may be Hong Kongers themselves.


Belgium reckons with racial injustice: Recent protests in the United States have caused countries around the world to take a hard look at racial injustice within their own societies. In Belgium, following anti-racism protests in the capital, King Philippe sent a letter on Tuesday to the Democratic Republic of the Congo acknowledging atrocities committed during Belgium's half century colonial rule there. The letter, sent to Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi on the 60th anniversary of his country's independence, acknowledged Belgium's brutal legacy in the country formerly known as Congo Free State, which has contributed to the country's post-independence conflict and economic stagnation. Belgium's government also pledged to establish a parliamentary commission to scrutinize its colonial past. However, some critics say that the gesture is merely symbolic because the King is not a member of Belgium's government and holds no real power over the country's foreign relations. They also note that it stopped short of issuing a formal apology for crimes committed.

A small step towards justice for the Rohingya: Despite evidence showing that Myanmar's military committed atrocities against the Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017 that caused some 750,000 refugees to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, no one from Myanmar's army has been held accountable for their brutal crimes — until now. In a rare move, a local court martial found three military officers guilty of genocide against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine state, the army announced Tuesday. Both the country's powerful military as well as Aung San Suu Kyi, the now-disgraced Nobel peace prize winner and de facto head of government, have long denied allegations of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingyas. However, after Myanmar faced charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice late last year, the country's leadership flippantly acknowledged "weakness in following instructions" in Rohingya enclaves and set up courts martial to investigate the alleged abuses. However, no details have since been provided on the three perpetrators or their sentences, raising fears that this has been a sham trial and that the officers will continue to evade justice.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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How will artificial intelligence change the world and especially the job market by 2041? AI scientist Kai-fu Lee just wrote a book about precisely that, and he predicts it'll shake up almost every major industry. AI, he explains, will be most disruptive to many so-called "routine" occupations, but the damage may be reduced by shifting "empathetic" workers to jobs that require human empathy. Watch his interview on GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

The Atlantic CEO Nick Thompson believes in tech firms doing business in China because connecting with people there is a huge social good for the world. But in demanding LinkedIn de-platform certain people, he says, the Chinese government crossed a line, and "you can't justify that."

Watch Ian Bremmer's interview with Nicholas Thompson in an upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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