China’s Harsh New Security Law Likely to Spark HK Protest

Beijing puts definitive end to ‘one country, two systems’

China’s Harsh New Security Law Likely to Spark HK Protest

The Chinese government’s plan to implement a national security law in Hong Kong is likely to revive the large protests which rocked the city last year, which ironically is what this law seeks to prevent.

“If the national security law is implemented, there will be massive demonstrations in pushback as in last June,” a risk consultant told Asia Sentinel.

Demonstrations of varying magnitude have persisted in the Asian financial hub since the middle of last year. On June 16, 2019, nearly two million people marched in protest against an extradition bill proposed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, according to the protest’s organizers although police estimated a lower number, in the hundreds of thousands. In 2003, the Hong Kong government tried to introduce a security bill but withdrew it after an estimated half a million people protested on July 1 that year.

The national security law, which was discussed at the “Two Sessions” in Beijing on May 21 and 22, is expected to be more wide-ranging than the shelved extradition bill. The “Two Sessions” are meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). At the Two Sessions on May 22, Wang Chen, the NPC Standing Committee vice-chairman, said the law would proscribe secessionism, subversive activity, foreign interference, and terrorism in Hong Kong.

The NPC, China’s rubber-stamp parliament, plans to promulgate the national security law without going through Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. This is due to the Chinese government’s fear that the Legislative Council will not have enough pro-Beijing members to pass this law after the council elections in September, said the risk consultant who declined to be named.

Pro-democracy politicians are likely to win many seats in September’s elections, enough to block legislation, the risk consultant predicted. One reason for this is the widespread support for democracy that has increased since the protests last year, the risk consultant explained. Another reason is localists advocating Hong Kong’s independence, pan-democrats which are the mainstream pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong, and independents will unite to minimize competition among themselves in order to win as many seats as possible, he added.

A pro-Beijing Hong Kong coalition, which includes Citizens Alliance of Hong Kong, presented a letter to Lam on May 21, calling for the enactment of the law before the current term of the Legislative Council ends in September, reported the Global Times, a nationalistic Chinese newspaper.

On May 21, Joshua Wong, the 23-year old founder of the Hong Kong student activist group Scholarism, tweeted: “Beijing is now scrapping its promise of 1 country 2 systems by circumventing Hong Kong’s legislature and directly imposing the most controversial national security law upon Hong Kong.”

Wong, who was arrested during the Occupy Central protest in Hong Kong in 2014, further tweeted, “This disputable legislation is promulgated without any legislative scrutiny.”

In a glaring omission, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang made no mention of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, during his speech at the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s Parliament, in Beijing on May 22. This is the first time that Li did not mention the Basic Law in his annual work report since becoming Prime Minister in 2013. Li said the Chinese government will “establish sound legal systems and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security” in the two semi-autonomous territories of Hong Kong and Macau.

"This is the end of Hong Kong, this is the end of One Country, Two Systems, make no mistake about it," Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok told reporters.

“Of course, it’s very concerning,” said Peter Shadbolt, an Australian resident. “Hong Kong is my home. As with much of the Basic Law, it’s open to all sorts of statutory interpretations. You don’t know what Beijing means until they do it, by which time it’s too late to argue.”

What’s behind the Hong Kong protests?

The national security law is necessary and cannot be delayed, said a column in Chinese state news agency Xinhua on May 22. The Hong Kong unrest, the column argued, has eroded the rule of law and poses a great risk to national security.

“Behind the Hong Kong unrest are internal and external forces colluding together. Hong Kong has become the main playing card of external forces in obstructing the renaissance of the Chinese people, the bridgehead for subversive destructive activities and a window for color revolution in mainland China,” alleged Xinhua.

Several international NGOs, some funded by the US government, are supporting the protest movement, said the risk consultant, who is not a Chinese citizen. “The US government has a vested interest in the Hong Kong protest damaging China’s rise. Hong Kong has become a test bed for tactical learning with the US-sponsored revolution industry.”

Of the more than HK$250 million (US$32.2 million) raised for the protests, 10 to 15 percent may have come from US-backed NGOs, while the vast majority of funding originated within Hong Kong through means like crowdfunding, said the risk consultant, who has researched the protest movement.

Although the aborted extradition bill sparked demonstrations last year, the protest movement was engineered before that from 2014 to 2019, the risk consultant said. Previously, the Hong Kong independence movement was viewed as an irrational fringe group, but since 2016 localism has risen sharply, he added. “The Hong Kong government failed to see the rising importance and power of the localist movement.”

Another Xinhua commentary, dated May 21, said the “malignant tumor” of “Hong Kong independence” must be eradicated.

International repercussions

“This is a comprehensive assault on the city’s autonomy, rule of law, and fundamental freedoms,” said Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong.

On May 21, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, tweeted: “Beijing’s announcement of yet another attempt to bring an end to the “one country, two systems” framework in Hong Kong is deeply alarming. Attempting to circumvent the HK legislature shows a complete disrespect for the rule of law.”

“By proposing national security laws for Hong Kong, the Chinese government and Communist Party will push Hong Kong’s autonomy to the breaking point,” US Senator Marco Rubio said in a statement.

“Congress provided the US government with powerful tools when it passed my bipartisan Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, and the administration should use this law to hold Beijing accountable for its interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs and violations of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, Rubio said.

In the same statement, US Senator Ben Cardin said, “As one of the lead authors of the bipartisan Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, I have been proud to voice our solidarity with the people of Hong Kong. The Trump administration must use the authorities granted to them through this legislation.”

Two other US senators, Chris Van Hollen and Pat Toomey, said on May 21 they will propose legislation to sanction Chinese officials, in response to China’s plans to introduce the national security law.

On May 20, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo told the press, “In Hong Kong, our decision on whether or not to certify Hong Kong as having “a high degree of autonomy” from China is still pending.  We’re closely watching what’s going on there.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a press conference in Beijing on May 21, “On Taiwan and Hong Kong issues, Pompeo …. should stop poking his nose into China’s internal affairs, otherwise he will definitely bump into a wall.”

Source : Asia Sentinel More   

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Why Philippines’ Duterte Woos the Oligarchs

President seeks help in cementing dynasty, defeating coronavirus

Why Philippines’ Duterte Woos the Oligarchs

On May 5, the Philippines’ rough-hewn President Rodrigo Duterte, who has made the country’s oligarchs a target of his spleen since well before his July 2016 election, took to late-night television for a meek apology to the Ayala Group and businessman Manuel V Pangilinan (MVP), with whom he had feuded for months over what he characterized "onerous" provisions in government water contracts for the Manila metropolitan area.

Duterte is also feuding with another aristocratic dynasty, the Lopez family, which owns the country’s most powerful broadcast media conglomerate, although he has taken a back seat in the squabble and let his allies in the congress and the courts carry the ball.

“Let me tell you something,” he said on the television broadcast. “I hope you understand that it was really part of my sworn duty as an employee of the government who has the executive department. The words were mainly mine but if we can just forget it for the moment, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping us [in the campaign against the virus], you know, provide the necessities of the moment. I can promise you, I'll be nice and if you want to see me, we can talk. Naubos na po pagkasuplado ko dahil sa Covid (My arrogance has run out because of Covid."

The pandemic, which has left 13,434 people affected and killed 846 – the second highest toll in the region - “humbled me. With the kind of response that you have shown to the public, that it is a humbling experience also for me that, you know, so maybe there are a lot of legal issues but we can talk, I am ready to talk, and I will be reasonable. If you can find it in your heart to forgive me, because if you do not, I will undercut you, I will go directly to God.”

For many Filipinos who have watched the foul-mouthed president attack the country’s elite families ever since he came to office, the question was how crocodilic the tears were, and why now. According to sources in Manila, there are several reasons, including clearing the decks for 2020, when the 75-year-old, physically ailing Duterte – unless he succeeds in engineering a change in the Constitution, which bars him from running again – must put together a political machine that ensures his hold on power through a new president.  His candidates, the sources say, include Christopher "Bong" Go, 46, his longtime personal aide from 1998 during his days as mayor of Davao City. Go was elected to the senate in 2018 and has since become a powerhouse in the upper chamber, largely with Duterte’s help. Another is Duterte’s daughter Sara, 42, who succeeded him as mayor of Davao City. A third, who has faded somewhat recently because of illness, is Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., 62, who Duterte since the 2016 election has sought to engineer into the vice presidency by a long-running recount that would oust the current vice president, the popular Leni Robredo, who is currently the leading opposition candidate. (Presidents and vice presidents don’t run as a slate in the Philippines.)

“His daughter and Bong, both are presented as an alternative,” a source said. “They are already in a dynasty. Despite his pretensions as an outsider, his father was a governor. What he would like to do is to cement his handle on power. If he doesn’t return (via charter change), if he is not reappointed, he will make his daughter or Bong the president.”

Duterte’s feud with the Ayalas and Pangilinan began last year during a long-lasting drought that caused water shortages in the Manila area. In 1997, then-President Fidel Ramos ordered the privatization of the sprawling metropolis’s water system, which was nearing disaster. The two companies poured resources into infrastructure to put the system back together in what at the time was called “a celebrated case of a working public-private partnership” that has been repeatedly cited for its transparency and design of the bid process.

The two companies, purifiers, and distributors who distribute water for the government waterworks company, have been seeking scheduled water rate hikes that have stalled for the past five years. Duterte, already publicly disparaging of the aristocratic families that have ruled the country since Spanish colonial days has challenged the pricing and the condition of the system. 

Manila Water has pointed out that it was the government under Ramos that unilaterally determined the terms of the water agreements. They were bid on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, the company argued, and Manila Water offered the government the lowest fee, giving it control of the east zone. Maynilad won the concession agreement for the west zone.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in Singapore ordered the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System to pay the losses stemming from the rejected going back to 2015 in Manila Water’s case, and previously to Maynilad Water Services for similar losses from March 2015 to August 2016.

That enraged Duterte, who has repeatedly called Ayalas and Pangilinan “sons of bitches” and offered to throw them in jail as well as “ruining their faces” until the May 5 volte-face. 

“Well, you know the president is very dramatic,” said a political source with substantial familiarity in the war of words. “He will burst into tirades, but at the end of the day he has his apologies. When he says something, it is to garner attention and seek forgiveness. Historical data back up how he conducts himself in public, which in turn becomes public policy. This is to elicit support from his voters.” 

In fact, the public apologies signal that the administration increasingly needs the private sector, and particularly the oligarchs, in the response to the coronavirus, which, although it has resulted in a relatively low infection rate, is ravaging the economy and resulted in a 2 percent contraction over the first quarter of 2020. It appears set to cause much deeper losses before the virus is stopped. Some 100,000 Filipino workers on cruise ships are being repatriated as the industry has dried up, for instance. In all, according to several sources, inward remittances, which constitute 10 percent of GDP, could fall by as much as 20 percent.

 Beyond that, the apology is an admission that businesses will be requested to take up the slack in caring for their employees in the face of a substandard health care system. Covid-19 testing rates have risen to only 2,444 per million population, 129th of 200-odd countries. The government is counting on businesses to do their own testing of employees and bearing the costs to do so.

Under House Speaker Peter Alan Cayetano’s proposed “New Normal Act,” according to a subscription-only risk assessment firm, businesses that reopen are required to submit detailed social distancing plans to government and operate contact tracing systems for their employees, with stiff penalties for non-compliance. The administration’s inability to manage the crisis without major private sector support will likely encourage further public-private rapprochement during the ongoing crisis.

The president’s other feud is with the Lopez family, which holds the broadcast franchise of ABS-CBN, the country’s biggest network, with furious viewers threatening to take to the streets amid the Covid-19 lockdown because of the cancellation.

The network’s franchise, which covers 42 television stations across the country, lapsed on May 4, with the National Telecommunications Commission refusing to renew it. The network, which also includes 10 digital broadcast channels, 18 FM stations and DZMM Radio, the country’s most popular radio station – has been in a protracted squabble with Duterte since the president was elected in 2016 over the network’s refusal to carry his political campaign ads.

The company's other units and subsidiaries can continue operating online because they don't need a congressional franchise including news, entertainment, and sports.  Nonetheless, some 11,000 employees are at risk, the company said in a public statement.

Despite a February apology by Carlo Katigback, the president and CEO of the network, to Duterte, which he accepted in early May, Jose Calida, the solicitor general and a longtime ally of Duterte going back to the Davao City days, ordered that the renewal of the network’s 25-year franchise be held up.  The station has gone black despite an offer by the Congress to provide a provisional five-month franchise while the issues are worked out.

Duterte has long been angered by ABS-CBN’s news division, which has carried what he considers to be unflattering coverage of his murderous drug war, which has taken the lives of thousands of mostly poor and powerless Filipinos who use methamphetamines, called shabu locally.

How long the cancellation will last is unsure. But the betting is that antagonism toward the government is so high that the Senate, which has several bills pending for the renewal of the franchise, will move one of them relatively soon, and Duterte will be given the unappetizing task of having to sign it.

“I feel like the administration and its allies in Congress have totally lost control of this,” a source with a country-risk firm told Asia Sentinel. “It seems like there was an idea to have the franchise renewal hang over the head of ABS-CBN by having the renewal pending indefinitely. However, the NTC didn't want to be the one responsible for that.”

The debate continues in the Senate, with no resolution so far. But, a source said, Duterte has managed the squabble so that the cancellation of the franchise doesn’t look like it was his fault. He accepted Katigbak’s apology. Calida has maintained Duterte had nothing to do with the decision. The franchise renewal is stalled in Congress.

The president, the source said, “has enough of a team of trolls [on social media] to defend him. We know he is the root of it all. But that is the thing. What I do think is the Congress might be pressured by the public to grant that franchise. So they are going to get media mileage so politicians can look good.”

Source : Asia Sentinel More   

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