China mulls its options as Hong Kong descends into chaos

The Liaison Office, which represents mainland authorities in Hong Kong, said Wednesday that actions in the semi-autonomous territory were ‘slipping into the abyss of terrorism.’ (Reuters)
Updated 13 November 2019

China mulls its options as Hong Kong descends into chaos

  • Actions in the semi-autonomous territory were ‘slipping into the abyss of terrorism’
  • ‘When necessary, the People’s Armed Police Force and the People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison will back you up’

BEIJING: A sharp escalation of violence in Hong Kong is once again raising the question of how China’s central government will respond: Will it intervene, or allow the chaos to persist?
The Liaison Office, which represents mainland authorities in Hong Kong, said Wednesday that actions in the semi-autonomous territory were “slipping into the abyss of terrorism.” It pointed out that a man was set on fire Monday during an argument with demonstrators, leaving him in critical condition.
On the same day, a police officer shot a protester who was then taken to a hospital, also in critical condition.
The unabating tumult, now in its sixth month, may give China’s ruling Communist Party the justification it needs to take more direct action, analysts said.
“Beijing is hoping that the Hong Kong community will start blaming the protesters and support the restoration of order,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University.
The central government must wait for the right moment to step in, Cabestan said, adding that if China acts before public opinion is fully on its side, it could exacerbate existing discontent.
While the movement began peacefully in June to oppose a now-withdrawn extradition bill, it has been increasingly defined by smaller groups of hard-core demonstrators bent on sowing chaos. Their actions, which have included setting cars on fire and smashing storefronts, have alienated many residents.
The Liaison Office described the act of setting the man on fire as “flagrant terrorism,” and pledged support for Hong Kong authorities taking measures to curb “various illegal acts of violence and acts of terrorism.”
Whereas Chinese authorities previously called the demonstrators “rioters” with behavior “close to terrorism,” they are now calling them “murderers” and tying them more explicitly to terrorism. This label may presage more severe enforcement measures and impact how demonstrators are ultimately prosecuted.
A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 under the framework of “one country, two systems,” a policy that promises Hong Kong certain democratic rights not granted to the mainland. But the arrests of pro-democracy activists and booksellers in recent years have raised fears among Hong Kong residents that Beijing is encroaching on the city’s freedoms.
During a key meeting of the party’s Central Committee at the end of October, Chinese leaders proposed establishing and strengthening the “legal system and enforcement mechanism for safeguarding national security” in special administrative regions like Hong Kong and Macao.
A meeting summary from China’s official Xinhua news agency did not elaborate on what this would entail, but Chinese officials have variously pointed to Article 14, Article 18 and Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s de facto constitution.
Article 14 allows the Hong Kong-based garrison of the Chinese military to help with public order maintenance at the request of the local government. Article 18 states that national laws may be applied in Hong Kong if China’s ceremonial parliament decides that the region is in a “state of emergency” that endangers national unity or security.
“When necessary, the People’s Armed Police Force and the People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison will back you up,” the nationalistic Global Times said in an editorial Monday, addressing the Hong Kong police.
Zhang Xiaoming, head of the Cabinet’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, said over the weekend that Hong Kong has yet to fulfill Article 23, which stipulates that the city will “enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion” against the central government. These laws should also ban the theft of state secrets and prevent foreign political organizations from conducting political activities in Hong Kong. Beijing has repeatedly accused foreign forces of fomenting the unrest.
Proposing new national security legislation is likely to further inflame the protests, though China may not be opposed to that, said Joseph Cheng, a pro-democracy advocate and retired City University of Hong Kong political scientist.
China has made it clear that it intends to maintain a hard line politically, refusing to make any concessions to protesters while pushing ahead with unpopular security legislation, Cheng said.
A further concern is that Beijing might order the postponement of Hong Kong’s local assembly elections scheduled for Nov. 24, freezing in place the current pro-China makeup of the body and avoiding possible embarrassment for the administration of Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
Although Lam has been criticized for a lack of leadership and her inflexibility, she has faithfully carried out Beijing’s will. During meetings last week in Shanghai and Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed support for her work.
At least for now, the central government appears to be leaving enforcement to local authorities, said Ben Bland, a research fellow at Australia’s Lowy Institute and author of “Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China’s Shadow.”
This approach allows the party to keep the issue tied to Hong Kong, as opposed to one that requires intervention at a higher level, Bland said, adding that while Beijing has several options for cracking down on the protests, each carries its own risks and could aggravate tensions.
As protesters’ tactics have become increasingly extreme, crippling regular operations in the city and plunging various districts into mayhem, Hong Kong’s government has shifted its focus toward the violence and away from the democratic reforms the movement intended to advocate.
“We all feel very depressed because we don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Cheng said.


Trump admits he’s blocking postal cash to stop mail-in votes

Updated 19 min 54 sec ago

Trump admits he’s blocking postal cash to stop mail-in votes

  • Trump’s statements come as he is searching for a strategy to gain an advantage in his November matchup against Joe Biden

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump frankly acknowledged Thursday that he’s starving the US Postal Service of money in order to make it harder to process an expected surge of mail-in ballots, which he worries could cost him the election.
In an interview on Fox Business Network, Trump explicitly noted two funding provisions that Democrats are seeking in a relief package that has stalled on Capitol Hill. Without the additional money, he said, the Postal Service won’t have the resources to handle a flood of ballots from voters who are seeking to avoid polling places during the coronavirus pandemic.
“If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” Trump told host Maria Bartiromo. “That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting; they just can’t have it.”
Trump’s statements, including the false claim that Democrats are seeking universal mail-in voting, come as he is searching for a strategy to gain an advantage in his November matchup against Joe Biden. He’s pairing the tough Postal Service stance in congressional negotiations with an increasingly robust mail-in -voting legal fight in states that could decide the election.
In Iowa, which Trump won handily in 2016 but is more competitive this year, his campaign joined a lawsuit Wednesday against two Democratic-leaning counties in an effort to invalidate tens of thousands of voters’ absentee ballot applications. That followed legal maneuvers in battleground Pennsylvania, where the campaign hopes to force changes to how the state collects and counts mail-in ballots. And in Nevada, Trump is challenging a law sending ballots to all active voters.
His efforts could face limits. The US Supreme Court on Thursday rebuffed Republicans who challenged an agreement in Rhode Island allowing residents to vote by mail through November’s general election without getting signatures from two witnesses or a notary.
For Democrats, Trump’s new remarks were a clear admission that the president is attempting to restrict voting rights.
Biden said it was “Pure Trump. He doesn’t want an election.”
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said it was “voter suppression to undermine the safest method to vote during a pandemic, and force Americans to risk their lives to vote.”
Negotiations over a big new virus relief package have all but ended, with the White House and congressional leaders far apart on the size, scope and approach for shoring up households, reopening schools and launching a national strategy to contain the coronavirus.
While there is some common ground over $100 billion for schools and new funds for virus testing, Democrats also want other emergency funds that Trump rejects.
“They want $3.5 billion for something that will turn out to be fraudulent. That’s election money, basically,” Trump said during Thursday’s call-in interview.
Democrats have pushed for a total of $10 billion for the Postal Service in talks with Republicans on the COVID-19 response bill. That figure, which would include money to help with election mail, is down from a $25 billion plan in a House-passed coronavirus measure.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has said that the agency is in a financially untenable position, but he maintains it can handle this year’s election mail. A major donor to Trump and other Republicans, DeJoy is the first postmaster general in nearly two decades who is not a career postal employee.
“Although there will likely be an unprecedented increase in election mail volume due to the pandemic, the Postal Service has ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on-time in accordance with our delivery standards, and we will do so,” he told the Postal Service’s governing board last week.
Memos obtained by The Associated Press show that Postal Service leadership has pushed to eliminate overtime and halt late delivery trips that are sometimes needed to ensure mail arrives on time, measures that postal workers and union officials say are delaying service. Additional records detail cuts to hours at post offices, including reductions on Saturdays and during lunch hours.
Democrats, and a handful of Republicans, have sent DeJoy several letters asking him to reverse his changes and criticizing what they say is a lack of openness by he agency. Late Wednesday, Senate Democrats again wrote DeJoy, this time saying postal leadership is pushing state election officials to opt for pricier first-class postage for mail-in ballots to be prioritized.
“Instead of taking steps to increase your agency’s ability to deliver for the American people, you are implementing policy changes that make matters worse, and the Postal Service is reportedly considering changes that would increase costs for states at a time when millions of Americans are relying on voting by mail to exercise their right to vote,” the Democrats wrote.
Separately, in a letter last month, the Postal Service warned Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson that the agency might not be able to deliver ballots in time to be counted under the state’s deadlines for casting mail-in votes.
A spokesman for the Postal Service, David Partenheimer, said in a statement that “certain deadlines concerning mail-in ballots, may be incompatible with the Postal Service’s delivery standards,” especially if election officials don’t pay more for first-class postage.
“To the extent that states choose to use the mail as part of their elections, they should do so in a manner that realistically reflects how the mail works,” he said.
Judy Beard, legislative and political director for the American Postal Workers Union, said postal workers are up to the task of delivering mail-in ballots this year.
“We definitely know that the president is absolutely wrong concerning vote-by-mail,” she said.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia, chair of the House subcommittee on government operations, said Trump is acknowledging that he wants to hold up funding for the US Postal Service to hinder Americans from voting.
“The president admits his motive for holding USPS funding hostage is that he doesn’t want Americans to vote by mail,” Connolly said in a statement Thursday. “Why? It hurts his electoral chances. He’s putting self-preservation ahead of public safety, for an election he deserves to lose.”
Trump has requested a mail-in ballot for Florida’s primary election Tuesday. Ballots were mailed Wednesday to both the president and first lady Melania Trump at the Mar-a-Lago resort, which Trump lists as his legal address, according to online Palm Beach County elections records. Both voted by mail in the presidential preference primary in March, according to records.