The World Today for November 15, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Umbrellas and Oaths

When Britain ceded Hong Kong to China in 1997, Beijing promised not to compromise the “one country, two systems” regime governing the city for 50 years.

But now the definition of those freedoms is up for grabs.

At issue is Beijing’s decision last week to bar two Hong Kong democracy activists elected in September to the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, or LegCo, from taking their seats. On Tuesday, the decision was shored up by a Hong Kong court which disqualified the two pro-independence lawmakers from taking office, ruling their oath of allegiance invalid.

Ostensibly, Chinese officials disqualified the members of the Youngspiration political party for “deliberately misreading their oaths of office, inserting expletives and draping themselves with ‘Hong Kong is not China’ flags,” the Guardian reported.

But the New York Times wrote that Beijing exploited legal technicalities to keep 30-year-old Sixtus “Baggio” Leung and 25-year-old Yau Wai-ching off the LegCo.

Beijing’s move was legal. China’s leaders are empowered to render final interpretations of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution. But the disqualification illustrated who really runs Hong Kong and highlighting why activists believe they’re not living in a real democracy.

Leung and Wai-ching are former members of the Umbrella Movement – so named because pro-democracy protesters who shut down the city center two years ago used umbrellas to defend themselves against tear gas. Now they are seeking for more radical changes, including even independence of the semi-autonomous region.

China ignoring the wishes of duly elected pro-democracy activists? Sounds typical, right?

“Unfortunately, in the nearly two decades since reversion, Beijing has become increasingly intolerant of differences,” the Japan Times wrote in an editorial on Monday.

Around 10,000 protesters marched after the Chinese government’s decision was announced. But around 30,000 people demonstrated in Hong Kong on Sunday to protest against the two activists’ actions.

“The cancer cells are those who are promoting Hong Kong independence,” lawmaker Michael Tien told the Guardian. “We will fight them to the end. China will never, ever tolerate the splitting of the nation.”

The vast majority of LegCo’s members are pro-Beijing, after all. They don’t want Western-style democracy.

“So many people are very angry because the pro-independence force is a destructive force that is against the rule of law in Hong Kong,” protest organizer Maggie Chan told the BBC.

Chan might be misguided.

The Wall Street Journal noted that Hong Kong’s law doesn’t really include provisions to prosecute residents on charges of treason for insulting the central government. The Basic Law stipulates that LegCo lawmakers must enact such a law, but massive protests against the move in 2003 forced them to drop the idea. Chinese officials are now considering taking up a Hong Kong law against treason again.

Beijing’s move could backfire.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists might be emboldened, of course. But the other side might also undermine Beijing’s goals. After all, the anti-democracy activists took to the streets in a very democratic fashion to argue against independence.

WANT TO KNOW

Fool’s Pivot?

Beginning with China, world leaders are reading the tea leaves, as it were, to determine whether President-Elect Donald Trump aims to deep six his predecessor’s so-called “pivot to Asia.”

Based on the names being bandied around for his cabinet appointees, however, it looks as though Trump may be less isolationist than interventionist, according to experts surveyed by Bloomberg.

The incoming commander-in-chief “is going to be as, or even more, assertive than Obama,” said Chinese politics professor Sam Crane. Already, Trump has promised a whopping 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods – which would require backing from Congress and would likely violate World Trade Organization rules.

Meanwhile, though Trump had the usual “cordial” phone chat with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday, China foreign relations experts are girding up for a potential trade war.

“If Trump wrecks Sino-US trade, a number of US industries will be impaired. Finally the new president will be condemned for his recklessness, ignorance and incompetence,” the state-controlled Global Times said in an editorial published Monday.

Such condemnation hasn’t bothered him a jot so far.

Keeping the Balance

America’s lame duck administration criticized an Israeli plan to allow Jewish settlers to remain in homes built on private Palestinian land.

The bill, which was proposed by a ministerial committee despite the opposition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, must be passed by the parliament before it becomes law, and there are no guarantees that will happen, Reuters reported.

But State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau warned it could pave the way for the legalization of dozens of illegal outposts deep in the West Bank and potentially undermine the already dim prospects for a two-state solution and Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Israel’s attorney general has also said the bill goes against Israel’s private property rights legislation and its international legal commitments.

Yet with President-Elect Donald Trump promising greater support, right-wing Israelis have already renewed calls to scrap the two-state solution, so advice from the outgoing administration isn’t likely to tip the balance.

Empty Words

Don’t look for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to let up in his crackdown on all and sundry anytime soon due to pressure from the European Union.

The best EU foreign ministers could manage at a meeting of all 28 member states in Brussels on Monday was some stern criticism, as a proposal by Austria to suspend Turkey’s membership bid failed to gain enough support, Reuters reported.

Erdogan isn’t the sort to cave in due to such admonishments. Otherwise, he probably would not have suspended, dismissed or detained at least 110,000 people – including soldiers, judges and teachers who he alleges supported a failed coup attempt in July – in the first place.

But the EU still needs Turkey’s cooperation to prevent huge numbers of refugees from reaching Europe through Greece, so many leaders are reluctant to take a firm stand on human rights.

DISCOVERIES

Opposites Don’t Attract

It all started with a lonely garden snail in London named Jeremy who drew the short straw in the evolutionary gene pool.

He’s what scientists call a “lefty”: His shell coils counterclockwise and his reproductive organs are found on the left side of his head.

This presents an unusual predicament for reproducing with run-of-the-mill “righty” snails. Their reproductive organs just won’t line up.

Enter evolutionary geneticist Angus Davison of the University of Nottingham.

Davison and his team are attempting to identify the gene that reverses the swirl of Jeremy’s shell, a trait found in one out of every 100,000 snails, NPR reports. They posited that taking a closer look at Jeremy’s offspring could hold the key.

Naturally, they set to work finding Jeremy a proper mate. And of course, in the digital age in which we live, a hash tag was involved.

Jeremy became an instant “shellebrity,” according to Davison. Their #snaillove campaign yielded two other lefties in Europe. Dates with both are currently in the works.

Snails are naturally hermaphroditic, but prefer to mate with others since inbreeding is “generally not a good strategy,” said Davidson. He’s curious to see whether Jeremy and his mystery mates will produce left-coiling offspring in their own likeness.

While such a study may seem inconsequential, Davison and his team beg to differ. Their research on the topic published earlier this year in Current Biology suggests that the same gene that twists Jeremy’s shell could shed light on human and animal body asymmetry.

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