The World Today for September 07, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

HONG KONG

The Writing on the Wall

It’s been 20 years since the United Kingdom handed over its island colony of Hong Kong to mainland China.

To seal the deal, China guaranteed 50 years of “one country, two systems”: Hong Kong would remain semi-autonomous, its free expression and open market protected from heavy handed communist party elites in Beijing.

But now it’s only a matter of time before Hong Kong succumbs to the ways of the mainland, the New York times opines: The writing’s already on the wall.

At the time of acquisition, Beijing had a lot to gain from upholding its end of the bargain with the UK. In 1997, Hong Kong was valued at one-fifth of the Chinese economy. If Beijing wanted to use economic might to stiff-arm its way back to global prominence, it needed Hong Kong to stay happy.

But China’s 20-year boom since the handover means Hong Kong now only comprises 3 percent of the Chinese economy, the Irish Times notes. The island is being outshined by China’s tech-sector in cities like neighboring Shenzhen and is failing to catch on to trends in digitization like Bitcoin that have completely altered China’s business sector. As China continues to flourish, Hong Kong might be left in the dust, the South China Morning Post comments.

Hong Kong remains culturally distinct from its mainland overseer. But Hong Kong’s waning economic importance for China and growing inequality has provided more precedent for Beijing to interfere in the island’s affairs in recent years, the Economist notes.

Hong Kong was always revered for its independent media, often critical of the mainland, and its strong judiciary that guaranteed personal freedoms.

But Beijing’s influence is now felt in these former pillars of Hong Kong’s autonomy. The judiciary recently succumbed to pressure from Beijing and resentenced three protest leaders in 2014’s “Umbrella” demonstrations for free elections on the island to jail time.

Locking up these “faces of democracy” in Hong Kong is like “an attempt to lock up Hong Kong’s civil society,” writes former law professor at the University of Hong Kong Michael C. Davis in the South China Morning Post.

Its institutions fraying and undemocratic politicians increasingly more willing to do the bidding of Beijing, Hong Kong is facing a time of growing uncertainty. It could turn into a case like Tibet, writes the New York Times: autonomous in name only.

For Hong Kong’s younger generation, who struggle with expensive living conditions, an increasingly authoritarian state apparatus and sinking civil liberties, it seems that’s already the case.

[siteshare] The Writing on the Wall[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

SOUTH KOREA

Escalation Nation

South Korea completed the installation of a controversial missile defense system designed to protect it from an attack by the North, even as the United Nations deliberated over Washington’s demand for an oil embargo and other drastic sanctions against the Hermit Kingdom.

Protesters scuffled with armored riot police on Thursday as they attempted to block the road where the final THAAD missile interceptor launchers were being transported to a base in Seongju, around 186 miles south of Seoul, CNN reported.

Activists inside and outside of South Korea have warned that the missile shield will escalate tensions with the North, while China and Russia have criticized its implementation as a threat to the security balance in the region.

In the wake of North Korea’s powerful nuclear test, South Korean President Moon Jae-in had dropped his earlier opposition to the shield. But relations with the US are still strained following an accusation from President Donald Trump that Moon is pursuing a strategy of “appeasement” to deal with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

A UN vote on an oil embargo and other sanctions could come as soon as Monday, Reuters reported.

[siteshare]Escalation Nation[/siteshare]

PAKISTAN

The Name Game

Pakistan’s purported all-weather friendship with China may succumb to storm clouds after all.

For the first time, Beijing signed off on a joint statement naming Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist groups at the Xiamen BRICS Summit this week, in what some analysts are calling a major diplomatic defeat.

Also included in the list of terror groups were the Haqqani network, Taliban and Islamic State, as well as the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, an Uighur separatist group active in China’s Xinjiang province. China’s about-face comes just two weeks after President Donald Trump called out Pakistan for providing a “safe haven” for terrorists and threatened to make India a more significant player in Washington’s Afghanistan strategy.

The statement is another signal that Beijing and New Delhi are playing nice following the resolution of a tense border standoff in Bhutan. But it’s too early to say whether China will really stop putting roadblocks in the way of India’s efforts to prosecute Pakistan-based terrorists like Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar – whom Beijing has prevented the United Nations from labeling a terrorist twice.

[siteshare]The Name Game[/siteshare]

EUROPEAN UNION

Playing by the Rules

The European Union’s top court ruled that Hungary and Slovakia must abide by the EU’s quota system for allotting refugees to its various member states, dismissing “in its entirety” their case against the scheme.

Hungary could face fines if it refuses to take in its quota of 1,294 people, and Poland and the Czech Republic may face similar legal action, the New York Times reported. Slovakia has already accepted few migrants and has recently shown a greater willingness to comply with the scheme.

Under the EU’s original rules, refugees were required to apply for asylum in the country where they first entered the EU – resulting in a disproportionate burden on Greece and Italy. Nevertheless, many migrants informally passed on to countries with better job prospects and benefits, such as Sweden and Germany – which has received more than a million asylum applications.

The court’s decision is final and cannot be appealed. But forcing member states to accept refugees may be easier than ensuring they’re treated fairly after they arrive. The dispute will likely continue to add fuel to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s “Stop Brussels” campaign.

[siteshare]Playing by the Rules[/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

Dress to Impress

In Japan, even undertakers have their day in the sun.

At the nation’s largest funeral expo late last month, a group of young undertakers showed their skills in the delicate art of encoffinment, or the meticulous preparation of the deceased before burial.

According to Shinto scripture, one’s soul is sullied shortly after death. It’s believed that the process of dressing a body in front of close relatives purifies the spirit before the afterlife begins.

But this beautiful skill is hard to master and demand is high: Japan’s aging society has put pressure on young undertakers to quickly master the intricacies of the ritual, Reuters reports.

“I practiced every day to prepare for this competition,” said 23-year-old Rino Terai, who beat out four other finalists at last month’s competition. “I took videos and made improvements by asking myself, does this look beautiful? Am I treating the deceased kindly?”

Judges scored contestants based on the grace with which they dressed the body – without revealing too much bare skin, of course.

Because even in the afterlife, it’s imperative to dress to impress.

[siteshare]Dress to Impress[/siteshare]

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