September 01, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

HONG KONG

Sunset on a Shining City

In late July, Chinese authorities postponed Hong Kong’s election set for Sept. 6 by a year. They cited worries over the spread of the coronavirus. But the decision occurred at the same time that Chinese leaders are prosecuting a crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in the coastal southern city.

Those activists said that moving the election “uprooted” the liberties that Hong Kong was supposed to enjoy as a former British colony and unique quasi-autonomous city in the otherwise communist country, the Associated Press reported.

The move came a month or so after China enacted a new controversial law that gave the central government in Beijing more power over Hong Kong. Protesters took to the streets to express their displeasure, eliciting a violent response from security forces.

At least Chinese authorities allowed opposition figures who had been banned from running in the election to sit on the city’s legislature for an additional year. That move was a sign of leniency, the South China Morning Post wrote.

But the activists won’t let up. Writing in an op-ed in the New York Times, pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong vowed to respond to repression with solidarity and creativity. Officials will ban opposition media, but residents will still hunger for freedom of the press. Officials will harass dissidents. They will not give up, Wong argued.

The communists don’t appear to be letting up, either, however. Hong Kong police recently arrested two protesters, saying they were complicit in the violence that broke out last year when alleged gangsters attacked a pro-democracy demonstration. Activists charged the police with attempting to rewrite history, according to the BBC.

The electronic surveillance brought to bear on activists is also intense, the New York Times wrote. Police even demand passwords from detained protesters, forcing them to share info for their social media accounts to gain inside information about the pro-democracy movement.

Questions over the future of Hong Kong have put pressure on multinational companies that use the financial hub as a base.

The massive bank HSBC is based in London. But its top executives supported China imposing its new law on the city. American leaders and others have condemned the bank for putting bankers’ bonuses before human rights, the Guardian reported. On the other hand, Chinese officials have criticized the bank for not stepping up more quickly to support the law, CNN added.

Asset-manager Vanguard also announced it would leave Hong Kong. It’s not clear if the decision was based on politics or not. Vanguard aimed to refocus its operations on mainland China.

Meanwhile, many in Hong Kong say the city has changed dramatically since the new law came into force.

Besides the crackdown on protests, many are deleting past Facebook posts critical of the government, the BBC reported. Books by pro-democracy figures have been removed from public libraries while schoolteachers say they face pressure on what to teach. Artists and musicians complain that their creativity is under threat.

“It feels like we’re not in the Hong Kong we knew anymore,” Denise Ho of Hong Kong told the broadcaster. “It feels more like we are in China.”

Some observers say the world is witnessing the sun setting on a culture that created and sustained a great city.

WANT TO KNOW

LEBANON

New Face, Old Challenge

Lebanon chose its ambassador to Germany, Mustapha Adib, as its new prime minister on Monday, a pick that is unlikely to appease protesters demanding a complete overhaul of the country’s leadership following the deadly Beirut blast last month, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Adib will face huge challenges, including staving off economic collapse and a government probe over the cause of the explosion. The previous government resigned earlier this month following demonstrations over the Beirut port explosion that killed more than 180.

Many Lebanese see Adib’s appointment as another attempt by the country’s ruling elite to shield themselves from the repercussions of the explosion. Protesters and activists also accuse the ruling class of corruption and mismanagement as the country grapples with an economic crisis, power outages and increasing hunger.

The appointment comes ahead of the arrival of French President Emmanuel Macron, who has led efforts to raise international aid for Lebanon and has pressured the country’s leadership to reform.

SUDAN

When Peace Comes

Sudan’s transitional government signed a historic peace deal with the country’s five key rebel groups Monday, a major step toward ending a conflict that began during the regime of ousted autocrat Omar al-Bashir and ravaged Darfur and other parts of Sudan, Bloomberg reported.

The deal followed months of negotiations between Sudan’s government – composed of civil and military leaders – and a coalition of rebel groups.

Scholar Abdallah Adam Khatir said the agreement potentially “addresses the root causes of the wars in Sudan,” and could lead to a major breakthrough if all parties properly implement it.

The agreement, signed in neighboring South Sudan, will also allow insurgents to join the country’s military force and grant them government roles. It could also decide the fate of Bashir, who was ousted last year by the military following mass protests. He’s currently wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes committed in Darfur.

The fighting in Darfur began in 2003 when rebels took up arms and accused the government of neglecting the region. Bashir then launched a brutal counter-insurgency. The United Nations estimated that about 300,000 died and 2.5 million were displaced during the conflict.

MONTENEGRO

Whiplash

Montenegro’s ruling pro-Western Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) scored its worst results to date during Sunday’s parliamentary election, possibly spelling the end for the party that has ruled the Balkan country since 1991, Euronews reported.

Official results showed that DPS won 35 percent of the vote, followed by the pro-Serbian and pro-Russian opposition alliance, which gained nearly 33 percent of the vote. The vote, however, could end the pro-Western party’s long rule because the opposition could form a government if it reaches an agreement with other parties that want the DPS out of power.

The party has governed Montenegro since the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. Under the DPS, Montenegro won independence from Serbia in 2006 and has worked toward joining the European Union.

In 2017, it joined NATO, despite opposition from pro-Serb and pro-Russian groups in the country.

The recent elections were overshadowed by a dispute involving property rights of the Serbian Orthodox Church that has pitted the pro-Western government against an alliance of pro-Serb and pro-Russian forces.

Analysts said the dispute over the church property and the elections brought to light competing visions for what Montenegro is, and where it is going – including whether it should join the EU.

DISCOVERIES

The Philosophy of Idleness

Can you pay people to do nothing?

Apparently yes, according to the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg, which is offering “idleness grants” to applicants who are deeply committed to their sloth, the Guardian reported.

Applicants have until Sept. 15 to submit applications that will convince academics they will be inactive in unique ways. In return, they can win one of three $1,900 scholarships available.

The potential candidates have to fill out a form asking, “what do you not want to do?” and “why is it important not to do this thing in particular?”

While the program sounds like a slacker’s dream, it has a much deeper purpose.

Architect and program designer Friedrich von Borries said the program aims to understand the contradiction of a society that promotes sustainability while simultaneously valuing success.

“This scholarship program is not a joke but an experiment with serious intentions – how can you turn a society that is structured around achievements and accomplishments on its head,” he explained.

The applications will become part of an exhibition called “The School of Inconsequentiality: Toward A Better Life,” which will be structured around the question: “What can I refrain from so that my life has fewer negative consequences on the lives of others?”

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 6,031,013 (+0.56%)
  2. Brazil: 3,908,272 (+1.19%)
  3. India: 3,691,166 (+1.93%)
  4. Russia: 992,402 (+0.50%)
  5. Peru: 647,166 (+1.21%)
  6. South Africa: 627,041 (+0.32%)
  7. Colombia: 615,094 (+1.18%)
  8. Mexico: 599,560 (+0.62%)
  9. Spain: 462,858 (+5.37%)
  10. Argentina: 417,735 (+2.28%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours