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The Umbrella Movement Fights Back

The run-up to the Sept. 4 election for Legislative Council is getting tense, and the governments of both Hong Kongand Beijing are watching with keen interest. 

For the first time, a crop of fresh-faced candidates who cut their political teeth during the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in 2014 are hoping to bring to the lawmaking body their battle to emancipate Hong Kong from Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian control.The activists, most of whom are in their 20s, no longer believe in the promises of the “one country, two systems” principle set out in the Basic Law. Even after paralyzing major traffic hubs in the city for 79 days in 2014, they failed to obtain any concession to democratize the rules by which the head of Hong Kong’s government, the chief executive, is nominated and elected. They concluded from the experience that democracy is impossible in Hong Kong as long as the territory remains under Chinese sovereignty. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Umbrella Movement appears to be boosting tourism in Hong Kong


[VIDEO] End of the Umbrella Revolution: ‘Hong Kong Silenced’


In September 2014, VICE News documented the birth of the so-called Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong. When students organized a weeklong strike to protest China’s handling of the local election process, the government responded with tear gas.

Thousands of Hong Kong residents took to the city’s streets in solidarity with the students and the protesters occupied several major roads for weeks on end.

[Read more about the Umbrella Movement at punditfromanotherplanet.com]

Nearly two months into the occupation, the demands and resolve of the protesters remained unchanged. They started to become fatigued and divided against each other, however, and public support for their cause began to decline. The movement was under immense pressure to either escalate their action, or to retreat and give back the streets.

When VICE News returned to Hong Kong near the end of 2014 to check in on the protesters, we witnessed the final days of the Umbrella Movement’s pro-democracy demonstrations.

Watch “Hong Kong Rising

Read “Hong Kong Leader Warns Concessions Could Lead to ‘Anarchy,’ as Scuffles Break Out in ParliamentRead the rest of this entry »


Top Hong Kong Stock? Umbrella Maker

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Hong Kong is having another umbrella moment.

First there was the umbrella movement last year when young people took to the streets to defy China’s plan for watered-down democracy. Now there is an umbrella maker that’s stunned the stock market.

“It is a bit crazy. The fundamentals do not justify the current stock price.”

— Hannah Li, strategist at UOB-Kay Hian

Jicheng Umbrella Holdings Ltd.1027.HK +13.29% is an unlikely title holder of Hong Kong’s best performing newly listed stock in 2015. At its initial public offering back in February, it received little interest with bankers pricing it at the low end of an indicated price range. But once it got trading it went through the roof, and at one stage last month it rose nearly 20-fold from its IPO price and is still up 14-fold as of Friday.

“It is a bit crazy,” said Hannah Li, strategist at UOB-Kay Hian. “The fundamentals do not justify the current stock price.”

The rally means the company is worth 9.1 billion Hong Kong dollars ($1.17 billion), and is trading at a price-earnings ratio of 100, far higher than the 11.2 for the average of stocks in the Hang Seng index.

[Read the full text here, at WSJ – China Real Time Report]

Exactly why investors are so keen on an umbrella maker to give it a sky high valuation is puzzling, while its shareholder structure looks even more bizarre. The Securities and Futures Commission, Hong Kong’s market regulator, issued a warning Thursday to investors that just 17 shareholders hold over 99% of the company’s shares (the major shareholder owns 75% of the company). This means a buyer could easily push the stock up substantially as there’s so few owners of the shares.

Ms. Li said while Jicheng’s business is in good shape, the small number of shares held by public shareholders is a major reason for the rally. Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong Protesters Clash With Police as China Plans Political Intervention 

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Officers use pepper spray on protesters angry that Beijing will issue an interpretation of the semiautonomous city’s Basic Law.

Police used pepper spray on protesters in Hong Kong on Sunday evening as thousands rallied against Beijing’s plans to intervene in a political standoff over two local lawmakers who insulted China in the city’s legislature.

Ese Erheriene and Chester Yung in Hong Kong and Chun Han Wong in Beijing report: The conflict was the latest sign of a deepening rift between Beijing and many in Hong Kong over how much autonomy the territory should have. Hong Kong is allowed to govern itself under a miniconstitution—the Basic Law—and has an independent judiciary. But Saturday, China’s top legislative body said it is prepared to override Hong Kong’s legal authority over how to handle the local lawmakers’ actions, which Beijing denounced as a threat to national security. The Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress said Saturday it would issue its own interpretation of the Basic Law as Beijing “cannot afford to sit idle” when faced with challenges to its authority over Hong Kong, according to the government-run Xinhua News Agency.

Police face off against protesters in Hong Kong on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016.

“The police was using very brutal violence to depress us. We were very angry because we think that for such an important issue, we at least have our right to protest.”

— Nathan Law Kwun-chung, the 23-year-old newly elected ‘localist’ who has advocated for greater autonomy from China.

On Sunday, thousands marched in central Hong Kong to protest against China’s looming intervention. In scenes reminiscent of the city’s mass pro-democracy protests of 2014, video taken by local press showed police spraying the crowd and protesters protecting themselves with umbrellas.

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“We were trying to occupy Connaught Road…but there were too many police and there were some conflicts between us. They used pepper spray. We tried to step back and fight again, but they kept on spraying.”

— Hayley Lee, 27, an airline cabin-crew member

Hong Kong Police Force senior superintendent Lewis Tse confirmed officers used pepper spray during a “chaotic” confrontation with some protesters late Sunday. He said two men—aged 39 years and 57 years—had been arrested.

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Hundreds of protesters gathered near Western Street, in the city’s Sai Ying Pun district, as the march against China’s reinterpretation of the Basic Law turned into a standoff with the police. People held umbrellas aloft and wore face masks to protect themselves from the pepper spray.

“We were trying to occupy Connaught Road…but there were too many police and there were some conflicts between us,” said Hayley Lee, 27, an airline cabin-crew member. “They used pepper spray. We tried to step back and fight again, but they kept on spraying.”

[Read the full story here, at  WSJ]

In the crowd, familiar faces from the so-called Umbrella movement two years ago were present.

“The police was using very brutal violence to depress us,” said Nathan Law Kwun-chung, the 23-year-old newly elected “localist” who has advocated for greater autonomy from China. “We were very angry because we think that for such an important issue, we at least have our right to protest,” he said of police attempts to move the crowd near China’s official Liaison Office on Connaught Road.

Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching during a protest march in Hong Kong on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016.

Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching during a protest march in Hong Kong on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. Photo: European Pressphoto Agency

As the night wore on, rows of police held their lines, while others looked on from the steps of the Western Police Station. Officers stood with shields, warning protesters to keep maintain control and stay calm.

Protesters continued to mill around, disorganized, and many were unsure about whether they would stay out for whole night. Still, they agreed they wanted to take a stand with Beijing’s decision expected to be made Monday. Read the rest of this entry »


Meet the Young Leaders Shaking up Hong Kong Politics

Pedestrians walk past a banner for new party Youngspiration showing disqualified candidate Edward Leung (L) and Baggio Leung (C) during the Legislative Council election in Hong Kong on September 4, 2016. Young Hong Kong independence activists calling for a complete break from China stood in major elections for the first time on September 4, the biggest vote since 2014 pro-democracy rallies. / AFP / Anthony WALLACE (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)

Beijing wants pro-democracy activists to go away. Instead, they’re getting elected.

Suzanne Sataline writes: In late 2014, Hong Kong protestors used umbrellas to shield themselves as police soaked them with pepper spray. Student leaders demanded elections free of intrusion from the Chinese central government, capturing headlines around the world, but their efforts failed. On Sept. 4, city residents pushed back again. Voters elected several of those young activists to the city’s legislature, a sharp rebuke to Beijing’s increasing encroachment on political life in the city.

“By the terms of its constitution, called the Basic Law, Hong Kong has autonomy, but with an asterisk. Individual residents cannot elect the city’s leader, nor try to change policies through referenda; they pick just half of their lawmakers. “

A record 2.2 million people queued to cast ballots — hundreds reportedly waited at one polling station past two o’clock in the morning — in the financial capital’s first city-wide election since protests two years earlier. Voters tossed several veteran moderates from the Legislative Council (LegCo), and replaced them with six activists who want to wrest Hong Kong from mainland China’s control. While the chamber’s majority still tilts toward Beijing — thanks mostly to voting rules that grant greater power to trade and industry groups — the new term will seat 30 lawmakers who favor democracy in the 70-member chamber. They will collectively pose a greater obstacle to the city’s unpopular chief executive, C.Y. Leung, a man widely considered too deferential to Beijing.

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“This arrangement of 19 years — engineered by the British crown, enforced by mainland China after it took Hong Kong back — never sought, and was never given, resident approval. Hence the widespread, youth-driven protests two years ago, quickly dubbed the Umbrella Movement.”

By the terms of its constitution, called the Basic Law, Hong Kong has autonomy, but with an asterisk. Individual residents cannot elect the city’s leader, nor try to change policies through referenda; they pick just half of their lawmakers. This arrangement of 19 years — engineered by the British crown, enforced by mainland China after it took Hong Kong back — never sought, and was never given, resident approval. Hence the widespread, youth-driven protests two years ago, quickly dubbed the Umbrella Movement.

[Read the full story here, at Foreign Policy]

Since then, Beijing appears to be tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city. Many residents were unsettled when five members of a local book publisher disappeared last year, and yet Hong Kong’s government seemed to do little to help. (One man later resurfaced, sharing details of how he’d been kidnapped by state security and held for months in mainland China; a colleague is still missing.) A sudden demotion and resignations at the city’s independent graft commission signaled that the lauded agency might not be so independent anymore. The central government’s chief lawyer in Hong Kong said in April that the government could deploy British colonial laws still on the books, such as those for treason and sedition, to prosecute independence activists. This summer, the city government’s Electoral Affairs Commission barred six candidates from the LegCo race, five of whom demand either independence, or a vote on the issue among Hong Kong residents. (The commission’s chairman is appointed by the city’s chief executive.)

Cheng Chung-tai speaks to supporters in Hong Kong elections

“Since then, Beijing appears to be tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city. Many residents were unsettled when five members of a local book publisher disappeared last year, and yet Hong Kong’s government seemed to do little to help.”

But that didn’t stop the election of young upstarts who aim to amend the constitution, expand voting rights, and bolster civil liberties. Sixtus “Baggio” Leung of a new party called Youngspiration thinks Hong Kong should declare independence from China. (None of the Leungs mentioned in this article are related.) Nathan Law, at age 23 the youngest lawmaker in city history, believes residents deserve a vote for self-determination. Beijing officials “are scared of our influence because we are not controllable,” Law, a leader in the 2014 protests, said. “We can mobilize people and arouse people and create enough tension between Hong Kong and China.”

“A sudden demotion and resignations at the city’s independent graft commission signaled that the lauded agency might not be so independent anymore. The central government’s chief lawyer in Hong Kong said in April that the government could deploy British colonial laws still on the books, such as those for treason and sedition, to prosecute independence activists.”

Some of those activists have been preaching on radio and street corners that Hong Kong is historically and culturally separate from China. The city, they have said, cannot trust China, and city residents should decide their own fate. By July, according to one survey, more than 17 percent of residents, and nearly 40 percent of those aged 15 to 24, said the city should separate from China when the “one-country, two-systems” plan ends in 2047. In August, the banned candidates organized what they called the city’s first independence rally, drawing several thousand people. One of the organizers was Edward Tin-kei Leung, a 25-year-old philosophy student born on the mainland. Read the rest of this entry »


Two Years After the Occupy Protests, Hong Kong’s Youth Made Big Gains in a Record-Breaking Election 

At least six seats have gone to new politicians allied with Occupy and other anti-Beijing protests. Some replaced established pro-democratic politicians, who have been fighting for democracy for three decades in Hong Kong. Of the 70 seats, 55 have been announced, with 22 going to pro-democracy candidates.

Isabella Steger reports: Voters in Hong Kong showed they’re willing to put their future in the hands of politicians as young as 23, casting aside some of the most well known faces in local politics in the process.

Hong Kongers turned up in record numbers for the polls on Sunday (Sept. 4) to vote for members of the new Legislative Council. The council has long been controlled by pro-Beijing politicians, but holding on to veto power with one third of the seats is necessary for the opposition to push back against proposed legislation that could tighten the Chinese Communist Party’s over Hong Kong.

As the final results continued to roll in on Monday afternoon—counting was delayed because long queues forced polling stations to close well after the cut-off time—the after-effects of 2014’s Occupy protests, or Umbrella Movement, could already be viscerally felt.

Read the rest of this entry »


Why Anti-China Sentiment is On The Rise in Hong Kong 

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Elections for the Hong Kong Legislative Council were held Sunday with near-record turnout in the city. Many are voting for younger, more democratic candidates who want to become more independent from increasingly authoritative mainland China.

Weston Williams reports: In 1997, when Hong Kong underwent its “handover” from the British government to China, the deal carried with it the promise that, for the next 50 years at least, the former British colony would be largely autonomous from the Chinese mainland. The historic agreement created an unusual bond between the largely democratic island and the authoritarian communist state of which it is now a part.

In recent years, however, the handover that created “one country, two systems” has been called into question, as mainland China has increasingly tried to impose its will on the city.

On Sunday, these questions were brought to the forefront as Hong Kong voters turned out in near-record numbers to decide this term’s members of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (LegCo). Pro-democracy candidates hope to win enough seats to resist the pro-Beijing establishment in the first election following the student-led “Umbrella Movement” protests in 2014.

[Read the full story here, at CSMonitor.com]

At least by Chinese standards, LegCo is a significantly democratic institution. The council consists of 70 seats that accept both pro-Beijing politicians as well as the “pan-democrats,” politicians who support the idea that the civil liberties enjoyed under the British can be preserved only through democratic action. But of those 70 seats, only 40 are directly elected by citizens of Hong Kong. According to the Economist, the remaining 30 seats belong to “functional constituencies,” which are chosen by groups representing business interests, professionals, and rural communities. The design of the constituencies has ensured that the majority of LegCo legislators have been pro-Beijing since the handover.

According to Reuters, Hong Kong’s pan-democratic opposition currently controls just 27 seats in LegCo, giving it the power to block policies and some laws, but little else. While Hong Kong enjoys a great deal more freedom and democratic leeway than mainland China, many citizens feel the Beijing holds too much sway in city elections. Read the rest of this entry »


A Subversive Message in Hong Kong Goes Up in Lights 

hk-numbers

The city has gone to great lengths to contain protests during Mr. Zhang’s visit, but pro-democracy messages have slipped through.

BEIJING — Jason Lam reports: For more than a minute on Tuesday night, nine-digit numbers were displayed across the facade of Hong Kong’s tallest skyscraper, the International Commerce Center. Towering above Victoria Harbor, the glowing white digits blinked against the night sky: 979,012,493… 979,012,492… 979,012,491…

“Due to the high level of security, there’s almost no channel for the Hong Kong people to voice and protest.”

The seemingly innocuous numbers contained a subversive statement. The animation is a countdown of the seconds until when the “one country, two systems” framework — a guarantee that Hong Kong, a former British colony, would keep its civil liberties and a high degree of autonomy for 50 years after its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 — is set to expire.

[Watch in Times Video »]

“We hope to deliver this work to illustrate the biggest anxiety of the Hong Kong people,” Sampson Wong, who created the animation with the artist Jason Lam, said before the lights first went up.

“Most of the animations shown on the I.C.C. are ad-like, meaningless videos. We wanted to show something relevant to the social situation of Hong Kong.”

–Sampson Wong

The artists planned the display to coincide with a three-day visit to Hong Kong by Zhang Dejiang, a member of China’s governing Politburo Standing Committee, which began on Tuesday. Mr. Zhang is the highest-ranking official from mainland China to visit Hong Kong since the pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014 known as the Umbrella Movement.

Zhang Dejiang

Zhang Dejiang

[Read the full text here, at The New York Times]

The city has gone to great lengths to contain protests during Mr. Zhang’s visit, but pro-democracy messages have slipped through. At least seven members of the League of Social Democrats party were arrested on Tuesday in connection with at least two banners appearing in public — one on a hillside, the other along the route taken by Mr. Zhang’s motorcade — reading “I Want Genuine Universal Suffrage” and “End Chinese Communist Party Dictatorship.”

“Due to the high level of security, there’s almost no channel for the Hong Kong people to voice and protest,” Mr. Wong said. Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong University Purge

Chan-WSJ

Pro-Beijing Forces Target a Top School’s Leaders to Intimidate Professors.

The new school term in Hong Kong is off to a bad start. A year after university students led mass protests for democracy, the government is taking revenge against pro-democracy voices in the academy.

The crackdown is especially harsh at elite Hong Kong University, where the governing council last week blocked the appointment of former law dean Johannes Chan to the senior post of pro-vice chancellor. Mr. Chan was the only candidate recommended by a search committee.

The problem is that Mr. Chan is a human-rights and constitutional lawyer with moderate pro-democracy views. He has done academic work with his HKU law colleague Benny Tai, founder of the group Occupy Central With Love and Peace, which helped start the street protests last year.

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For months Mr. Chan faced a smear campaign, with hundreds of articles in pro-Beijing newspapers condemning his “meddling in politics.” Critics accused him of mishandling a donation to Mr. Tai, but the governing council cleared him of wrongdoing earlier this year. Nevertheless the council denied his appointment last week by a 12-8 vote.

[Read the full text here, at WSJ]

Council deliberations are meant to be confidential, but leaks suggest Mr. Chan was supported by the council members drawn from HKU’s faculty. Read the rest of this entry »


Disillusionment Among Hong Kong’s Youth Fuels Uneasy Separatist Longings

HK-anti-Beijing-students

The youngsters are members of a new front that is using increasingly aggressive tactics to demand an independent Hong Kong free from mainland China’s grip.  

Viola Zhou and Claire Baldwin report: On a recent Sunday night in the working-class Hong Kong district of Mong Kok, a group of radical young activists swore through loudspeakers and gestured rudely as they denounced mainland Chinese as “prostitutes” and “barbarians.”

The youngsters are members of a new front that is using increasingly aggressive tactics to demand an independent Hong Kong free from mainland China’s grip.

Their separatist yearnings have alarmed Beijing and the pro-Beijing Hong Kong government which are fighting back to win hearts and minds and forge a spirit of “love China, love Hong Kong” with multimillion-dollar information drives and exchanges.

The animosity on display in Mong Kok was virtually unheard of until recently, despite resentment toward mainlanders flooding into Hong Kong, and follows unsuccessful protests to demand full democracy in the city late last year.

The 'Umbrella Revolution' rallies together again after the October 21 talks

“I never call myself Chinese at school because it is a shame to be Chinese,” said 16-year-old “Gorilla” Chan, who, unbeknownst to his parents, founded a radical group with a 14-year-old friend.

He said violence is almost inevitable.

“That day will come sooner or later if Hong Kong remains like this,” Chan said.

Beijing sees national unity as sacrosanct and has ruled Hong Kong under a “one country, two systems” formula, allowing broad autonomy, since the city returned from British rule in 1997.

But Hong Kong’s prodemocracy movement, spearheaded by fresh-faced youngsters, has shaken the assumption of cozy accommodation between the mainland’s communists and the capitalist enclave.

The protesters demanded full democracy in a 2017 election for the city’s leader. But Beijing insists the leader will be chosen from a list of candidates it approves.

The anti-China radicals were galvanized by the democracy protests and gained traction later during protests against mainland shoppers swamping Hong Kong and buying up various items, including formula milk, and pushing up prices. Read the rest of this entry »


The Cultural Revolution Spreads to Hong Kong

cultural-rev-hk-wsj

Because that’s how we roll: The Communist Party’s way of doing business is coming to the city

Stephen Vines writes: The dark days of China’s Cultural Revolution are being revisited in Hong Kong.

Thankfully, this time there is no bloodshed or widespread mayhem. But Beijing’s local loyalists are using some of the same rhetorical tactics to isolate and intimidate pro-democracy figures.

“Now in Hong Kong opposition politicians and their supporters are routinely accused of consorting with and being funded by foreign powers; of advocating the violent overthrow of the state; and of perpetrating child abuse—the last charge based on the large numbers of young people who joined Hong Kong’s antigovernment protests.”

Back then the search was on for “traitors” who were named, shamed and then terrorized, often to a fatal degree. Now in Hong Kong opposition politicians and their supporters are routinely accused of Chinese leader Xi Jinpingconsorting with and being funded by foreign powers; of advocating the violent overthrow of the state; and of perpetrating child abuse—the last charge based on the large numbers of young people who joined Hong Kong’s antigovernment protests.

“Less-high-profile individuals have also encountered employment problems. RTHK, the public broadcaster, is under relentless pressure to sack certain people. And in privately owned media, columnists have been removed and other journalists have been told that the time has come to toe the line.”

These sorts of accusations are routinely found on the pages of Hong Kong’s increasingly rabid Communist newspapers. While largely ignored by the bulk of the population, these publications are carefully scrutinized by the leaders of the local government because their content enjoys Beijing’s imprimatur.

“The Communist press has also been in the forefront of a wider campaign to “expose” the democratic movement’s leaders, accusing them of being in the pocket of overseas governments and in receipt of illicit funding.”

One of their current targets is Johannes Chan, former dean of the law school at Hong Kong University and a respected professor. His main “crime” is his association with another legal scholar, Benny Tai. Mr. Tai was one of the founders of the Occupy Central movement that morphed into the Umbrella Movement street protests last year.

[Read the full text here, at WSJ]

The communist press has been busy darkly hinting that Prof. Chan is somehow involved in unlawful funding of the protest movement and that he neglected his academic duties. Following these accusations, his appointment to a pro-Vice Chancellor post was blocked.

Another academic targeted was political scientist Joseph Cheng, who was demoted prior to retirement and threatened with a denial of his pension. The accusations in this instance were even more extreme, ranging from charges of plagiarism to abuse of office.

china-communist-propaganda

The Communist press has also been in the forefront of a wider campaign to “expose” the democratic movement’s leaders, accusing them of being in the pocket of overseas governments and in receipt of illicit funding. Read the rest of this entry »


Isabella Steger: Hong Kong Votes Down Beijing-Backed Election Plan

HK-reject-WSJ

For the Chinese government, the defeat was a blow to its effort to integrate Hong Kong into the mainland. And it was a rare defeat for the country’s Communist Party

HONG KONG — Isabella Steger reports: Hong Kong’s legislature rejected a Beijing-backed election-reform plan, ending a year of turmoil in the city and dealing a setback to the former British colony’s relationship with mainland China.

The outcome was expected, but the vote was called abruptly amid the second day of debate for the package, which would have allowed Hong Kong citizens to vote for their leader for the first time but required that candidates be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee.

“After about 20 months of intense political wrangling, many people feel fatigued. No matter what the result today, society needs some time to calm down and reflect on what has happened over these past 20 months, and think about the future direction of Hong Kong.”

— Carrie Lam, the city’s No. 2 official who has spearheaded the effort to sell the electoral overhaul plan

Pro-government lawmakers walked out of the legislature before the vote, leaving the chamber filled with mostly opposition lawmakers, who had vowed to reject the plan. The vote was 28 against and eight in favor, with 34 not voting. The vote would have required a two-thirds majority to pass.

“After about 20 months of intense political wrangling, many people feel fatigued,” said Carrie Lam, the city’s No. 2 official who has spearheaded the effort to sell the electoral overhaul plan, in concluding remarks in the legislature just before the vote. “No matter what the result today, society needs some time to calm down and reflect on what has happened over these past 20 months, and think about the future direction of Hong Kong.”

Pro-democracy lawmaker Charles Mok is surrounded by veto signs during his speech in Hong Kong’s legislature on Thursday. Photo: Reuters

Pro-democracy lawmaker Charles Mok is surrounded by veto signs during his speech in Hong Kong’s legislature on Thursday. Photo: Reuters

“We used our sacred vote today to veto a fake universal suffrage proposal. We helped Hong Kong people send a clear message to Beijing that we want real choice. This isn’t the end of the democracy movement in Hong Kong. A new chapter starts today.”

— Alan Leong, a pro-democracy legislator, told reporters after the vote

The vote on Thursday marks probably the most critical event in Hong Kong’s political development since pro-democracy activists started angling for greater democracy in the territory in the 1980s. Ms. Lam said Thursday that she couldn’t predict at what point Hong Kong’s democratic development would resume.

The rejection of the reform proposal was a victory for pro-democracy legislators who stuck to their pledge to reject the plan. The group had come under pressure from Beijing, which said they could be held to account for their votes. It was a serious defeat for Hong Kong’s government, which was forced to promote Beijing’s plan despite opposition in Hong Kong.

[Read the full text here, at WSJ]

“We used our sacred vote today to veto a fake universal suffrage proposal,” Alan Leong, a pro-democracy legislator, told reporters after the vote. “We helped Hong Kong people send a clear message to Beijing that we want real choice. This isn’t the end of the democracy movement in Hong Kong. A new chapter starts today”. Read the rest of this entry »


The Rise of the Teeny Tiny: The Incredible Shrinking Apartments of Hong Kong

 tiny-apt-hk-wsj

HONG KONG— Isabella Steger writes: In showing an apartment of 180 square feet, a real-estate agent explained that all furniture essentially has to be made to order and described the window sill as a potential area for “entertainment.”

“Consumers have no bargaining power. Today if people want to buy property, like a couple who want to build a family, they don’t ask what the square footage is. They just ask about the price.”

— Barbara Leung, who teaches real-estate economics at Hong Kong Polytechnic University

The apartment, in a development called High Place, isn’t much bigger than the standard U.S. parking space. It went into contract in May for almost four million Hong Kong dollars (US$516,000.)

Even by Hong Kong’s cramped standards, apartments here are getting tinier and tinier.

So small are some of the new developments in Hong Kong that they have been given the moniker “mosquito-sized units.”

tiny2-hk-wsj

Billy H.C. Kwok for the Wall Street Journal

“People have to sacrifice and crowd into smaller apartments.”

— Joanne Lee, of real-estate broker and consultancy Colliers International in Hong Kong

The incredible shrinking apartments in Hong Kong is part of a broader trend of rising values of residential real estate in major cities around the world, as investors see property as a better investment than low-yielding bonds.

Hong Kong, much like London and New York, also is seeing strong demand from wealthy investors from other countries looking for safe places to park their money, with much of that investment coming from mainland Chinese buyers. While these investors go after higher-end Hong Kong property, they are helping boost prices in general, making it tougher for people simply looking for a place to live.

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Hong Kong property prices have continued to rise despite repeated attempts by the government to keep them in check. The average price of private residential property, according to government data, has been on an upward trend since 2009, save for dips during three quarters in 2011 and a very mild correction during 2013 after the government stepped up measures to cool property prices.

“In a development called Mont Vert by Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd., controlled by the city’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, apartments even smaller than 180 square feet last year prompted a flood of YouTube videos showing people using arm spans to measure the living area.”

Such price increases have put strains on buyers in many major cities, but nowhere is the squeeze greater than in Hong Kong. Demographia, a U.S. think tank, in a recent study comparing median incomes with median housing prices, ranked Hong Kong property as the least affordable in the world, with home prices on average 17 times annual income, well above the 10.6 for second-place Vancouver. New York ranked seventh, with a 6.1 ratio.

[Read the full story here, at WSJ]

Since 2007, incomes have risen about 42%, but home prices have soared 154%, according to a calculation of data provided by the Hong Kong government. Read the rest of this entry »


Creeping Censorship in Hong Kong: How China Controls Sale of Sensitive Books

Exhibitors arrange books at a booth at the annual Book Fair in Hong Kong Tuesday, July 18, 2006. Over 10,000 titles and showcased by 430 exhibitors, the Hong Kong Book Fair will open from July 19 to July 24. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Exhibitors arrange books at a booth at the annual Book Fair in Hong Kong Tuesday, July 18, 2006. Over 10,000 titles and showcased by 430 exhibitors, the Hong Kong Book Fair will open from July 19 to July 24. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

 

“Things have been changing dramatically in the last two years. Since Xi Jinping came to power, what was tolerated before is not tolerated any longer, in China or Hong Kong.”

 writes: The shop assistant is abrupt when the question comes.51fqsa-ubiL._SL250_

“We are not going to sell that one. Sorry,” he says, when asked for a copy of one of Hong Kong’s most eagerly searched-for books.

[Order Zhao Ziyang book “Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang” from Amazon.com]

And how about Zhao Ziyang’s bestselling Prisoner of the State – an explosive account of what happened behind the scenes during the pro-democracy protest of 1989 in Beijing?

“It might come back,” he says vaguely.

On the surface, there seems to be no censorship in Hong Kong. Unlike the mainland, the web is free, a wide range of newspapers is available, TV news covers demonstrations and protests, and nobody needs to apply for permission to print books.

Zhao Ziyang’s memoir, Prisoner of the State, about the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in 1989. Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP

Zhao Ziyang’s memoir about the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in 1989. Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP

“The pressure is on to stop Hong Kong people and mainlanders from reading unapproved books. When sales became harder, we started shipping books to individual customers in China. Nothing reached them. We tried through a courier in Shenzhen, but they stopped accepting books.”

“In 40 years, I know of only one book that has ever been stopped from distribution,” says Wong Sheung Wai, director of Greenfield Bookstore, a shop and distribution company, “and that was the Chinese translation of a guide to suicide.

“The real problem, though, is that our local government does not defend our autonomy. Rather, they lecture Hong Kong on how to behave to please the central authorities.”

“Taiwan translated it, but the Hong Kong authorities did not allow for it to be published and distributed here,” he says.

But mounting pressure from China to have greater control over what the Hong Kong public, and the Chinese tourists flocking there, read is creeping into this former British colony.

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“Even the three big chains are commercial interests, so they do try to sell what clients want. At times certain books disliked by the Chinese authorities will still be available, but hidden behind a counter, or piled up with the spine turned to the walls.”

Through a complex web of self-censorship, soft censorship and mainland economic control, bookshops and media outlets in the territory have been changing their tone or giving less coverage to topics that China deems sensitive.

[Read the full text here, at The Guardian]

A slow but steady “mainlandisation” of Hong Kong, a key factor in bringing tens of thousands of protesters to the streets during last year’s umbrella movement, has been changing the face of the publishing and book distribution industry, with fewer shops willing, or able, to sell books forbidden in China.

Rising property prices in the city mean few bookshops can afford ground-floor premises - except those backed by China’s official Liaison Office. Photograph: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images

Rising property prices in the city mean few bookshops can afford ground-floor premises – except those backed by China’s official Liaison Office. Photograph: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images

Booming real estate costs add to that problem.

“Readers’ numbers are going down everywhere, and nobody can afford a ground-floor bookshop unless they are backed by people with very deep pockets,” says one publishing industry insider.

“If you ask me what is the biggest problem that Hong Kong faces right now, it is the Liaison Office, and their growing involvement in Hong Kong’s affairs.”

— Alex Chow, one of the student leaders at last year’s protests

The three main local bookshop chains, with a total of 51 outlets, are controlled by the Liaison Office, Beijing’s official representation in Hong Kong, which, she adds, makes sure they only pay a nominal rent for their operations. Read the rest of this entry »


The Message is the Medium

Messaging Services Are Rapidly Growing Beyond Online Chat

“I PROPOSE, if and when found, to take him by his beastly neck, shake him till he froths, and pull him inside out and make him swallow himself.” It is not often that Silicon Valley’s denizens quote P.G. chat appsWodehouse. But this is what Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz, a venture-capital firm, expects the success of messaging services could do to both mobile and corporate software.

The most striking example so far of this process came on March 25th when Facebook announced at a conference in San Francisco that it has started to turn its Messenger service into a “platform” that can carry, and be integrated with, all manner of apps created by other software firms. So Facebook Messenger, which is itself an app for smartphones that run on Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems, will then be competing with those operating systems’ services for buying apps and downloads. In plain language, it could become the app that ate Apple’s app store.

The prospect may surprise those who thought messaging apps were just another way for teens to share this week’s tragic news about One Direction (a pop group, apparently). But their continuing explosive growth suggests that they will be a
lasting phenomenon. According to Flurry, a market-research firm, the total number of users grew by more than 100% last year (which explains why old-style text messages seem to have peaked, see chart). Together the ten biggest messaging 20150328_WBC665apps, which include KakaoTalk, Viber and WeChat, now boast more than 3 billion users. WhatsApp, the leader of the pack, alone has 700m—a big reason why Facebook last year paid $22 billion for the firm, despite continuing to develop its own Messenger app.

As the number of users has grown, specialised versions of messaging apps have emerged. What made Snapchat popular was the ability to exchange pictures that vanish after a few seconds (and often contain nudity). Secret, Whisper and Yik Yak let users remain anonymous (including bullies, unfortunately). Telegram stands out because of its strong encryption (making intelligence services unhappy). And FireChat works without cellular service: users’ phones communicate directly, which was a popular feature during recent protests in Hong Kong. Read the rest of this entry »


Taboo in Mainland Schools, Hong Kong Liberal Studies Make Beijing Officials Uneasy

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Officials in Hong Kong and Beijing fear that the unfettered freedom to discuss such topics in Hong Kong’s classrooms has helped breed a generation of unruly and unpatriotic youths

HONG KONG—Isabella Steger writes: High-school students in this city’s mandatory liberal studies class tackle issues that are strictly taboo in mainland Chinese schools—press freedom, civil disobedience and the rule of law.

“The biggest impact of liberal studies is that it encourages students to be much more aware of current affairs,” said Lo Yat-ko, a 30-year-old liberal studies teacher.

“In Hong Kong, we teach critical thinking, not like in China where they teach by indoctrination and memorizing”

— Ng Shun-wing, Hong Kong Institute of Education

That has become a big problem for some officials in Hong Kong and Beijing, who fear that the unfettered freedom to discuss such topics in Hong Kong’s classrooms has helped breed a generation of unruly and unpatriotic youths, and helped inspire the so-called Occupy pro-democracy protests that shook this semiautonomous Chinese city for 10 weeks late last year.

Excerpt: Lessons in Liberal Studies

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An excerpt from a liberal studies textbook explores the merits of street protests in Hong Kong. Photo: Longman New Senior Liberal Studies textbook

In the aftermath of those student-led protests, an education debate is once again brewing in Hong Kong. In November, the city’s Education Bureau launched a three-month review of the city’s school curriculum, the results of which will be announced in July.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said in his annual policy address last month that the government would change the current high-school curriculum, with an aim to “reinforce students’ interest in and understanding of Chinese history and culture.” Mr. Leung said the government will also subsidize students to participate in exchange programs with schools on the mainland.

His comments come two years after the Hong Kong government, at Beijing’s behest, attempted to introduce mandatory patriotic education in the city’s schools, drawing accusations of indoctrination and sparking widespread demonstrations that forced the government to back down.

The latest curriculum review risks reigniting a new round of protests, but the government’s resolve for an overhaul appears to have deepened. Hong Kong and Beijing officials have grown more outspoken over school subjects, such as liberal studies, that address controversial topics and emphasize critical analysis.

Excerpt 2: Lessons in Liberal Studies

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An excerpt from a liberal studies textbook discusses the differences between life in Hong Kong and mainland China. Photo: Longman New Senior Liberal Studies textbook

Such topics and teaching methods are off-limits in mainland Chinese schools, which place a more traditional emphasis on rote learning and shun current events that are sensitive to the Communist Party.

Chen Zuoer, former deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said last month that Hong Kong youth needed to have their thinking “repaired” as they have been “brainwashed.”

The problems in Hong Kong’s education system “have now become the seeds of bitter melons and poisonous beans,” said Mr. Chen at a seminar held by a think tank in Beijing, adding that some protesters who were “babies during the handover were…waving the British flag.”

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and has since operated under a separate political system that grants residents far greater freedoms than their mainland counterparts. But some people in the city worry that those freedoms are eroding. Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong Democracy Protests: A Journal of the Final Day

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Isabella Steger reports: Lunchtime strolls, camping gear and folding origami umbrellas in one of Hong Kong’s busiest thoroughfares will soon be a thing of the past.

As Hong Kong police prepare to clear the main occupied protest encampment in Admiralty on Thursday morning, thousands turned out to witness the final hours of the site, which pro-democracy protesters have occupied since Sept. 28.HK-painting

On Wednesday afternoon, a larger than usual crowd of office workers spent their lunch break at the Admiralty site, eating, taking photographs and talking politics.

“They have built up a good micro-community here. This is a place where people who support the democracy cause but who don’t necessarily align themselves with any political party can come together.”

— Jeff Cheung, 27, who works in nearby Central district

“They have built up a good micro-community here,” said Jeff Cheung, 27, who works in nearby Central district. “This is a place where people who support the democracy cause but who don’t necessarily align themselves with any political party can come together,” he added, eating a homemade salad with two friends in the so-called study area of the encampment, where volunteers built rows of desks for students to use.

Leaders of the two main student protest groups—The Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism— urged protesters to turn out Wednesday night for a last hurrah and to stay overnight if they could.

Joshua Wong, the 18-year-old leader of Scholarism, said he wouldn’t be at the front line during Thursday’s clearance operation because he needs to avoid being arrested again before his Jan. 14 court appearance. Mr. Wong was arrested in November during the clearance of the Mong Kok site. Read the rest of this entry »


Reality Check: CAIR = Hamas

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Jordan Schachtel writes: An FBI chart has surfaced depicting connections between the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. Obtained by the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the chart shows CAIR falling under the umbrella of the jihadi outfit.

This FBI chart details the Hamas-related groups, which included CAIR, that were created to ultimately support the Palestinian terrorist organization. It also established Nabil Sadoun’s (former CAIR national board of directors member and vice chairman) connections to Hamas.

The IPT also obtained groundbreaking new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents that trail CAIR back to its roots as a subversive Hamas-related group.

In 2007, CAIR was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) trial, a Hamas financing case that would result in the FBI ceasingits working relationship with CAIR. The HLF trial was the largest terror-financing case in American history. In 2008, during a retrial of the HLF case, an FBI Special Agent labeled CAIR as “a front group for Hamas” during her trial testimony. In 2010, a federal judge reiterated that his court had “ample evidence” that CAIR wasinvolved in “a conspiracy to support Hamas.” CAIR, which relies upon millions of dollars in Saudi cash, was recently listed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a terrorist organization.

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IPT FOIA

The group, which fashions itself as a civil rights voice for American Muslims, was founded by members of the Palestine Committee (PALCOM), an organization “established to support Hamas,” according to the chart. Nihad Awad, currently CAIR’s executive director, was previously an official at PALCOM.

The FBI declaration submitted in connection with removal proceedings for Nabil Sadoun (a former top CAIR official) said PALCOM members used coded language to discuss the “true nature” of their clandestine operations in support of Hamas. Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong Democracy Protesters Take to the Streets Ahead of a Crucial Reform Bill

TOPSHOTS A pro-democracy demonstrator gestures after police fired tear gas towards protesters near the Hong Kong government headquarters on September 28, 2014. Police fired tear gas as tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators brought parts of central Hong Kong to a standstill on September 28, in a dramatic escalation of protests that have gripped the semi-autonomous Chinese city for days. AFP PHOTO / XAUME OLLEROS        (Photo credit should read XAUME OLLEROS/AFP/Getty Images)

Thousands march on the legislature to demand a freer vote

Joanna Plucinska reports: Nine months after the Umbrella Revolution began, pro-democracy protesters again took to the streets of Hong Kong to demand a say in the way the city’s leader is elected in polls slated for 2017.

“We’re not North Korea, we know what freedom is.”

— Carol Lo, a protester at Sunday’s rally

A crowd of 2,000 to 3,000 people—workers and families as well as students and democracy activists—marched on Sunday afternoon from Victoria Park, a traditional gathering place for protests, to the legislature buildings downtown. Many carried yellow umbrellas—adopted as the symbol of Hong Kong’s democracy movement after protesters took to carrying them during last year’s unrest to protect themselves from police pepper spray.

Riot police use tear gas against protesters after thousands of people blocked a main road at the financial central district in Hong Kong, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. Hong Kong police used tear gas on Sunday and warned of further measures as they tried to clear thousands of pro-democracy protesters gathered outside government headquarters in a challenge to Beijing over its decision to restrict democratic reforms for the city. (AP Photo) HONG KONG OUT

Riot police use tear gas against protesters after thousands of people blocked a main road at the financial central district in Hong Kong, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. Hong Kong police used tear gas on Sunday and warned of further measures as they tried to clear thousands of pro-democracy protesters gathered outside government headquarters in a challenge to Beijing over its decision to restrict democratic reforms for the city. (AP Photo) HONG KONG

Others carried signs that read “Citizens Against Pseudo-Universal Suffrage,” declaring their opposition to the form of democracy described in a political reform bill to be voted on by the city’s legislature on June 17. That bill will allow the central government in Beijing, and a 1,200 member electoral college composed mostly of pro-establishment figures, to vet all candidates for the position of Chief Executive, as the city’s top official is known. Similarly unrepresentative electoral methods helped to spark last fall’s Umbrella Revolution, and protesters are once again demanding broader political rights.

“I’m a genuine citizen of Hong Kong, I’m not from China. Most people from China are after money, but I’m after truth.”

— Protester and Uber driver Chao Sang

“We’re not North Korea, we know what freedom is,” said Carol Lo, 35, a protester at Sunday’s rally and a parent of a 9-year-old girl. Lo voiced fears for the political future of Hong Kong’s next generation: “How will [my daughter] survive, if this situation gets worse and worse?” she said.

Policemen rest following pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong on September 29, 2014.  Police fired tear gas as tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators brought parts of central Hong Kong to a standstill in a dramatic escalation of protests that have gripped the semi-autonomous Chinese city for days.    AFP PHOTO / XAUME OLLEROS        (Photo credit should read XAUME OLLEROS/AFP/Getty Images)

Policemen rest following pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong on September 29, 2014. Police fired tear gas as tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators brought parts of central Hong Kong to a standstill in a dramatic escalation of protests that have gripped the semi-autonomous Chinese city for days.  XAUME OLLEROS/AFP/Getty Images)

Another protester, Uber driver Chao Sang, voiced the growing tendency of many Hong Kongers to see themselves as politically, linguistically and culturally separate from mainland Chinese. “I’m a genuine citizen of Hong Kong, I’m not from China,” he told TIME. “Most people from China are after money, but I’m after truth.” Read the rest of this entry »


Analysis: Hong Kong is Less Competitive, Thanks to the Heavy Hand of China

 and  write: For the first time in a decade, Hong Kong no longer tops the list of competitive cities in China, and its due to the stifling hand of the Chinese regime, commentators note.

 “On the surface, Hong Kong’s economy is in the hands of the mainlanders.”

— Canada-based political commentator Meng Tianyu

According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ recently released Blue Book on Urban Competitiveness—a survey of 294 China cities, Taiwan included—Hong Kong now ranks number two, falling behind its neighbor just across the border in mainland China, the metropolis Shenzhen.

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“If this situation continues and Hong Kong loses its judicial advantages, its financial and information center position would inevitably disappear. Hong Kong, the well-known Pearl of the Orient, would be gone.”

Epoch Times Hong Kong branch president Ms. Guo Jun

The survey report claims Shenzhen topped Hong Kong, a bustling international financial hub and former British colony, because the mainland city better backed innovation—in 2014, Shenzhen government spent 4.05 percent of its gross domestic production supporting its innovation and technology sector compared to Hong Kong’s 0.73 percent.

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The report also said Hong Kong’s standing was affected by last year’s student-led Occupy protests. From the end of September to mid December, hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers held three areas of the city to protest a restrictive Beijing diktat on political reform in Hong Kong.

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ ranking is suspect, writes Canada-based political commentator Meng Tianyu in her regular column for the Chinese-language Epoch Times. But Meng says Hong Kong has been slipping as a competitive place to do business since 1997—the year the Chinese regime assumed sovereignty over Hong Kong from the British.

Economically, Hongkongers have been overtaken by mainlanders, Meng says, citing the increased Chinese shares in Hong Kong’s real estate, finances, power, construction and stock market. Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong Students Surround Government Offices

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Police Use Pepper Spray, Batons to Stop Protesters’ Advance

HONG KONG—Isabella Steger, Biman Mukherji and Phred Dvorak reporting: Police deployed pepper spray and used batons to push back thousands of protesters trying to block government offices, the latest escalation of the pro-democracy movement that entered its third month with no signs of resolution.

“We will continue our fight for democracy. We will keep up the pressure on the government.”

— Oscar Lai, a spokesman for Scholarism

The Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism, the two groups leading the demonstrations, called on crowds assembled at a protest site to surround the central government offices and the office of the chief executive, the city’s top official, aiming to block government workers from entering Monday morning. Early Monday, police beat back the crowds and cleared the road outside the chief executive’s office. At least 40 people were arrested, police said.

The HKFS stressed that protesters should stay peaceful and not use force. The student groups asked protesters to bring umbrellas, goggles, masks, food supplies and helmets to Sunday’s assembly, to protect themselves in case police responded with pepper spray or tear gas.

After the call to surround the government offices, protesters filled the roads around the complex where the buildings and Hong Kong legislature are located, skirmishing in some areas with police who used pepper spray and batons to stop their advance. Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Protesters Not Allowed to Board Flight to Beijing

Alex-Chow

HONG KONG — Isabella Steger reports: Members of a student protest group who planned to take their demands for democracy in Hong Kong to the Chinese capital weren’t allowed to board a flight to Beijing on Saturday.

Four members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, who have been at the forefront of pro-democracy protests that have gone on for more than 40 days in the city, were unable to board their Cathay Pacific flight.

Representatives of the group said the airline denied boarding to Alex Chow, who leads the student group, Nathan Law, Eason Chung and Jeffrey Tsang, because they received notification that the students’ entry permits had been voided.

About 100 pro-democracy protesters went to Hong Kong’s airport to send the students off, carrying yellow umbrellas and singing protest anthems. Read the rest of this entry »


EXCLUSIVE: Hong Kong Democracy Demonstrations, Day 17 — The Empire (sort of) Strikes Back (Hong Kong Style)

Starting this morning, Hong Kong police executed an operation to clear street barricades on Queensway Road and other major arteries in Hong Kong.  It’s unclear to me how the clearing has gone in Causeway Bay and on Nathan Road on the Kowloon side. But in the Admiralty district immediately in front of my office, I’ve been taking periodic trips downstairs to see and photograph the police work methodically all morning and into the afternoon to push protesters back out of the road and systematically dismantle and clear the barricades they had built.

I saw NO violence.  The vast majority of the police wore empty holsters — only very senior officers carried their sidearms.  No riot weapons (shotguns, tear gas grenade launchers) were evident, but other riot gear was visible — small clear plastic shields and helmets (although none of the police were wearing helmets).

A few students were standing on the sidelines weeping, while others had pulled back to the barricades that protected the approaches to the main protest site in front of the government offices, a block away.  Police were making no attempt to clear those barriers.  During one phase of the clearing, the police formed a cordon to allow protesters to retrieve their tents and other personal items from the underpass where they’d been camping.

At one key point along Queensway, students were sitting in the streets leading to the main road.  A line of police standing at the edge of Queensway faced off against this group to keep the students from moving back into the main road.  As of now (1:30 PM Hong Kong time) that is the only large group of police still present on the main road.  I suspect this may stay this way to keep the protesters from trying to re-block Queensway.

All of this was done in what I think of as “Hong Kong style:” Compared to anywhere else in the world (including definitely anywhere else in China), everyone was incredibly polite on both sides, there were a minimum of raised voices, and the police force was professional and outright courteous to the protesters and curious passersby and people who work in the area who had to navigate the work of barricade clearing that was underway all along the road. I saw no arrests and have heard of none.  I spoke with one police officer who told me that no arrests were planned.  The entire operation was very well organized and executed in a very efficient manner — typical Hong Kong.

Now the big question is how the pro-democracy demonstrators will react.  Over the last week or so, they have proved themselves to be a largely leaderless movement.  Will they try to move back onto the main roads and block them again?  If they do, I fear they may lose significant popular support — and that the police response might not be so polite next time.

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Police blockade of area where protesters had encamped under a road crossing.

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Police line blocking access to the protester camp under a road crossing on Queensway.

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Police lines blocked access to the blockade-clearing operation.

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Police carried out the clearing operation with precision and . . . politeness.

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After yesterday’s tense confrontation with the “Antis,” the protesters had reinforced their barricades with bamboo fencing. That didn’t last long.

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Police cordon through which protesters retrieved personal items left at their encampment when the clearing operation had begun earlier in the morning.

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Exclusive PunditCam aerial view of police action on Queensway.

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Police line opposite students sitting in access road.

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Police and democracy demonstrators face off at the edge of Queensway.

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By early afternoon, a few umbrellas are all that was left of the protester encampment in front of the Bank of China Tower.

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Students pushed out of the encampment discussing their next steps.

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Demonstrators at one of the barricade sites still surrounding the main protest area in front of the central government office.

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The main protest site was undisturbed.


China and Taiwan: Beijing’s Hong Kong Blunder Derails ‘One China’ Dream

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A Model to Bring Back Taiwan Into Beijing’s Fold Turns Into a Negative Example

HONG KONG — Andrew Browne writes: For modern Chinese leaders, no mission carries more patriotic importance than realizing the dream of “One China.”

“As prospects for political accommodation between China and Taiwan evaporate, expect tensions to increase.”

Deng Xiaoping saw Hong Kong as an opportunity to win over hearts and minds in Taiwan, the greatest and most elusive part of that vision. Freewheeling Hong Kong was the opportunity to show a model that could work: “One Country, Two Systems.”

Photo: Pundit Planet Hong Kong Bureau

Photo: Pundit Planet Hong Kong Bureau

If China could take over and preserve Hong Kong’s existing capitalist system and way of life, the thinking went, it would demonstrate to Taiwan “compatriots” that their future, too, would be secure under Communist rule.

President Xi Jinping is now watching as prospects of Taiwan returning to the embrace of the motherland recede into a far distant future, as parts of Hong Kong remain paralyzed by pro-democracy protests.

“By Beijing’s own calculation, Hong Kong was the key to bringing Taiwan back into the fold.”

Although it isn’t apparent from the rhetoric coming out of Beijing, one of the most significant outcomes of the rallies in Hong Kong over the past weeks has been to further diminish whatever was left of the hope that China could achieve the reunification of Taiwan and its 23 million people.

Photo: Pundit Planet Hong Kong Bureau

Photo: Pundit Planet Hong Kong Bureau

The implications of this may not be felt immediately, but they could be far-reaching over time. Behind Beijing’s stated wish for “peaceful reunification” is the threat to use force if necessary. That keeps the Taiwan Strait as a potential flash point for conflict between China and the U.S., Taiwan’s main arms supplier and international supporter.

“Now, Mr. Xi confronts simultaneous challenges from two sets of students in Taiwan and Hong Kong…”

As prospects for political accommodation between China and Taiwan evaporate, expect tensions to increase.

By Beijing’s own calculation, Hong Kong was the key to bringing Taiwan back into the fold.

Photo: Pundit Planet Hong Kong Bureau

Photo: Pundit Planet Hong Kong Bureau

Its return was relatively straightforward: It fell back into China’s arms because a British lease over the main part of its territory expired in 1997. Taiwan, a self-governing island, would have to be persuaded through powerful example.

“Worse, the groups are finding common cause: Leaders of the Sunflower Movement have been sharing street tactics and negotiating skills with those running the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong.”

For a while it looked promising, but for many Taiwanese, Hong Kong is now a negative example—proof that China won’t tolerate genuine democracy, can’t be trusted to deliver on its promises of autonomy and lacks the flexibility needed to manage a sophisticated population and their political aspirations.

Taiwan has even more to lose since it is an independent country in all but name, with an already-flourishing democracy.

Photo: Pundit Planet Hong Kong Bureau

Photo: Pundit Planet Hong Kong Bureau

“Hong Kong Today, Taiwan Tomorrow,” has become a slogan of the student-led Sunflower Movement in Taiwan, which engulfed Taipei in protests earlier this year against a proposed free-trade agreement with Beijing. Opponents argue the arrangement would make the island dangerously vulnerable to economic coercion from the mainland. Read the rest of this entry »


Keep Hong Kong’s Window Open

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Journalists covering the protests include some who have been expelled from China amid crackdowns

renocol_GordonCrovitzOct. 5, 2014 5:03 p.m. ET, L. Gordon Crovitz writes: Information has been the main currency of Hong Kong since colonial days, when word reached mainland Chinese that if they escaped to “touch base” in Hong Kong, they would get refuge under British rule. Hong Kong became Asia’s first global city thanks to hardworking immigrants who made the most of their open trade, English legal system and free speech.

“By breaking the promise that Hong Kong can select its own government, China’s current rulers are violating clear obligations.”

Hong Kong protesters are driven by hope that a leader selected by Hong Kong voters—as Beijing promised for 2017 before it reneged—can protect their way of life. But as the Communist Party narrows freedoms on the mainland, Deng Xiaoping ’s “one country, two systems” formulation for the 1997 handover entails a widening gap between life in Hong Kong and the rest of China. Without a government to represent them, Hong Kong people had no better choice than to take to the streets.

Exclusive: punditfromanotherplanet Hong Kong Bureau

Exclusive: punditfromanotherplanet Hong Kong Bureau

“This year has seen unprecedented physical attacks on journalists in Hong Kong, presumably at Beijing’s behest. China extorted advertising boycotts of pro-democracy publishers in Hong Kong. It forced critical bloggers to close down.”

Mainland China is in an era of brutal suppression. Beijing jails reformers, controls journalists and employs hundreds of thousands of censors on social media. Twitter Facebook , YouTube and many global news sites are blocked. Instagram was closed down after mainlanders shared photos of Hong Kong people using umbrellas against pepper spray and tear gas.

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“Hong Kong’s fate is to be the world’s window on an unpredictable China. “

As a financial capital, Hong Kong cannot survive without open access to information. It has more newspapers than any other city in the world. It’s been a window on China since the communist revolution. An unintended consequence of Beijing’s recent crackdown is that expelled foreign journalists now operate from Hong Kong, delivering news of the protests.

Exclusive: punditfromanotherplanet Hong Kong Bureau

Exclusive: punditfromanotherplanet Hong Kong Bureau

Google searches from China are routed to Hong Kong servers so that results can be delivered uncensored

The Wall Street Journal’s first overseas edition was launched in Hong Kong in 1976. A running joke among Journal opinion writers is that it’s the only place in the world where our free-market, free-people beliefs are mainstream. Google searches from China are routed to Hong Kong servers so that results can be delivered uncensored. Read the rest of this entry »


EXCLUSIVE: Hong Kong Democracy Demonstrations Day 7 — More Scenes and Signs

Last night the local press was full of reports of scuffles and fights breaking out between demonstrators and groups of men — civilians, not police — who were confronting them in the blockade of Nathan Road on the Kowloon side of the harbour.  This neighborhood is far more “blue collar” than the posh areas on the island (where I live) that have been blocked.  Some of those attacking the students have been confirmed to be men with “triad” backgrounds.  The triads are Hong Kong organized crime gangs that are the analog of the Japanese yakuza or the US mafia.  The demonstrators believe the triads have been hired by Beijing’s secret police to create provocations and bad press — to give the impression of popular opposition to the student movement.  Police finally stepped in and calmed things down, but the pro-Beijing commenters are out in force on Hong Kong news websites citing the incidents as evidence of popular, grassroots opposition to the street blockades.

A Saturday stroll through the Central/Admiralty barricades to the blockaded government complex revealed significantly reinforced barriers across the roads, and a still impressive number of protesters in front of the main government building.  Periodic rain squalls and a week on the streets haven’t undermined what looks like a committed core of activists who seem to give no indication of abandoning their blockades of main roads in Hong Kong.

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An unmanned barricade on the far western edge of the Central demonstration area in front of the famous Mandarin Oriental hotel. A close look reveals that the demonstrators are now using stout zip ties and plastic wrap to make it impossible to clear the barricades quickly.

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The westernmost manned outpost in Central — a small, lonely encampment.

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A rare sight in 21st century Hong Kong — a phone booth. It bore a few notes from the protesters.

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There are lots of puns and plenty of wordplay in both English and Chinese throughout the site — although what is clever in one language is just straightforward in the other.

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One of Hong Kong’s busiest roads remained a pedestrian walkway on the seventh day of the demonstrations.

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The ubiquitous umbrella combined with the 5-petaled flower symbol of Hong Kong.

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“We want genuine universal suffrage” “Hongkongers supporting Hongkongers”

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“Hong Kong” “Hope”

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Hongkongers making the pilgrimage along the blocked freeway to the main demonstration site has become a regular outing.

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Clearly there are some engineering students among the protesters.

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Cresting the top of the overpass (“flyover” in Hong Kong’s UK-influenced English), the view of the main center of the demonstration.

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Demonstrators have settled into life on the streets.

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“689” is code for CY Leung — the number of votes the governor received from the Beijing-controlled electoral council.

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A wall covered with post-it notes containing answers to the question “Why are we here” is a magnet for the press and visiting locals.

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“Occupy Central” is (was?) the name of a semi-organized group of opposition political figures. The students have been out ahead of “OC” all through this process, for good or ill.

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The Chinese is a clever pun on the word for “patriotism” — the meaning is “sorrowful for my country.”

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“The people of Hong Kong thank you.”

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A comment on the people who attacked protesters in Kowloon last night.

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The gate to the main entrance to the government complex — now covered in yellow ribbons and protest signs.

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Although the average age of the protesters seems to be somewhere around 20, it isn’t hard to find groups like this — who in more normal times might be doing tai chi in Hong Kong Park.

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A van delivering hot meals to the protesters.


Hong Kong Protests Hit 2.3 Million in Tweets

Hong-Kong-nevergiveup

Maya Pope-Chappell reports: There have been more than 2.3 million tweets related to the protests in Hong Kong since Sept. 27, according to Twitter data.

Though talk of the protests is still abuzz on the social network, the number of tweets has waned since Sunday’s crackdown by police, which saw more than 700 tweets per minute about the protests.

[More: How the protests unfolded on Twitter]

As photos of protesters using umbrellas to protect themselves against pepper spray and tear gas spread, the movement took on the name “Umbrella Revolution,” which also began appearing as a hashtag on Twitter and in Western media. Read the rest of this entry »


EXCLUSIVE: Hong Kong Democracy Demonstrations — Night 4

The leading English language paper in Hong Kong is reporting that “leaders” of the student demonstrators have set a deadline of tomorrow for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive (basically, the governor), C.Y. Leung, to resign.  If he doesn’t, they say they’ll start to “occupy” government buildings:

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I assume that if this happens, things may well turn ugly again, as they did on the first night when riot police fired tear gas into the crowd and sprayed the students with pepper spray.

But tonight, in the middle of the two-day National Day holiday (ironically, celebrating the 65th anniverary of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China), the crowds at the Central/Admiralty district site swelled and an almost carnival-like atmosphere prevailed:

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Hongkongers have donated thousands of umbrellas to the demonstrators. The movement has come to be known as the “Umbrella Revolution,” because the students used umbrellas to protect themselves from pepper spray on the first night.

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Pictures of C.Y. Leung taped to the street.

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Many of the students have been on site for days.

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This young lady was drawing caricatures of her companions.

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Although the majority of Hongkongers are Cantonese-speaking Chinese, Hong Kong is a multi-ethnic city and many groups had signs expressing solidarity.

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Signs along the blocked freeway’s guardrails in many languages expressed support for the demonstrators.

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The iconic Bank of China Tower provides a backdrop to one high spot favored by photographers capturing the throng.

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The sea of people jammed into the road in front of the central government offices.

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Distribution of supplies continues to improve. Stations like this are common throughout the area.

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The pedestrian overpass leading to the central government building is festooned with pro-democracy banners and slogans urging Hongkongers to maintain their resolve.

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Volunteers press water bottles and food on people passing along the main walkway through the heart of the demonstration.

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Volunteers man a spot set aside for crossing over the concrete barriers on either side of the blocked road.

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A sea of lights as the crowd waves their cell phones.

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You can just make out the cell phone lights through the crowd.

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Many posters used the umbrella motif.

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C.Y. Leung is a popular subject of protest art work.

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The first aid area I spotted a couple of days ago has grown into a well-manned clinic.


EXCLUSIVE: Hong Kong Democracy Demonstrations Day 1.5

I call it “Day 1.5” because what’s really happened here is that student protests grew beyond anyone’s anticipation last night.  The student pro-democracy movement has had a completely different dynamic and wasn’t formally allied with the “official” Occupy Central movement or any of the political actors who are known under the general rubric of “Pan-Democrats.”  The students crowded too close to a couple of major government facilities last night and the police fired tear gas into them.  This brought out lots of Hongkongers in support who hadn’t been participating before, and forced the hand of the “adults” in Occupy and the Pan-Democrats to move up their plans for demonstrations on October 1 and 2 — the Chinese National Day holidays.

At noon I took a different route around the western edge of the barricaded area, and ended up getting a much better view from above of the main body of the demonstrators directly in front of the central government office.  On the way there, I paid a visit to the People Liberation Army’s main barracks on Hong Kong island — which just happens to be a block away from where the demonstrators are blocking access to the central government building.

Also, a note about “Occupy Central” — one of the organizing groups.  The choice of the “Occupy” name is unfortunate, because the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong has very little in common with the unfocused and disorganized “Occupy Wall Street” thing and its mutant progeny in various Western cities.  The Hong Kong “Occupy” group is not a vague anti-corporate, leftist gesture, as Occupy Wall Street was.  The issues here are real and focused — rule of law and actual democracy (not some vague invocation of “the 99%”).

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One of the blockades on the western edge of the protest zone. In the outlying areas, the demonstrators seem to have posted just a few people to block traffic.

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Main entrance to the PLA barracks, just a block from the center of the demonstration in Central/Admiralty (there are others in Wan Chai and Kowloon districts). Nothing menacing seemed to be going on and there was less security in this particular spot than I saw back in August when things were cranking up.

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Tamar Park — just north of the now-blocked central government building. The sign and facilities are set up for a celebration of the 65th anniversary of the Peoples Republic of China on October 1st. One wonders what will come of that now.

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Shots of main center of demonstrators immediately in front of central government building.

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Shots of main center of demonstrators immediately in front of central government building.

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Shots of main center of demonstrators immediately in front of central government building.

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Shots of main center of demonstrators immediately in front of central government building.

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Support for things like water and basic shelter (umbrellas) seemed ad hoc, but also seemed to be building up.

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Support for things like water and basic shelter (umbrellas) seemed ad hoc, but also seemed to be building up.

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Support for things like water and basic shelter (umbrellas) seemed ad hoc, but also seemed to be building up.

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Support for things like water and basic shelter (umbrellas) seemed ad hoc, but also seemed to be building up.


Gut Check: Greg Answers Questions While Drinking Lots of Wine

Hell comes in small steps. And before you know it you're there.

“Hell comes in small steps. And before you know it you’re there.”

Breitbart NewsWhat do conservatives have to do to resonate with young people?

GG: They have to explain, succinctly, why their stuff works. And you have to do it with humor, minus jargon, minus anger. Freedom is fun. It’s not shrill.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Politics of Loss

 the politics of deciding who loses what, and when and how, is upon us. Neither party yet fully understands the implications of this shift

The politics of deciding who loses what, and when and how, is upon us. Neither party yet fully understands the implications of this shift

Jay Cost writes:  When political scientist Harold Lasswell, writing in the mid-1930s, defined politics as the decisions society makes about “who gets what, when, and how,” he might as well have been describing the debate over taxes and spending in the United States today. But what happens when the focus of the political debate changes from who gets what to who loses what? This concept is unfamiliar to Americans, who have enjoyed more than 100 years of (mostly) uninterrupted economic growth. Read the rest of this entry »


Syria’s Rebels Turn on Each Other (Like That’s a Bad Thing)

Molhem Barakat / Reuters Free Syrian Army fighters call out to forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Assad, urging them to defect, as another fighter stands guard in the old city of Aleppo on Sept. 1, 2013

Molhem Barakat / Reuters

Aryn Baker writes: Ongoing clashes between rival groups within the armed opposition intensified in Syria’s Aleppo province this past week following protests against the heavy-handed tactics of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Infighting among rebels could spell trouble for an opposition movement seemingly on the wane, but it could also present an opportunity. If the moderate-leaning rebel groups can sever their symbiotic relationship with their al-Qaeda affiliates for good, they stand to get significantly more support from Western backers wary of inadvertently assisting old enemies. But it won’t be easy — even as the rivals battle for turf in Aleppo province, they have united to inflict a resounding defeat on government forces elsewhere in the country. Read the rest of this entry »


The History and Psychology of Clowns Being Scary

You aren’t alone in your fear of makeup-clad entertainers; people have been frightened by clowns for centuries

By Linda Rodriguez McRobbie via Smithsonian.com

There’s a word— albeit one not recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary or any psychology manual— for the excessive fear of clowns: Coulrophobia.

Not a lot of people actually suffer from a debilitating phobia of clowns; a lot more people, however, just don’t like them. Do a Google search for “I hate clowns” and the first hit is ihateclowns.com, a forum for clown-haters that also offers vanity @ihateclowns.com emails. One “I Hate Clowns” Facebook page has just under 480,000 likes. Some circuses have held workshops to help visitors get over their fear of clowns by letting them watch performers transform into their clown persona. In Sarasota, Florida, in 2006, communal loathing for clowns took a criminal turn when dozens of fiberglass clown statues—part of a public art exhibition called “Clowning Around Town” and a nod to the city’s history as a winter haven for traveling circuses—were defaced, their limbs broken, heads lopped off, spray-painted; two were abducted and we can only guess at their sad fates.

Even the people who are supposed to like clowns—children—supposedly don’t. In 2008, a widely reported University of Sheffield, England, survey of 250 children between the ages of four and 16 found that most of the children disliked and even feared images of clowns. The BBC’s report on the study featured a child psychologist who broadly declared, “Very few children like clowns. They are unfamiliar and come from a different era. They don’t look funny, they just look odd.”

But most clowns aren’t trying to be odd. They’re trying to be silly and sweet, fun personified. So the question is, when did the clown, supposedly a jolly figure of innocuous, kid-friendly entertainment, become so weighed down by fear and sadness? When did clowns become so dark?

Maybe they always have been…

Read the rest of this entry »