“HONG KONG — Pay attention to Hong Kong. The three months of protests here speak volumes about the state of democracy today — how the human quest for freedom can’t be snuffed out, even by the most powerful autocratic systems, and how hard it is to turn that quest into lasting change in the age of Twitter when everyone is a leader, a follower, a broadcaster and a critic, and compromise becomes nearly impossible.
Yes, Hong Kong reminds us that people — God bless them — have both bodies and souls. And the great mistake that autocrats regularly make is thinking that they can thrive indefinitely by feeding just the first and not the second.
While the Hong Kong protests have been fed by many grievances, including income gaps and shortages of affordable housing, the hot molten lava of this volcano is that many Hong Kongers self-identify as free men and women and they viscerally reject the ruling bargain the Communist Party has imposed on mainland China and would like to impose on Hong Kong: To get rich is glorious, but to speak your mind is dangerous.
Why do Hong Kongers feel compelled to assert their identity as a free people now? It’s because anyone who visited China over the last 30 years knows that it is so much more open today than it was three decades ago — and it is so much more closed today than it was five years ago.”
David Lindsay: Thomas Friedman is on to something. There are flaws in the piece, which are exposed in the NYT Comments, but his general idea is sound, and disturbing. I worry that the people of Hong Kong are in deep trouble, and hope they negotiate with some care to manage the greedy dragon which is Communist China.
“Despite my best efforts to move beyond it, I have been thinking of my lost home since the eruption of the most recent crisis in Kashmir. I was born a Hindu in Kashmir, as was almost everyone in my family, for probably thousands of years. My parents decided to move abroad for work opportunities in the early 1980s, really so that they could gather funds to build their dream house in Srinagar.
We spent every summer and holiday, probably four to five months a year, in Kashmir. I was born in Habba Kadal, a neighborhood in central Srinagar, its maze of streets lined with narrow, four-story wooden houses.
My parents built their house in the suburban area of Natipora, which at the time had open fields, fresh air and an unobstructed view of the Himalayas. We gently, by hand, carried home china, linens and decorative items for the house. We clambered over rocks and beams at the construction site, watched them polish the terrazzo, proud and excited for our return.
I split time between there and my maternal grandparents’ house, or “matamaal,” in a verdant central Srinagar area, where I was the first of eight grandchildren, doted on by a boisterous extended family. I could draw you a detailed architectural map of both homes. I remember the hidden staircase to the roof at matamaal, the heavy curtains I wrapped around myself, until I dislodged a family of mice.
Afternoons cleaning string beans and corn from the vegetable patch. The time my mother told me not to play badminton in the evening, and it got so dark that I smacked a shrieking bat instead of the shuttlecock. I woke up once in the middle of the night and saw a bear dancing on its hind legs on the lawn. Nobody believes me about this one, but it happened.
After one of many picnics in Pahalgam, a hill town so picturesque you can see it in every Bollywood movie, I was halfway through a tourist-trap horse ride before realizing a pound of chocolate-covered walnuts was too many.
This is all to say: Have you ever heard people talk about how incredible Kashmir was? How beautiful, how peaceful? “Paradise on Earth” is the cliché, right? It was absolutely all of that, no exaggeration. To my 9-year-old self, it was the most magical, joyful place in the world.”
“MELBOURNE, Australia — As the police deploy tear gas against protesters on the streets of Hong Kong, another battle is raging less visibly: the one for narrative control. After weeks of asserting that the unrest had been orchestrated by foreign “black hands,” Chinese officials on Monday accused protesters of showing the first signs of “terrorism.” Such messaging is key to Beijing’s public opinion operation, which has been turned up to full volume.
The weapons of this information war include a flood of social media posts from state-run media, some carrying misinformation. When a woman dispensing first aid was shot in the eye by the Hong Kong police, the state-run CCTV reported on its official social media account that she had been shot by protesters. It also accused her of handing out money to demonstrators. Chinese readers are unlikely to question the veracity of such an authoritative source, and CCTV’s Weibo post, which says the movement is slandering the Hong Kong police by blaming them for the injury, has been liked more than 700,000 times.
Chinese people living or studying overseas are another important audience for Beijing’s messaging. Their primary news diet is largely delivered via WeChat, a Chinese chat app where messages are subject to censorship, so they often still fall within Beijing’s propaganda orbit. Recent pictures of an American diplomat meeting two activists, Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, were used to bolster Beijing’s claims of hostile foreign forces backing the protests. On Tuesday, scenes of a Chinese state media worker being tied up at the airport and beaten by young protesters flooded Chinese social media, bolstering calls for Beijing to intervene militarily in Hong Kong.”
“I was glad to see the stock market get a boost from the news that Chinese and U.S. trade negotiators were talking again and that President Trump blinked a bit and pulled some of his planned tariffs.
But don’t be fooled. Trump and President Xi Jinping of China are still locked in a cage match over who is the true big dog in today’s global economy. Both are desperate not only to “win,” but to be seen to win, and not be subjected to the scorn of their rivals or critics on social media.
Precisely because neither leader feels he can afford that fate, both have overplayed their hands. Xi basically believes that nothing has to change — and all can be made to stay the same by the force of his will. Trump basically believes that everything has to change — and all can be made to change by the force of his will.
The rest of us are just along for the ride.
Let’s look at both men’s calculations and miscalculations. Trump was right in arguing that America should not continue to tolerate systemic abusive Chinese trade practices — intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers, huge government subsidies and nonreciprocal treatment of U.S. companies in China — now that China is virtually America’s technology equal and a rising middle-income country.”
Japan and South Korea stir up an old, odd rivalry.
By Ian Buruma
Mr. Buruma is a writer and a professor at Bard College.
“In a rational world, South Korea and Japan ought to be the best of friends. Their cultures and languages are closely linked. Their economies are deeply entangled. And as the only liberal democracies in East Asia (along with Taiwan), they have to contend with the threat of North Korean belligerence and Chinese domination.
But the world is not so rational, and so the two American allies have recently become engaged in a flaming economic row, ostensibly sparked by historical wrongs. Late last year, the South Korean Supreme Court ruled that Japanese companies should compensate Koreans who were forced to work in Japanese factories and mines during World War II. Assets of major Japanese companies, such as Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, have been seized in South Korea, and they could soon be sold. The Japanese government protested that this matter had already been resolved in 1965, when the two countries reached an agreement claiming to settle “completely and finally” all colonial-era claims in exchange for financial aid and loans from Japan worth $500 million.
“In the United States, the most popular last name is Smith. As per the 2010 census, about 0.8 percent of Americans have it. In Vietnam, the most popular last name is Nguyen. The estimate for how many people answer to it? Somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the country’s population. The 14 most popular last names in Vietnam account for well over 90 percent of the population. The 14 most popular last names in the US? Fewer than 6 percent.
In the U.S., an immigrant country, last names are hugely important. They can indicate where you’re from, right down to the village; the profession of a relative deep in your past; how long it’s been since your ancestors emigrated; your religion; your social status.
Nguyen doesn’t indicate much more than that you are Vietnamese. Someone with the last name Nguyen is going to have basically no luck tracing their heritage back beyond a generation or two, will not be able to use search engines to find out much of anything about themselves.”
Protesters faced off against the police in Hong Kong on Wednesday.CreditDale De La Rey/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
“Imagine if in 2018 the Trump administration had proposed legislation that would allow the government, on nearly any pretext, to detain, try and imprison Americans accused of wrongdoing at secretive black sites scattered across the country.
Imagine, further, that 43 million Americans had risen in protest, only to be met by tear gas and rubber bullets while Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan rushed the bill through a pliant Congress. Finally, imagine that there was no effective judiciary ready to stop the bill and uphold the Constitution.
That, approximately, is what’s happening this week in Hong Kong.
An estimated one million people — nearly one in seven city residents — have taken to the streets to protest legislation that would allow local officials to arrest and extradite to the mainland any person accused of one of 37 types of crime. Political offenses are, in theory, excluded from the list, but nobody is fooled: Contriving criminal charges against political opponents is child’s play for Beijing, which can then make its victims disappear indefinitely until they are brought to heel.
In 2015, mainland authorities abducted five Hong Kong booksellersknown for selling politically sensitive titles and held them in solitary confinement for months until they pleaded guilty to various offenses. In 2017 Chinese billionaire Xiao Jianhua was abducted by Chinese authorities from the Four Seasons in Hong Kong. He hasn’t been seen publicly since, while his company is being stripped of its holdings.”
“On June 3, after my proposal to retreat from the square had been overruled by other student leaders, I went back to my university dorm to rest. Friends phoned me late that night with the news that soldiers had opened fire on protesters, and I fell into a state of shock. We never believed that the leadership would use force, because we had been pushing for the Communist Party to improve itself, not to surrender power.
During my weeks in hiding, I watched on television as my fellow activists were captured one by one. I decided to go back to Beijing, knowing that I, too, would be caught. The police found me on July 2, and arrested me after a car chase. “Little Wang has been caught!” one officer phoned his boss in excitement.
I spent three years and seven months in prison. My heart was often laden with guilt and sorrow. A large number of students and Beijing residents had died during the bloody crackdown. I felt partly responsible.”
“Let’s be blunt: China is accumulating a record of Orwellian savagery toward religious people.
At times under Communist Party rule, repression of faith has eased, but now it is unmistakably worsening. China is engaging in internment, monitoring or persecution of Muslims, Christians and Buddhists on a scale almost unparalleled by a major nation in three-quarters of a century.
Maya Wang of Human Rights Watch argues that China under Xi Jinping “poses a threat to global freedoms unseen since the end of World War II.”
To its credit, China has overseen extraordinary progress against poverty, illiteracy and sickness. The bittersweet result is that Chinese people of faith are more likely than several decades ago to see their children survive and go to university — but also to be detained.
China’s roundup of Muslims in internment camps — which a Pentagon official called concentration camps — appears to be the largest such internment of people on the basis of religion since the collection of Jews for the Holocaust. Most estimates are that about one million Muslims have been detained in China’s Xinjiang region, although the Pentagon official suggested that the actual number may be closer to three million.”
“A U.S. businessman friend of mine who works in China remarked to me recently that Donald Trump is not the American president America deserves, but he sure is the American president China deserves.
Trump’s instinct that America needs to rebalance its trade relationship with Beijing — before China gets too big to compromise — is correct. And it took a human wrecking ball like Trump to get China’s attention. But now that we have it, both countries need to recognize just how pivotal this moment is.
The original U.S.-China opening back in the 1970s defined our restored trade ties, which were limited. When we let China join the World Trade Organization in 2001, it propelled China into a trading powerhouse under rules that still gave China lots of concessions as a developing economy.
This new negotiation will define how the U.S. and China relate as economic peers, competing for the same 21st-century industries, at a time when our markets are totally intertwined. So this is no ordinary trade dispute. This is the big one.”