Ballot blocks: the squeeze on Hong Kong
The squeeze on political freedoms in Hong Kong is ramping up and fast. On Friday, the territory's Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced September's planned elections would be postponed for a year and poss- sediments. I've always had to make difficult decisions but then the announcement I have to make today is the most difficult decision that I have to make in the. Insisted, the delay was only to avoid the spread of COPA, nineteen. The decision to postpone them the training train t electrical election has nothing to do with politics has nothing to do with a likely outcome of this round of. PRO-DEMOCRACY PARTIES, AD HOC for success in the poll riding a wave of discontent at Beijing's recent imposition of sweeping national security law. The legislation broadly defines and harshly punishes subversion sedition collusion with foreigners. Nathan law one of Hong Kong's most prominent pro-democracy activists recently spoke with our sister podcast economists asks why? Phones. Movement is still really strong though there have been protests against the new law. The millions of people who wants surged onto the streets have largely stayed home is police have cracked down harder just try to imagine if you live. In a country place that that is no freedom of expression freedom of them fraiche ethan freedom of thoughts. Then definitely, like protests does not exist or will be lushly quashed earlier last week, twelve pro-democracy candidates were banned from running whenever the elections happened. On Saturday, on Kong's police issued arrest warrants for six political activists living in exile in the West. Since the promulgation of the national security nor on July the first of the scope for political expression has been very much. Dominic Ziegler writes Banyan, our call him on Asian affairs. And because of that, there haven't been any street protests. of any size since July the first because of the consequences. For those taking part. But nevertheless, there has been widespread concern about postponing the election by a year, the Bar Association, representing senior barristers and other lawyers in the territory has expressed what it called grave concern and it said that a decision to postpone September's elections for the Legislative Council, which is known as Mexico was undermining a vital constitutional rights and so what does that mean in practice? What happens with the sitting lawmakers? There are all sorts of implications about what it. Means in practice because hitherto Hong Nor has been very clear you have to hold elections for this quasi-democratic legislature every four years. So the government of Kerry lamb, the chief executive is in a bit of a pickle about how it justifies this. Although she said, it was for reasons of the pandemic several other jurisdictions have been able to carry out elections, and that includes recently elections. In Singapore, there are certainly suspicions that the decision was taken not because of. The pandemic, but because Democrats had a good chance in fact. Gaining for the first time a majority in this rather gerrymandered council and indeed even obstructing a government policy or criticizing the government has it has been suggested by the authorities the risk of falling foul of the new. National Security Law. So this decision is absolutely shot through with politics, but nevertheless to take some finessing by the government. To show that the move is legitimate, the chances are that how it will manage that is to get a ruling from on high from Beijing saying that this is the appropriate course and it's worth bearing in mind that Beijing has always since Hong Kong's return to China. Has Always had the authority to intervene in Hong Kong's has the understanding would be that this would happen only rarely. But in the last few weeks, we've seen it happening time and time again, I think this is going to be the practice for the future. But what about the the the candidates who were banned from running here is, is there a risk that that Beijing will start to essentially stack the LegCo with with loyalists there in this interim year? This certainly is a risk Jason the bear in mind that all the moves around legend. have been made in order to ensure that the pro democratic camp does not secure a majority in the legislature. Now early last week, the authorities did this by disqualifying a dozen also candidates caming that even for criticizing the National Security Law that gave the government grounds for not allowing them to run. Now, a few dozen candidates actually sit in the current Legislative Council. So one big question that the authorities have to find an answer to is whether those four legislators continue to sit in a council session is is now being extended by a year. The chances are that the government will find means to disqualify. Those four and Beijing's moves go further than that. Recently, they're speaking of arresting pro-democracy activists outside of the territory, which is also unusual. That's right has happened in the past week on July the twenty ninth four students were detained for supposedly inciting secession. This seems to have had something to do with facebook page and shortly after became clear that the police had put on a wanted list, a number of activists who are currently in exile. So, there is an example for instance of how China intends for this new national security in order have jurisdiction beyond the borders of the country itself. These people were in the United States, the UK and elsewhere. One of them was not even a Hong Kong citizen better taken up US citizenship and so as as Beijing's hands gets heavier in Hong Kong Antoine Indeed all over the world. How are people coping normal life goes on so far as both the virus and the new political restrictions allow what is certainly happened is that the street protests that so colored and royal the territory last year are now very much a thing of the past. So the act the concerned the worry that. Has. Taken hold in the territory is one that is not always voiced publicly but in private conversations and the concerns really are about Hong Kong's long-term future. One of the possibility is certainly that many people discussing is immigration and a number of countries have. Roots towards long term permanent residency or even citizenship. Those countries include the United Kingdom Australia Canada, the United States. But many people are not in a position to leave immediately. But what happens now with all of the momentum that was behind the protesters but this whole movement now that protests themselves have died down to the protesters are moving abroad. What happens now it looks like well, over half of Hong Kong's population is in favor of democratic change but the possibilities for that through politics and through the ballot box have been very sharply restricted in in recent weeks. So there's a conversation emerging. About what form opposition should take? So people are starting to draw parallels with the Eastern European bloc during the Soviet era too many people here the national security nor is starting to look like the Ray quick building of the Berlin Wall in the early nineteen sixties and people are drawing comparisons with opposition in the decades following that in eastern Europe and that opposition took perform of underground dissident, it took the form of dissident writers and The church played a big role in eastern. Europe. Some hope that it may do here in Hong Kong one positive sign has been taken from last year's protests is an extraordinary. Creativity in in the form of protest art in the form of. Video making. So the hope is that maybe these avenues might at least allow a civil society not only to to hang on by its fingertips but also to grow. Don Thank you very much for your time fact Jason. For. Inciteful pair of interviews about Hong Kong's politics. Look for our sister show the economy asks my colleague and mckelway spoke to activist Nathan Law and to Regina Yip a Pro Beijing member of Hong. Kong's cabinet who said it's the activists themselves who bear responsibility for the mainland's latest moves. It's their choice they had. A goal on the provost part to self-destruction you. Choice. To want to commodes a separatism. From China I. Feel sorry for that. All the problems that they face now are of their own way. No. In fact, they are true young they are too young to commit judgments on these fundamental issues. Why should they be involved in promoting separation from China? Why should be that look for the Economist asks wherever you find your podcasts. Today more than ever. 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There is a scene that played out almost every day for weeks for months outside of the Ethiopian embassy here in Beirut he would see cars pull up and drop off their passengers if the OB and women who were carrying their possessions and suitcases are in bags. Great girls from is our Middle East correspondent based in Lebanon these weren't women catching plane or catching a train. They had nowhere to go actually word maids, domestic workers whose employers. Could no longer afford to pay them because of the economic crisis here in Lebanon also couldn't send them home because the airport was largely closed because of covid one, thousand, nine, hundred, and so they dump them off outside the embassy they simply left them there to be someone else's problem. You would meet women who said they'd been sitting there on the curb for days on end using their bags as pillows simply left the fend for themselves. And isn't that kind of a general comment on how Lebanon treats migrant domestic workers? It is even before cove in nineteen. Before the economic crisis, there was widespread racism and harsh treatment of migrant workers here there are a number of cases where Lebanese have advertised their maids on facebook as if they were property, there was a post back in April that offered a Nigerian made who was described as being very active and very clean and she. was being sold for one and a half million Lebanese pounds, which is worth about a thousand dollars at the official exchange rates. There was also a clip that was circulated widely here in Lebanon in June it was from a television channel in Ghana that covered the return of two hundred or so Ghanaian citizens from Lebanon most of them. One, hundred, eighty of them were women working as domestic workers here, and they described horrendous conditions and treatments. Fit. After that sexual harassment. They bit s like animals. I have videos of this. I went through in that country and they also warned other people not to follow them to Lebanon not to come here to work. No. Doubt Music and go back to Lebanon is not a country that we should be. How does this situation come about? Where for instance, an people find themselves trapped with arguably abusive employers often starts with unscrupulous recruiters are agents migrants who come here to other countries in the middle. East. Are often promised good salaries, respectful working conditions and they arrive and find out that it's anything. But but then they find themselves trapped for two reasons. One is they often have to take out loans to pay fees to these recruiters and the loans can run thousand dollars two. Thousand dollars which when you're making only a few hundred dollars a month and you're trying to send much of that to your families back home it can take many months if not years to pay off those loans. So they find themselves trapped by debt. They also find themselves trapped by something called the Catholic system, which again exists here in Lebanon and many other countries in the Middle East whereby migrant workers are bound to their field or their sponsor, and so they can't simply. Changed jobs because their residency in their work permit is connected to their sponsor, and if they leave that job, they have to leave the country. So you meet migrants who say despite the awful conditions they're making more money here than they would make back home, and so they're willing to they're forced to continue to put up with US conditions because they're blocked from finding another job, and so all of this is a function of how the Lebanese feel about migrants or is this. Strictly a racial thing. It's hard to separate the two because almost all of the migrants here are either from east and South Asia or from Africa. So it's often connected to race as well as their status being migrant workers but the racism here it cuts across socio-economic lines I spoke with a black diplomat too says been pursued through upscale shopping malls Lebanon by security guards thought she was a housekeeper and they wanted to know why she was shopping without her madame without her employer. So Racist, certainly a problem here and in other countries around the Middle East and not only when it comes to migrants states across the Arab world have black minorities. You have Egypt for example, the Nubians who have been there for thousands of years you have in the Levant and the Gulf states black communities that are often the descendants of slaves taken by Islamic empires or the descendents of African Muslims who made pilgrimages to places like Saudi Arabia and decided to stay again, those communities face various kinds of commission as well. Would you mean by that? Will you hear some of it? Simply in the language that people use darker skinned people referred to with terms like opt, which means slave Anwar Sadat was president of Egypt darker skin than his predecessor was sometimes referred to as his predecessors black poodle you turn on the television in the Middle East and black face is fairly common sight on Arabic language television and no doubt that kind of racism manifests in in everyday life in lots of ways, it does you see it in areas of life. March choice of partner you have families that will see skin color as a marker for Associate Comic Status Lighter skinned people seen as being wealthier and more educated. You see it in the workplace as well in Iraq, for example, where there's a black community that has been there for at least a thousand years they to this day struggle to obtain government jobs and they're often relegated to doing menial work and living on the outskirts of society. You see it as well in the Gulf states where there's almost a racial hierarchy to employment. If you walk into a Nice Hotel and the Gulf you might see black migrants from Africa working as security guards or as porters. You will see them far less often in jobs that require interaction with customers. Waiters hairdressers, things like that those jobs which are better paid than less taxing often go to lighter skinned workers from Asia or from Arab countries I mean racism has been very much on the agenda over the past few months because of the the killing of George Floyd protests that erupted across the world did that wave of protests hit the Arab world as well? The protests themselves. Didn't reach the Arab world. This is a region fortunately protest often a criminal offence of we didn't see much in the way in street demonstrations either in solidarity or around the region's own issues with racism but it has certainly escalated the conversation that's taking place both online and offline. There was a video that circulated quite widely earlier this summer was shot by a Palestinian actress condit's. Who recounted some of the just casual bigotry that she's heard and day-today Life Semis Ben Aston Headache. Mariam. People often argue that it's harmless. It's just words. And allow. Them. One of the points that she was trying to make in this video is that it does hurt people and that it does have an influence not only on the targets of it but on societies broader attitude towards Black Arabs, and do you think having these kinds of discussions on social media and the like will make much of a difference? Is it enough having a conversation about these? Things is certainly better than nothing. But one thing that we've seen certainly in America through years and years and years of protests against racism and police brutality is that just having a conversation doesn't actually bring political change or social change. That's something that takes a long time and it also takes concerted effort in politics and education, and unfortunately one of the problems in countries across this region. Is that there are few avenues to do that, and so it's good to have a conversation about these things but. The ways that you actually go about making concrete change. Unfortunately, those ways are often blocked in the middle. East. Thanks very much for joining US greg.