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Blackwater USA | Daily Brief

Hong Kong

  • This weekend’s protests in Hong Kong have been rowdier than usual, and police struggled to disperse the minority that got violent with pepper spray and tear gas.
  • Pro-democracy protesters rebuilt some of the “Lennon walls” that police tore down last week; they’ll probably be torn down again.

China

  • The Economist printed a highly critical op-ed about China’s repressive demands on Hong Kong, and islanders’ resulting mistrust of China. Pasted below.
  • The U.S. Treasury said that—contrary to recent reports—it has no plans to force U.S. stock exchanges to delist Chinese companies’ shares. It’s still concerning that the rumor caused U.S.-traded shares in Chinese companies like JD and Alibaba to crash; investors will probably remain spooked at the mere possibility of a delisting.

Afghanistan

  • There were a few isolated Taliban attacks on polling stations yesterday—including a rocket attack in Kunduz and explosions at polling centers in Nangarhar and Kandahar—but tight security prevented any major incidents, despite 68 alleged Taliban attempts.
  • Turnout was low: some reports say fewer people voted yesterday than in the 2018 parliamentary elections.
  • Preliminary election results are expected by October 17th, and final results by November 7th. If no candidate gets more than 51% of the vote, there will be a run-off between the top two (however, incumbent Pres. Ghani is expected to win in the first round).

Iran

  • In an interview on Meet the Press, Foreign Minister Zarif accused the U.S. of “attacking our nuclear facilities in a very dangerous, irresponsible way that could’ve killed millions of people,” and warned that the U.S. “won’t be able to finish” the cyber war it started.

Ebola

  • Ebola killed its 2,000th victim in the current outbreak, in which 3,072 cases have been confirmed.
  • The CDC added an Ebola warning to its travel guidance on Tanzania due to the “unexplained death of a person from probable Ebola virus disease in the city of Dar es Salaam”—which Tanzania has been accused of trying to cover up to avoid scaring tourists.

Venezuela

  • Pres. Maduro celebrated the arrival of two Russian planes carrying military and technical advisors to help his struggling government.

Yemen

  • Despite having agreed to a limited ceasefire in Yemen, the Houthis claimed to have captured thousands of Saudi troops near the border town of Najran. Saudi hasn’t confirmed the claim.

Saudi

  • Saudi Arabia announced that it will start issuing tourist visas for international visitors. Mecca will remain off-limits for non-Muslims, but tourists can enjoy some cool Nabataean sights and Red Sea dive spots.

U.S.

  • CNN gossip suggests that Pres. Trump’s acting Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, is catching heat for letting the “whistleblower” issue get out of hand.
  • Meanwhile, the U.S. special envoy to the Ukraine resigned amidst embarrassment over his messy handling of the issue.

India & Pakistan

  • Indian police tightened restrictions to prevent protests in Kashmir, after Pakistani PM Khan warned in his UN speech of a potential “bloodbath” once such restrictions are lifted.
  • A motorcycle bomb killed three people—including an opposition politician from a religious party—in Balochistan, southwest Pakistan. Baloch separatists were likely responsible.

Other News

  • Zany environmentalists smeared molasses on the iconic glass pyramid at the Louvre in a protest against French oil major Total, which is a sponsor of the museum.
  • Haitians in Cite Soleil—a notorious slum—are protesting against Pres. Moise’s government, which they accuse of perpetrating injustices against them.
  • A UN peacekeeping helicopter crashed in the Central African Republic, killing three Senegalese crew.

China’s demand for undivided loyalty is causing tragedy in Hong Kong (Economist)

Wherever people have choices, Xi Jinping’s China is more feared than loved

Over the past four months as many as 2m Hong Kongers—or more than a quarter of the city’s residents—have marched to demand the scrapping of a bill that would have exposed criminal suspects to the mainland’s courts. Those protests were a stunning vote of no confidence in China’s Communist-controlled legal system. They worked: the extradition bill is being withdrawn.

It is hard to imagine a clearer rallying cry for the many mainlanders who distrust their own justice system. Their cousins in Hong Kong, guaranteed access to independent courts and uncensored news under the rubric of “one country, two systems”, could not bear to live as mainlanders must every day. But dissent in Hong Kong has not proved contagious.

Not all 1.4bn mainlanders think alike, but there are no reports of any of them marching in sympathy. That may be in part because, thanks to the unsleeping censors who guard the Great Firewall of China, many know nothing of the extradition debate. But it is also because an unknowable but significant number accept the narrative of China’s media that treacherous radicals in Hong Kong, perhaps funded by the cia, are trying to split the motherland. The widespread acceptance of this narrative is a testament to the government’s success in shaping the way its citizens see the world.

Yet China’s propaganda machine, so effective at home, is making a fool of itself in Hong Kong. When officials try to peddle the idea that a silent majority in Hong Kong loves China, their efforts strike many people in the territory as laughable. Communist-controlled outfits in Hong Kong have often simply copied successful stunts by protesters. In mid-September pro-democracy marchers hiked up a local peak, Lion Rock, creating a chain of lights with smartphones, torches and laser pointers as dusk fell. The next day a smaller group of red-clad patriots puffed up the same hill to wave a giant national flag, in images heavily promoted by the mainland’s media. When youngsters in Hong Kong packed shopping centres to sing a new protest anthem, small bands of the party faithful were mobilised to belt out China’s national anthem in the territory’s malls.

On the eve of a spectacular parade in Beijing on October 1st, when tanks and nuclear missiles will trundle past President Xi Jinping to mark 70 years of the People’s Republic, it is worth pondering the domestic success of China’s propaganda apparatus, and its external cluelessness. That machine is best understood as a giant, state-directed monopoly. Within China, it has grown strong. But in free markets fizzing with ideas and arguments from around the world, China’s patriotic sloganeering falls flat.

In Hong Kong the city’s former colonial master, Britain, left behind an awkward hybrid. The territory has the political culture and education system of a liberal democracy. But its leaders are mostly appointed, with only a minority of political offices opened to direct election. Since Mr Xi became the Communist Party’s boss, China has betrayed its impatience with even that limited accountability, and the central government’s agents have worked to marginalise competing voices.

In 2012, the year Mr Xi took over, the Hong Kong government tried to impose “national education” on schools, but retreated in the face of mass protests. Politicians seeking greater autonomy or even independence (a minority view) have been barred from office or from running for office. A national-anthem law demanded by Beijing, if passed, would make criminals of Hong Kongers who boo the tune at football games.

The results may be heard in Hong Kong’s shopping centres almost every night. Strolling this week through Kowloon, Chaguan chanced upon a few dozen youngsters who had been summoned by Telegram, an encrypted social-media app, to sing the protest anthem in the atrium of a shopping complex.

Nic, a 25-year-old protester, described his mixed identity. He does not imagine that Hong Kong can be independent, noting that 50 years after the handover from Britain the promise of one country, two systems will expire. “In 2047 we will return to China fully, we understand that,” he says. “But we are trying to protect what we have until the last day.” When he travels, his passport says “Hong Kong, China”. But when asked who he is, he replies: a Hong Konger. “China is not what we are proud of,” he explains. “The Chinese government sucks.”

Politics in Hong Kong is turning dangerously tribal. Rather than a debate about policies, it is becoming an argument about who is good and who is bad, who is bent on saving Hong Kong or on destroying it. In that culture war politicians who sympathise with the party conflate flag-waving patriotism with legitimacy. That has led them to endorse “patriotic” thugs and alleged gang members, including when they assaulted protesters in the far-northern district of Yuen Long in July. That single incident changed the nature of the demonstrations, says Cheng Chung-Tai, chairman of Civic Passion, a party that wants more autonomy for Hong Kong. After Yuen Long, showing resistance and defiance to authority became a badge of belonging to the group that sees itself as defending the territory. “Last Sunday Tseung Kwan O got tear-gas for the first time. They celebrated,” notes Mr Cheng, referring to an operation by police to quell protests in an eastern district.

No room for a loyal opposition

Little in Mr Xi’s record suggests that he will respond generously and imaginatively to Hong Kong’s identity crisis. In other peripheral territories, such as Tibet and Xinjiang, he has authorised brute force backed by high-tech surveillance and a pounding drumbeat of propaganda to crush hybrid identities. Hong Kong, a still-vibrant if troubled world city, will be harder to bring to heel. Alas, 70 years after its founding, China is hostile even to constrained forms of pluralism. That is why, wherever people have choices, it inspires fear or awe, but not love.