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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call Group | Getty Images

Months of protests, violence and large-scale disruptions in Hong Kong have thrust the city into the global spotlight. According to China, there’s “powerful evidence” that the United States has been involved.

A spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry claimed Tuesday that recent comments from American lawmakers — including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. — demonstrate that Washington’s real goal is to incite chaos in the city.

“The U.S. denied on many occasions its involvement in the ongoing violent incidents in Hong Kong. However, the comments from those members of the U.S. Congress have provided the world with new and powerful evidence on the country’s involvement,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said, according to an official translation of her remarks.

A host of public statements show it’s accurate to say American officials have been commenting about Hong Kong — which has seen increasing violence between pro-democracy protesters, counter-protesters, and police. Still, Hua accused U.S. politicians of intentionally distorting their assessments and spurring clashes.

“By neglecting and distorting the truth, they whitewashed violent crimes as a struggle for human rights and freedom, and deliberately misinterpreted the work of Hong Kong police as violent repression when the police were only enforcing the law, fighting crimes and upholding social order,” she said.

“They even incited the Hong Kong residents to engage in confrontation with the (special administrative region) government and the central government,” Hua added. “How anxious are they to instigate and see chaos!”

U.S. President Donald Trump said in a Tuesday Twitter post that he “can’t imagine why” anyone would blame the United States for “the problems” in Hong Kong.

The ongoing protests can be traced back to March when thousands marched against a proposed bill that would allow Hong Kong to extradite people to mainland China. Although the former British colony has been part of the country since 1997, it’s designated as a Chinese “special administrative region” and has been allowed a degree of autonomy in legal and financial matters. That arrangement has been known as “one country, two systems” and it guides Hong Kong’s constitutionally enshrined mandate that the city will maintain its “previous capitalist system” for 50 years after it officially rejoined China.

Given that background, many in Hong Kong said the proposed extradition law would erode their city’s autonomy. Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, eventually announced the government would indefinitely halt the bill, but protests continued as demonstrators called for it to be officially withdrawn and for an investigation into police actions. As hundreds of thousands, by some counts, have continued to take to the streets, the messages have increasingly become about democracy, autonomy and even independence.

That’s been a red line for China’s leadership, and Beijing mouthpieces and officials have repeatedly emphasized that Hong Kong’s relationship with the rest of the country is not up for discussion. And that’s the topic now inducing the Foreign Ministry’s criticisms of U.S. officials.

“We solemnly remind you this plain truth: Hong Kong affairs are entirely China’s internal affairs, and you are neither entitled nor qualified to wantonly comment on them,” Hua said Tuesday. “Mind your own business and stay out of Hong Kong affairs.”

What Pelosi and McConnell have been saying

Pelosi, for one, has issued several statements about Hong Kong. In an Aug. 6 message, she wrote that “the people of Hong Kong are sending a stirring message to the world: the dreams of freedom, justice and democracy can never be extinguished by injustice and intimidation.”

The Democratic leader reiterated earlier calls for the White House “to suspend future sales of munitions and crowd control equipment to the Hong Kong police force,” saying that “Democrats and Republicans in Congress stand united with the people of Hong Kong in demanding the hopeful, free and democratic future that is their right.”

In recent Twitter posts, Pelosi said she’s alarmed to see the local police “intensify their use of force against the protesters and label them violent criminals,” and she urged Lam “to meet with protest leaders to listen and act on their legitimate grievances including withdrawing the extradition bill, ending police violence & granting universal suffrage.”

McConnell, meanwhile, said on Twitter that “the people of Hong Kong are bravely standing up to the Chinese Communist Party as Beijing tries to encroach on their autonomy and freedom.” He added that “any violent crackdown would be completely unacceptable.”

In a corresponding statement, the Senate leader said Beijing should seek to “emulate” Hong Kong and its freedoms — not “remake it in the image of the Chinese Communist Party.” He characterized the violence as “increasingly brutal police tactics and pro-Mainland vigilantes … drawing blood in an effort to intimidate Hong Kongers back into submission.”

“The world is watching and wondering: If a government cannot respect the basic rights of people it claims as its own citizens, why on Earth would it be trusted to respect the rights and interests of its neighbors, its trading partners, or the companies that invest in its economy?” McConnell said. “As we all know, the people of Hong Kong have been carrying this banner for decades. And I’m proud to say that here in the United States, we’ve been marching alongside them the entire way.”

More protests have been planned for the rest of the week.

The full statement from China’s Foreign Ministry:

Q: On August 12, US House Speaker Pelosi, Senator McConnell, Senator Rubio and Congressman Yoho tweeted that Hong Kong police repressed demonstrators with violence and that the Chinese central government eroded democracy and freedom in Hong Kong. Does the Chinese side have any comment?

A: The U.S. denied on many occasions its involvement in the ongoing violent incidents in Hong Kong. However, the comments from those members of the U.S. congress have provided the world with new and powerful evidence on the country’s involvement. By neglecting and distorting the truth, they whitewashed violent crimes as a struggle for human rights and freedom, and deliberately misinterpreted the work of Hong Kong police as violent repression when the police were only enforcing the law, fighting crimes and upholding social order. They even incited the Hong Kong residents to engage in confrontation with the SAR government and the central government. How anxious are they to instigate and see chaos!

In the U.S., members of the Congress are also called lawmakers. I cannot help asking the relevant senators and House representatives: are you lawmakers or law-breakers? We solemnly remind you this plain truth: Hong Kong affairs are entirely China’s internal affairs, and you are neither entitled nor qualified to wantonly comment on them. Mind your own business and stay out of Hong Kong affairs.

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Hong Kong police and protesters clash, ending violence lull

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An anti-extradition bill protester throws Molotov cocktails during clashes at a march to demand democracy and political reforms, at Kowloon Bay, in Hong Kong, China August 24, 2019.

Tyrone Siu | Reuters

Hong Kong protesters threw bricks and gasoline bombs at police, who responded with tear gas, as chaotic scenes returned to the summer-long anti-government protests on Saturday for the first time in nearly two weeks.

Hundreds of black-clad protesters armed with bamboo poles and baseball bats fought with police officers wielding batons on a main road following a march against “smart lampposts” that was sparked by surveillance fears.

The chaotic scenes unfolded outside a police station and a nearby shopping mall as officers in riot gear faced off with protesters who set up makeshift street barricades.

The violence interrupted nearly two weeks of calm in Hong Kong, which has been gripped by a turbulent pro-democracy movement since June.

Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd after repeated warnings “went futile,” the government said in a statement. By early evening, most of the protesters had dispersed, though clashes flared up in other neighborhoods.

Earlier in the day, some protesters used an electric saw to slice through the bottom of a smart lamppost, while others pulled ropes tied around it to send it toppling and cheered as it crashed to the ground.

The protest march started peacefully as supporters took to the streets to demand the removal of the lampposts over worries that they could contain high-tech cameras and facial recognition software used for surveillance by Chinese authorities.

The government in Hong Kong said smart lampposts only collect data on traffic, weather and air quality.

The protesters chanted slogans calling for the government to answer the movement’s demands. The protests began in June with calls to drop a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be sent to China to stand trial, then widened to include free elections for the city’s top leader and an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality.

“Hong Kong people’s private information is already being extradited to China. We have to be very concerned,” organizer Ventus Lau said ahead of the procession.

The semiautonomous Chinese territory has said it plans to install about 400 of the smart lampposts in four urban districts, starting with 50 this summer in the Kwun Tong and Kowloon Bay districts that were the scene of Saturday’s protest march.

Hong Kong’s government-owned subway system operator, MTR Corp., shut down stations and suspended train service near the protest route, after attacks by Chinese state media accusing it of helping protesters flee in previous protests.

MTR said Friday that it may close stations near protests under high risk or emergency situations. The company has until now kept stations open and trains running even when there have been chaotic skirmishes between protesters and police.

Lau said MTR was working with the government to “suppress freedom of expression.”

Also Saturday, Chinese police said they released an employee at the British Consulate in Hong Kong as scheduled after 15 days of administrative detention.

Simon Cheng Man-kit was detained for violating mainland Chinese law and “confessed to his illegal acts,” the public security bureau in Luohu, Shenzhen, said on its Weibo microblog account, without providing further details.

The Chinese government has said that Cheng, who went missing after traveling by train to mainland China for a business trip, was held for violating public order regulations in Shenzhen, in a case that further stoked tensions in Hong Kong, a former British colony.

The British government confirmed his release.

“We welcome the release of Simon Cheng and are delighted that he can be reunited with his family,” the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement, adding that Cheng and his family had requested privacy.

Cheng, a Scottish government trade and investment officer, was a local employee without a diplomatic passport.

The Global Times, a Communist Party-owned nationalistic tabloid, said Thursday that he was detained for “soliciting prostitutes.” China often uses public order charges against political targets and has sometimes used the accusation of soliciting prostitution.

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As EU threatens trade retaliation, Brazil fights Amazon fires

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A charred trunk is seen on a tract of Amazon jungle that was recently burned by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil, August 20, 2019.

Bruno Kelly | Reuters

European leaders on Friday threatened to tear up a trade deal with South America, reflecting growing international anger at Brazil as a record number of fires in the Amazon rainforest intensified an unfolding environmental crisis.

Amid a global chorus of concern and condemnation, Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro pledged in an address to the nation to mobilize the army to help combat the blazes, while his administration launched a diplomatic charm offensive to try to mend bridges overseas.

Forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon, which accounts for more than half of the world’s largest rainforest, have surged in number by 83% this year, according to government data, destroying vast swathes of a vital bulwark against global climate change.

French President Emmanuel Macron called for G7 leaders to discuss the environmental crisis in Brazil at a summit this weekend in the French coastal resort of Biarritz. Both France and Ireland threatened to oppose an EU trade deal struck in June with a regional South American bloc following Brazil’s response.

Images of fires raging in the Amazon broadcast around the globe sparked protests outside Brazilian embassies from Mexico City and Lima to London and Paris.

In the Cypriot capital Nicosia, a sign tied to the railings of Brazil’s diplomatic mission read: “The Amazon belongs to Earth not to the Brazilian president.”

Bolsonaro, who initially accused non-governmental organizations of setting the forest on fire without providing any evidence, said in a televised address he had authorized the use of troops to fight the fires and stop illegal deforestation in the Amazon.

But the former military officer attributed the scale of the fires to dryer-than-average weather and insisted on the need for economic development of the Amazon to improve the lives of its 20 million inhabitants.

Environmentalists have warned that his controversial plans for more agriculture and mining in the region will speed up deforestation.

“We have to give the population the opportunity to develop and my government is working for that, with zero tolerance for crime – and that is no different for the environment,” Bolsonaro said in his televised speech.

Polls show Brazilians overwhelmingly oppose his policy on the environment and as he spoke to the nation, residents in large cities across Brazil banged on pots and pans in a traditional Latin American form of protest.

President Donald Trump – whose skeptical views on climate change Bolsonaro shares – called the Brazilian president to offer help, if needed, in dealing with the wildfires.

“I told him if the United States can help with the Amazon rainforest fires, we stand ready to assist!” Trump said in a post on Twitter.

G7 set to discuss fires

The wildfires now look set to be discussed at the summit of G7 leaders in France this weekend, where Macron has called for leaders to sign a charter to protect biodiversity. The French leader said an “ecocide” was taking place in the Amazon that required an international response.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that the fires were “not only heartbreaking, they are an international crisis,” while a spokeswoman said Johnson would use the summit to call for a renewed focus on protecting nature.

France and Ireland said on Friday they would now oppose the E.U.-Mercosur farming deal struck in June between the European Union and the Mercosur countries of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

The French president’s office accused Bolsonaro of lying when he downplayed concerns over climate change at the G20 summit in June.

“There is no way that Ireland will vote for the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement if Brazil does not honor its environmental commitments,” Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said in a statement.

The EU-Mercosur deal took 20 years to negotiate, but will not be officially ratified for at least another two years.

Brazilian business leaders also warned the backlash over Brazil’s environmental record could sink its efforts to join the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a Paris-based club of 37 developed nations whose imprimatur is required by many institutional investors.

Stung by the international outcry, Brazil distributed a 12-page circular, exclusively seen by Reuters, to foreign embassies, outlining data and statistics defending the government’s reputation on the environment.

Having first dismissed the fires as natural, then blaming non-governmental organizations without evidence for lighting them, Bolsonaro appeared to adopt a more serious approach on Friday following the international outcry, summoning top cabinet members for an afternoon meeting to tailor a response.

Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina Dias insisted that Brazil was “taking care” of the Amazon, and that international concerns over the fires needed to cool down.

“The news is worrying, but I think we have to lower the temperature. The Amazon is important, Brazil knows that, and Brazil is taking care of the Amazon,” she told reporters.

‘Interfering with our sovereignty’

The Brazilian space agency INPE has registered 72,843 fires this year, the highest number since records began in 2013. More than 9,500 have been spotted by satellites over the past week.

Although fires are a regular and natural occurrence during the dry season at this time of year, environmentalists blamed the jump on farmers clearing land for pasture.

Farmers may have had at least tacit encouragement from the firebrand right-wing president, who took power in January.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly said he believes Brazil should open up the Amazon to business interests, allowing mining, agricultural and logging companies to exploit its natural resources.

On Thursday, Bolsonaro admitted for the first time that farmers may be behind some of the fires but he responded angrily to what he saw as foreign interference.

Some foreign donors – including the biggest, Norway – have slashed their funding to an Amazon Fund designed to curb deforestation in the region in protest at changes introduced by Brazil that blocked its operations.

“These countries that send money here, they don’t send it out of charity … They send it with the aim of interfering with our sovereignty,” Bolsonaro said.

Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at Britain’s Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, urged that import sanctions be imposed on Brazil because of the fires.

“Immediate action is necessary to extinguish the current fires and prevent future ones,” the Brazilian scientist said.

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Trump is meeting with world leaders at G7 as he escalates US-China trade war

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U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania arrive in Biarritz for the G7 summit, France August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Regis Duvignau | Reuters

President Donald Trump arrived in France on Saturday for the annual meeting of the Group of 7 powers, one day after he called his Federal Reserve chief an enemy of the United States and urged American companies to end business with China in the midst of an escalating trade war.

The summit comes amid fears over a global economic slowdown, and U.S. tensions with allies over trade, Iran and Russia.

Trump said Friday he will raise existing duties on $250 billion in Chinese products to 30% from 25% on Oct. 1. Additionally, tariffs on another $300 billion in Chinese goods, which start to take effect on Sept. 1, will now be 15% instead of 10%.

In addition to the China trade war tensions, the president has maintained tough rhetoric against the European Union. The White House is set to decide in November whether they will impose duties on the autos industry in Europe.

Earlier this year, Trump vowed to set tariffs on imported vehicles and parts from the EU and Japan, but delayed that duty for 180 days in May. The president signed a deal with the EU earlier this month to boost U.S. beef exports.

Trump again threatened to tax European cars Tuesday.

“Dealing with the European Union is very difficult; they drive a high bargain,” Trump said. “We have all the cards in this country because all we have to do is tax their cars and they’d give us anything we wanted because they send millions of Mercedes over. They send millions of BMWs over.”

Experts say that trade conflict with Europe could be much more damaging than the current tit-for-tat conflict with China.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters upon his arrival in France that he plans to tell Trump at the summit to pull back from the trade war with China. Johnson said his priorities for the summit “are clearly the state of global trade.”

“I am very worried about the way it’s going, the growth of protectionism, of tariffs that we’re seeing,” Johnson told reporters on the tarmac.

Trump’s first meeting on Saturday was a private lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron, who will host the summit, said they were discussing world crises, including Libya, Iran and Russia, as well as trade policy and climate change.

Trump said he anticipated the lunch with Macron would go well. 

“We actually have a lot in common, Emmanuel and I. We’ve been friends for a long time. And every once in a while, we go at it just a little bit — not very much. But we get along very well,” he said. 

When asked if he would place tariffs on French wines in retaliation for France’s digital services tax, which he previously threatened to do, Trump was noncommittal, but responded that he loves French wine.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, said on Saturday that the EU would “respond in kind” if the U.S. imposes tariffs on France over the digital tax plan.

The G-7, which represents the world’s major industrial economies, includes the U.S., Germany, France, Japan, Canada, Italy, and the U.K.

At the summit, world leaders are expected to discuss several foreign policy matters, including Iran and tensions between India and Pakistan, as well as record wildfires in the Amazon rainforest that have spurred global outrage.

Formal talks begin Sunday morning. Many experts expect the summit to end without a joint communique because of clashes on trade.

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