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.
Boris Johnson can turn his victory into history if he can save the UK from division
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street for Buckingham Palace where he will seek permission to form the next government during an audience with Queen Elizabeth II at Downing Street on December 13, 2019 in London, England.
Dan Kitwood | Getty Images News | Getty Images
It is just the sort of script one might expect from Boris Johnson, one of the most enigmatically fascinating personalities of our times.
Prime Minister Johnson – who famously craves both public attention and a place in history – won the former and a shot at the latter through a British election victory this week that was the most convincing conservative victory since Margaret Thatcher in 1987. To save the United Kingdom itself, however, he must reverse course, or at least amend direction, on much of what he has said and done to win in the first place.
I opposed Brexit on economic and political grounds yet, at the same time, Johnson might have the political flexibility, the intellectual chops and the Churchillian ambition to confound his critics along the five lines of action he must simultaneously pursue to find his historic place.
- Most importantly, he’ll have to negotiate a “no-tariffs, no-quotas” trade deal by end-2020 with a European Union that he has disparaged, knowing that it by some distance is the U.K.’s major trade partner.
- Second, he will have to rapidly restore external economic confidence in a country that has been suffering disinvestment, an economic slowdown, and doubts about its continued role as a European and global financial hub.
- Third, he should still aspire to get a trade and investment deal with an impeachment-distracted President Trump. At the same time, he should share with voters how unlikely that will be and embrace what might be faster and easier opportunities in Asia, namely negotiating his way into the 11-country Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
- Fourth, he’ll have to abandon much of the populist rhetoric that got him elected and embrace his encouraging “One Nation” message of this week that could heal the country’s divisions – and perhaps also slow a European-wide and global populist trend.
- Finally, he’ll need save the United Kingdom from unraveling by convincing Scotland and Northern Ireland of their future place – while heading off another Scottish independence referendum. A successful EU negotiation will help that.
Media pundits in recent months have compared and associated the rise of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump as populists who have turned their countries’ politics upside down. Yet the comparisons only go so far, given Boris’ bookish, multilingual, multicultural background and intellectual passion.
He was born in Manhattan as Alexander, then raised in Brussels until age 11, before being shipped to British boarding a year after his mother’s breakdown, a life richly chronicled by Tom McTague in The Atlantic last July. Somewhere along the way the quiet child became the boisterous, eccentric British Boris. He developed a comic demeanor, a disheveled mean (and mane), a rapier intellect with a taste for the classics, and an insatiable desire to be liked.
From all of this grew his self-proclaimed ambition to be “world king.”
“I often thought that the idea of being world king,” said his mother of her illness’ impact on Boris, “was a wish to make him unhurtable, invincible somehow, safe from the pains of life, the pains of your mother disappearing for eight months, the pains of your parents splitting up.” The biographer Sonia Purnell says Johnson told girlfriends that his way of coping was to make himself invulnerable “so that he would never experience such pain again.”
The Brexit referendum and— three years later— his election vote are part psychological and part political drama for Boris Johnson, the stuff of a West End musical. His Friday speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street showed how quickly he can change his tune from that of the campaign to one of governance.
Speaking to those voters who opposed him and wished to remain in the EU, he said, “I want you to know that we in this One Nation Conservative government will never ignore your good and positive feelings – of warmth and sympathy toward the other nations of Europe.”
He went further.
“As we work together with the EU as friends and sovereign equals in tackling climate change and terrorism, in building academic and scientific cooperation, redoubling our trading relationship…,” he said, “I urge everyone to find closure and let the healing begin.”
That will be easier said than done as Johnson will now have to decide what kind of U.K. he wishes to build – one more akin to its neighbors in the EU or one more resembling a low-tax, deregulated Singapore-on-Thames.
“Brexit will formally happen next month, to much fanfare,” writes the Economist, “but the hardest arguments, about whether to forgo market access for the ability to deregulate, have not begun. Mr. Johnson will either have to face down his own Brexit ultras or hammer the economy with a minimal EU deal.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, enamored by his colleague’s intellect and linguistic skill, has called Boris Johnson “a leader with genuine strategic vision” who should be taken seriously. This week he extended an olive branch while in Brussels, telling “British friends and allies something very simple: by this general election, you confirmed the choice made more than three years ago, but you are not leaving Europe.”
On the other hand, he has warned, the best way to reach the most ambitious trade agreement with the EU would be if the U.K. essentially says “we don’t want to change very much.”
So, the drama will continue. If the U.K.’s economy emerges as robust and healthy, other European countries might wonder about the value of staying in. If Johnson defines his country as too close to the European Union, irrespective of economic logic, his base may well ask what the past three years’ drama has achieved other than serving Johnson’s own political ambitions.
It’s time to raise the curtain on the next act.
Frederick Kempe is a best-selling author, prize-winning journalist and president & CEO of the Atlantic Council, one of the United States’ most influential think tanks on global affairs. He worked at The Wall Street Journal for more than 25 years as a foreign correspondent, assistant managing editor and as the longest-serving editor of the paper’s European edition. His latest book – “Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth” – was a New York Times best-seller and has been published in more than a dozen languages. Follow him on Twitter @FredKempe and subscribe here to Inflection Points, his look each Saturday at the past week’s top stories and trends.
For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.
Brexit deal will be a ‘good thing for the UK economy,’ US Treasury Secretary says
Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin
SAUL LOEB | AFP | Getty Images
Finally completing the Brexit divorce deal between the EU and the U.K. will provide much needed stability for the British economy, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC Saturday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a general election with a thumping majority this week and looks set to complete the first stage of Brexit at the end of January. However, three-and-a-half years of wrangling means it’s begins schedule and that delay has hurt business sentiment and investments.
Speaking to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble at the Doha Forum, Mnuchin said he expects Johnson will now get his deal on Brexit done with his commanding majority in the House of Commons and said the two sides were “absolutely” moving toward trade discussions.
“My expectation is that the prime minister will now get his deal on Brexit done. Which I think is a good thing for the U.K. economy. The U.K. just needs stability on this issue,” he said.
“I’ve been hearing for too long ‘they’re in, they’re out, they’re in, they’re out’ and we’ll begin trading discussions with them. We’re very much looking forward that trading relationship,” he added.
Johnson’s Conservatives now have 365 parliamentary seats, a majority of 80 in the House of Commons. The result, which proved even more decisive than pollsters had forecast, follows a bitterly-fought and divisive election campaign.
In a tweet published Friday morning, President Donald Trump offered his congratulations to the newly-elected prime minister, describing the better-than-expected result for his friend as a “great win.”
“Britain and the United States will now be free to strike a massive new trade deal after Brexit,” Trump said. “This deal has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the E.U. Celebrate Boris!”
—CNBC’s Sam Meredith contributed to this article.
‘Everybody’s suffering’ in the Gulf because of Qatar blockade: Eni CEO
Filippo Monteforte | AFP | Getty Images
The CEO of Italian oil and gas firm Eni has backed a return to diplomatic ties between Qatar and its powerful neighbors, telling CNBC that a removal of a blockade against the country would be “good for everybody.”
“I think it would make life easier to everybody. When there is communication, when there is good relationships it’s good,” Claudio Descalzi told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble during the Doha forum in Qatar.
“We have, already, a lot of issues, trouble in the world to look for … everybody’s suffering in the area because of this situation,” he said, adding that “peace would be good for everybody.”
Saudi Arabia, along with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt imposed an economic and diplomatic blockade on the small Arab state in June 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism. Qatar vehemently denies the accusations.
The blockade has impacted air travel, shipping and trade routes and media, among other sectors. However, there are now early signs that relations might be improving. Speaking to Reuters on Saturday, Qatar Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said there has been “small progress” in resolving the 2-1/2 year dispute.
—CNBC’s Holly Ellyatt contributed to his article.
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