Morning Brief

What’s Next for Hong Kong?

Plus: U.S. lawmakers push back against Saudi arms sales, Shinzo Abe visits Iran, and the other stories we're following today.

Police officers charge toward protesters during a demonstration on June 12 in Hong Kong.
Police officers charge toward protesters during a demonstration on June 12 in Hong Kong. Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Hong Kong grapples with the aftermath of historic protests, lawmakers push back against U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes to ease Iran-U.S. tensions on his visit to Tehran.

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What Next in Hong Kong?

Hundreds of riot police remained on the streets of Hong Kong today after protests delayed the debate on a controversial bill that would allow people to be extradited to mainland China for trial. Authorities shut down government offices for the rest of the week. The clashes on Wednesday between protesters and police—who fired tear gas and rubber bullets—marked some of the worst violence in the city since the British handover in 1997. (Amnesty International condemned the police for excessive force.)

What happens now? The Legislative Council postponed a planned hearing on the extradition bill on Thursday, but protesters vowed to return when it’s back on the table. The bill has drawn opposition across an unusually wide spectrum—from students, activists, lawyers, and businesspeople—and it will likely pass. “[T]he Hong Kong people are facing not just their government, but the hand of Beijing,” Hilton Yip writes for FP. The changes could lead to a decline in the city’s status as a financial hub, he argues: “If the bill passes as expected, Hong Kong will go down a road that it cannot recover from.”

International reactions. Hong Kong has functioned as a business center because of its autonomous laws and justice system, Yip notes. Without either, nervous foreign companies might downgrade their operations or leave entirely. The United States has already warned that the extradition bill could jeopardize Hong Kong’s “special status” in the eyes of the United States.

British Prime Minister Theresa May also expressed concern—for Hong Kong and the large number of British citizens living there—that the extradition bill would not follow the rules set out by the 1984 agreement between China and Britain over Hong Kong’s administration. But Britain bears further legal and moral responsibility to its former colony, Milia Hau argues for FP.

What We’re Following Today

U.S. lawmakers push back against Saudi arms sales. Republican lawmakers have criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to use an emergency declaration and avoid congressional review on $8 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Senators have drafted 22 “resolutions of disapproval”—one for each arms sale—with votes that could come next week. It’s unclear if they have the majority needed to avoid a presidential veto, Robbie Gramer and Lara Seligman report.

Abe’s second day in Tehran. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets today with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Tehran. After speaking with President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday, Abe indicated his willingness to mediate in “easing tension” between Iran and the United States. (Rouhani added that Japan wants to keep buying Iranian oil, currently subject to U.S. sanctions.) The prime minister’s visit to Iran marks the first by a Japanese leader since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

More tanker attacks. Several oil tankers were attacked early Thursday in the Gulf of Oman, just outside the critical Strait of Hormuz, one month after four other tankers were previously targeted in the same area. There was no immediate indication who was behind the attacks, but the United States and Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for the earlier strikes. Jittery traders sent oil prices up 4 percent in early trading.

Eastern European leaders meet, seek to boost EU influence. The leaders of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic convene in Budapest today as they seek to increase their representation in key EU posts. EU leaders will name the top jobs next week. The European Union is expected to delay membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia at the summit—a move critics say could undermine democratic reform in the Balkans.

Keep an Eye On

Macron’s pension reforms. After months of yellow vest protests, French President Emmanuel Macron plans to streamline the French public pension system to make it fairer. The reforms will keep the minimum retirement age at 62 but incentivize people to work for longer. The public views pensions as “the mother-of-all reforms” in France, Bloomberg reports, and previous attempts to change the system have failed in the face of backlash.

Russia’s newest culture war. Public resentment toward the Russian Orthodox Church—unthinkable at the end of the Soviet era—has driven protest in recent weeks. It is the sign of a significant change: deeper ties between church and state in the era of President Vladimir Putin, Alexander Baunov writes for FP. 

Climate policy in Britain. Outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May announced plans to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, with broad support in Parliament. The move comes amid a push for ambitious climate policies across Europe and could put Britain ahead of France and Germany, which are working on passing similar laws this year.

The Brazilian Amazon. The head of Brazil’s agency for indigenous affairs has been sacked amid President Jair Bolsonaro’s push to bring commercial development to reservations. Indigenous land makes up 13 percent of Brazilian territory, most of it in the Amazon, and Bolsonaro has alarmed environmentalists by pushing to open it up to mining and large-scale agriculture.

Odds and Ends

India plans to launch its second unmanned mission to the moon next month. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has strived to make India a leader in space technology. If the mission is successful, it would be only the fourth country to achieve a controlled landing on the moon.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to sell his presidential jet—valued at $150 million—to fund plans to curb illegal migration. Mexico and the United States struck a deal last week to avoid U.S. tariffs if Mexico steps up its efforts. López Obrador said he will fly commercial going forward.

Ethiopia will offer mobile network licenses to multinational companies for the first time by the end of the year, Reuters reports. Ethiopia’s telecoms market, which serves around 100 million people, is one of the last of its size in the world with a state monopoly.

Foreign Policy Recommends

Talks between the United States and North Korea have reached a standstill, leaving everyone to wonder about what’s going on in Pyongyang—a veritable black box of information. Robert Carlin at 38North, a website that monitors North Korea, has an insightful read on what the leaders in Pyongyang might be thinking, based on signals from state-run media and a pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan. “Pyongyang appears to be signaling that it would welcome a US gesture allowing the two sides to resume engagement. Internally, however, there seems to be opposition to this course,” Carlin writes. Robbie Gramer, staff writer

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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