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Morning Brief

China’s Grip on Hong Kong

Plus: The U.N. report on Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, an exodus from Congo, and the other stories we’re following today.

Protesters march against the now-suspended China Extradition Law on June 16 in Hong Kong.
Protesters march against the now-suspended China Extradition Law on June 16 in Hong Kong. Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Hong Kong’s leader won’t step down, the United Nations releases a report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and violence flares in Congo’s Ebola zone.

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What Happens After Hong Kong’s Protests?

Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, issued an apology and backed away from the city’s controversial extradition bill on Tuesday, vowing not to reintroduce the legislation on her watch if public opposition continued. Protesters, who held the largest demonstration in the city since the 1997 British handover on Sunday, are still demanding that she step down. Lam has refused to do so—or to formally withdraw the bill—with the backing of Communist Party leaders in China. Lam has three years left in her term, after which the extradition bill could be reintroduced.

Lam’s reversal on the bill was rare, and it still presents a challenge for Chinese President Xi Jinping. The protests and government climbdown could hurt his image and perhaps inspire populations within China—in Xinjiang or Tibet, for example. “Beijing and Lam may have miscalculated,” the Washington Post notes. Still, China in many ways retains its grip on the city.

Leaderless. After the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests in 2014, Hong Kong moved to arrest some of the movement’s leaders. This time around, the protests—primarily driven by young people—do not have any clear leadership. For those in the streets demanding Hong Kong’s autonomy, that has been part of the draw.

Fleeing for Taiwan. Some Hong Kong residents who fear China’s tightening grip on the city are headed to Taiwan. After the 2014 protests, migration to Taiwan from Hong Kong spiked. Even before the extradition bill protests, the number of people granted residency in Taiwan from Hong Kong or Macau had increased 40 percent over last year. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has publicly sided with the protesters as she prepares for elections later this year.

Xi gets a boost? Xi did get a small boost on Tuesday, when U.S. President Donald Trump said their countries could resume trade talks on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Japan next week. The two leaders might also discuss the Hong Kong protests.

What We’re Following Today

United Nations issues Khashoggi report. U.N. investigator Agnes Callamard will release a report on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi today. Callamard has headed the inquiry since Khashoggi was killed in Istanbul’s Saudi consulate last October and has reviewed evidence obtained by Turkish intelligence officials. She could recommend holding both states and individuals accountable for the crime, which some Western countries believe was ordered directly by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Dutch prosecutors name suspects in downing of 2014 flight. Today Dutch prosecutors are expected to file criminal charges against four suspects in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which killed 298 people—the majority of them Dutch—over eastern Ukraine in 2014. The suspects are likely Russian-backed separatists and could include Russian military officers who helped transport the missiles used to down the plane. The charges are likely to increase tensions between the Netherlands and Russia, which constitutionally forbids the extradition of its citizens.

Tens of thousands flee violence in Congo Ebola zone. More than 300,000 people have fled ethnic violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s northeast since early this month, presenting yet another challenge for those combating the region’s Ebola outbreak. The violent clashes have killed at least 161 people in the last week. Some fear that those fleeing—who are at risk of Ebola infection—will cross the country’s porous border with Uganda, which reported its first cases of the virus last week.

Uncertainty at the DoD. As tensions rise between the United States and Iran, U.S. President Donald Trump has said that he is prepared to use military force to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon—but not necessarily to protect Gulf oil routes. The U.S. Department of Defense itself is facing uncertainty: On Tuesday, Patrick Shanahan withdrew his nomination to head the Pentagon—and the Department is unlikely to get a permanent head anytime soon, FP reports.

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Keep an Eye On

Facebook’s new cryptocurrency. Facebook announced a digital currency on Tuesday that aims to connect people around the world without access to banking. The currency—called Libra—could be a boon for Facebook, which has nearly 2.4 billion monthly users. It could also bring the company under further scrutiny for privacy violations: U.S. and British officials are already concerned about Facebook’s foray into the financial sector.

Trump’s top Russia aide. U.S. President Donald Trump’s top Russia advisor, Fiona Hill, is stepping down at the end of August, Robbie Gramer and Amy Mackinnon report. Hill is widely credited with the administration’s tough approach to Moscow. Her replacement is a nuclear arms control expert, signaling a possible shift toward arms talks.

Tunisia’s fragile democracy. Tunisia’s parliament passed an amendment that blocks the leading presidential candidate from running in the November election. Nabil Karoui, polling ahead of the country’s prime minister and incumbent president, had his offices raided by police in April. It’s not their first subversion of democracy: Tunisia’s security services are using the liberties won by the Arab Spring protesters to unionize—and attack activists, Sam Kimball reports for FP.

Boris Johnson. Boris Johnson is a step closer to Britain’s top job, after winning 40 percent of votes in the second party leadership ballot. Conservative lawmakers will continue voting today to further narrow the current field of five candidates. Tories might see Johnson as the “least bad” choice, but they worry that his reckless endorsement of a no-deal Brexit could doom the party, Owen Matthews writes for FP: “[T]he prospect of Johnson actually running the country is a nightmarish one to many of his elite colleagues.”

Climate Check

Climate policy will be high on the agenda of the EU Council summit later this week, with leaders  expected to debate setting a target to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Several countries have indicated they would sign on to the target, and Britain and Ireland have already released domestic proposals to do so.

In the midst of a drought in India, Chennai is running out of water as its main reservoirs dry up. The city is desperate for a solution, and hotels and restaurants have temporarily shut their doors. Chennai has grappled with a severe water shortage for weeks, with the annual monsoon rains slow to arrive.

An expedition has discovered that the permafrost in Canada’s Arctic is thawing 70 years earlier than scientists had predicted—suggesting the climate crisis is accelerating faster, too. Experts worry that the melting permafrost could release heat-trapping gases, creating a dangerous feedback loop.

Odds and Ends

A man who threw a milkshake at Britain’s Brexit party leader Nigel Farage last month has been ordered to compensate him for a suit-cleaning bill. The man has already pleaded guilty to assault. The protest tactic has provoked debate in Britain, where it picked up speed ahead of the European elections.

Berlin has approved a plan to freeze rents in the city for five years, as demand pushes up housing prices—by 7 percent in the first quarter this year. Rents are rising across Germany, and other cities will likely watch the draft law closely.

That’s it for today.

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

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