Can Hong Kong Keep Resisting?
Plus: Iran raises the stakes, the European Union hopes to break deadlock, and the other stories we’re following today.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Hong Kong’s protesters reach a crossroads, Iran raises the stakes, and EU leaders face pressure to agree on the bloc’s top jobs.
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Protest Movement at a Crossroads
Businesses were open but Hong Kong’s Legislative Council remained closed today, after police used tear gas to disperse the protesters gathered inside and around the building on the anniversary of the city’s 1997 handover to Chinese rule. On Monday night, hundreds of protesters charged into the legislature, shattering glass and spray-painting the walls. But the intensified tactics also threatened to divide the protest movement, with some sympathetic politicians pleading for nonviolence.
The storming of the legislature was a significant escalation in the ongoing protest movement against the city’s extradition bill, which has been suspended—but not withdrawn—by its leader, Carrie Lam. For the first time in weeks, Lam appeared in public—first for an anniversary ceremony, and then to condemn the violent protests.
Outside voices. Following the march on the legislature, the European Union urged restraint, while Britain repeated its commitment to the joint declaration it signed with China before the handover. Facing a direct challenge from protesters, China’s foreign ministry continued calling for an end to foreign interference. The protests have been largely censored by Chinese media.
What about Xi? The escalation of the protests may prompt a response from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who risks losing face over the weeks-long unrest. That the protests have continued may have caught China by surprise, but Xi could still intervene. His record on cracking down on political pluralism in China already worries Hong Kong residents.
Everyday resistance? Romanticizing the Hong Kong protests risks ignoring the hard slog of everyday resistance in the city, Karen Cheung argues in FP. “[W]hen the protests eventually and inevitably die down, they’re left with a gaping hole in both coverage and support,” she writes. “The tale of a city facing a slow and almost certain death, stretched over the span of 50 years, is pretty anticlimactic.”
What We’re Following Today
Iran’s uranium breach raises the stakes. Iran announced on Monday that it had stockpiled more low-enriched uranium than is allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal, marking its first major breach of the agreement. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denies that the move was a violation, since the United States backed out of the accord last year, but it raises the stakes of diplomacy as European countries scramble to save the deal. If they can’t, Zarif said Iran’s next move will be to enrich uranium above 3.67 percent.
While the breach has raised concerns that Iran could build a nuclear weapon, it’s not such a concrete step, Lara Seligman reports. “Experts agree that Iran has the capability to build a nuclear bomb,” she writes. “But whether the regime will actually do so is a different question.”
EU summit enters third day. National leaders must decide on the European Union’s top jobs today to get ahead of the European Parliament’s Wednesday presidential election after German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plan broke down on Sunday. Any further delay could undermine the European Union’s standing. “It’s a very bad image for both the European Council and for Europe,” French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday. The lack of consensus, particularly over the next European Commission president, reflects growing division in the bloc—but EU officials who value liberal democratic norms should not give in to pressure from illiberal Hungarian and Polish leaders who are seeking to derail the candidacy of the Dutch diplomat Frans Timmermans in order to protect themselves from further EU scrutiny, argues Garvan Walshe in FP.
Russia pushes for prisoner swap with the United States. Russia has proposed a prisoner swap with the United States, hoping to free a pilot and raising speculation that Russia could release Paul Whelan, the former U.S. Marine detained on espionage charges. Whelan’s family told FP in May that he believed he was arrested in retaliation for U.S. sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Keep an Eye On
Detained rescue ship captain in Italy. An Italian judge will decide today whether to release the German captain of a migrant rescue boat that entered a Sicilian port over the weekend. Italy has closed its ports to migrants. Carola Rackete is currently under house arrest and is accused of ignoring warship orders—a charge that could land her in prison. Germany has demanded her release.
Mexico’s president. A year since Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s election, polling shows there are doubts about his government’s policies on issues such as education and security. The president recently announced he wants to put national security entirely in the hands of the new National Guard—an unlikely proposal. Still, López Obrador retains the support of two-thirds of Mexican voters.
Refugee camp demolitions. Lebanon’s army has knocked down at least 20 concrete homes in three refugee camps, following through on a deadline set for the refugees to take down any permanent structures themselves. Rights groups fear more demolitions as Lebanon increases pressure on its 1.5 million refugees to return to Syria.
Iran-linked hackers. Amid the intensifying U.S.-Iran standoff, hackers linked to Tehran appear to be preparing for possible attacks on U.S. businesses. The plans follow U.S. cyberattacks on Iran’s intelligence units and suggest the beginning of a new phase of cyberwarfare in which countries trade tit-for-tat attacks, Elias Groll reports.
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Odds and Ends
South Korea created a spectacle when it launched fighter jets toward the border with North Korea after spotting an unidentified flying object—but it turned out to be a flock of birds. The alert may have been intended to combat criticism of military surveillance: Last month, the South Korean military failed to detect a North Korean boat before it reached the South.
Monday was Burundi’s independence day. President Pierre Nkurunziza marked the occasion by renaming national landmarks to honor the majority Hutu ethnic group. The country still faces ethnic tension, and critics say the move undermines the history of Burundi’s minority Tutsis.
An unprecedented summer hail storm hit Guadalajara, Mexico, burying streets and cars in ice despite the 88-degree temperatures. “Then we ask ourselves if climate change is real. These are never-before-seen natural phenomenons,” said Enrique Alfaro, the state governor.
That’s it for today.