Morning Brief

Hong Kong Rallies in Solidarity With Uighurs

Activists in Hong Kong link their pro-democracy struggle with the plight of Muslim minorities in China.

Protesters attend a rally in Hong Kong on Dec. 22 to show support for the Uighur minority in China.
Protesters attend a rally in Hong Kong on Dec. 22 to show support for the Uighur minority in China. DALE DE LA REY/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Hong Kong’s protesters rally in solidarity with Uighurs in China, Turkey’s president says it can’t handle another wave of migration, Croatia heads for a presidential runoff election, and what to watch in the world this week.

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Hong Kong Voices Support for China’s Uighurs

Hong Kong protesters held a rally in solidarity with China’s Uighur Muslims on Sunday, linking Beijing’s surveillance and internment of Uighurs in Xinjiang region with its tightening grip over Hong Kong as pro-democracy protests extend into a seventh month. While pro-Uighur chants are common among protesters, Sunday’s rally was the first in explicit support of the minority group. Many waved the blue flag of “East Turkestan,” as Uighur separatists call Xinjiang.

Activists fear that China could one day use similar surveillance techniques to crack down in Hong Kong. The solidarity rally is likely to anger mainland leaders, who have issued warnings over criticism of the situation in Xinjiang. The peaceful rally ended in clashes with Hong Kong’s riot police, who dispersed the crowd with pepper spray after some protesters took down a Chinese flag from a government building.

Foreign criticism grows. Meanwhile, the European Parliament is calling for the European Union to impose targeted sanctions against China over its treatment of Uighurs, after awarding a human rights prize to the jailed Uighur intellectual Ilham Tohti in October. This month, U.S. lawmakers passed a bill calling for strong sanctions against senior Chinese officials over the crackdown in Xinjiang.

A year of chaos. “There’s still plenty of time until 2047, when the city’s independence will disappear entirely. But Beijing’s shadow is already looming over Hong Kong,” FP’s James Palmer writes of the protests in 2019. He rounds up FP’s top five stories on Hong Kong’s turbulent year.

What We’re Following Today

Erdogan says Turkey can’t handle more refugees. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Sunday that Turkey would not be able to handle another wave of migration from Syria, as Russian and Syrian forces ramp up a bombing campaign in Idlib. Turkey currently hosts around 3.7 million Syrian refugees. Erdogan’s comments come as the leader has pitched a detailed plan to resettle around 1 million of those refugees in a 20-mile zone in northern Syria, where Turkey launched an offensive against Kurdish militia in October.

Kurds and international observers have accused Turkey of demographic engineering, Tessa Fox reports for Foreign Policy. As xenophobia toward refugees rises in Turkey, the government faces hard choices. It simply can’t host millions of Syrians forever without facing an electoral backlash, Selim Sazak argued in FP in August.

Modi defends Indian citizenship law. Speaking at a rally for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in New Delhi on Sunday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi defended the controversial citizenship law passed on Dec. 11 that has fueled mass protests across the country. Critics say the law, which creates a path to Indian citizenship for religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, is anti-Muslim. Modi vehemently denied this charge in the face of his biggest challenge since the Hindu nationalist BJP took power in 2014. The party is expected to hold more than 200 news conferences in attempt to quell the unrest. It faces a state election in New Delhi early next year.

Afghanistan’s Ghani claims victory. After a lengthy delay, Afghanistan’s election commission declared President Ashraf Ghani the winner of the Sept. 28 election on Sunday, though preliminary results showed his majority was slim. His main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, has rejected the results. Protests and accusations of fraud followed the September vote, which had the country’s lowest turnout ever, and the results could lead to a showdown amid the country’s ongoing security crisis. A U.S. soldier was killed in an attack claimed by the Taliban on Monday.

The World This Week

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets Japan’s and South Korea’s leaders separately in Beijing today amid growing concerns that North Korea could return to open hostility with the United States by the new year—the deadline set by Pyongyang for Washington to change its negotiating tactics. The U.S. North Korea envoy met with Chinese diplomats in Beijing last week.

Trains across France are still disrupted this week by ongoing transport strikes in protest of the government’s plans to reform the pension system. Nearly 60 percent of train services are expected to be down today and Tuesday, with unions themselves divided over striking during the holiday travel period.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a leadership challenge on Thursday. Gideon Saar is running against him in the Likud party leadership contest. Netanyahu, facing corruption charges, has again failed to form a government—setting up an unprecedented third election set for March. Still, Saar doesn’t appear likely to oust him yet.

Keep an Eye On

Croatia’s presidential election. Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović finished second in the first round of voting for president on Sunday, with 27 percent of the vote. She will face a liberal former prime minister, Zoran Milanović, in a Jan. 5 runoff after he took 30 percent of the vote. Grabar Kitarović is still favored to win, given that the third place finisher was a right-wing singer, who took 24 percent of the vote—and whose supporters are more likely to support her than Milanović.

Croatia will take over the European Union presidency for the first time in January. Its government has faced criticism for its brutal treatment of migrants, including beatings and forcible expulsions into Bosnia, as Andrew Connelly reported for FP earlier this month; the EU, however, has largely turned a blind eye.

A Trump-Johnson meeting. British media reported on Sunday that U.S. President Donald Trump has invited Prime Minister Boris Johnson to visit Washington in the new year. Though Johnson is reluctant to visit before Britain’s deadline to exit the European Union on Jan. 31, the meeting will offer a chance for discussion of a post-Brexit trade deal with the United States.

Samoa’s measles outbreak. Officials in Samoa worry that the holiday travel period could exacerbate the spread of measles in the Pacific islands, which have recently become a hotspot for the contagious disease. Since September, there have been more than 5,400 cases of measles in Samoa, a country of around 200,000.

The Omani sultan’s successor. The Omani court is discussing a potential successor to Sultan Qaboos bin Said, whose health appears to be worsening after four years of cancer treatment. Qaboos, who has ruled Oman for almost 50 years, has secretly recommended a successor—via a sealed envelope submitted to the royal family council.

Odds and Ends

In France, holiday ice skating rinks are at the center of the debate over climate change this season, the New York Times reports. Environmentalists point out the high energy costs of the rinks, particularly as they aren’t considered a French tradition in the first place. Concerns about their carbon footprint led the cities of Bordeaux and Rennes to cancel plans for holiday skating rinks this year.

That’s it for today.

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

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