Morning Brief

Hong Kong Braces for New Year’s Protests

Pro-democracy activists plan to start 2020 with another massive march through Hong Kong.

Pro-democracy protesters take photos of a "Free HK" light display in Edinburgh Place in central Hong Kong on Dec. 30.
Pro-democracy protesters take photos of a "Free HK" light display in Edinburgh Place in central Hong Kong on Dec. 30. ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Hong Kong’s protesters plan to start the new year with a massive march, Emmanuel Macron addresses France’s ongoing strike against pension reform, and Bolivia’s interim government escalates a diplomatic dispute.

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Hong Kong Protesters Kick Off the New Year

Mass pro-democracy protests are planned in Hong Kong on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, with demonstrators disrupting shopping malls and holiday festivities. On Tuesday, activists were expected to occupy commercial districts including Lan Kwai Fong, which usually draws New Year’s partiers. Riot police will be on the streets, after increasing clashes with protesters over the last week.

On New Year’s Day, authorities have approved a pro-democracy march from Causeway Bay to Hong Kong’s central business district organized by the Civil Human Rights Front—the group that held the city’s biggest marches in June. This month, they organized a mass protest after the municipal elections that drew an estimated 800,000 people. The march will mark nearly seven months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong.

Kicking off 2020. Activists hope the turnout for the Wednesday march will be a strong start to the new year for the pro-democracy movement. Though the protests have declined in size, rallies continue almost daily, including one on Monday to honor those killed or injured during the protests. “For most Hong Kong people, Christmas and New Year’s don’t mean anything to us anymore,” one protester told Reuters. “What we’re fighting for is our future.”

Mainland response. Ahead of this week’s protests, China’s army garrison in Hong Kong carried out military exercises around the city’s harbor—a move seen as a warning to demonstrators. So far the Chinese government has continued to voice its support for Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam. But with the unrest extending into 2020, Beijing could further tighten its grip on the territory in the new year.

What We’re Following Today

Macron to address pension strikes. French President Emmanuel Macron will at last address France’s ongoing strike against pension reform in today’s annual new year speech, after nearly five weeks of transport disruptions, which are expected to continue for at least two weeks in January. Macron has until now left it to Prime Minister Edouard Philippe to handle the crisis.

The president isn’t likely to dwell on the details of his pension reform plan—a key election promise—but instead will call for dialogue. Macron is facing pressure to make concessions to the protesters, but risks losing his base if he gives in.

Bolivia escalates diplomatic dispute. On Monday, Bolivia expelled diplomats from Mexico and Spain, part of an ongoing dispute after Mexico’s embassy granted asylum to aides of former President Evo Morales, who was ousted in November. Interim President Jeanine Áñez named Mexico’s ambassador and several Spanish officials “persona non grata.” Mexico denounced the move as “political,” while Spain has ordered three Bolivian diplomats to leave Madrid in response. Morales is in exile in Argentina, though he has vowed to return to Bolivia next year.

Iraqi protesters storm U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Demonstrators in the city, angry at U.S. airstrikes against an Iran-backed militia in Iraq on Sunday, managed to penetrate the outer walls of the building and light fires in the compound. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has condemned the airstrikes—putting his country in the middle of rising tensions between the United States and Iran. The United States carried out the strikes after a rocket attack that killed a U.S. contractor on an Iraqi military base. In recent months, Iraq’s street protests have turned hostile against Iran, but Sunday’s strikes tipped the demonstrators against the United States, the New York Times reports.

Keep an Eye On

Scotland’s push for independence. After winning a Brexit mandate, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under renewed pressure to allow Scotland a second independence referendum. That puts him in a similar position to Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who is grappling with his own constitutional crisis over Catalonia. Scottish nationalists would be wise to look to Catalan separatists to avoid their failures, Mark Nayler argues in FP.

Unrest in Darfur. Sudan will deploy military forces in West Darfur and suspend peace talks there after deadly unrest in the region’s capital, el-Geneina, on Monday. Since former President Omar al-Bashir was ousted in April, Sudan’s transitional authorities have been holding talks with rebel groups in Darfur. The prime minister is expected to visit el-Geneina this week.

The Islamic State’s next battle. The Islamic State lost its last sections of territory in Syria at the start of 2019, and tens of thousands of its former foreign fighters are in prison—some in Western countries. But that means that the ISIS recruitment base has only grown, with those in jail planning for the group’s next steps, Vera Mironova argues in FP.

Check out what’s next on the global stage in FP’s The Year Ahead.

Odds and Ends

Germany has long celebrated New Year’s Eve with large displays of fireworks. But this year, Berlin and dozens of other German cities are limiting private fireworks over concerns about safety, pollution, and damage to historic buildings, the New York Times reports. While its public display over the Brandenberg Gate will go ahead, observers say that Germany’s “Silvester” celebrations could be on the wane.

That’s it for today.

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

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