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A Fearful Hong Kong Marks Anniversaries

One year on from its controversial national security law, Hong Kong is adapting to a life closer to China.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
The flags of China and Hong Kong against the city's skyline in Hong Kong.
The flags of China and Hong Kong are seen against the skyline in Hong Kong on June 30. Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Hong Kong marks 24th anniversary of British handover to Chinese rule, the European Union and United Kingdom agree to a Brexit trade extension, and Donald Rumsfeld dies at 88.

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Hong Kong Protest Ban Silences Dissent

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Hong Kong marks 24th anniversary of British handover to Chinese rule, the European Union and United Kingdom agree to a Brexit trade extension, and Donald Rumsfeld dies at 88.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Hong Kong Protest Ban Silences Dissent

Hong Kong marks two anniversaries Thursday in an atmosphere of tension, one year on from the implementation of a controversial national security law.

Thursday marks the 24th anniversary of the territory’s handover from British to Chinese rule. The day is traditionally marked with protests, but with Hong Kong’s national security law in effect, any show of defiance has been blocked by official bans and a heavy police presence.

Thursday is also the official centenary of the Chinese Communist Party, and as Foreign Policy’s James Palmer wrote in Wednesday’s China Brief, the party is more in control at home than ever. Chinese President Xi Jinping embodied that swagger at an event in Tiananmen Square, telling a crowd that anyone who sought to bully, oppress, or subjugate China “will have their heads bashed bloody against the great wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people.”

Mentioning Hong Kong, Xi said his government would stay “true to the spirit and principle” of the “one country, two systems” approach.

“Climate of fear.” In a report released on Tuesday, the human rights group Amnesty International condemned the broad-based national security law. Amnesty accused Chinese authorities of putting Hong Kong “on a rapid path to becoming a police state and created a human rights emergency for the people living there.” Although the law has led to the arrest of only 117 people so far, it has created a “climate of fear that forces residents to think twice about what they say, what they tweet and how they live their lives,” Amnesty said.

At a ceremony where the Chinese and Hong Kong flags were raised under Mandarin orders rather than the traditional Cantonese, Hong Kong’s deputy leader, John Lee, praised the law, saying it had restored law and order. “While safeguarding national security, residents continue to enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly and demonstration and others according to the law,” Lee added.

A trickle out. Although still a major global trading hub, the territory has seen dozens of international companies leave since 2019, fueling a the highest vacancy rate in commercial real estate in the past 15 years. Although stifled by COVID-19 travel restrictions, more residents left Hong Kong in 2020 than at any point in the last 12 years, according to government figures.

What We’re Following Today

Sausage war cease-fire. EU and U.K. negotiators agreed to extend for three months a grace period on the trade of chilled meats between Great Britain and Northern Ireland that had become a flash point in implementing the Brexit deal agreed between the two sides last December. The European Commission warned that the extension would be final and suggested that the United Kingdom align with the bloc on health standards in order to avoid the problem in future. U.K. Brexit Minister David Frost said the meat issue, dubbed the “sausage war,” “is only one of a very large number of problems” with the Northern Ireland protocol of the Brexit agreement.

Canada Day. Canada marks its national day on Thursday with muted celebrations in the wake of the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of Indigenous people in boarding schools used as part of Canada’s past forced assimilation programs. Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeualt said the day would be a time to reflect on the “darker chapters of our past,” rejecting calls for the celebrations to be canceled outright.

Rumsfeld dead at 88. Donald Rumsfeld, a two-time U.S. defense secretary who oversaw the U.S. invasion of Iraq, died on Wednesday; he was 88 years old. In an obituary, Foreign Policy’s Michael Hirsh described Rumsfeld as a man “brought down by his own overconfidence” as he marched the United States into wars it is still fighting today. Spencer Ackerman, writing in the Daily Beast and reflecting on the thousands of people killed in the Iraq War, observed that the “only thing tragic about the death of Donald Rumsfeld is that it didn’t occur in an Iraqi prison.”

Keep an Eye On

EU travel passes. EU member states on Thursday are rolling out a new digital certificate intended to ease travel across borders by providing up-to-date information on a traveler’s COVID-19 testing and vaccination status. Citing a “worrying patchwork of approaches” by EU member nations, a group of European airlines and airports have warned of “chaos” at airports due to extra document checks adding to already long preboarding times as travel resumes across the continent.

Abiy’s next moves. In his first public statement since rebels with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) retook Tigray’s capital of Mekele on Monday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said his military units were “massacred” in ambushes staged in Tigrayan villages and said any claim that the Ethiopian army was defeated was “fake news.”

Abiy complained about press reports of famine conditions in Tigray attributed to his military campaign, saying his attempts to “rehabilitate” the region with a large investment of public funds had not been recognized. Abiy said the country would turn its focus on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and beginning to fill the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile River—a project that has angered downstream neighbors Egypt and Sudan.

Odds and Ends

Police in Athens have been commended for recovering a priceless Pablo Picasso painting stolen in a gallery heist nine years ago but have won fewer plaudits for securing the painting’s well-being once in the care of law enforcement. The portrait, given as a gift to Greece’s National Gallery by the Spanish painter to honor the country’s resistance to Nazi Germany, had been stolen in 2012 according to what Greece’s police minister called “nonexistent” security measures.

It was recently found again in a dried riverbed outside Athens after officers responded to a tipoff. As police propped up the painting on Tuesday for the world’s media to take a closer look, the frameless artwork promptly crashed to the ground.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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