Pressure builds with more protests in Hong Kong, but what’s the end game?



According to organisers, two million people marched Sunday in Hong Kong, with many shifting focus away from a controversial extradition bill to the resignation of the Beijing-backed chief executive, Carrie Lam.
Jerome Favre/AAP

Caitlin Byrne, Griffith University

The latest protests in Hong Kong on Sunday, which organisers said brought some 2 million people to the streets, represented yet another striking show of “people power” in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s efforts to bring calm to Hong Kong included an uncharacteristic about-face on her position over the weekend, a rare apology and the indefinite suspension of the proposed changes to the city’s extradition laws, which sparked the initial protest against the government last weekend.

But laden with qualifications and a subtle rebuke of the protesters, Lam’s repositioning of the issue has had limited impact, suggesting that she may have seriously underestimated the anger and determination of her constituency. The protesters are now calling for nothing less than her resignation, making her the “lightening rod” for public anger in the face of growing resentment towards Chinese influence in Hong Kong.

As the people of Hong Kong continue to take to the streets, one wonders whether the real struggle has only just begun.

How the fight over the extradition bill mushroomed

For many, Lam’s controversial extradition bill represented the “thin edge of the wedge” of Chinese control. If passed, the proposed law could have seen local and foreign criminal suspects sent to mainland China to stand trial in a judicial system that is opaque and vastly uncompromising.

But there’s much more at stake for the people, identity and prospects of Hong Kong. For those concerned about China’s rising influence in the city, the legislation represented a dangerous break in the firewall that has preserved civil liberties for the people of Hong Kong within the “one country, two systems” framework.




Read more:
Two systems, one headache: Hong Kong twenty years after the handover to China


While its proponents claim the bill has a narrow application, many fear it would enable China’s leadership to target political opponents, entrepreneurs and activists as part of its wider strategy for exercising control over the region. The implications for Hong Kong’s reputation as a vibrant global financial, business and transit hub would be significant.

Of course, the latest demonstrations cannot be viewed in isolation – they are the latest chapter in Hong Kong’s longstanding tradition of public dissent. And there have been some notable successes in the past, including the indefinite suspension of plans to implement a national security law in 2003 and the reversal of a proposed comprehensive national curriculum in 2012.

Yet, as the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests revealed, the mood in Hong Kong appears to be taking on a more sombre tone. Much of this reflects the changing mood within China.

Protesters in Hong Kong wore black on Sunday night, a striking change from the white apparel worn last week.
Roman Pilipey/EPA

Under President Xi Jinping, civil protests — even those organised in the special autonomous region of Hong Kong — are increasingly fraught. Xi himself set the tone with a particularly hard-line speech during his 2017 visit to the city for Lam’s swearing-in.

Flagging new levels of intolerance for activities that might be interpreted as encouraging Hong Kong independence from China, Xi noted:

Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government … or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line and is absolutely impermissible.

Despite the efforts of China’s state-run Global Times newspaper to lay blame for the “uncontrolled street politics” on “Western forces” and “malice from afar”, however, Chinese political authorities have remained relatively quiet on the Hong Kong protests this week.




Read more:
How a cyber attack hampered Hong Kong protesters


This is unsurprising. Coming just a week after the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, China was never likely to take an openly provocative stance against the protesters.

But it is clear Beijing is keeping a close eye on the situation, pushing back on criticisms from abroad and now possibly wavering in its support for Lam. Ever sensitive to external critiques that relate to questions of sovereignty, the Chinese government may decide to take a harder line should the protests continue to gather momentum.

Lack of foreign pressure

Thus far, the response to the protests has been relatively muted. The European Union has called for the rights of the Hong Kong people to be respected, noting its concern for the “potentially far-reaching consequences” of the extradition bill. UK Prime Minister Theresa May, meanwhile, has called on authorities to ensure the extradition arrangements “are in line with the rights and freedoms” set forth in the joint declaration when the British handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997.

US President Donald Trump has remained ambivalent so far, saying only last week, “I’m sure they’ll be able to work it all out.” But according to his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, Trump is now expected to raise the issue when he meets Xi at the G20 Summit at the end of the month. This is only significant insofar as it reminds us of Trump’s transactional interest in the region.




Read more:
Hong Kong in crisis over relationship with China – and there does not appear to be a good solution


As for Australia, Foreign Minister Marise Payne issued a fairly neutral statement in support of the Hong Kong people’s right to protest. It left many, including those in Sydney, Melbourne and elsewhere who protested in support of Hong Kong last week, somewhat underwhelmed.

Beyond the protests, how the current tensions unfold will have serious implications for Australia’s engagement in the region and our ongoing relationship with China. The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper reinforces the core values underpinning our international engagement, including support for political, economic and religious freedoms, liberal democracy and the rule of law.

How and when we articulate our commitment to these values, and reinforce their place in our region, will be the key test of our diplomacy going forward.

As protesters turn their ire on Carrie Lam, the Chinese government may retreat from its support for her.
Roman Pilipey/EPA

Where do the protests go from here?

Lam’s decision to suspend consideration of the extradition bill offers a necessary moment for pause. But it hasn’t taken the heat out of the protests.

At this stage, Lam hasn’t backed away from her intent to revive the bill at a later stage. It’s also likely the Chinese government will continue to press towards that outcome, though perhaps in a different form and even under different leadership. Much hangs in the balance.

Hong Kong’s protesters appear galvanised by their cause. But whether they can sustain the necessary momentum for the long game — where crossing red lines may come at a cost — is another matter altogether.The Conversation

Caitlin Byrne, Director, Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advertisements

When Trump comes to Australia, let’s hope protesters get more creative than the baby blimp



File 20180801 136652 ut39wu.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Trump Baby flies over Parliament Square in July during President Trump’s visit to the UK.
Andy Rain/EPA

Felicity Fenner, UNSW

Trump Baby is President Donald Trump’s highest-profile troll. During his recent UK visit, the airborne infant protested alongside tens of thousands of marchers against current US policies. While Trump’s itinerary was carefully choreographed to avoid protesters, his nappy-clad inflatable caricature was embraced by crowds on the streets and watching from afar. Now there is speculation that the baby blimp will come to Australia for Trump’s expected visit here later this year.

Trump Baby critiques the president not from a political or moral standpoint, but at the level of ego. It is designed to embarrass and humiliate him. Baby’s makers believe such an insult has a better chance of hitting its target than political arguments, which Trump is seemingly impervious to. Indeed Trump complained that the balloon made him feel “unwelcome”. Bullseye!

Trump Baby quickly went viral, demonstrating that while art cannot necessarily change the world, it can harness to great effect the zeitgeist of cultural sentiment. Yet in these times of political uncertainty, creative people need to step up to the challenge of not simply mirroring the issues and concerns of the day, but of providing new ways of thinking about the world and its problems. This opportunity was largely missed with the Trump blimp.

While grotesque, giant inflatables have a place in social protest – the trade union movement has deployed them to great effect – there is an opportunity here to elevate creative responses beyond the well-trodden path of cheap shot street theatre.

The long history of visual protest

Picasso’s Guernica protested the violence arising from the Spanish civil war.
Artribune/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Social change and uprisings have been marked by image-led protests throughout history. Picasso’s Guernica (1937) was made in response to the suffering and violence inflicted by the Spanish civil war, and 80 years later remains a universal symbol of anti-war protest.

Artists responded with murals and multiple-edition prints to the 1968 uprisings in Europe, the beginning of the end of the Soviet empire in 1989, and as part of the global Occupy movement from 2011 onward. In the last two years, the preponderance of Trump protest art has almost become a genre of its own.




Read more:
May 1968: the posters that inspired a movement


Trump Baby was welcomed by London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
CrowdSpark

The process of staging any interventionist art project is fraught with obstacles. These range from prohibitive public safety regulations and sceptical bureaucrats to cost blowouts and unpredictable weather. Yet in Britain last month the protest gods (and indeed, Mayor Sadiq Khan) were on the side of Trump Baby, eagerly rolling out the red carpet in a spirit of geniality that was not extended by the public to Trump the man.

In the Don’s home country, the state has assumed a more cautious, sometimes censorial approach. Last year, a proposal for another balloon artwork opposing Trump was scuttled by Chicago authorities. The plan was to fly four, nine-metre wide, pig-shaped helium balloons from a section of the Chicago River that fronts Trump Tower. The bloated, golden swine would obscure the giant letters that spell out the proprietor’s name.

Designed to protest falsehoods in the current political environment, the project invoked a range of cultural references. The pigs referred variously to the four central pig characters of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Trump’s controversial “Miss Piggy” comments about a former Miss Universe, and the garish gold interiors of the Trump penthouse. In a blow to the creators, Chicago authorities blamed the potential for river traffic congestion in ruling that, for now, the pigs can’t fly.




Read more:
Going for gold: Trump, Louis XIV and interior design


Don the Chicken makes an appearance at the Tax March in San Francisco in 2017.
Pax Ahimsa Gethen/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Trump Baby, like much Trump protest art, provides some much needed levity in the depressing news cycle of world politics. It was preceded in 2017 by Don the Chicken, an inflatable fowl that temporarily landed on the lawn behind the White House. Don’s grotesque features also mocked Trump’s inflated ego and narcissistic preoccupation with appearance.

The motivation behind these inflatables and other Trump protest art is mostly uniform and blatantly obvious. The UK designers of Baby Trump have stated on numerous occasions that the current US administration is not representative of the kind of politics that people in the UK believe in. The creators behind the Chicago proposal have similarly explained that they are not activists. Instead they are proud Americans creating visual commentary on the current political environment.

Speaking to the converted

The visual aspect of the commentary is key to the concept of Trump Baby, Don the Chicken and the (currently grounded) flying pigs. Historically, visual imagery in the public sphere was mainly found in places of worship. Renaissance scholar Leon Battista Alberti wrote in the 15th century that images were essential to help people understand the message being conveyed.

Inside the churches and cathedrals of Europe, artists’ murals, paintings and sculptures reinforced the word spoken from the pulpit. Like Baby Trump, in its day religious imagery was speaking to the converted. However unlike art of the Renaissance, the baby blimp eschews the possibility of subtle inference and nuanced interpretation in favour of delivering a bland message designed for mass appeal.

This is the crucial difference between art and caricature: Baby Trump is a towering gasbag that sucks up all the intellectual oxygen in the room.

A Michelin Man poster from 1898.
Wikimedia Commons

Religious art of the Renaissance was also commissioned as eye candy with an essentially didactic purpose. However, that imagery is imbued with a narrative-based layering that continues to command interest and acclaim from historians and tourists of all faiths 500 years later. The baby blimp, in contrast, is the brainchild of graphic designers who excel in creating witty one-liners.

This is not to say that serious art cannot play a role in protest movements. However, because inflatables have been commandeered by advertising since the 19th century birth of the Michelin Man, artist-led balloon projects need to disassociate themselves from the visual vocabulary of the marketing industry.

Australian artists have proven this is possible: in Brook Andrew’s Jumping Castle War Memorial created for the 2010 Biennale of Sydney and Patricia Piccinini’s Skywhale commissioned for the 2013 centenary of Canberra, each artist drew on their own unique repositories of image and form to present unexpected and engagingly complex juxtapositions of politics, history and fun.

Brook Andrew discusses his Jumping Castle War Memorial, displayed on the forecourt on Cockatoo Island during the 17th Biennale of Sydney. The Castle acted as a memorial for forgotten peoples who have been the victims of genocide internationally.

The crude rendering of Trump Baby, in contrast, reflects its simplistic concept: Trump is like a baby – immature, noisy and self-centred. In an image-driven 21st century threatened by divisive politics, this blimp exemplifies the brash and infantile folly that it purports to critique.

The ConversationIf Trump’s troll travels here later this year, it throws open a challenge for Australian artists to greet the man and his Baby with thoughtful, artistically sophisticated responses that provoke considered debate rather than superficially regurgitating popular opinion.

Felicity Fenner, Associate Professor at UNSW Art & Design, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Large Crowds Are Gathering to Demand the Ouster of Malaysia’s Prime Minister


TIME

Thousands of protesters are expected to take to the streets of Kuala Lumpur and other Malaysian cities on Saturday to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Popular discontent with Najib’s leadership has rapidly escalated since early last month, when an exposé in The Wall Street Journal revealed that his private bank accounts held over $700 million in funds purportedly siphoned off a struggling state investment fund called 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

Najib has firmly denied malfeasance and penalized those who have alleged it. He has threatened to sue the Journal for libel; more controversially, he sacked his deputy prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, in a cabinet reshuffle in late July after Muhyiddin called for transparency in the matter.

Today’s planned rally, which the authorities have deemed unlawful, is the latest exercise in political discontent within this once-promising Southeast Asian state. The engine of this discontent is an unofficial pro-democracy…

View original post 545 more words

USA: New York City – Church School Ban


The following link is to an article concerning the banning of church congregations using school buildings for meeting places, even when the buildings are not being used and when the church meeting there has been paying rent for using the building. Leaders of some of these churches have been arrested following protests over the move.

For more, read:
http://online.worldmag.com/2012/01/12/new-york-pastors-and-lay-people-arrested-for-praying-in-protest/