World

Hong Kong protests. Macron messages unheeded. Samoa sinks Rocketman. Military raids Sudan camp. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Protests erupt over Hong Kong extradition bill

Protesters clash with police outside the Legislative Council Complex in Hong Kong on Wednesday.
Credit: Anthony Wallace / AFP / Getty Images

GREAT POWER RIVALRY

France: Last year, French President Emmanuel Macron gave Donald Trump an oak tree sapling to plant at the White House as a celebration of their friendship. But, as Le Monde revealed last week, the tree died some time ago – after it was dug up and held in quarantine.

“We will send him another, it is not a tragedy,” Macron told Switzerland’s RTS network on Tuesday.

Macron has tried spectacularly hard to forge a close friendship with Trump. His aim has been to reassert France’s global leadership, standing up to Trump to defend liberal values against rising nationalism and protectionism. But Macron’s civilising mission appears to be failing.

The two leaders met for two hours last week at Caen in Normandy, during Trump’s visit to France to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Outwardly, the pair demonstrated solidarity, embracing and walking solemnly together during the memorial. But deep differences remain.

Macron said the lesson from Normandy was that “liberty and democracy are inseparable”. He reminded Trump their countries’ victory had paved the way for the creation of the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union – all groupings Trump openly scorns.

Both insisted they agreed on Iran’s nuclear program, though France is seeking to ensure the survival of the Iran deal from which Trump withdrew. Macron said countries should respect global trade rules, though the United States president has been pressing ahead with imposing further tariffs. And Macron wants the upcoming summit of the Group of Seven advanced economies to discuss climate change, though Trump withdrew from the Paris climate agreement and has not confirmed whether he will attend the summit.

After the visit, Trump praised Macron and refrained from the anti-France tweets that followed his previous trip. Beyond their personal rapport, however, Macron’s messages are going unheeded.

THE NEIGHBOURHOOD

Samoa: On June 7, the Apollo Cinema in downtown Apia announced on Facebook it was cancelling screenings of the new Elton John biopic, Rocketman, “due to censoring issues”.

The Samoan government’s principal censor, Leiataua Niuapu Faaui, said while the film had a “good story”, its depiction of gay sex and the famed musician’s same-sex marriage was inconsistent with the country’s values and Christian beliefs.

Male homosexuality is illegal and punishable by up to five years’ prison in Samoa, according to a report earlier this year by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.

Tonga and the Cook Islands also have a male-only ban, while Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu and Kiribati ban homosexuality for both men and women. Elsewhere, though, there has been some reform in recent years. Fiji and Nauru have repealed their bans, and Vanuatu, which never had one, equalised the age of consent for homosexual and heterosexual couples.

Some historians believe the opposition to homosexuality in the Pacific was a colonial import that arrived with Christian missionaries. In Samoa, more than 97 per cent of the population are Christian and the country’s long-serving prime minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, has described same-sex marriage as “heathenistic” and a sin.

But Samoa also has a strong fa’afafine community, a third gender of people who are assigned males at birth but are raised as females and do not identify as male or female. Despite being an accepted part of Samoan culture, many have reported abuse and discrimination. The community has led the struggle for gay rights in Samoa and criticised the Rocketman ban.

Samoa Fa’afafine Association president Alex Su’a told Radio New Zealand: “On the many other movies that I’ve seen being sold in DVD shops and what I’ve seen in cinemas, a lot of it is not really based on Christian principles or values.”

DEMOCRACY IN RETREAT

Hong Kong: For the past few weeks, hundreds of disparate segments of Hong Kong’s population – including athletes, housewives, high school student bodies and anime fan clubs – have been circulating petitions to oppose a law that would allow suspects of crime to be extradited to mainland China.

Last Sunday, and again on Wednesday this week, these campaigners shifted to the streets, resulting in the largest public protest since Hong Kong was returned by Britain to Chinese control in 1997. Officials said 240,000 people marched. Organisers put the number at a million – or about one in seven Hong Kong residents.

The protesters fear the law is part of Beijing’s creeping efforts to undermine Hong Kong’s special “one country, two systems” status, which is supposed to guarantee a separation from China’s political and judicial systems. Many believe the extradition laws would leave Hong Kong vulnerable to China’s obscure legal system, including secret detentions and trials. Hong Kong’s pro-China leader, Carrie Lam, says the extradition law extends to Taiwan and Macau and is necessary to prevent Hong Kong becoming a “fugitive offenders’ haven”. Pro-Beijing MPs make up 43 of Hong Kong’s 70-seat legislature and planned to pass the legislation within weeks. However, on Wednesday, debate of the bill was postponed “to a later time to be determined”, in light of the protests.

The battle has demonstrated that Hong Kong residents will not quietly yield to China’s growing influence. Last year, China completed one of the world’s longest bridges to connect Hong Kong to the mainland. Beijing has also been increasingly willing to act against Hong Kong-based critics. This included the detention in 2015 of five Hong Kong booksellers who were associated with a publisher that released books critical of Chinese leaders. Lam Wing-kee, one of the booksellers, reappeared after eight months and said he had been kidnapped and taken to the mainland by Chinese agents, where he was subject to “mental torture”. Two months ago, he left Hong Kong for Taiwan, saying he believed he was at the top of the extradition list.

In Australia, the local Hong Kong community urged the federal government to take a stronger stance against the proposed extradition laws. The foreign minister, Marise Payne, said the government was taking a “close interest” and its consul-general in Hong Kong had raised the law with senior officials.

A community leader in Melbourne, Jane Poon, told ABC News, the Australian government’s response was “too bland”.

SPOTLIGHT: SUDAN RAIDS

Sudan: Following the overthrow of Sudan’s longstanding dictator Omar al-Bashir in April, thousands of pro-democratic campaigners remained in their camp outside the military’s headquarters in Khartoum, the capital. The protesters demanded the ruling military regime keep its promise of a smooth transition to democratic elections and a free, open society.

Late last month, the regime declared the camp was a national security threat and “a danger to the revolution and the revolutionaries”. Three days later, the military stormed the camp and has spent the past two weeks cracking down on protesters across the country. A group of Sudanese doctors that has helped lead the opposition said at least 118 civilians were killed since the original attack on June 3, which used live ammunition.

The crackdown has included raids on media offices, revoking the licences of foreign journalists, blocking social media and interfering with phone traffic.

The protesters have demanded immediate elections, claiming the military’s plan to hold a ballot in nine months will result only in the election of a new dictator.

Analysts believe Egypt, along with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, has encouraged the crackdown, fearing an Arab Spring-style spread of popular democratic movements. Shortly before the camp raid in Khartoum, the two generals running Sudan’s ruling military council between them visited the three countries and met with their leaders.

In contrast, Sudan’s African neighbours have taken a stance against the military’s brutality. The African Union suspended Sudan’s membership and Ethiopia has been trying to orchestrate talks between the military and protesters.

Meanwhile, many of the protesters have gone underground, struggling to communicate without internet access. In Khartoum, Rasha Adam, 38, told the Financial Times the protesters have formed neighbourhood committees and now meet at homes, sharing information about protests and military activities. “Now is only the beginning,” she said.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 15, 2019 as "Protests erupt over HK extradition bill". Subscribe here.

Jonathan Pearlman
is The Saturday Paper’s world editor and the editor of Australian Foreign Affairs.