World

Young pro-democracy activist to run for seat in September poll. Himalayan border tensions on hold between China and India. Kiribati president re-elected. Former national security adviser John Bolton spills on Donald Trump in new book. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Wong aims for seat in HK legislature

Joshua Wong announcing his plan to run for Hong Kong’s legislative council last Friday.
Credit: AP Photo / Kin Cheung

GREAT POWER RIVALRY

India: Along the disputed border in the Himalayas between India and China, soldiers from the two nuclear-armed states have engaged in a series of skirmishes and standoffs since a brawl erupted alongside a lake on the night of May 5.

But the violence escalated last week, when a group of several hundred Chinese soldiers reportedly ambushed a small Indian force on a narrow ridge in Galwan Valley, at a height of about 4300 metres. The dispute apparently broke out after Indian troops destroyed two Chinese tents and an observation tower that the Indians claimed were on their side of the border. About 9pm on June 15, the Chinese soldiers reportedly launched an attack using iron rods and batons wrapped in barbed wire, killing about 20 Indian soldiers, including some who fell to their death or drowned in the freezing Galwan River. Indian journalist Barkha Dutt, citing unnamed sources, reported that 12 Chinese soldiers were killed. As per longstanding protocol, no shots were fired. But it was the first deadly clash between the world’s two most populous nations in 45 years.

Ties between the two countries have long been strained by China’s support for Pakistan and by India’s provision of sanctuary to the Dalai Lama. In recent years, both countries have been building roads, dams and other infrastructure along the border, adding to the mistrust. But it is difficult to know whether the current dispute was ordered by political leaders or was the result of actions by local commanders in an area that is notoriously difficult to access.

The clash is expected to further encourage India to develop closer security ties with the United States and other Western partners such as Australia. India has already indicated it wants to replace China as a manufacturing hub that can provide cheap goods to the US, especially as Washington tries to reduce its commercial ties with Beijing in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Monday, Indian and Chinese commanders agreed to reduce tensions along the border. A previous agreement to end hostilities, which was reached on June 6, lasted just nine days.

THE NEIGHBOURHOOD

Kiribati:On Monday, Taneti Maamau was re-elected as president of the Pacific nation of Kiribati, marking an apparent endorsement for his decision last year to switch the country’s allegiance to China from Taiwan.

Maamau defeated his opponent, Banuera Berina, who had pledged to restore ties with Taiwan, by 26,053 votes to 17,866.

The win follows the decision last September by Kiribati and Solomon Islands to cut ties with Taiwan and establish diplomatic relations with China. Both China and Taiwan have long deployed so-called chequebook diplomacy to win the support of small Pacific states. Taiwan is now recognised as an independent nation by just 15 countries.

In January, Maamau travelled to Beijing for a state visit and met with Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People. Xi, who leads a nation of 1.4 billion people, told Maamau, who leads a nation of 112,000 people, that he was “on the right side of history”.

Anote Tong, a former Kiribati president who switched the country’s allegiance to Taiwan in 2003, said Maamau’s political future will depend on his ability to fulfil his generous campaign promises such as extra spending on youth and employee benefits.

“China is back, with all of the goodies and whatever else it will come with,” Tong told Radio New Zealand.

DEMOCRACY IN RETREAT

Hong Kong: Joshua Wong, who rose to international prominence as a 17-year-old leader of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests in 2014, has announced he will run for the city’s legislature to try to combat “Beijing’s tyrannical interference”. Now aged 23, Wong has been repeatedly detained and imprisoned over his role in demonstrations in 2014 and 2019. Last October, he was barred from running in district elections due to his support for Hong Kong’s self-determination.

Wong will stand in the primary election for the pro-democracy camp on July 11. On Monday, he said this may be the last election “where HKers can freely choose their candidates”.

The election of the legislature, known as the legislative council, will be held on September 6.

Wong has strongly denounced China’s proposed new national security law for Hong Kong, which he believes could be used to transfer him to the mainland. The law, which was introduced by Beijing rather than Hong Kong, bans conduct that involves secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference. Critics say it will erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and allow authorities to curb pro-democracy activities. Details that emerged last weekend suggest the law could enable Beijing to override Hong Kong’s judiciary and extradite suspected criminals. The law could be passed by Chinese lawmakers as soon as this week.

On Tuesday, Wong said on Twitter that the law will mean that “extracting confessions through torture, black jail & secret trial will be ubiquitous in #HK”.

A pro-China minister overseeing the election, Erick Tsang, who has a strikingly large photograph of Xi in his office, has warned that those who oppose the law may be barred from running in September.

SPOTLIGHT: Bolton’s book

United States: Late last year, John Bolton, a veteran Washington hawk, refused to testify at the impeachment hearings about whether his former boss, Donald Trump, tried to bribe Ukraine’s leader to investigate Joe Biden, now the Democratic presidential candidate.

Instead, Bolton reserved his account for his new book, for which he reportedly received a $US2 million advance. The book was released this week. In it, Bolton writes that Trump not only sought Ukraine’s assistance to try to win the upcoming election in November but also China’s. During trade talks last June, Bolton says, Trump was “pleading” with Xi to buy American farm produce to help him secure votes.

“I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my White House tenure that wasn’t driven by re-election calculations,” Bolton writes.

According to the book, Trump also expressed support for China’s detention of an estimated one million Uygurs in Xinjiang province, telling Xi to “go ahead with building the camps, which he [Trump] thought was exactly the right thing to do”. The book also says Trump asked whether Finland was part of Russia, and was not aware that Britain has nuclear weapons.

Last September, Bolton resigned as national security adviser – Trump claimed he was fired – after a series of disagreements over foreign policy, in which Bolton urged the president to adopt a more hardline approach towards North Korea, Iran and Afghanistan. Bolton said he did not want to testify at the impeachment hearings because they were rushed and partisan, but also criticised the Democrats for not widening investigations to include Trump’s abuses of power in dealings with Xi and Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

On Wednesday, The Late Show host Stephen Colbert pressed Bolton on why he decided to vote for Trump in 2016 and then work for him. “I couldn’t believe it was that bad,” Bolton said. “… That turned out not to be true.”

Bolton said he will not vote for Trump in November. 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 27, 2020 as "Wong aims for seat in HK legislature".

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