POSTSCRIPT / June 11, 2019 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Massive protest rocks Hong Kong

AS THE WORLD watched, more than a million people marched Sunday in sweltering weather through the heart of Hong Kong to show their concern and anger over the government’s plan to amend its fugitive law that could mean extraditing suspects to the mainland.

Freelance journalist Mary Ann Benitez of the South China Morning Post told us at about 5 p.m. Sunday that the head of the march had reached the Legislative Council complex — the site of the 79-day Umbrella Movement protest that choked the city’s thoroughfares in the fall of 2014.

The demonstration, the biggest so far in the former British colony, started at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay and ended up at the Legislative Council in Tamar, Admiralty. Many marchers wore white tops as suggested by the organizers.

Benitez said residents and expatriates in the generally peaceful rally raised their crossed hands as they shouted “No China extradition!” in front of a makeshift stage where singer/record producer Anthony Wong and Cantopop singer and actress Denise Ho led with protest songs and slogans.

In the crowd of mostly young people were also parents with babies in strollers or children holding mini-electric fans, towels and bottled water, as well as professionals and expatriates (a few Filipinos were spotted). They mingled with pan-democratic associations members led by organizer Civil Human Rights Group.

Benitez said that some marchers were chanting “Add oil,” as social media users would say. It is the Chinglish lingo for “keep it up” — meaning the battle continues until the government bows down, which we think is unlikely, and reverses course by stopping the legislative process.

On Sunday night, a government spokesman said the second reading debate of the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 will resume Wednesday.

Protesters have expressed fear the proposed rule would put the city’s vaunted legal independence at risk. Several protesters said they were marching for the next generation. The next day, the protest crowd dwindled as riot police surrounded Hong Kong’s parliament.

Pro-Beijing media, meanwhile, reported that “foreign forces” were trying to harm China by creating chaos over the extradition bill that has stirred up the special administrative region’s population of 7.4 million.

Radio Television Hong Kong said on its website at noon Monday that the last of the protesters have been cleared from outside the Old Wan Chai police station, where they had been surrounded by the police, after clashes in the early morning hours.

The police arrested seven men aged between 21 and 33. One was arrested for assaulting a police officer, two for criminal damage, one for theft, and three for attempted theft and common assault.

The police placed the crowd at 240,000 at its peak. But most media organizations, including Hong Kong Free Press and Chinese-language media, quoted the organizers’ report that 1.03 million had joined the march from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to the Legco headquarters in Tamar.

The turnout was more than double that of their original goal of attracting 500,000 people. It was the largest protest since the city’s handover from Britain in 1997.

• Duterte’s dream of a Manila-Beijing-Moscow axis

REMEMBER when Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, flushed with having won the presidency in 2016, talked of forming a “Manila-Beijing-Moscow axis” with his newfound autocratic friends Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin?

Duterte watchers now wonder what would become of that dream in the light of present geopolitical realities in the region and beyond, and with US President Donald Trump having been added to the power equation.

China’s paramount leader Xi Jinping took off his silk gloves in their last one-on-one in Beijing, exposing to Duterte the steely Chinese claws that had grabbed strategic posts in Philippine maritime areas that Xi told him are historically part of Chinese territory.

Duterte had to swallow the hard fate of a borrower as dictated by a shrewd Shylock, even going to the extent of promising Xi that no American boot will ever step on Pagasa island, the biggest among the islets occupied/claimed by the Philippines in the Spratlys group off Palawan.

Nothing was announced after that meeting if Duterte was assured in return of faster delivery of the items in the $24-billion package of investment, loans and aid that he was promised in his first state visit to Beijing in 2017.

It seems that other friends and neighbors, Japan for instance, give softer loans and deliver projects faster without demanding patrimonial assets as collateral – a conditionality that should normally prompt a rethinking of the terms of Chinese deals.

Weeks ago, without being asked, Duterte made it known that Russia’s Putin wants to talk with him. It was not clear if the supposed meeting was planned together with Xi, who happens to be embroiled in a war with President Trump over trade and technology.

The US is fending off encroachments of China and Russia in South America, of the Western Hemisphere under Pax Americana. Trump wants to depose Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro, but rank outsiders China and Russia are propping him up.

Duterte may soon have to take sides – or play the unlikely role of a peace broker. If/when that happens, what about his dream of a Manila-Beijing-Moscow axis, and the competing pressure for him to pivot back to Washington?

Meantime, his immediate agenda includes the upgrading of the country’s military capability and boosting its economy to be able to strike a more credible posture in the region torn by disputes over territory and resources.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 11, 2019)

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