Trump bans U.S. investments in companies linked to Chinese military

By Humeyra Pamuk, Alexandra Alper and Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Thursday unveiled an executive order prohibiting U.S. investments in Chinese companies that Washington says are owned or controlled by the Chinese military, ramping up pressure on Beijing after the U.S. election.

The order, which was first reported by Reuters, could impact some of China’s biggest companies, including China Telecom Corp Ltd, China Mobile Ltd and surveillance equipment maker Hikvision.

The move is designed to deter U.S. investment firms, pension funds and others from buying shares of 31 Chinese companies that were designated by the Defense Department as backed by the Chinese military earlier this year.

Starting Jan. 11, the order will prohibit purchases by U.S. investors of the securities of those companies. Transactions made to divest ownership in the companies will be permitted until Nov. 11, 2021.

“China is increasingly exploiting United States capital to resource and to enable the development and modernization of its military, intelligence, and other security apparatuses,” said the order released by the White House.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a stock exchange filing, China Telecom said it estimated the executive order might impact the price of its shares, which closed down 7.8% in Hong Kong on Friday, and American depository shares, adding that it would “closely monitor” developments.

Another telecom operator, China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd, said companies affected by the order would include its parent, China United Network Communications Group Co Ltd.

China Unicom also said in its filing, it expected an impact on its shares, which fell 6.7% on Friday, and American depository shares, adding it was “considering appropriate steps to protect its and its investors’ lawful rights”.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro estimated that at least half a trillion dollars in market capitalization was represented by the Chinese companies and their subsidiaries.

“This is a sweeping order designed to choke off American capital to China’s militarization,” he told reporters on a call.

The move is the first major policy initiative by President Donald Trump since losing the Nov. 3 election to Democratic rival Joe Biden and indicates that he is seeking to take advantage of the waning months of his administration to crack down on China, even as he has appeared laser-focused on challenging the election result.

Biden has won enough battleground states to surpass the 270 electoral votes needed in the state-by-state Electoral College that determines the next president, but Republican Trump has so far refused to concede, citing unsubstantiated claims of voting fraud.

Thursday’s action is likely to further weigh on already fraught ties between the world’s top two economies, which are at loggerheads over China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its move to impose security legislation on Hong Kong.

Biden has not laid out a detailed China strategy but all the indications are that he will continue a tough approach to Beijing, with whom Trump has become increasingly confrontational in his last year in office.

WALL STREET INTERESTS

The order echoes a bill filed by Republican senator Marco Rubio last month that sought to block access to U.S. capital markets for Chinese companies that have been blacklisted by Washington, including those added to the Defense Department list.

“Today’s action by the Trump administration is a welcome start to protecting our markets and investors,” said Rubio, a top congressional China hawk. “We can never put the interests of the Chinese Communist Party and Wall Street above American workers and mom and pop investors.”

His comments were echoed by Republican Congressman Jim Banks, who described the order as “one of the wisest and most significant foreign policy decisions President Trump has made since he entered office”.

Rubio’s bill and the order are part of a growing effort by Congress and the administration to thwart Chinese companies that have the backing of U.S. investors but do not comply with U.S. rules faced by American rivals. It also shows a new willingness to antagonize Wall Street in the rivalry with Beijing.

In August, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Treasury officials urged Trump to delist Chinese companies that trade on U.S. exchanges and fail to meet its auditing requirements by January 2022.

Thursday’s move received a cool reception on Wall Street, where shares were already pulling back from recent gains. The iShares China Large-Cap ETF extended falls.

“The market is probably worried that President Trump is going to increase tensions with China and Iran in his last two months as president,” said Chris Zaccarelli, Chief Investment Officer of the Independent Advisor Alliance.

Still, it was unclear how investors would react. The order bans transactions, which it defined as “purchases,” so investors would technically be able to hold onto current investments.

While the document does not spell out specific penalties for violations, it gives the Treasury Department the ability to invoke “all powers” granted by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which authorizes the use of tough sanctions.

Questions also remain about whether Biden, who is set to take office just nine days after the order goes into effect, would enforce it or simply revoke it. His campaign declined to comment.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Alexandra Alper and Idrees Ali; Additional reporting by Alden Bentley, Meg Shen and Tom Daly; Editing by Chris Sanders, Edward Tobin, Rosalba O’Brien and Barbara Lewis)

Pope denies audience with Pompeo; Vatican warns against playing politics over China

By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) – The Vatican said on Wednesday it had denied a request from Mike Pompeo for an audience with Pope Francis, and accused the Secretary of State of trying to drag the Catholic Church into the U.S. presidential election by denouncing its relations with China.

The extraordinary remarks from the two top diplomatic officials at the Vatican came after Pompeo accused the Church in an article and a series of tweets this month of putting its “moral authority” at risk by renewing an agreement with China over the appointment of bishops.

Pompeo, who was in Rome on Wednesday and due to meet Vatican officials on Thursday, repeated his denunciations of China’s record on religious freedom at an event hosted by the U.S. embassy to the Holy See.

The Vatican’s two top diplomats, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Foreign Minister Archbishop Paul Gallagher, said Francis had declined a request from Pompeo for an audience, as the pope avoids meeting politicians ahead of elections.

“Yes, he asked. But the pope had already said clearly that political figures are not received in election periods. That is the reason,” Parolin said.

The Vatican’s two-year-old agreement with Beijing gives the pope some say over the appointment of Chinese bishops. It was due to expire next month, but is expected to be renewed.

Officials in the Holy See say the agreement is not perfect but call it a step forward, after decades during which Chinese Catholics who recognise the pope were driven underground.

Parolin and Gallagher both described Pompeo’s public criticism as a “surprise,” coming just before his planned visit.

“Normally when you’re preparing these visits between high-level officials, you negotiate the agenda for what you are going to talk about privately, confidentially. It’s one of the rules of diplomacy,” Gallagher said.

“THAT’S JUST CRAZY”

Asked if he believed that Pompeo’s criticisms of the Vatican deal were intended for political use in the United States, Parolin said: “Some have interpreted it this way … that the comments were above all for domestic political use. I don’t have proof of this but certainly this is one way of looking at it.”

The Vatican-China deal “is a matter that has nothing to do with American politics. This is a matter between Churches and should not be used for this type of ends,” Parolin said.

For his part, when asked at a briefing if he was “picking a fight” with the Vatican over China and what impact that could have on Catholic and other Christian voters, Pompeo replied: “That’s just crazy.”

President Donald Trump has campaigned on his hard line towards China ahead of the Nov. 3 election. He is also strongly associated with conservative Protestant and Catholic movements, many of which have been critical of Pope Francis.

In his speech on Thursday, Pompeo did not directly address the Vatican agreement with Beijing, but he described China as the world’s worst abuser of religious rights.

“Nowhere is religious freedom under assault more than in China,” Pompeo said. The Chinese Communist Party was looking to “to snuff out the lamp of freedom … on a horrifying scale”.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Peter Graff)

U.S. to require approvals on work of Chinese diplomats in America

By Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Wednesday it would now require senior Chinese diplomats to get State Department approval before visiting U.S. university campuses and holding cultural events with more than 50 people outside mission grounds.

Washington cast the move as a response to what it said was Beijing’s restrictions on American diplomats based in China. It comes as part of a Trump administration campaign against alleged Chinese influence operations and espionage activity.

The State Department said it also would take action to help ensure all Chinese embassy and consular social media accounts were “properly identified.”

“We’re simply demanding reciprocity. Access for our diplomats in China should be reflective of the access that Chinese diplomats in the United States have, and today’s steps will move us substantially in that direction'” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a news briefing.

It was the latest U.S. step to restrict Chinese activity in the United States in the run-up to the November presidential election, in which President Donald Trump has made a tough approach to China a key foreign policy platform.

Pompeo also said Keith Krach, the State Department’s undersecretary for Economic Growth, had written recently to the governing boards of U.S. universities alerting them to threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party.

“These threats can come in the form of illicit funding for research, intellectual property theft, intimidation of foreign students and opaque talent recruitment efforts,” Pompeo said.

He said universities could ensure they had clean investments and endowment funds, “by taking a few key steps to disclose all (Chinese) companies’ investments invested in the endowment funds, especially those in emerging-market index funds.”

On Tuesday, Pompeo said he was hopeful Chinese Confucius Institute cultural centers on U.S. university campuses, which he accused of working to recruit “spies and collaborators,” would all be shut by the end of the year.

Last month, Pompeo labeled the center that manages the dozens of Confucius Institutes in the United States “an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence” and required it to register as a foreign mission.

The State Department announced in June it would start treating four major Chinese media outlets as foreign embassies, calling them mouthpieces for Beijing.

It took the same step against five other Chinese outlets in February, and in March said it was slashing the number of journalists allowed to work at U.S. offices of major Chinese media outlets to 100 from 160 due to Beijing’s “long-standing intimidation and harassment of journalists.”

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)

Economic clout makes China tougher challenge for U.S. than Soviet Union was – Pompeo

By Robert Muller

PRAGUE (Reuters) – China’s global economic power makes the communist country in some ways a more difficult foe to counter than the Soviet Union during the Cold War, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on a visit to the Czech Republic on Wednesday.

Pompeo called on countries around Europe to rally against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which he said leverages its economic might to exert its influence around the world.

“What’s happening now isn’t Cold War 2.0,” Pompeo said in a speech to the Czech Senate. “The challenge of resisting the CCP threat is in some ways much more difficult.”

“The CCP is already enmeshed in our economies, in our politics, in our societies in ways the Soviet Union never was.”

The Cold War reference came after China’s ambassador to London last month warned that the United States was picking a fight with Beijing ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November.

U.S.-China ties have quickly deteriorated this year over a range of issues including Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus; telecoms-equipment maker Huawei; China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea; and the clampdown on Hong Kong.

Pompeo’s visit to the Czech Republic, part of the Soviet bloc until the 1989 democratic Velvet Revolution, marked the first stop on a swing through the region to discuss cyber and energy security.

He used the occasion to swipe at both Russian and Chinese influence and lauded officials in the central European nation of 10.7 million who took on Beijing over the past year.

He cited the Czech Republic’s efforts to set security standards for the development of 5G telecommunications networks after a government watchdog warned about using equipment made by China’s Huawei.

Pompeo and Prime Minister Andrej Babis signed a declaration on 5G security in May, but the country has not made an outright decision to ban Huawei technology. Its President Milos Zeman has been promoting closer ties with China.

Pompeo also acknowledged the chairman of the Czech Senate Milan Vystrcil, who followed through on a plan by his deceased predecessor to visit Taiwan at the end of this month, a trip that has angered China.

Pompeo said some nations in Europe would take longer to wake up to the threats, but there was a positive momentum.

“The tide has turned (in the United States), just as I see it turned here in Europe as well. The West is winning, don’t let anyone tell you about the decline of he West,” he said.

“It will take all of us… here in Prague, in Poland, in Portugal. We have the obligation to speak clearly and plainly to our people, and without fear. We must confront complex questions… and we must do so together,” he said.

(Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Michael Kahn, William Maclean)

U.S. health chief, visiting Taiwan, attacks China’s pandemic response

By Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) – U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar attacked China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday and said that if such an outbreak had emerged in Taiwan or the United States it could have been “snuffed out easily”.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized Beijing for trying to cover up the virus outbreak, first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, and prevaricating on information sharing. China angrily denies the accusations.

“The Chinese Communist Party had the chance to warn the world and work with the world on battling the virus. But they chose not to, and the costs of that choice mount higher every day,” Azar said in Taipei, capital of self-ruled Taiwan, an island China claims as its own.

As the virus emerged, China did not live up to its “binding” international obligations in a betrayal of the cooperative spirit needed for global health, he added, wearing a face mask as he has done for all his public events in Taiwan.

“I believe it is no exaggeration to say that if this virus had emerged in a place like Taiwan or the United States, it might have been snuffed out easily: rapidly reported to public health authorities, who would have shared what they knew with health professionals and with the general public,” Azar said.

“Instead, Beijing appears to have resisted information sharing, muzzling doctors who spoke out and hobbling the world’s ability to respond.”

The United States has the highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths in the world and President Donald Trump has come under scathing attack from critics at home for not taking what he calls the “China virus” seriously enough.

Taiwan has been praised by health experts for its early and effective steps to control the outbreak, with only 480 infections, including seven deaths.

Azar arrived in Taiwan on Sunday as the highest-level U.S. official to visit in four decades, a trip condemned by China.

China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has vowed to bring it under its rule, by force if necessary.

Chinese fighter jets on Monday briefly crossed the median line of the sensitive Taiwan Strait, and were tracked by Taiwanese anti-aircraft missiles, part of what Taipei sees as a pattern of harassment by Beijing.

Washington broke off official ties with Taipei in 1979 in favor of Beijing but is still Taiwan’s biggest arms supplier. The Trump administration has made strengthening its support for the democratic island a priority as relations with China sour over issues including human rights, the pandemic, Hong Kong and trade.

Azar said the world should recognize Taiwan’s health accomplishments and not try to push it out, pointing to Taiwan’s exclusion from the World Health Organization due to Chinese objections.

“This behavior is in keeping with Beijing’s approach to WHO and other international organisations. The influence of the PRC (People’s Republic of China) far outweighs its investment in this public health institution – and it uses influence not to advance public health objectives, but its own narrow political interests.”

Both China and the WHO say Taiwan has been provided with the help it needs during the pandemic, which Taiwan disputes.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Nick Macfie)

China sends fighter jets as U.S. health chief visits Taiwan

By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Chinese air force jets briefly crossed the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait on Monday and were tracked by Taiwanese missiles, Taiwan’s government said, as U.S. health chief Alex Azar visited the island to offer President Donald Trump’s support.

Azar arrived in Taiwan on Sunday, the highest-level U.S. official to visit in four decades.

China, which claims the island as its own, condemned the visit which comes after a period of sharply deteriorating relations between China and the United States.

China, which had promised unspecified retaliation to the trip, flew J-11 and J-10 fighter aircraft briefly onto Taiwan’s side of the sensitive and narrow strait that separates it from its giant neighbor, at around 9 am (0100 GMT), shortly before Azar met Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s air force said.

The aircraft were tracked by land-based Taiwanese anti-aircraft missiles and were “driven out” by patrolling Taiwanese aircraft, the air force said in a statement released by the defense ministry.

China’s defense ministry did not immediately comment.

A senior Taiwan official familiar with the government’s security planning told Reuters that China was obviously “targeting” Azar’s visit with a “very risky” move given the Chinese jets were in range of Taiwan’s missiles.

The incursion was only the third time since 2016 that Taiwan has said Chinese jets had crossed the strait’s median line.

The Trump administration has made strengthening its support for the democratic island a priority, amid deteriorating relations between Washington and Beijing, and has boosted arms sales.

“It’s a true honor to be here to convey a message of strong support and friendship from President Trump to Taiwan,” Azar told Tsai in the Presidential Office, standing in front of two Taiwanese flags.

Washington broke off official ties with Taipei in 1979 in favor of Beijing.

‘HUGE STEP’

Azar is visiting to strengthen economic and public-health cooperation with Taiwan and support its international role in fighting the novel coronavirus.

“Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 has been among the most successful in the world, and that is a tribute to the open, transparent, democratic nature of Taiwan’s society and culture,” he told Tsai.

Taiwan’s early and effective steps to fight the disease have kept its case numbers far lower than those of its neighbors, with 480 infections and seven deaths. Most cases have been imported.

The United States, which has had more coronavirus cases and deaths than any other country, has repeatedly clashed with China over the pandemic, accusing Beijing of lacking transparency.

Tsai told Azar his visit represented “a huge step forward in anti-pandemic collaborations between our countries”, mentioning areas of cooperation including vaccine and drug research and production.

Taiwan has been particularly grateful for U.S. support to permit its attendance at the World Health Organization’s decision-making body the World Health Assembly (WHA), and to allow it greater access to the organisation.

Taiwan is not a member of the WHO due to China’s objections. China considers Taiwan a Chinese province.

“I’d like to reiterate that political considerations should never take precedence over the rights to health. The decision to bar Taiwan from participating in the WHA is a violation of the universal rights to health,” Tsai said.

Azar later told reporters that at Trump’s direction, he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had sought to restore Taiwan’s status as an observer at the WHA.

“But the Chinese Communist Party and the World Health Organization have prevented that. This has been one of the major frustrations that the Trump administration has had with the World Health Organization and its inability to reform.”

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel)

China seizes U.S. consulate in Chengdu, retaliating for Houston

By Martin Quin Pollard and Thomas Peter

CHENGDU, China (Reuters) – China took over the premises of the U.S. consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu on Monday, after ordering the facility to be vacated in retaliation for China’s ouster last week from its consulate in Houston, Texas.

The seizure capped a dramatic escalation in tensions between the world’s two biggest economies that began when employees at China’s Houston consulate were seen burning documents in a courtyard last Tuesday, hours before Beijing announced that it had been ordered to leave the facility.

The U.S. consulate in Chengdu, in Sichuan province, was closed as of 10 a.m (0200) on Monday, and Chinese authorities had entered the building from the front door, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

On Friday, Beijing announced that it had asked the United States to close its Chengdu post, and gave the Americans 72 hours to vacate, the same amount of time China was given to leave its Houston mission, which was shut on Friday.

“We are disappointed by the

By Martin Quin Pollard and Thomas Peter

CHENGDU, China (Reuters) – China took over the premises of the U.S. consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu on Monday, after ordering the facility to be vacated in retaliation for China’s ouster last week from its consulate in Houston, Texas.

The seizure capped a dramatic escalation in tensions between the world’s two biggest economies that began when employees at China’s Houston consulate were seen burning documents in a courtyard last Tuesday, hours before Beijing announced that it had been ordered to leave the facility.

The U.S. consulate in Chengdu, in Sichuan province, was closed as of 10 a.m (0200) on Monday, and Chinese authorities had entered the building from the front door, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

On Friday, Beijing announced that it had asked the United States to close its Chengdu post, and gave the Americans 72 hours to vacate, the same amount of time China was given to leave its Houston mission, which was shut on Friday.

“We are disappointed by the Chinese Communist Party’s decision and will strive to continue our outreach to the people in this important region through our other posts in China,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in an email to Reuters.

At midday on Monday, police removed a roadblock that had restricted access to the Chengdu facility, and dozens of passersby stopped to take photos and videos.

One man stood across the street and played the Chinese national anthem from his phone.

“We feel very sad about the breaking down of the relationship between China and U.S.,” said a bystander outside the facility who said his surname was Li. He said he was worried about the impact of deteriorating relations on Chinese citizens who want to travel or study in the United States.

Grey sheet-like material was placed over the spot near the entrance where a plaque had been affixed, and over the place where there was large lettering saying “U.S. Consulate General”.

The U.S. embassy issued a video in Chinese on its Twitter feed: “The U.S. consulate in Chengdu has been proudly promoting the mutual understanding between Americans and the people in Sichuan, Chongqing, Guizhou, Yunnan and Tibet since 1985. We will forever miss you,” it said.

The American flag was no longer flying at the consulate having been lowered at 6:18 a.m. on Monday, according to video shot by a journalist and shared by state broadcaster CCTV on its Twitter-like Weibo account.

The eagle on top of the flagpole remained.

On Sunday night, a crane was seen entering the consulate compound and hoisting at least one container onto a large truck.

The Chengdu consulate opened in 1985 and had almost 200 employees, including about 150 locally hired staff, according to its website. It was not immediately clear how many had been working there at the time of its closure, after U.S. diplomats were evacuated from China because of the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S.-China relations have plunged to their worst in decades over a range of disputes, from trade and technology to the COVID-19 pandemic, China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and its clampdown on Hong Kong.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech calling a more assertive approach to China the “mission of our time”.

(Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard and Thomas Peter; writing by Tony Munroe; editing by Richard Pullin and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

 

Special Report: Rudderless rebellion – Inside the Hong Kong protesters’ anarchic campaign against China

FILE PHOTO: Police fire tear gas at anti-extradition bill protesters during clashes in Sham Shui Po in Hong Kong, China, August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

By James Pomfret, Greg Torode, Clare Jim and Anne Marie Roantree

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Ah Lung spends his days working as a clerk for a Hong Kong shipping firm. At night, he dons a mask, black helmet, and body armor, and heads out into the streets to face off against the city’s riot police.

The 25-year-old activist has been a constant presence at the often violent protests that have rocked Hong Kong this summer, rallying comrades, building barricades and rushing from district to district in a frantic game of cat-and-mouse with police.

Ah Lung, who would only identify himself by his nickname, which means “dragon” in Cantonese, is representative of a growing number of discontented young Hong Kongers who are fueling a protest movement that, unlike its predecessors, is taking aim directly at Beijing.

It is a movement without clearly discernible leaders or structure, making it difficult for the authorities to effectively target — and increasingly hard for the protesters themselves to manage.

While it has the support of established pro-democracy groups, the amorphous movement is fueled by activists like Ah Lung – young Hong Kongers who operate independently or in small groups and adapt their tactics on the run.

“We’re not so organized,” Ah Lung said. “Every day changes, and we see what the police and the government do, then we take action.”

“My dream is to revive Hong Kong, to bring a revolution in our time,” Ah Lung said. “This is the meaning of my life now.”

Through interviews with dozens of protesters like Ah Lung and reporting from dozens of protests, Reuters has pieced together a picture of how this movement functions and the mindset driving it.

‘FREE HONG KONG’

The protests, which started as a peaceful rebuke of the Hong Kong government back in April, have evolved into a direct challenge to Communist Party rule over this former British colony.

With slogans such as “Free Hong Kong” and “Hong Kong is not China,” Ah Lung and his fellow protesters have made clear they reject a future in which Hong Kong is inexorably absorbed into the mainland giant, eventually becoming just another Chinese city.

Protesters are provocatively calling the demonstrations an “era of revolution,” a formulation that has infuriated a ruling Chinese Communist Party determined to crush any challenge to its monopoly on power.

Scenes once unthinkable in Hong Kong are now commonplace: The city’s international airport being shut down this week after a prolonged occupation by protesters; a Chinese official publicly suggesting that aspects of some of the protests were terrorism; the legislature stormed and ransacked by protesters; police officers repeatedly baton-charging crowds of protesters and unleashing torrents of tear gas in famed shopping districts.

On Tuesday, protesters who managed to shut down the airport also attacked a Chinese man for being a suspected undercover agent. He was identified as a reporter for the Global Times, a tabloid controlled by Beijing, highlighting how activists are making the Chinese government the target of their protests.

It also brought another issue into focus: the risks of waging a leaderless rebellion. Demonstrators later apologized for the disruptions at the airport, apparently concerned that their chaotic protests might alienate broader sections of the Hong Kong public who had been supporting them.

“The movement has a large degree of self-restraint and solidarity, but of course that’s very conditional,” said Samson Yuen, a political scientist at Lingnan University in Hong Kong who has conducted surveys of protesters to understand their motives and support base.

“If certain actions spin out of control, if say someone dies from it, then that might be a game-changer.”

ONE-COUNTRY, TWO-SYSTEMS

Under the “one-country, two-systems” formula, China promised Hong Kong it would enjoy autonomy for 50 years after its handover from Britain in 1997.

Unlike those who negotiated the deal, for young protesters born after the handover that deadline will fall in the middle of their lives. And, as Beijing tightens its grip on Hong Kong, the future they see careening toward them is that of an authoritarian mainland China with curbs on the freedoms and rights they now enjoy.

“In 2047, if it returns to China, real Hong Kongers will leave and emigrate from Hong Kong,” said Ah Lung, speaking in a small apartment in the Sham Shui Po neighborhood as he prepared for a night of protests that quickly descended into violence.

“By then, it won’t be Hong Kong anymore, but Xiang Gang,” he said, referring to the name commonly used on the mainland for Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that protesters’ calls for a revolution to “liberate” Hong Kong are illegal acts that challenge the authority of the central government in Beijing.

In response to questions from Reuters about the protests, a spokesman for Lam referred to her promise to address income disparities in the city once the violence subsides.

The Hong Kong Liaison Office, Beijing’s main representative arm in the city, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry did not respond to questions from Reuters.

The Hong Kong police did not respond to questions from Reuters. During the protests, police spokesmen have repeatedly defended the use of force and have pointed to escalating violence by protesters that has included throwing bricks and fire bombs.

LEADERLESS MOVEMENT

The protesters’ mantra – “Be water!” – epitomizes the movement’s tactics. A phrase borrowed from the Hong Kong movie star Bruce Lee, who used it to describe his kung fu philosophy, it is a call for flexibility and creativity, moving forward to press an advantage and pulling back when a strategic retreat is needed.

Its latest manifestation is the series of wildcat protests that have spread across the city in recent weeks. When police turn up in numbers at one protest, the activists often engage them, tying down officers before melting away and reappearing to stage a fresh protest in another area.

Pro-democracy protests that paralyzed much of downtown Hong Kong in 2014 involved blocking several key roads for more than two months. The more fluid tactics now being deployed by protesters, often masked to avoid surveillance and dressed in black, present a greater challenge for the police. Frontline officers speak of exhaustion, saying they never know where the activists will strike next.

Protesters say their movement is leaderless. In some ways, that’s a reaction to the 2014 demonstrations in which many of the leaders were arrested and given prison terms.

Unlike those protests, when leaders like Joshua Wong became globally recognized names, frontline activists like Ah Lung are deliberately staying under the radar, using pseudonyms and appearing at protests with their faces obscured by masks and sunglasses.

The leaderless nature of the protest movement is made possible, to a large extent, by social media.

Protesters take their cues from more than 100 groups on the instant messaging app Telegram, dozens of Instagram sites and online forums like LIHKG. The groups are used to post everything from news on upcoming protests to tips on dousing tear gas canisters fired by the police to the identities of suspected undercover police and the access codes to buildings in Hong Kong where protesters can hide.

It’s not an issue of having “no leader, it simply means that everyone is a leader,” said one 22-year-old Hong Kong student based in Britain who helps run “antielabhk,” an Instagram page that includes details about protests that has amassed more than 50,000 followers. The student asked not to be named.

Ma, a 28-year-old university student who would only give her surname, said at a recent protest in the volatile Mongkok district that she had come after seeing recruitment appeals in a Telegram group. “We were only notified or briefed today – like an hour ago,” said Ma, as she handed out water to protesters.

THE FRONT LINES

A feature of the protests in recent weeks has been the sight of ordinary activists like Ah Lung, the shipping clerk, rallying other protesters.

In Sham Shui Po on Sunday, Ah Lung joined other masked “frontliners” as the protest began. Some used wrenches to loosen bolts on roadside fences, which were then shaken loose, bound with nylon ties, and formed into makeshift barricades against the police.

Ah Lung, brandishing a Star Wars light saber he had bought at a toy shop, called out instructions on where to position the barricades. As they worked, other masked protesters used hand-held telescopes to track police movements.

The improvised, bottom-up nature of the protest movement is further evident in the scores of medics, some of them medical staff from local hospitals, who say they have turned up unprompted at protest sites to treat the wounded and administer saline solution to tear gas victims.

Kay, a 28-year-old medic who works in information technology and would only give her first name, said she prepared an emergency kit, including iodine, bandages, tourniquets and saline solution before every protest.

“I was hit by a tear gas canister one time and then when I retreated to a safe spot, some people helped me. I felt touched, and I wanted to help some people back.”

While the protest movement may not have clearly identifiable leaders, it does have the backing of prominent pro-democracy activists and groups who have organized some of the demonstrations. In the past, they have led smaller, more orderly demonstrations that were not aimed so pointedly at the leadership in Beijing.

Reuters reporting shows there is a high degree of coordination among a small circle of these activists, many of whom participated in the 2014 protests that were sparked by Beijing’s refusal to grant Hong Kong universal suffrage.

For instance, members of Demosisto, a party that advocates for greater democracy in Hong Kong, have been behind a number of demonstrations, some of which ended in violent clashes with riot police, according to the group’s members.

Last month, Tobias Leung, a member of the party’s standing committee, applied for police permission to stage a rally in the suburban district of Sha Tin. Leung’s link to the protest wasn’t immediately clear because he applied under the name of a local community group, according to Wong, the leader of Demosisto.

Wong and other prominent activists have been present at various demonstrations, sometimes close to the front lines. But they have struggled to impose leadership on the streets, with the protesters debating amongst themselves and consulting their phone groups on what action to take.

Along with other prominent democrats in the city, Wong has been seen at protests by Reuters being shouted down by activists who say they don’t want the movement hijacked by any single leader or group.

“I’m quite happy people are saying we should not rely on any specific political leader to lead this movement,” Wong told Reuters.

Jailed independence activist Edward Leung, who is revered by many of the protesters, is currently serving a six-year sentence for rioting stemming from a protest in 2016.

Francis Lee, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who has written a book on Hong Kong social movements, describes the protests as an “open source” movement. Protesters often aggregate the best ideas in online groups and vote on courses of action, he said.

China has accused foreign countries of being behind the protests. Both Western and Asian diplomats in the city monitor the protests closely and some have been seen at events. Diplomats say this is part of their routine work.

FRUSTRATIONS BOIL OVER

The protests erupted in late April over a bill proposed by Lam that would have allowed the extradition of defendants from Hong Kong to mainland China. Unlike the demand for universal suffrage, which fueled the 2014 protests, the extradition bill was seen as a specific, tangible threat by many Hong Kongers, galvanizing hundreds of thousands of people.

Facing huge protests, Lam announced on June 15 that she was freezing the bill.

That wasn’t enough for many Hong Kong residents, many of whom flooded onto the streets in one of the largest protest marches ever seen in the city, largely organized by a coalition of civil society groups. The march brought together a diverse cross-section of Hong Kong society, including members of the city’s politically conservative middle class.

A major turning point in the protests was an assault on July 21 on Beijing’s Central Government Liaison Office – the most prominent symbol of China’s authority in Hong Kong.

Black-clad activists arrived at dusk at the glass-steel skyscraper that bears the red state seal of China above its entrance. As the crowd quickly swelled to thousands, some protesters hurled eggs at the building. Others used spray paint to scrawl the words “Revolution of Our Time” on the walls.

Some tried to neutralize surveillance cameras by targeting them with laser pointers. To roars of approval, protesters then lobbed black paint at the state seal of China.

“Carrie Lam has refused to listen to our concerns about Communist Party interference,” said one 27-year-old protester who would only give his name as Paul, as he attached vials of anti-tear gas fluid onto his military style backpack. “Now we have to send our message to the communists directly.”

The Liaison Office has since become the target of repeated protests.

Nick Tsang, a protester clad in a black balaclava and black clothes, was in a crowd that began congregating in a Hong Kong park on the afternoon of July 28.

Tsang checked out a Telegram group to see where other protesters were going. One group of protesters splintered off and headed to the city’s police headquarters, while another group branched out in the direction of the Causeway Bay shopping district. Later on, some backtracked toward the Liaison Office. Tsang followed them.

This time, the building was fortified with water-filled plastic barriers, and several battalions of riot police and other elite units. Liaison Office staff, meanwhile, had replaced the sullied state seal with a new one and encased it in a plexiglass box.

Following several hours of heated clashes in the streets around the Liaison Office, a rearguard of protesters, including Tsang, found themselves surrounded by police. With tear gas swirling, they made a run for the Hong Kong subway system and escaped onto a train.

“We can’t retreat or the authoritarianism will worsen,” said Tsang, referring to the Chinese government.

“This is not about me. This is for Hong Kong, my home city.”

(Multimedia package on Hong Kong protests : https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/hongkong-protests-protesters/)

(Reporting by James Pomfret, Greg Torode, Clare Jim and Anne Marie Roantree. Additional reporting by Jessie Pang, David Lague, Felix Tam, Donny Kwok, Marius Zaharia, Vimvam Tong and Noah Sin; Editing by Philip McClellan and Peter Hirschberg)

Fresh protests hit Hong Kong as activists seek voice at G20

Demonstrators protest outside police headquarters, demanding Hong Kong's leaders to step down and withdraw the extradition bill, in Hong Kong, China June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Si

By Jessie Pang and Vivam Tong

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Protesters in Hong Kong blocked roads and forced workers to leave the justice secretary’s offices on Thursday in the latest unrest to rock the city over an extradition bill that has now been suspended.

Millions have thronged the streets in the past three weeks to demand that the bill, which would allow criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, be scrapped altogether.

“You know what everybody has deep in their hearts – is that this is about our future and it’s very very personal,” said 53-year-old Brian Kern, who was attending the protests.

In sweltering heat of 32 degrees C (89.6F), some protesters chanted, “Withdraw evil law, release martyrs…Teresa Cheng, come out,” referring to the justice secretary. Others shouted, “Condemn excessive force by police and release protesters.”

Police formed a cordon to block the demonstrators and one officer held a banner warning them away. Minor scuffles broke out between pro-democracy group Demosisto and officers.

“Fight for Justice”, “Free Hong Kong,” and “Democracy Now” were some of the demands emblazoned on protest banners.

Police chief Stephen Lo warned of consequences for outbreaks of violence and condemned what he said was an environment of hostility making his officers’ task difficult.

BATON CHARGE

In the early hours, riot police wielding batons and shields chased dozens of protesters as they broke up a siege of police headquarters. By nightfall on Thursday, only around 200 protesters remained. Black-clad and masked, they sat peacefully outside government headquarters.

The demonstrators have seized on this week’s G20 summit of world leaders in Japan to appeal for Hong Kong’s plight to be put on the agenda, a move certain to rile Beijing, which has vowed not to tolerate such discussion.

“We know that the G20 is coming. We want to grasp this opportunity to voice for ourselves,” said Jack Cool Tsang, 30, a theater technician who took a day off work to protest.

Images of police firing rubber bullets and tear gas beneath gleaming skyscrapers this month near the heart of the financial center grabbed global headlines and drew condemnation from international rights groups and protest organizers.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, who has kept a low profile since her latest public apology over a week ago, bowed to public pressure and suspended the bill a day after the violent protests but stopped short of canceling the measure outright and rejected repeated calls to step down.

Opponents of the extradition bill fear being placed at the mercy of a justice system rights group say is plagued by torture, forced confessions and arbitrary detentions.

The demonstrations, which pose the greatest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012, have repeatedly forced the temporary closure of government offices, blocked major roads and caused massive disruptions.

Since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including the liberty to protest and an independent judiciary.

But many accuse China of increased meddling over the years, by obstructing democratic reform, interfering with elections, suppressing young activists, as well as being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers who specialized in works critical of Chinese leaders.

LAM VOICES SUPPORT FOR POLICE

ay, a Hong Kong government statement said Lam had met senior police officers to express thanks for their dedication during the protests and gave them her full support to maintain law and order in the city.

“She said she understands that members of the force and their family members have been put under pressure and that a small number of people even provoked the police intentionally, which is not acceptable,” the statement said.

Lam also met representatives in the education and religious sectors, senior civil servants as well as foreign consuls to exchange views on the “current social situation,” it said.

(Reporting By Vimvam Tong, Jessie Pang, Delfina Wentzel, Donny Kwok and Noah Sin; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree and Farah Master; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Mark Hienrich)

Back to the future: Rejuvenating China pushes Marxism as ‘true path’

A man walks in front of the statue of German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels at a park in Shanghai, China May 3, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

By Christian Shepherd

BEIJING (Reuters) – With chat shows claiming “Marx was Right” and cartoons of his wild youth, China has gone to great lengths to show that the theories of German philosopher Karl Marx are still relevant today, ahead of the 200th anniversary of his birth on Saturday.

Since coming to power in 2012, President Xi Jinping, widely seen as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, has said the party must not forget its socialist roots as it works to bring about the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.

Today, China, the largest self-identified socialist country, outwardly displays all the trappings of a modern capitalist society, from rampant consumption to a massive gap between the urban elite and rural poor.

The apparent contradiction between party rhetoric and appearance has led many observers to suggest that the party is no longer really motivated by Marxism and instead places practical and economic concerns above all else.

But Xi has embraced the party’s founding ideology and has re-introduced study sessions that hark back to the Mao era, as he stresses the need for China to be confident of its revolutionary history and political system.

In a Wednesday visit to the prestigious Peking University, Xi said the institution should be proud of its role in spreading Marxism, which led to the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921.

“We must grasp Marxist theory and education, deepen students’ understanding of the theoretical and practical meaning of Marxism, as well as its historic necessity and scientific accuracy,” Xi said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Much of the propaganda around the anniversary has cast Marx as being appealing to the young.

A chat show called “Marx was Right” from the state broadcaster released this week introduced his theories to students who then told the host why Marx mattered to them.

After an essay from the 17-year-old Marx was read to the audience, the host asked if the audience were as moved by his words as she was.

“I think Marx truly is really amazing,” Xing Kaichen, a student at the Communication University of China, replied. “I think all people should learn from him.”

The official publication of China’s top anti-graft watchdog invited readers to learn about Marx’s human side in a series of cartoons about his marriage and his youth – including when he was detained for being disorderly while drunk.

Aside from popularizing Marx, the propaganda has also attempted to show how his ideas are still relevant today.

“The world is at a crossroads,” the official People’s Daily said in a front page commentary on Wednesday, with Brexit, constant terrorist attacks and fighting in Syria demonstrating the “political deficiencies” of the West.

China’s governance, in contrast, “elegantly proves that Marxism has not stopped being true but has rather led to the true path”, it added.

(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Nick Macfie)