Xi warns Taiwan will face ‘punishment of history’ for separatism

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at the closing session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 20, 2018.

By Philip Wen and Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping told self-ruled Taiwan on Tuesday that it would face the “punishment of history” for any attempt at separatism, offering his strongest warning yet to the island claimed by China as its sacred territory.

In response, the government of Taiwan, one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potentially dangerous military flashpoint, said it hoped China could “break free” of the old clichés of threats and force.

China’s hostility toward Taiwan has risen since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, a member of the island’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

China suspects Tsai wants to push for formal independence, which would cross a red line for Communist Party leaders in Beijing, though Tsai has said she wants to maintain the status quo and is committed to ensuring peace.

China has been infuriated by U.S. President Donald Trump’s signing into law legislation last week that encourages the United States to send senior officials to Taiwan to meet Taiwan counterparts, and vice versa.

The United States does not have formal ties with Taiwan but is required by law to help it with self-defense and is the island’s primary source of weapons.

China will push for the “peaceful reunification of the motherland” and work for more Taiwanese to enjoy the opportunities of its development, Xi told the 3,000-odd delegates to the annual session of parliament.

“It is a shared aspiration of all Chinese people and in their basic interests to safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and realize China’s complete reunification,” Xi said in a speech at the end of the session.

“Any actions and tricks to split China are doomed to failure and will meet with the people’s condemnation and the punishment of history,” he added, to loud applause.

China had the will, confidence and ability to defeat any separatist activity, Xi said.

“The Chinese people share a common belief that it is never allowed and it is absolutely impossible to separate any inch of our great country’s territory from China.”

In Taiwan, the China policy-making Mainland Affairs Council said the government was firm in its conviction to protect Taiwan’s “sovereign dignity” and the well-being of its people.

“We also hope that mainland China’s leaders, at this time of entering into a new administration period, can break free of clichéd thinking of strong intimidation,” it added.

In a visit likely to further irritate China, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong will be in Taiwan this week, the island’s foreign ministry said.

PATRIOTIC SPIRIT

China has also been worried about independence activists in the former British colony of Hong Kong following big street protests there in 2014 calling for universal suffrage.

Xi said China would uphold Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, but would also seek to increase “national consciousness and patriotic spirit” in the financial center.

Taiwan has shown no interest in being run by China, and has accused China of not understanding how democracy works, pointing out that Taiwan’s people have the right to decide its future.

The new U.S. law on Taiwan adds to strains between China and the United States over trade, as Trump has enacted tariffs and called for China to reduce its huge trade imbalance with the United States, even while Washington has sought Beijing’s help to resolve tension with North Korea.

Taiwan has thanked the United States for the law and its support, but its foreign ministry said on Monday there were no plans for any senior leaders, such as the president, to visit the United States.

While stepped-up Chinese military exercises around Taiwan over the past year have rattled the island, Xi reiterated China’s assertion that its rise was not a threat to any country, though China considers Taiwan to be merely a Chinese province not a nation.

“Only those who are in the habit of threatening others will see everyone else as a threat,” Xi said.

(Additional reporting by Stella Qiu and Christian Shepherd, and Twinnie Siu and Fabian Hamacher in TAIPEI; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez)

Quake-hit Taiwan city winds down rescue efforts, five still missing

A body of a Hong Kong Canadian is carried out from a collapsed building after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 9, 2018.

By Fabian Hamacher and Natalie Thomas

HUALIEN, Taiwan (Reuters) – Rescue operations in Taiwan started to wind down on Friday after a devastating 6.4-magnitude earthquake rocked the tourist area of Hualien this week, taking a toll of 12 dead and five missing.

More than 270 people were injured when Tuesday’s quake hit the eastern coastal city just before midnight, toppling four buildings, ripping large fissures in roads and unleashing panic among the roughly 100,000 residents.

More than 200 aftershocks followed, hampering a round-the-clock rescue effort in which emergency personnel battled rain and cold to comb rubble in a search for survivors.

Efforts on Friday narrowed to finding five Chinese nationals still missing after rescuers pulled two bodies, identified as Canadian citizens from Hong Kong, out of a 12-storey residential building that had been left tilting at a 45-degree angle.

An excavator demolishes collapsed Marshal hotel after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 9, 2018.

An excavator demolishes collapsed Marshal hotel after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 9, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Authorities said they would focus their search on the single building where the five missing were believed to be.

“The military will continue to prioritize today rescuing the missing people in the Yun Men Tsui Ti residential building,” it said in a statement.

The building’s extreme displacement made the search tough, the government said in a statement, adding, “The space for our operations is small, so the progress of search and rescue can be slow.”

Power was restored to all affected areas in Hualien, although 8,500 homes are still without water.

The military will work with local government officials to develop a plan to demolish a hotel, a residential building and other dangerous buildings, it said in its statement.

The government vowed to redouble efforts to revise building regulations, aiming to limit damage in any future episodes.

Taiwan revised its building act on Jan. 30 to strengthen investigations of the structures of existing buildings and inspection of completed projects, the interior ministry said on Friday.

The revision, expected to be discussed by a cabinet meeting at the end of February, would also seek third-party views in building assessments, it said.

The government added that it would hasten reconstruction of old buildings to make them earthquake-resistant and work to boost the safety of other structures in affected areas.

“At every stage, the central government will fully assist local governments,” it added.

 

(Additional reporting by Tyrone Siu; Writing by Jess Macy Yu; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Clarence Fernandez)

Unholy war of words breaks out over Vatican rapprochement with China

A believer prays during a weekend mass at an underground Catholic church in Tianjin in November 10, 2013.

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – An unholy war of words has broken out among Vatican and Catholic officials over the Holy See’s rapprochement with Communist China, with cardinals, archbishops and priests caught in an undiplomatic crossfire.

In the past few days, one cardinal has accused another of spouting “nonsense” and a priest accused an archbishop of being so naive about China that he was like Alice in Wonderland.

The exchanges came as the Vatican and China moved closer to an accord on the appointment of bishops in what would be an historic breakthrough and a precursor to a resumption in diplomatic relations after 70 years.

Any deal was bound to be controversial because of concessions the Vatican would have to make to a government that has kept religion under its thumb. But the accusations have become exceptionally shrill as diplomacy has collided with passion.

Father Bernardo Cervellera, head of the AsiaNews agency, which specializes in China, accused Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the head of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, of being “naive”.

In an interview this week, Sanchez Sorondo praised China, saying that Chinese today were those who are perhaps best implementing Church teachings on social issues, such as concern for the environment and human dignity.

“We can understand that in the heat of desire for relations between China and the Vatican one can be doting and exalt Chinese culture … but adulating China is an ideological affirmation that makes a laughingstock of the Church,” Cervellera wrote in an editorial headlined “Sanchez Sorondo in Wonderland”.

Catholics in China are split between “underground” communities that recognize the pope and a state-controlled group where bishops are appointed by the government in collaboration with local Church communities. Critics have blasted the deal because it would involve accepting the legitimacy of bishops appointed by the government.

The war of words also reached the stratosphere of Church hierarchy, cardinal versus cardinal.

The Vatican rebuked Cardinal Joseph Zen, 86, the outspoken former bishop of Hong Kong, after he accused it of “selling out” China’s underground Catholics to the communists. Zen, known for his feistiness, did not take it lying down.

He accused the Vatican’s chief diplomat, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, of speaking “nonsense,” after Parolin said in an interview that the aim of dialogue was the greater good and that the Vatican understood the “pain” of Chinese Catholics.

Zen retorted in his blog on Monday: “Oh! This man who lacks faith, how would he understand what is real pain?!”

A Vatican source has said the deal could be signed in the next few months. The clerical gloves are expected to stay off at least until then.

(Additional reporting By Venus Wu in Hong Kong, editing by Larry King)

After Trump criticism, China denies selling oil illicitly to North Korea

: A Chinese flag is seen in front of the Friendship bridge over the Yalu River connecting the North Korean town of Sinuiju and Dandong in China's Liaoning Province on April 1, 2017.

By Philip Wen and David Brunnstrom

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China on Friday denied reports it has been illicitly selling oil products to North Korea after U.S. President Donald Trump said he was not happy that China had allowed oil to reach the isolated nation.

Trump said on Twitter the previous day that China had been “caught” allowing oil into North Korea and that would prevent “a friendly solution” to the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs that it conducts in defiance of heavy U.N. Security Council sanctions.

“I have been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war,” Trump said in a separate interview with The New York Times.

South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper this week quoted South Korean government sources as saying that U.S. spy satellites had detected Chinese ships transferring oil to North Korean vessels about 30 times since October.

U.S. officials have not confirmed details of this report.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters she had noted recent media reports including suggestions a Chinese vessel was suspected of transporting oil to a North Korean vessel on Oct. 19.

“The Chinese side has conducted immediate investigation. In reality, the ship in question has, since August, not docked at a Chinese port and there is no record of it entering or leaving a Chinese port,” Hua said.

She said she was not aware if the vessel had docked at the port in other countries but the relevant media reports “did not accord with facts”.

“China has always implemented U.N. Security Council resolutions pertaining to North Korea in their entirety and fulfils its international obligations. We never allow Chinese companies and citizens to violate the resolutions,” Hua said.

“If, through investigation, it’s confirmed there are violations of the U.N. Security Council resolutions, China will deal with them seriously in accordance with laws and regulations.”

In the New York Times interview, Trump explicitly tied his administration’s trade policy with China, North Korea’s lone major ally, to its perceived cooperation in resolving the North Korea standoff.

“When I campaigned, I was very tough on China in terms of trade. They made — last year, we had a trade deficit with China of $350 billion, minimum. That doesn’t include the theft of intellectual property, O.K., which is another $300 billion,” Trump said, according to a transcript of the interview.

“If they’re helping me with North Korea, I can look at trade a little bit differently, at least for a period of time. And that’s what I’ve been doing. But when oil is going in, I’m not happy about that.”

An official with the U.S. State Department said the U.S. government was aware of vessels engaged in such activity involving refined petroleum and coal.

“We have evidence that some of the vessels engaged in these activities are owned by companies in several countries, including China,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The United States says the full cooperation of China, North Korea’s neighbor and main trading partner, is vital to the success of efforts to rein in North Korea, while warning that all options are on the table, including military ones, in dealing with it.

China has repeatedly said it is fully enforcing all resolutions against North Korea, despite suspicion in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo that loopholes still exist.

‘EVADING SANCTIONS’

South Korea said on Friday it had seized a Hong Kong-flagged ship suspected of transferring oil to North Korea.

A senior South Korean foreign ministry official said the ship, the Lighthouse Winmore, was seized when it arrived at a South Korean port in late November.

“It’s unclear how much oil the ship had transferred to North Korea for how long and on how many occasions, but it clearly showed North Korea is engaged in evading the sanctions,” the official told Reuters.

South Korea’s customs service concluded that the Lighthouse Winmore had loaded about 14,000 tons of Japanese refined petroleum products in South Korea on Oct. 11, reportedly bound for Taiwan, the official said.

But instead, it transferred as much as 600 tons to the North Korea-flagged Sam Jong 2 on Oct. 19 in international waters between China and the Korean peninsula, on the order of its charterer, Billions Bunker Group Corp., based in Taiwan, the ministry official said.

It was not immediately possible to find contact information for the company.

A spokesman for Taiwan’s presidential office, Alex Huang, said the company was not incorporated in Taiwan.

“As a responsible member of international society, Taiwan will continue to fully comply with all U.N. sanctions against North Korea, in order to support peace and stability in the region,” he said in a statement.

The Hong Kong government said it was “liaising with the Korean parties concerned to obtain further information about the incident, and will take appropriate actions as necessary”.

Employees at the office of Lighthouse Ship Management, the ship’s registered manager, in the Chinese port city of Guangzhou, declined to comment and said they had no knowledge of the situation.

China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said she did not have any information about the matter.

Both ships were among 10 vessels that the United States had proposed that the U.N. Security Council should blacklist for transporting banned items from North Korea, documents seen by Reuters this month showed.

China and Russia subsequently asked for more time to consider the U.S. proposal.

Ship tracking data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows that the Lighthouse Winmore has mainly been doing supply runs between China and Taiwan since August.

Prior to that, it was active between India and the United Arab Emirates. In October, when it allegedly transferred petroleum products to the North Korean ship, the Lighthouse Winmore had its tracking transponder switched off.

The Trump administration has led a drive to step up global sanctions on North Korea in response to its efforts to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the United States.

The U.N. Security Council last week unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea for a recent intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test, seeking to further limit its access to refined petroleum products and crude oil.

The U.S.-drafted U.N. resolution seeks to ban nearly 90 percent of refined petroleum exports to North Korea by capping them at 500,000 barrels a year.

It also caps crude oil supplies to North Korea at 4 million barrels a year and commits the Security Council to further cuts if North Korea conducts another nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile test.

In September, the Security Council put a cap of 2 million barrels a year on refined petroleum products exports to North Korea.

(Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith in Seoul, Venus Wu and Tyrone Siu in Hong Kong and Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

China seeks to silence critics at U.N. forums: rights body report

FILE PHOTO: Pro-democracy demonstrators hold up portraits of Chinese disbarred lawyer Jiang Tianyong, demanding his release, during a demonstration outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong, China December 23, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Beijing is waging a campaign of harassment against Chinese activists who seek to testify at the United Nations about repression, while the world body sometimes turns a blind eye or is even complicit, Human Rights Watch said.

In a report released on Tuesday, the group said China restricts travel of activists, or photographs or films them if they do come to the U.N. in Geneva to cooperate with human rights watchdogs scrutinizing its record.

“What we found is that China is systematically trying to undermine the U.N.’s ability to defend human rights, certainly in China but also globally,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.

“This comes at a point where domestically China’s repression is the worst it has been since the Tiananmen Square democracy movement (in 1989). So there is much to hide and China clearly attaches enormous importance to muting criticism of its increasingly abysmal human rights record.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang dismissed the report’s accusations as “groundless”, saying Beijing was playing an active role in the United Nations’ human rights work.

“We urge the relevant organization to remove their tinted lenses and objectively and justly view China’s human rights development,” he told a regular briefing.

Rolando Gomez, U.N. Human Rights Council spokesman, said the office did its best to protect all participants and had been “extremely vigilant in addressing and investigating all acts and perceived acts of intimidation, threats, and attacks brought to its attention”, regardless of which state committed them.

The U.N. system offers one of the few remaining channels for Chinese activists to express their views, the New York-based rights group said.

Its report, “The Costs of International Advocacy: China’s Interference in United Nations Human Rights Mechanisms,” is based on 55 interviews.

“NIP-IT-IN-THE-BUD STRATEGY”

“(Chinese President) Xi Jinping seems to have adopted a ‘nip it in the bud’ strategy with respect to activism at home, but increasingly abroad. That’s one of our messages, China’s repression isn’t stopping at its borders these days,” Roth said.

In China, activists have “decreasing space safe” from intimidation, arbitrary detention, and a legal system controlled by the Communist Party, the report said, decrying a crackdown on activists and lawyers since 2015.Some activists who have attended U.N. reviews of China’s record have been punished on their return, it said. Others have their passports confiscated or are arrested before departure.

When Xi addressed the U.N. in Geneva in January, the U.N. barred non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from attending, Human Rights Watch said.

Dolkun Isa, an ethnic Uighur rights activist originally from China, was attending a U.N. event in New York in April when U.N. security guards ejected him without explanation, despite his accreditation, it added.

Jiang Tianyong, a prominent human rights lawyer, disappeared last November, months after meeting in Beijing with U.N. special rapporteur on poverty Philip Alston who has called for his release.

Jiang, after being held incommunicado for six months, was charged with subversion. At his trial last month he confessed, saying that he had been inspired to overthrow China’s political system by workshops he had attended overseas.

“So the signal is clear – don’t you dare present an independent perspective to a U.N. investigator,” Roth said.

(Reporting and writing by Stephanie Nebehay; Additional reporting by Christian Shepherd in Beijing; Editing by John Stonestreet)

China makes disrespect of national anthem a crime

China's President Xi Jinping arrives at a welcoming ceremony for Brazil's President Michel Temer (not pictured) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China September 1, 2017.

By Christian Shepherd and Venus Wu

BEIJING/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Anyone who mocks China’s national anthem faces up to 15 days in police detention after parliament criminalized such acts in a new law on Friday that covers Hong Kong and Macau.

Since taking over as president, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has ushered in new legislation aimed at securing the country from threats both within and outside its borders, besides presiding over a sweeping crackdown on dissent and free speech.

Protecting “the dignity of the national anthem” will help “promote patriotism and nurture socialist core values”, says the new law passed by the National People’s Congress (NPC).

It governs when, where and how the anthem, the “March of the Volunteers”, can be played.

The law bans its use as background music and in advertisements, rules out playing it at funerals and on other “inappropriate occasions” and prescribes administrative detention for any “distorted” or “mocking” renditions.

Those attending public events must stand to attention and sing in a solemn manner when the anthem is played.

The new law brings treatment of the anthem into line with desecration of China’s national flag, or its emblem, which has been a criminal offense punishable by up to 15 days’ detention since the 1990s. Those laws also apply in Hong Kong and Macau.

Wu Zeng, the office head of the NPC’s national laws panel, confirmed that lawmakers had agreed the law should also apply to Hong Kong and Macau by being written into their constitutional provisions, the Basic Laws.

The law has fueled concern in Hong Kong, whose residents have grown nervous over China’s perceived encroachment of the city’s autonomy following such events as the disappearance of booksellers who later emerged in mainland Chinese custody.

Hong Kong lawyer and pro-democracy lawmaker Tanya Chan said she expected “a series of obstacles” when the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, adopts the law.

“The rights and freedoms protected under Hong Kong laws have come under challenge in recent years,” she said. “So it is right for people to be concerned.”

The city’s Justice Secretary, Rimsky Yuen, said he hoped “the intention of the national law would be upheld without affecting Hong Kong people’s basic rights and freedoms”.

In 2015, Hong Kong football fans booed the Chinese anthem during a World Cup qualifier, prompting a fine for the territory’s football association from world body FIFA.

Last month, Shanghai police detained three men for having “hurt patriotic feelings” by dressing up as Japanese soldiers and posing for photographs outside a memorial to China’s war with Japan, state media said.

 

(Reporting by Christian Shepherd in Beijing and Venus Wu in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by Philip Wen; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

 

Macau struggles to recover from Typhoon Hato’s destruction

Macau struggles to recover from Typhoon Hato's destruction

By Tyrone Siu and Farah Master

MACAU/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Chaos and confusion gripped Macau on Thursday after one of the strongest typhoons on record hit the territory, killing at least nine people, and leaving more than half the city still without water and power, and casinos relying on back-up generators.

Rescuers on Thursday searched submerged cars for trapped people in the former Portuguese territory, while overwhelmed emergency services scrambled to respond to crisis calls.

A man looks out from inside an apartment where some windows have been broken by typhoon Hato in Macau, China August 24, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

A man looks out from inside an apartment where some windows have been broken by typhoon Hato in Macau, China August 24, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Many residents and tourists complained that the government was woefully unprepared for Typhoon Hato and its destructive winds of more than 200 kmh (124 mph).

Macau’s government broadcaster TDM said Typhoon Hato, a maximum signal 10 storm, was the strongest since 1968 to hit the world’s biggest gambling hub and home to around 600,000 people.

“The city looks like it was just in a war,” said one civil servant, who declined to be named as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Fallen trees and debris are seen on a road following Typhoon Hato in Macau, China, August 24, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media. Karen Yung via REUTERS

Fallen trees and debris are seen on a road following Typhoon Hato in Macau, China, August 24, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media. Karen Yung via REUTERS

Hato on Wednesday hit the nearby financial hub of Hong Kong, uprooting trees, flooding streets, forcing hundreds of airline flights to be canceled and halting financial trading. There were reports of 34 people injured in Hong Kong, which had not been hit by a signal 10 typhoon for five years.

At one stage as Hato intensified, Hong Kong posted a signal 8 storm warning, saying it was likely to go higher, yet Macau’s government rated Hato only a signal 3 typhoon.

“I am shocked with the late notice and lack of preparation that was given for this superstorm. Residents are in peril and unable to assess if help is on the way,” said Ashley Sutherland-Winch, a marketing consultant in Macau.

Exteriors of buildings, including parts of multi-billion dollar casinos, were ripped away by Hato’s powerful winds.

Video footage from Macau residents sent to Reuters showed a man struggling to keep his head above water in an enclosed carpark filled with debris, while another showed a large truck toppling over and pedestrians flung across pavements. Reuters could not independently verify the footage.

While most of Macau’s large casinos, especially those operating on the Las Vegas style Cotai strip, were trying to operate as normal, many were relying on back-up generators.

Casino stocks listed in Hong Kong fell versus a rise in the benchmark Hang Seng Index on Thursday with the full impact on gambling revenues and economic cost still unknown, analysts said.

Nolan Ledarney, director of Crafted 852, a food website in Hong Kong, who was staying inside Galaxy’s casino resort with his wife and three children said guests had been corralled into safe areas.

Supermarket staff sell goods outside a supermarket during power outages after Typhoon Hato hit in Macau, China August 24, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Supermarket staff sell goods outside a supermarket during power outages after Typhoon Hato hit in Macau, China August 24, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Severe flooding overwhelmed Macau, which is in the process of building new infrastructure such as a light rail, to cope with a surge in visitors.

Macau has rapidly transformed from a sleepy fishing village over a decade ago into a major gambling hub, although infrastructure has mostly failed to keep pace with its development.

Transportation remained in chaos with damage to both of Macau’s ferry terminals and roads crammed with traffic. Schools, museums and public venues remained closed on Thursday.

“The government cannot handle the challenge as the people would expect from a self claimed first class city,” said Macau resident and political commentator Larry So.

Hato had been downgraded to a tropical storm on Thursday and was about 680 km (422 miles) west of Hong Kong and expected to weaken further as it moves inland over China.

(Writing by Farah Master; additional reporting by Anne Marie Roantree in Hong Kong and Andrew Galbraith in Shanghai; Editing by Michael Perry)

Typhoon batters Hong Kong and south China, three dead in Macau

Typhoon batters Hong Kong and south China, three dead in Macau

By James Pomfret and Anne Marie Roantree

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Typhoon Hato, a maximum category 10 storm, slammed into Hong Kong on Wednesday lashing the Asian financial hub with wind and rain that uprooted trees and forced most businesses to close, while in some places big waves flooded seaside streets.

There were reports of 34 people injured in Hong Kong while in the city of Macau, across the Pearl River estuary, three people were killed, authorities there said.

In Hong Kong, more than 450 flights were canceled, financial markets suspended and schools closed as Hato bore down, the first category 10 storm to hit the city since 2012.

“I’ve never seen one like this,” Garrett Quigley, a longtime resident of Lantau island to the west of the city, said of the storm.

“Cars are half submerged and roads are impassable with flooding and huge trees down. It’s crazy.”

Many skyscrapers in the usually teeming streets of Hong Kong were empty and dark as office workers stayed at home.

Hato, that means “sky pigeon” in Japanese, churned up Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor and triggered large swells and big waves on some of the city’s most popular beaches, with serious flooding in low-lying areas.

In residential districts such as Heng Fa Chuen on densely populated Hong Kong island, waves smashed against the sides of oceanfront buildings and surged over a promenade, sweeping away walls and benches and swamping vehicles parked nearby.

Construction cranes swayed at the tops of skyscrapers, windows imploded and nearly 200 trees were uprooted, while some people used canoes to venture out into flooded streets.

Authorities downgraded the storm to a category three by late-afternoon with government services, the courts, financial markets and companies set to resume normal business on Thursday.

HIGH SEAS

The storm also caused a power blackout across most of the gambling hub of Macau for about two hours, residents said, with disruption to mobile phone and internet networks. There was severe flooding on the streets, with some cars almost completely submerged, and the water supply was affected in some districts. The three men who died included a 45-year-old Chinese tourist who was hit by a heavy truck, according to a government statement.

The former Portuguese colony’s casinos, however, had backup power, two casino executives told Reuters.

The storm also made landfall in China’s Guangdong province, in Zhuhai city adjacent to Macau, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.

Numerous flights and trains were canceled in Guangdong province, with Shenzhen’s International Airport particularly badly hit.

Thousands of residents along the Chinese coast were evacuated and fishing vessels were called back to port.

Maximum winds near Hato’s center were recorded at a destructive 155 kph (95 mph) as it continued to move west across Guangdong in the general direction of Hainan island.

A senior scientific officer for the Hong Kong observatory warned that sea levels could rise several meters in some places, with the government issuing flood alerts and opening 27 shelters across the city.

Trading in Hong Kong’s financial markets was halted for the day, the stock exchange said. Typhoon Nida in August last year was the last storm to close the exchange for the whole day.

The city’s flagship carrier, Cathay Pacific, and Hong Kong Airlines said the majority of their flights to and from Hong Kong between 2200 GMT Tuesday and 0900 GMT Wednesday would be canceled.

Other transport services, including ferries to Macau and outlying islands in Hong Kong, were suspended.

(Additional reporting by Farah Master and Stefanie McIntyre; Editing by Paul Tait, Michael Perry and Jacqueline Wong)

Tens of thousands protest in Hong Kong over jailing of democracy activists

Demonstrators march in protest of the jailing of student leaders Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, who were imprisoned for their participation of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, also known as "Occupy Central" protests, in Hong Kong China August 20, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By Venus Wu

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday to protest against the jailing of three young democracy activists, with many questioning the independence of the Chinese-ruled city’s judiciary.

Joshua Wong, 20, Nathan Law, 24 and Alex Chow, 27, were jailed for six to eight months on Thursday for unlawful assembly, dealing a blow to the youth-led push for universal suffrage and prompting accusations of political interference.

Thousands of people marched in temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) to the Court of Final Appeal, carrying placards and banners denouncing the jailing of the activists.

Former student leader Lester Shum, who helped to organize Sunday’s rally, said the number of protesters was the highest since the “Umbrella Movement” pro-democracy protests in 2014 that paralyzed major roads in the financial center for 79 days.

“This shows that the Hong Kong government, the Chinese Communist regime and the Department of Justice’s conspiracy to deter Hong Kong people from continuing to participate in politics and to protest using harsh laws and punishments has completely failed,” Shum said.

Hong Kong police estimated 22,000 people had shown up at the height of the protest.

Protesters brandished a large banner saying: “It’s not a crime to fight against totalitarianism.” They shouted: “Release all political prisoners. Civil disobedience. We have no fear. We have no regrets.”

Ray Wong, 24, who leads the pro-independence group Hong Kong Indigenous, said outrage over the jailings was helping to unite the pro-democracy opposition camp that has been riven by divisions over the past few years.

“Since the Umbrella movement, the radical and milder forces walked their own path,” he said. “We’re now standing together. It is a good start.”

In Sunday’s protest, some signs said “Shame on Rimsky”, referring to Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen. Reuters reported that Yuen had overruled other legal officials when they advised against pursuing prison terms for the three activists.

 

NO “POLITICAL MOTIVE”

Wong and his colleagues triggered the 2014 protests, which attracted hundreds of thousands at their peak, when they climbed into a courtyard fronting the city’s government headquarters.

They were sentenced last year to non-jail punishments including community service for unlawful assembly, but the Department of Justice applied for a review, seeking imprisonment.

On Friday, Yuen denied any “political motive” in seeking jail for the trio.

The former British colony returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” agreement that ensured its freedoms, including a separate legal system. But Beijing has ultimate control and some Hong Kong people are concerned it is increasingly interfering to head off dissent.

The Hong Kong government rejected allegations of political interference.

“There is absolutely no political consideration involved. Further, allegations that the court is under political interference are totally unfounded and groundless,” it said in a statement late on Sunday.

The jail terms for Wong, Law and Chow disqualify them from running for the city’s legislature for the next five years, halting their push for a career in mainstream politics.

Lau Siu-lai, one of six legislators expelled from the legislature this year over the manner in which she took her oath of office, said the sentences were unreasonably harsh.

“It appears to be political suppression to strip away young people’s right to stand in elections,” she said. “I hope people will pay attention … We need to protect Hong Kong’s rule of law.”

Another protester carried a placard of Lady Justice with a red blindfold.

“Hong Kong’s Lady Justice and the rule of law… are now being controlled by communists, and are now being twisted and she is now blind,” said 50-year-old artist Kacey Wong.

While the imposition of tougher sentences on the activists attracted widespread criticism in Hong Kong and overseas, the Hong Kong Bar Association and Law Society defended the court’s decision.

“Unfounded comments that judicial decisions were made or influenced by political considerations originating outside Hong Kong are unjustified and damaging to our legal system, and to Hong Kong as a whole,” they said in a joint statement on Friday.

(This version of the story was refiled to fix spelling of court in 16th paragraph)

 

(Additional reporting by James Pomfret; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Richard Borsuk and David Stamp)

 

China’s Xi talks tough on Hong Kong as tens of thousands call for democracy

Pro-democracy protesters carry a banner which reads "One Country, Two Systems, a cheating for twenty years. Recapture Hong Kong with democracy and self-determination", during a demonstration on the 20th anniversary of the territory's handover from Britain to Chinese rule, in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

By James Pomfret and Venus Wu

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping swore in Hong Kong’s new leader on Saturday with a stark warning that Beijing won’t tolerate any challenge to its authority in the divided city as it marked the 20th anniversary of its return from Britain to China.

Police blocked roads, preventing pro-democracy protesters from getting to the harbor-front venue close to where the last colonial governor, Chris Patten, tearfully handed back Hong Kong to China in the pouring rain in 1997.

Xi said Hong Kong should crack down on moves towards “Hong Kong independence”.

“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,” Xi said.

He also referred to the “humiliation and sorrow” China suffered during the first Opium War in the early 1840s that led to ceding Hong Kong to the British.

Hong Kong has been racked by demands for full democracy and, more recently, by calls by some pockets of protesters for independence, a subject that is anathema to Beijing.

Xi’s speech was his strongest yet to the city amid concerns over what some perceive as increased meddling by Beijing, illustrated in recent years by the abduction by mainland agents of some Hong Kong booksellers and Beijing’s efforts in disqualifying two pro-independence lawmakers elected to the city legislature.

“It’s a more frank and pointed way of dealing with the problems,” said former senior Hong Kong government adviser Lau Siu-kai on Hong Kong’s Cable Television. “The central government’s power hasn’t been sufficiently respected… they’re concerned about this.”

The tightly choreographed visit was full of pro-China rhetoric amid a virtually unprecedented security lockdown close to the scene of pro-democracy protests in 2014 that grabbed global headlines with clashes and tear gas rising between waterfront skyscrapers.

Xi did not make contact with the people in the street or with any pro-democracy voices, forgoing an opportunity to lower the political heat through a softer, more nuanced approach.

The hardening stance of the democrats and Beijing could perhaps widen, spawning greater radicalism, though some activists also concede a spreading disillusionment has sapped momentum among the democracy movement since Xi came to power.

Under the mini-constitution, the Basic Law, Hong Kong is guaranteed wide-ranging autonomy for “at least 50 years” after 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula praised by Xi. It also specifies universal suffrage as an eventual goal.

But Beijing’s refusal to grant full democracy triggered the nearly three months of street protests in 2014 that posed one of the greatest populist challenges to Beijing in decades.

“MOST URGENT” PROTEST IN YEARS

In the afternoon, tens of thousands gathered in sweltering heat in a sprawling park named after Britain’s Queen Victoria, demanding Xi allow universal suffrage. Organizers put the figure at more than 60,000.

“Xi shouldn’t be interfering in Hong Kong too much,” Peter Lau, a 20-year-old university student, said. “Despite him visiting garrisons and muscle-flexing, Hong Kong people’s confidence will never be shaken. Especially for our generation. We should … fight for our freedom.”

Some demonstrators marched with yellow umbrellas, a symbol of democratic activism in the city, and held banners denouncing China’s Communist “one party rule”.

Others criticized China’s Foreign Ministry which on Friday said the “Joint Declaration” with Britain over Hong Kong, a treaty laying the blueprint over how the city would be ruled after 1997, “no longer has any practical significance”.

At the end of the rally a simple white banner read: “Cry in grief for 20 years.”

[For a link to Reuters handover stories, http://reut.rs/2sje26J]

Xi in the morning addressed a packed hall of mostly pro-Beijing establishment figures, after swearing in Hong Kong’s first female leader, Carrie Lam, who was strongly backed by China.

Xi hinted that the central government was in favor of Hong Kong introducing “national security” legislation, a controversial issue that brought nearly half a million people to the streets in protest in 2003 and ultimately forced former leader Tung Chee-hwa to step down.

A small group of pro-democracy activists near the venue were roughed up by a group of men who smashed up some props in ugly scuffles. Nine democracy protesters, including student leader Joshua Wong and lawmaker “long hair” Leung Kwok-hung, were bundled into police vans while several pro-China groups remained, cheering loudly and waving red China flags.

The activists, in a later statement, said the assailants had been “pro-Beijing triad members”.

 

(Additional reporting by Clare Jim, William Ho, Jasper Ng, Doris Huang and Susan Gao; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Nick Macfie)