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During protests in Hong Kong
During protests in Hong Kong

-OpEd-

Chinese tanks have not rolled through the streets of Hong Kong, but Beijing's legislative coup Tuesday, on the eve of the 23rd anniversary of the territory's handover to China, is provoking a similar fear. Pro-democracy business owners have hastily removed the slogans that lined their storefronts and thousands are applying to emigrate, with Australia set to offer safe haven.


By criminalizing attacks on its authority, the so-called "National Security Law" imposed by Beijing violates the Hong Kong Constitution, according to which its the territory that enacts any such legislation by consulting its population. China has dealt a fatal blow to the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, which guaranteed Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy for 50 years by a treaty deposited at the United Nations. It imposes by force what Hong Kongers dreaded, and is why they took to the streets en masse last year: laws that could impose life imprisonment for "subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreigners." It's an ominous breach in a justice system that is otherwise modeled on British common law.


The Hong Kong people's fear is fueled by the tragic farce of judicial procedure in China. In seven years of Xi Jinping's reign, the justice system has used and abused subversion offenses and other laws that undermine public order in a gross disregard for its own procedures, its constitution and the rights of defense. All of this is in the name of the absolute supremacy of the Communist Party and the assumed rejection of universal values, the two main components of "Xi Jinping Think."

During the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China — Photo: Willie Siawillie Siau/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Yet for 23 years, China had come to terms with the quasi-democratic status of its "special administrative region." It is now beginning to swallow it whole, showing an appetite and impatience that reflect its spectacular rise to economic, military and strategic power, and the resulting obtrusive pride.


Those rare calls for Hong Kong's independence made during the 2019 protest movement — the overwhelming majority of which are attached to the current autonomy — are not what Beijing wants to punish. Instead, it's the insults made against China, in the form of emblems and defaced flags, as well as the attempts by activists to obtain help from the United States and even Great Britain, the former colonizer.


Xi Jinping is obsessed with "securing" the political system and the party. He considers that the Trump administration's trade war and the fight launched by American politicians against human rights violations — particularly against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang — have increased the risks for a China that must, in his view, "take a central place on the world stage." For him, it is a question of puncturing the abscess that was the protest in Hong Kong.


COVID-19 provided an unexpected opportunity to ban demonstrations and to act while borders are closed. Having the United States and Europe confront the devastating effects of the virus is a godsend for the Chinese leader, who is feeding stories to the public of his success against the epidemic. By imposing its legislative power on Hong Kong precisely at a time when it is being questioned for its health policy and its predatory role in globalization, China is defying the Western world and embarking on a path that should worry us all.

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

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