Daily Memo: Hong Kong Upheaval, Israeli Strikes, Tajik-Kyrgyz Border Clashes

All the news worth knowing today.

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Hong Kong upheaval. Thousands of protesters gathered in Hong Kong for the 12th consecutive weekend of marches. The crowd, smaller than those of recent weeks, was peaceful, but a small group of protesters broke away from the march, set up makeshift barricades in the street, and hurled petrol bombs and bricks at police. Hong Kong police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd, but when clashes between protesters and police officers escalated, at least one officer fired a warning shot into the air, which is believed to be the first time shots have been fired since the protests began. On the mainland, state-run Xinhua news agency published a commentary that described the situation in Hong Kong as “no longer an ordinary demonstration, but a ‘color revolution’ aimed at fundamentally destroying the constitutional order.” In the past three weeks, China has described what is happening in Hong Kong as both “terrorism” and “a color revolution” – which brings to mind Beijing’s crackdown against “terrorism” in Xinjiang and the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square.

Israeli strikes. On Saturday, the Israeli air force bombed Iranian and Shiite militia targets outside the Syrian capital of Damascus. More surprising was that Israel actually admitted publicly that it had done so; the Israel Defense Forces released a statement saying it had launched a preemptive strike against Iran-backed fighters who were preparing to attack Israel. Meanwhile, two drones, which the Lebanese armed forces described as “Israeli enemy reconnaissance aircraft,” crashed in Lebanon on Sunday morning. Lebanese media reported that the Israeli air force attacked targets associated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine on Sunday evening in the Bekaa region. Lebanese President Michel Aoun likened Israel’s actions to a declaration of war, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned that a Hezbollah response was forthcoming. On the same day, at least three rockets were launched at Israel from the Gaza Strip; in response, the Israeli air force struck a number of Hamas targets. Egypt summoned Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders to Cairo for talks today, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a four-hour security cabinet meeting and ordered that his chief rival in upcoming elections be given a security briefing.

Tajik-Kyrgyz border. Tajik locals gathered on Saturday to protest the construction of a road that passes through Kyrgyz territory, according to Kyrgyzstan’s State Border Service. Tajik villagers reportedly pelted Kyrgyz locals and police with rocks, at which point Kyrgyz police fired their guns in the air, causing the Tajik protesters to disperse. Tajikistan, of course, views the situation differently; according to the Tajik State Committee on National Security, Kyrgyzstan is escalating a long-simmering border conflict between the two Central Asian nations by building two filling stations in a disputed border area near Batken region. The situation at the border is calm now, according to both sides, and while this isn’t the first clash in recent weeks, it seems neither side thinks much of the other’s neighborly behavior right now.

The new Indonesian capital. Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced today that Indonesia will move its capital from Jakarta to Borneo Island, closer to the strategically important port city of Balikpapan. According to Widodo, the cost of moving the capital will be roughly $33 billion, 19 percent of which will be paid by the Indonesian government. The rest will be generated from public-private partnerships and private investment. The move is in response to Jakarta’s position as one of the fastest-sinking cities in the world. Indeed, it may soon lay claim to the inauspicious honor of being the first national capital to be a victim of rising sea levels. According to researchers at Bandung Institute of Technology, current models suggest that 95 percent of Jakarta will be underwater by 2050. Widodo said that while plans to relocate the capital must commence immediately, it will not officially move until 2024 at the earliest. This speaks to Indonesia’s immense geographic challenge – a major contextual feature of its geopolitical orientation.

U.S.-Taliban deal? The ninth round of U.S.-Taliban talks started last Thursday. A Taliban spokesperson told Voice of America on Saturday that the two sides were haggling over the details of a “mechanism for U.S.-led foreign troops to withdraw from the country.” The spokesperson added that he expected negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban to conclude on Sunday – but as of this writing, no deal has been announced.

Honorable Mentions

  • A new round of U.S. sanctions against Russia over the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal went into effect today.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump referred to U.S.-South Korea military exercises as unnecessary and a “total waste of money.”
  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Bahrain over the weekend for an official state visit.
  • Iran’s foreign minister traveled to France for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron over the future of the Iran nuclear deal before heading to China today via Tehran.
  • A Mexican army colonel was shot and killed by unknown gunmen in Michoacan state.
  • Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense minister said the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia had strong brotherly relations despite “internal dialogue” – referring to recent disagreements between the two over the fighting in Yemen. Over the weekend, the Yemeni army took back control of a number of locations.