Daily Memo: Hong Kong’s Protests, Europe’s Iran Policy, Japan’s Defense Budget

All the news worth knowing today.

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Tensions in Hong Kong. Hong Kong police are warning residents against participating in unauthorized protests on Saturday. The island’s police commander reportedly said his forces would “act sternly” against anyone attempting to incite violence. The police commander has one particular unauthorized protest in mind: a rally proposed by the Civil Human Rights Front. The Hong Kong police filed an objection to the rally, and the objection was upheld by an appeal board. Meanwhile, Hong Kong police today arrested a number of high-profile activists, including a district council member, for their roles in allegedly organizing and inciting unauthorized assemblies and obstructing officers at various protests over the past two months. The move comes just days after what Beijing is claiming is simply a routine rotation in which People’s Liberation Army forces at the Hong Kong garrison were replaced with fresh troops, but the combination of tough police talk, activist arrests and rumors of fresh PLA troops in the area is creating additional uncertainty. Case in point: Hong Kong airport officials are already considering canceling a number of flights in and out of Hong Kong this weekend.

EU leaders’ Iran efforts. The British, French and German foreign ministers and the European Union’s foreign affairs chief are holding a two-day meeting in Helsinki. Their focus: preserving the Iran nuclear deal and protecting commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the meeting would carry forward momentum from the G-7 summit, at which Iran’s foreign minister made a guest appearance. A day earlier, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini said EU defense chiefs had discussed testing in the Gulf of Guinea a “coordinated maritime presence,” which would see countries voluntarily cooperate to provide maritime security. Mogherini said the initiative had been in the works for months and was not linked to tensions with Iran, but she acknowledged that a future deployment could be made to the Persian Gulf region. The U.S., of course, has already launched its own maritime defense mission in the region, with the U.K. among the participants. Other crucial details on the EU plan are yet to be settled, including the combat capability of participating forces, and Mogerhini said deployment would occur only with the assent of coastal countries in the affected area. In other words, at this stage the plan is toothless. With the exception of the U.K. – which is conducting a mesmerizing balancing act in its Iran policy – the EU’s focus is still on keeping the nuclear deal alive, American and Iranian guns silent, and its own options open.

Japan’s defense budget grows. Japan’s Defense Ministry requested $50.3 billion for its 2020 budget. This marks the eighth consecutive year that the military’s budget has increased, though it still accounts for only about 1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. (China spends about 2 percent and the U.S. about 3 percent of GDP on defense.) The budget focuses primarily on increasing Japan’s air capabilities with the planned purchase of six F-35B stealth fighter jets in addition to F-35A jets. The Defense Ministry also plans to reconfigure one of its two destroyers to be able to host F-35Bs onboard. Many of the purchases follow Japan’s trend of increasing interoperability with U.S. forces and increasing the island nation’s ability to protect its surrounding waters and increase denial capabilities. According to the constitution, Japan’s forces are supposed to be defensive in nature, but the government has been pushing the envelope on that interpretation, even as efforts to amend the war-renouncing Article 9 remain a work in progress.

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