More unrest in Hong Kong. Anti-government protests in Hong Kong entered their seventh weekend with a bang. Protest leaders said over 400,000 people participated, while Hong Kong police put the figure at roughly 140,000 – but it wasn’t the size of the protests so much as the ensuing violence that made the past weekend notable. On Sunday evening, thousands of anti-government protesters attempted to block main thoroughfares and several hundred assembled outside the mainland Chinese government’s liaison office, vandalizing the national emblem with black paint and raw eggs. Riot police with dogs and tear gas eventually pushed the demonstrators back. Meanwhile, at a train station in Yuen Long, a mob wielding metal bars and sticks indiscriminately attacked anyone they could get their hands on. Chinese state media decried the violence as “insults to the state and Chinese nation” while embattled Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam called for an end to violence – but no end appears in sight. HSBC, Apple and other businesses closed early today fearing more violence. The breakdown in the rule of law in Hong Kong poses a special challenge to the central government in Beijing, which can only tolerate these kinds of developments for so long.
Ukraine’s parliamentary elections. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s victory in the April presidential election was surprising in its own right – but the dominance of his political party in Ukraine’s parliamentary elections over the weekend is even more extraordinary. Not all the votes have been counted yet, but with more than 60 percent in, Zelenskiy’s Servant of the People party has garnered roughly 42 percent of the vote and looks poised to hold a commanding majority in the Ukrainian Parliament. The results suggest a sea change in Ukrainian attitudes toward their political leaders, giving Zelenskiy the mandate and power to execute change unimaginable at the start of this year.
Japan’s parliamentary elections. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party secured a clear victory in elections for Japan’s Upper House on Sunday but fell short of securing the two-thirds majority necessary for constitutional reform. Final results gave the party and its coalition ally, Komeito, 141 out of 245 seats, which actually represents a six-seat decrease from its preelection total. In other words, the status quo continues: Abe remains the prime minister, and a powerful one at that – but just out of reach of the kind of power he would need to reshape Japan’s constitution and the role of the military in Japanese policymaking.
A Chinese naval base in Cambodia? A Sunday report from the Wall Street Journal purports to divulge details of a covert agreement for a Chinese naval facility in Cambodia where China could station military personnel and warships. Both Chinese and Cambodian officials have vehemently denied the report; Cambodia’s prime minister called it “the worst-ever made-up news against Cambodia” and a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Chinese-Cambodian cooperation shouldn’t be mistaken for an undisclosed military basing deal. Without any evidence substantiating the existence of the agreement, the least we can say is that observing how both China and Cambodia interact both with each other and with the U.S. over these reports may give insight into how the region will deal with a more assertive and ambitious China in the future.
Whither Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov? Rumors sparked by an academic at the Centre for Monitoring Eurasian Affairs set off a groundswell of intrigue suggesting that Turkmenistan’s eccentric dictator-president passed away this week. A YouTube channel associated with an exiled opposition group calling itself Free Turkmenistan claimed Berdimuhamedov died on July 20 from acute kidney failure. The Turkmen embassies in Russia and Kyrgyzstan have since denounced the reports as “absolute lie[s]” and the Russian political scientist who appears to have started the media firestorm has recanted his initial statement. Until Berdimuhamedov presents himself in public, however, we’ll be keeping close tabs on Turkmenistan, considering that its economy is a disaster and it’s uncertain whether it could manage a political transition as smoothly as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have in recent years.
Iran tanker update. The Stena Impero remains impounded at the port of Bandar Abbas in Iran, and earlier today, British Prime Minister Theresa May called for its immediate release. The United Kingdom is reportedly considering asset freezes and a wide range of potential sanctions against Iran if it does not comply. The U.K. is also considering urging European Union countries to reimpose sanctions against Iran that were lifted as part of the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran thus far seems unmoved, releasing footage of the crew of the tanker on state TV. Meanwhile, an Iranian government spokesperson told the Islamic Republic News Agency that Iran’s seizure of the Stena Impero was perfectly legal. Cooler heads seem to be prevailing, even if the situation is no closer to a resolution.
- South Korea said bilateral military exercises with the U.S. are set to proceed as planned next month despite pointed objections from North Korea.
- At least 17 people died over the weekend in clashes between Ethiopian security forces and Sidama independence advocates.
- Italian Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini threatened to resign – again – if the Italian government will not consider reforms that would give Lombardy and Veneto in northern Italy greater autonomy.
- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lauded Mexico’s recent immigration efforts on Sunday during a visit to Mexico City.
- U.S. President Donald Trump and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan are meeting at the White House today.
- Libya’s National Oil Corporation said all shipments of crude from the country’s western port of Zawiya – some 290,000 barrels per day – have been forced offline.
- Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed is in China for an official visit; the two countries signed a number of memorandums of understanding and were mutually complimentary during the visit.
- Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said the Saturday protests in Moscow against an election commission decision to block candidates for city council elections were the largest he had seen since 2012.
- The U.S. has reportedly withdrawn from the Iraqi town of Rutba in Anbar province.