Authoritarianism Cruises Along…

Russia magically erases term limits, while China squeezes Hong Kong with harsh new terms

Meeting Russia’s President in Helsinki almost exactly two years ago…

Changes to government championed by President Putin in Russia appear to have passed after 7 days of voting. That voting was extended so it could be more spread out during the Coronavirus pandemic. Putin’s term isn’t up until 2024, but technically he couldn’t run again at that point, except now he can. While the new rules do not eliminate term limits, they in effect push a reset button, so he’ll be eligible to serve 2 more 6-year terms. Putin’s 67 right now so it’s not too far fetched that he might choose to pursue that option. And he’s already played fast and loose with term limits in the past.

According to the Russian government, about 77% of voters favored those changes. Which is curious, considering Putin’s made a habit of winning his Presidential elections with just about the same percentage of votes. Reuters also points out Putin authorized one-time cash payments to families during the voting period.

Meanwhile, China put new restrictions on Hong Kong into force, and made its first arrests under its new set of laws.

The U.S. House has already passed a set of sanctions against China, and it’ll be interesting to see how President Trump handles it. He clearly wants to lash out at China, if for no other reason than he believes it’ll be key to his re-election. But so far he’s largely limited it to verbal attacks, designed to relieve him of any responsibility for the spread of Coronavirus, even as the number of cases in the U.S. reach new daily highs. But we’re not sure yet when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says “Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China, given facts on the ground. The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong”, if that’s a challenge, or a capitulation. Another case where the U.S. won’t end up taking any responsibility. Or even make a show of defending democracy. Which may be why China feels so comfortable doing what it’s doing in the first place.

Major changes in China’s new law for governing Hong Kong include:

  • Setting up a brand new “Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”, with a “National Security Adviser” appointed directly by the central government of China, and who reports directly to the central government of China. That new committee can operate in total secrecy, and its decisions cannot be challenged in court.
  • New departments for “safeguarding national security” will be added to the Hong Kong Police Department and prosecutors’ office. And China’s government may choose to hire non-Hong Kong residents into those departments.
  • A specific focus on sabotage of or damage to public transportation. Which happened a lot during Democracy protests last year. It’ll now be considered a form of terrorism.
  • Anything that’s considered a crime against the Chinese government in Hong Kong, will still be considered a crime if a person is overseas, and even if they’re a non-resident of Hong Kong.

But the most interesting to us is language in Article 29 of the new law, which outlaws “provoking…hatred” of China’s central government. (This is from a translation provided by the Chinese government.)

Because we hear ominous echoes of that type of undemocratic language every day in the speech of the President of the United States, who’s constantly accusing anyone who opposes or even disagrees with him or is trying to win an election against him because we have a two-party system, of “hating America“. And seems like as much as he purportedly hates everything about China right now, he’d love to prosecute people for saying not nice things about him.