Another National Security Crackdown in Hong Kong

Happy Thursday! More than 30 years after they made their debut, the children’s entertainment group “The Wiggles” appointed their first-ever CEO this month. Some may question how it took this long to have someone steering the big red car, but we’re personally unsurprised that the group that brought us “Fruit Salad, Yummy Yummy” was operating purely on vibes this whole time.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday that U.S. intelligence indicates the Iran-backed Islamic Resistance in Iraq was behind Sunday’s attack on Tower 22 in Jordan that killed three U.S. service members and injured more than three dozen, suggesting that it was possible a group under that umbrella, Kataib Hezbollah, perpetrated the attack—though he stopped short of directly assigning blame to the sub-group. The Islamic Resistance itself has claimed responsibility for the attack. President Joe Biden has not yet responded militarily to the strike, but the White House has suggested the retaliatory actions will come in phases. 
  • The House of Representatives voted 357-70 on Wednesday night to pass the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act, expanding the child tax credit and restoring three business tax cuts. The $78 billion bill—which garnered support from 188 Democrats and 169 Republicans—increases the child tax credit amount while making it easier to qualify, and restores a research tax break that allows companies to recover costs of domestic research and development. The legislation heads next to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future.
  • The Federal Reserve held interest rates steady at a range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent on Wednesday, with Fed Chair Jerome Powell suggesting cuts were unlikely during the next meeting in March but would be possible later this year. “If the economy evolves broadly as expected, it will likely be appropriate to begin dialing back policy restraint at some point this year,” Powell said following the meeting. “But the economy has surprised forecasters in many ways since the pandemic, and ongoing progress toward our 2 percent inflation objective is not assured.” 
  • Leaders of several Big Tech companies—including Meta, Snap, and TikTok—testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, where they faced bipartisan criticism from lawmakers for their companies’ alleged role in child exploitation and suicide. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, during a line of questioning by GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, apologized directly to parents in the audience of the hearing whose children were harmed by social media. During the hearing, several senators argued in favor of reforming Section 230, which prevents social media companies from being sued for the content on the platforms.
  • Online retailer eBay agreed to a $59 million settlement with the Justice Department on Wednesday over allegations that the e-commerce company violated the Controlled Substances Act by illegally selling thousands of pill presses and encapsulating machines. Many of the pill press purchasers, the DOJ alleged, also bought molds, dies, or stamps that could have allowed them to create counterfeit pharmaceuticals. “While eBay acted lawfully and denies the DOJ’s allegations,” the company wrote in a statement, “we determined that this agreement is in the best interest of the company and its shareholders as it avoids the costs, uncertainty and distraction associated with protracted litigation.”

Hong Kong Under China’s Thumb

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu and other government officials attend the public consultation proposed to be titled “Safeguarding National Security Ordinance” on January 30, 2024, in Hong Kong, China. (Photo by Chen Yongnuo/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)

In the summer of 2019, pro-democracy protests broke out in Hong Kong over plans to allow criminal extradition from the city to mainland China. At the peak of the demonstrations, as many as 1.7 million people—a quarter of the total population—took to the streets. The protests stretched into early 2020 but were brought to a halt by the outset of the pandemic, affording the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) an opportunity to impose a restrictive national security law (NSL) on the city that some described as the end of Hong Kong.

This week, more than three-and-a-half years later, Hong Kong’s chief executive unveiled a new national security law that would build on the crackdown initiated by the 2020 order. The proposal, which will almost certainly be adopted, represents another step toward importing mainland China’s state suppression to Hong Kong.

John Lee, the city’s Beijing-aligned chief executive, proposed new legislation for Hong Kong’s own security law on Tuesday. Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law—the mini constitution enacted in 1997 at the end of British control that was supposed to preserve the city’s autonomy as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China—requires that laws be passed to prohibit acts interpreted as threats against China’s central government such as subversion or “foreign political organizations … conducting political activities in the region.” Hong Kong tried to pass such national security legislation in 2003, but backed down after widespread public outcry and protests.  

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