Chinese K-Pop Stars Publicly Back Beijing on Hong Kong

At least eight K-pop stars from China and even one from Taiwan and one from Hong Kong are publicly stating their support for Beijing’s one-China policy, eliciting a mixture of disappointment and understanding from fans. 

Many of the statements came after protesters opposed to Beijing’s growing influence over semi-autonomous Hong Kong removed a Chinese flag and tossed it into Victoria Harbor earlier this month. 

Lay Zhang, Jackson Wang, Lai Kuan-lin and Victoria Song were among the K-pop singers who recently uploaded a Chinese flag and declared themselves as “one of 1.4 billion guardians of the Chinese flag” on their official Weibo social media accounts. Wang is from Hong Kong and Lai is from Taiwan. 

Some see the public pronouncements as the latest examples of how celebrities and companies feel pressured to toe the line politically in the important Chinese market. Yet they also coincide with a surge in patriotism among young Chinese raised on a steady diet of pro-Communist Party messaging.

Song and Zhang, a member of popular group EXO, have shown their Chinese pride on Instagram, in Song’s case uploading an image of the Chinese flag last week with the caption “Hong Kong is part of China forever.” Such posts would only be seen by their international fans because Instagram, like most Western social media sites, is blocked by the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s censors.

K-pop fans reacted swiftly to the avowals of allegiance to China. Some called it shameful, while others were more understanding. 

Erika Ng, a 26-year-old Hong Kong fan of Jackson Wang, was not surprised by his statement. She said he “values the China market more than the Hong Kong market” because of his large presence in the mainland.

Wang, a member of the group Got7, used to carry a Hong Kong flag and wear a hat with the city’s symbol, a bauhinia flower. Lately, he has been carrying a Chinese flag on his concert tour and was wearing a China flag hoodie in his music video.

In this Jan. 14, 2019, file photo, singer Hong Kong singer Jackson Wang performs at the end of the Fendi men’s Fall-Winter 2019-20 collection, that was presented in Milan, Italy.

Ellyn Bukvich, a 26-year-old American who has been an EXO fan for five years, said many young fans will probably support Zhang and his message because of his status as a K-pop idol. 

 “It’s spreading propaganda and it’s very effective,” Bukvich said.

 The one-China policy maintains that there is only one Chinese government, and it is a key diplomatic point accepted by most nations in the world, including the U.S. It is mostly aimed at the democratic island of Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a breakaway province to be reunited with the mainland by force if necessary.

In the case of Hong Kong, a former British colony handed back to Chinese control in 1997, Beijing maintains a one country, two systems policy in which the city is guaranteed greater freedoms than those on the mainland until 2047.

China’s government and entirely state-controlled media have consistently portrayed the Hong Kong protest movement as an effort by criminals trying to split the territory from China, backed by hostile foreigners.

International brands – from fashion companies to airlines – have in the past been compelled to make public apologies for perceived breaches of that policy, such as listing Taiwan and Hong Kong as separate countries on their websites or T-shirts. 

Zhang terminated his partnership with Samsung Electronics last week, accusing the South Korean mobile giant of damaging China’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity.” 

The statement in a Weibo post was prompted by Samsung having separate language options for users in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan on their global website. Both Hong Kong and Taiwan use traditional Chinese characters instead of the simplified ones used in mainland China, and Hong Kong also has English as an official languages. Samsung declined to comment on whether it will continue to provide different language options for Taiwan and Hong Kong.

It can be difficult to know whether loyalty vows to Beijing are heartfelt or for commercial reasons. The past is littered with examples of celebrities, both Chinese and foreign, who saw their business in China destroyed after the party objected to a statement or an action. 

In 2016, Taiwanese K-pop star Chou Tzu-yu made a public apology for waving the Taiwanese flag while appearing on a South Korean television show. A Chinese vilification campaign against her led to a backlash among some Taiwanese, who at the time were amid a presidential election eventually won by Tsai Ing-wen, who is despised by Beijing for her pro-independence stance.

Public support for Beijing hasn’t been limited to pop stars.

Liu Yifei, the Chinese-born star of Disney’s upcoming live-action version of the film “Mulan,” weighed in on the situation in Hong Kong, where protesters have accused police of abuses. 

 “I support the Hong Kong police,” she wrote on her Weibo account. “You can all attack me now. What a shame for Hong Kong.” 

 Some questioned her motives, wondering if the post was calculated to ensure her film is released widely in China – the world’s largest film market. Among Hong Kong protesters, there were swift calls for a boycott of the film when it is released next year.

A Digital Setting For A Classical Violin Concert

Imagine listening to a violin concert in one of New York City’s majestic cathedrals or in the National Arboretum, surrounded by blooming magnolias. Now anyone can experience this exquisite scene with the use of VR glasses. A team of researchers from the University of Maryland at College Park came up with new immersive technologies that allow people from all over the world to experience performing arts in a breathtakingly beautiful setting without getting up from their couch. Nastassia Jaumen has the story.

Startup Ideas, Courtesy of Government Labs: One Firm Connects Entrepreneurs With New Technology

Every day, cutting-edge research is being performed in government and university labs across the country. Tech transfer is the process of taking that research out of the lab and transforming it into a business. One company jump-starts the process by introducing entrepreneurs to that research. Tina Trinh explains.

Italy’s Salvini Tells Ship with 107 Migrants to Go to Spain

Seeking to end a humanitarian crisis, Spain says a Spanish rescue boat with 107 migrants in the southern Mediterranean can sail to Spain and disembark its passengers in Algeciras.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Sunday told the Open Arms ship to leave Italian waters and go to Spain. Salvini contends that Open Arms is anchored off the southern island of Lampedusa “just to provoke me and Italy.”

The boat’s crew says conditions on the ship are “miserable” 17 days since it rescued people off Libya. Six EU countries say they’ll take the migrants in, but Salvini hasn’t let the ship dock.

The Open Arms didn’t immediately say if would go to Spain, several days’ sailing away. The group says Salvini is using the 107 migrants for “xenophobic and racist propaganda.”


Rohingya Refugee Children Missing Out on Education and Viable Future

A study by the U.N. Children’s Fund finds more than half a million Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar are not learning the life skills they need to prepare them for the future or to protect them from present-day abuse and exploitation.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children have been languishing in squalid, overcrowded refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar for two years — ever since a mass exodus of 745,000 refugees fleeing persecution and violence in Myanmar began.  

The U.N. Children’s Fund reports more than a quarter million children up to age 14 are receiving a non-formal education, while more than 25,000 others are receiving none.  

Author of the UNICEF report, Simon Ingram, said adolescents are most disadvantaged.

He said 97 percent of children aged 15 to 18 years are not attending any type of educational facility, putting them at particular risk.

“When you meet teenagers in the camps, they speak readily of the dangers they face, especially at night, when drug dealers operate, and gang fights are reported to be a regular occurrence,” he said.  “Cases of trafficking are also being reported, although they are hard to quantify.  The camps can be especially hazardous for girls and women.”  

UNICEF and partners have provided learning to more than 190,000 Rohingya children in more than 2,000 centers.  These agencies are calling on the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh to allow the use of their national educational resources to provide more structured learning for Rohingya children.

FILE – A Rohingya refugee girl sells vegetables in Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh, Aug. 28, 2018.

Ingram told VOA that UNICEF is appealing to Myanmar authorities to provide education to the children in the refugee camps.  Until now, he said, the children have been taught in the Burmese language by volunteer teachers from the refugee population.

“And, with the best will in the world, that is not the same as having a properly trained teacher, someone who has experience of delivering the Myanmar government’s own curriculum.  So, that is really what we are looking for and those are the conversations that are now ongoing with the government in Myanmar and we hope that we will receive a positive response to that,” said Ingram.

Ingram said it is critical for refugee children to be taught in Burmese as that is the language they will need if and when they return back to Myanmar.  Unfortunately, he notes Rohingya adolescents will continue to live in limbo until it is safe for them to go home.  He acknowledged that going home does not appear to be a realistic possibility for the foreseeable future.


Hong Kong Protesters Continue Weekend Demonstrations

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets Sunday in rain-drenched Hong Kong for another anti-government rally.

This is the eleventh weekend in a row that protesters have turned out to voice their dismay.

The demonstrations began as peaceful protests to stop an extradition bill that would allow criminal suspects to face trial in mainland China’s opaque legal system.  Since then the protests have evolved into a movement for democratic reforms.

The protests are generally peaceful, but activists have sometimes clashed with police.

“We hope that there will not  be any chaotic situations today,” organizer Bonnie Leung told the Associated Press.

The extradition bill has been suspended, but the protests continue as Hong Kong residents worry about the erosion of freedoms guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” mandate that has been in place since the territory’s return from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

China’s paramilitary troops have been training in Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, causing concern that China is ready to send in the troops to suppress the protests. 

Hong Kong’s police have insisted they are able to handle the demonstrators.

Demonstrations last weekend at Hong Kong Airport spilled over into the work week, crippling one of the world’s busiest air hubs for several days and sparking clashes between demonstrators and riot police.

Military: 3 Rockets Fired From Gaza Toward Israel 

JERUSALEM – The Israeli military said Saturday that three rockets had been fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip into southern Israel. 
Israeli aerial defense batteries intercepted two of the missiles, the military said. 
Israeli media reported that shrapnel from the Iron Dome defense system landed on the patio of a house. There were no immediate reports of injuries. 
It was the second incident of rocket fire from Gaza in the past 24 hours. 
Early on Saturday, Israeli aircraft hit two underground Hamas targets. 
Israel blames the Islamic militant group for any attack originating from the Palestinian enclave. 

UN Condemns Government Crackdown on Peaceful Protests in Zimbabwe

The U.N. human rights office is condemning a crackdown Friday in Zimbabwe by riot police on peaceful protesters in the capital, Harare.  The agency is calling for an investigation into excessive use of force by security forces.

U.N. Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville says there are better ways to deal with the population’s legitimate grievances on the economic situation in the country than by cracking down on peaceful protestors.

“We are deeply concerned by the socio-economic crisis that continues to unfold in Zimbabwe.  While acknowledging efforts made by the government, the international community and the U.N. in Zimbabwe to mitigate the effects of the crisis and reform process, the dire economic situation is now impacting negatively on the realization of economic and social rights of millions of Zimbabweans,” Colville said.

Zimbabwe’s citizens are struggling with hyperinflation, which has sent prices soaring for essential commodities such as fuel, food, transportation and health care.  Compounding the problems is the ongoing impact of cyclone Idai that hit Zimbabwe in March and a severe drought.

The United Nations says one third of Zimbabwe’s population of 16 million people is in need of humanitarian aid.  

The fallout in terms of casualties and possible arrests from Friday’s protests is not yet clear.  But Colville tells VOA his office has received disturbing reports of human rights violations over the past few months.

“There are, as I said, reports coming through right now of very recent abductions, beatings and so on of activists or human rights defenders.  We have not had a chance to verify those and look in detail apart from the two that occurred a few days ago,” Colville said. “So, it is clearly a very tense situation.”

Colville says state authorities have a duty to ensure people’s rights to freedom of expression and to protect the right to peaceful assembly.  

The U.N. human rights office is urging the government to engage in a national dialogue to ensure that civil society in all its guises can carry out its activities without fear of intimidation or reprisals for its work.

LA Opera Keeps Details of Placido Domingo Inquiry to Itself

The Los Angeles Opera declined Friday to release any details of its promised investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against opera legend Placido Domingo, the company’s longtime general director, including whether it has begun.

Also Friday, the union that represents opera singers said it plans a meeting in Los Angeles next week to address its members’ concerns ahead of the LA company’s season opener Sept. 14.

Len Egert, the executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, told The Associated Press that the union has been receiving its own reports from members since an AP story earlier this week detailing accusations against the 78-year-old singing star.

Hours after the AP story was released Tuesday detailing the allegations, the LA Opera announced it would engage outside counsel to investigate the “concerning allegations.”

An open secret

Three of the nine women who accused the singer of harassment and abuse of power described encounters they said took place while working with Domingo at the LA organization. The nine women and dozens of others interviewed said Domingo’s behavior was an open secret in the industry and that he pursued younger women with impunity.

LA Opera would not disclose who would be conducting the investigation, how it would be carried out, when it would start or its expected duration.

A spokeswoman for the company said Friday LA Opera will share details when they have information and that there was currently nothing to add beyond the statement released Tuesday.

LA Opera 

Domingo is widely credited with raising the profile of LA Opera, where he served as an artistic consultant from 1984 to 2000, artistic director from 2000 to 2003 and, finally, general director from 2003 until now. His current contract runs through the 2021-22 season.

In its initial statement, LA Opera said Domingo “has been a dynamic creative force in the life of LA Opera” but that it is committed to ensuring that its employees and artists “be treated respectfully and feel safe and secure.”

Domingo did not respond to detailed questions from the AP about specific incidents. But he issued a statement calling the allegations “deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate,” adding “I believed that all of my interactions and relationships were always welcomed and consensual.”

Global discussion

The allegations in the AP story sparked a global discussion among opera singers on social media forums about the culture of sexual misconduct in the classical music world and the belief that opera companies have long been aware of bad behavior and tolerated it, particularly when the accused are people in positions of power.

Aside from LA Opera, the other women quoted in the story recounted incidents they said took place at other venues, including Washington Opera and the Metropolitan Opera in New York, ranging from 1988 into the mid-2000s.

Some of the women told the AP that Domingo used his power at the LA company and elsewhere to try to pressure them into sexual relationships, with several saying that he dangled jobs and then sometimes punished them professionally if they refused his advances.

Some performances canceled

The Philadelphia Orchestra and San Francisco Opera announced they would cancel upcoming performances featuring the star. The Metropolitan Opera said it would await the results of LA Opera’s investigation “before making any final decisions about Mr. Domingo’s future at the Met,” where he is scheduled to appear next month.

The American Guild of Musical Artists issued a statement calling for wider investigations across the opera world.

“AGMA became aware of serious allegations of sexual harassment made by multiple women against Placido Domingo. We have contacted our employers to demand investigations into these allegations,” said the statement issued earlier this week.

Since then, “through our confidential reporting system we have been receiving reports from members,” Egert said Friday. “We are providing timely, confidential advice and guidance to these artists.” He did not elaborate.

Egert said that AGMA will be “closely monitoring the internal LA Opera investigation” and has scheduled a membership meeting in Los Angeles early next week, before the start of rehearsals, to address any member concerns on questions. The LA Opera 2019-2020 season starts Sept. 14 with “La Boheme.”

Asked if the union was aware of Domingo’s alleged behavior previously, he said, “AGMA did not receive complaints from its members prior to the recent news reports.”