TIME indonesia

Joko Widodo Sworn In as Indonesia’s President and Faces These 5 Challenges

Incoming Indonesian President Joko Widodo visits Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
Incoming Indonesian President Joko Widodo, left, is greeted by outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during a visit at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Oct. 19, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

The political outsider will be under fierce pressure from the outset

On Oct. 20, Indonesia inaugurates its first President truly of the people. Joko Widodo, known commonly as Jokowi, is unique in Indonesian presidential history because he comes from neither a politically elite nor a military background. Raised in a riverside slum, Jokowi ran a furniture-exporting business in the heartland city of Solo before he successfully ran for his hometown’s mayor in 2005. Two years ago, he was elected governor of Indonesia’s chaotic capital, Jakarta. Although he prevailed in the July presidential election against old-guard candidate Prabowo Subianto — a former general once married to the daughter of Indonesian dictator Suharto — Jokowi, 53, faces numerous challenges as he helms the world’s third largest democracy:

Political Gridlock: Jokowi may have claimed the presidency, but parliament favors Prabowo’s Red and White Coalition, which last month controversially blocked the direct election of governors, mayors and district chiefs. Instead of a popular vote, local legislatures will pick these leaders, preventing the rise of figures outside the political establishment, like Jokowi. Democracy advocates are strategizing how to roll back what some criticize as a legislative coup.

Economic Slowdown: With the commodity boom waning, Indonesia’s recent 6% annual growth looks harder to maintain. Jokowi promises 7% growth by 2018 by moving Indonesia up the value chain, improving logistics and positioning the world’s largest archipelago nation as a global transport hub. But will the populist President resort to the kind of resource nationalism that will spook foreign investors?

Religious Extremism: Indonesia hasn’t suffered a major terrorist strike since 2009 when a pair of luxury Jakarta hotels were targeted by suicide bombers. But it only takes one attack to shatter the sense that Indonesia has tamed a band of radicals who are trying to hijack the moderate, syncretic Islam that has long flourished in the world’s most populous majority-Muslim nation.

Dirty Bureaucracy: Jokowi won votes because of his pristine image and his anti-corruption campaign in Solo and Jakarta. He boasts of having cleaned up the once graft-ridden process by which government permits and licenses were granted. And he helped expand government coffers by enhancing tax collection. Can Jokowi promote transparency in a country notorious for corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency at every level of government?

Ethnic Relations: While mayor of Solo and governor of Jakarta, Jokowi picked deputies who happened to be Christian. In Jakarta, his No. 2 was also Chinese, an ethnicity that has suffered from race rioting. Although the sprawling island nation has maintained remarkable harmony given the diversity of its inhabitants, human-rights groups worry about a recent uptick in ethnic and religious intolerance.

Read this week’s TIME cover on Jokowi’s inauguration here.

TIME Hong Kong

The Voice of a Generation

Joshua Wong and his fellow students have triggered a youthquake that’s shaking up Hong Kong

Photograph by James Nachtwey for TIME

Joshua Wong does not want to grow up. He’s a Hong Kong kid and that’s why, just before midnight on Oct. 6, he and his girlfriend (and his girlfriend’s friend, because teenagers travel in packs) have ducked into a barbecue joint in the working-class neighborhood of Mongkok to feast on grilled scallions, roasted pineapple and Chinese egg noodles bathed in cheese and garlic—a classic Hong Kong fusion dish. Wong, who turns 18 this month, sucks down the pasta with one hand and checks his smartphone with the other. Slurp, swipe, slurp, swipe.

The clatter of Cantonese rattles around the restaurant. An overhead TV displays images of the student-led protest movement that has occupied key commercial districts of Hong Kong, highlighting the dilemma of a hybrid city reared on democratic ideals but ruled by an authoritarian China. No one in the eatery, though, pays much attention to the news. This kind of place—fluorescent-lit, Formica-clad, Hong Kong soul food of the cheesiest, noodliest variety—is why Wong, one of the organizers of the protest campaign, says he will never leave his home city, why he, like Peter Pan, never wants to become that most disdainful of species: an adult. “The future will not be decided by adults,” says Wong. “I would like to ask adults, people with capital and power, Why are they not fighting for democracy?”

(PHOTOS: A New Generation Speaks: See Inside Hong Kong’s Protests)

If Wong is wary of adulthood, his beloved home, Hong Kong, is also suspended in adolescence. The city may be the financial heart of the world’s most dynamic region, a collection of 7.2 million people for whom pragmatism and efficiency are a guiding faith. But since its inception as a tiny fishing port plundered by the British from the enfeebled Qing dynasty in the mid–19th century, to the colony’s hand­over back to China in 1997, Hong Kong has never been permitted political maturity. It was always a pawn of empire.

When Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty, the former Crown Colony was given a 50-year adjustment period to mainland rule. The “one country, two systems” policy guaranteed the territory a “high degree of autonomy” from Beijing on most everything but security matters. In 33 years’ time, though, the city will revert to full Chinese governance. Little Hong Kong will be forced to grow up and merge with the masses.

The trajectory toward 2047 is particularly troubling for Hong Kong youth, who will inherit this new political reality. Already, many locals worry that China’s communist rulers are eroding the freedoms—like an independent judiciary and an open press—that differentiate the city from the rest of China. Beijing’s recently announced plan to prevent Hong Kong from freely electing its chief executive galvanized the first batch of protesters who crowded the city’s downtown in late September. But it was the overreaction to this display of civil disobedience—sprays of tear gas from the police and outright thuggery from elements of Hong Kong’s underworld—that led tens of thousands to occupy more streets, a spontaneous, sympathetic outpouring no one, least of all Wong, expected. Umbrellas, unfurled by students against the pepper spray, turned into the movement’s symbol. Hong Kong’s very public struggle now ranks as China’s most consequential protest since the 1989 pro-democracy rallies were crushed at Tiananmen—and young Hong Kong residents have provided the crusade with both its population and its passion.

The student-led siege of prime Hong Kong property is not going to suddenly transform the territory into a full-fledged democracy—certainly not if the Chinese Communist Party remains in power on the mainland. As a government ultimatum to clear the streets expired without incident on Oct. 6, the urge for solidarity against the authorities faded; protest numbers have waned. Nevertheless, the events of the past few weeks have awakened a political consciousness that few, even in the city itself, knew they possessed. Their idealism, not to mention their organizational acumen and communal spirit, is exactly what threatens China’s rulers, who, from the heady days of Tiananmen and further back in the country’s history, know well the transformative potential of students on the streets.

Teen Icon

It was past 1 a.m. on Oct. 2, and the throngs gathered outside Hong Kong’s government headquarters in Admiralty district were starting to dissipate. Protesters had spent days camped on an overpass, sleeping curled around their backpacks, subsisting on crackers and KFC. Throughout the campaign, some had been pepper-sprayed and soaked by rain. The air was growing thick again, and restlessness had set in.

As a light mist fell, word spread: Joshua Wong—who on Sept. 26 was arrested for trespassing and spent 46 hours in detention for the students’ initial occupation—was about to speak. Many in the crowd raised their phones to capture the moment. With his bowl-cut bangs, sparse stubble and thick-framed spectacles, Wong looks like any other nerdy kid in a society where nearly half of youngsters wear glasses. His delivery at the makeshift podium set in the shelter of a pedestrian bridge came in confident, quick-fire Cantonese. The fight for full democracy is not over, he told protesters. “Stay,” he said. They did.

Off the podium, Wong is polite, prone to bringing his hands together in a penitent clasp. He was raised in a Christian family that dispatched him to rural China for volunteer teaching; some of his fellow student activists are friends from church. In 2011, when he was just 14 years old, Wong formed a group of students in Hong Kong called Scholarism to stop the territory from implementing a mainland-designed “national education” policy that ignored the Tiananmen massacre and pushed fealty to the Chinese Communist Party. After 100,000 people joined his 2012 street rally, the Hong Kong government backed off.

Wong had taken on Hong Kong’s bosses in Beijing—and notched a rare victory. Local celebrity followed, with breaking-news reports on his (mediocre) college-entrance examination results. Despite the attention usually reserved for Canto-pop heartthrobs, Wong lacks physical presence. His shoulders are hunched in the kind of phone-tethered posture that annoys mothers everywhere. Yet his rhetoric, often delivered with eyes squeezed shut, is unequivocal. “I don’t want to follow the games of adults,” he says, “handing out business cards that you’ll just put in the rubbish bin, chit-chat. Political reform is not going to come from going to meetings … We had to do radical action because our leaders did nothing.”

Wong has a girlfriend named Tiffany and thumbs picked raw from stress. He wishes he had more time to play mobile-phone games and displays no overriding affection for any particular book. Despite the command his speeches claim over the protesters, Wong says he has no wish to serve as an icon and is still shocked that his arrest last month galvanized so many to join the cause. He doesn’t have any heroes himself, neither Mahatma Gandhi nor Wang Dan, the Beijing university student whose leadership of the Tiananmen pro-democracy struggle made him “enemy No. 1” to the Chinese government. To Wong, the leaderless nature of the territory’s democracy movement is a strength, not a weakness. “If Hong Kong just relies on me,” he says, “the movement will fail.”

Generation Gap

Compared with their peers in mainland China, Hong Kong’s youth are wealthier, healthier and have access to social media like Facebook and Twitter that are blocked by Chinese censors. Wong is often asked if his parents are activists; they are not. There’s an assumption there must be something unusual about his upbringing, beyond his Protestant faith, that makes him care. “People think that every night we were talking about how the government was violating democratic principles,” he says. “[My parents] just gave me the freedom to do what I want.”

Such liberty in China is unique to Hong Kong, and the city’s prospects depend on the whims of a Communist Party led by a President, Xi Jinping, who has shown little tolerance for dissent. Even the local economy is not immune to jitters about the future, especially as worries proliferate that Hong Kong’s reputation for clean governance is being compromised by Communist Party politics. Hong Kong has long thrived as a conduit for foreign investors to China, but growth is slowing, chiefly because of sliding exports. “If Hong Kong is so obviously becoming just another mainland city, why not set up one’s regional headquarters in Beijing or Shanghai?” asks Carsten Holz, an economics professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Income inequality has surged since 1997 and now ranks as the highest in the developed world. The fertility rate is so low that the local population cannot sustain itself. Instead, an influx of mainland Chinese—40.7 million visited last year—has brought with it a flood of new wealth that has made Hong Kong’s homes the least affordable in the world, yet also the smallest, according to one housing survey. “We don’t see good prospects for our future,” says Katie Lo, 21, a university student.

Proud of their heritage—the Cantonese language instead of the Mandarin spoken on the mainland, for instance—locals fear a cultural and economic invasion from the north. “Stand on Canton Road,” frets legislator Claudia Mo, speaking of a major Hong Kong thoroughfare, “and you’ll hardly hear any Cantonese.” Mandarin has eclipsed English as the city’s second language. For her own part, Mo speaks very upper-class British English. She comes from a coastal mainland Chinese family that fled the communists and came to Hong Kong. But like many of her peers, she identifies as a Hong Konger first, global citizen second and a resident of the People’s Republic a distant third.

There’s plenty of chauvinism toward mainlanders in Hong Kong. A nasty local phrase labels them “locusts.” For all the hope that Hong Kong’s struggle might catalyze a similar awakening in the rest of China, where dissent usually earns activists jail terms, many Hong Kong students’ concerns are locally cocooned. “Hong Kong people want to protect our freedoms,” says Hiu Wah, a 19-year-old early-childhood education student. “I am not interested in changing Chinese politics.”

While Britain extended rule of law to its colony, it kept the populace all but disenfranchised. Since the 1997 handover, China has provided the territory with a string of proxies for its chief executive, the latest being the widely unpopular Leung Chun-ying. Hong Kong still boasts competent civil servants and veteran democracy legislators, with their crisp British accents and posh overseas degrees. But the youth at the barricades defending the protest sites wonder what all that conventional activism has done to change Hong Kong’s political predicament. “People always say to me, ‘Oh, if you want to change the world, first you need to go to university, then work as a government administrator or a businessman, then you can make policies,’” says Wong. “No, to affect the world, you go to the streets.”

Backlash

Movements need great men and women, and practical ones too. Already the protests have lost momentum, as the crowds thin. By the night of Oct. 7, no more than a couple thousand people milled around the main occupied zone in Admiralty district, well below the tens of thousands days earlier. So much energy has gone into figuring out how to get the protesters off the streets—endless talk about talking with the government, in addition to the actual talking—rather than figuring out how to turn this movement into practical policy that Beijing might consider. The protest leaders have declined to invite opposition politicians, who are well practiced at negotiating with the central government, into their movement. The same organizational and factional dysfunction that has beset protest movements around the world may undercut the Hong Kong campaign too. “They want to do it on their own,” says Emily Lau, head of the Democratic Party. “But why alienate pan-democrat legislators? Our goals are the same.”

Even for Hong Kong residents who support the students’ ideals, the lengthy shutdown of major roads and neighborhoods is a significant inconvenience. Paul Zimmerman, a district councillor who pointedly carried an umbrella to an official ceremony marking China’s National Day on Oct. 1, says it’s time to withdraw. “You’ve given people a voice,” he says, “now you give them the street back.”

Wong isn’t bothered. “You need to create the rules yourself,” he says. “Students have more time, more energy, so they should stand on the front lines.” Whenever Wong is spotted shuffling through any of the protest sites, he’s mobbed by dozens of news cameras and fans requesting snapshots with him. Hollywood actors might be used to the attention, but Wong is a student who, as he likes to point out, attends the ninth-ranked of nine universities in Hong Kong. (He is studying politics and public administration.) The attention, all those demands to explain his political philosophy and smile for selfies, is exhausting.

No wonder Wong is sometimes most comfortable going underground, literally. As he hops onto the subway, almost no one recognizes him. He’s just another teenager, swaying as the train tunnels under Hong Kong’s harbor, updating his Facebook page and WhatsApping madly. Three friends, also in Scholarism, stand next to him, absorbed in their own online lives. Barely a few seconds go by without frantic swiping. “Taking action is more meaningful than words,” says Wong. He dismisses planned negotiations with the authorities as “just an opportunity to show our anger to the government.” Inevitably, his head soon bends over his phone again, just a lone Hong Kong kid connecting with the world.

With reporting by Elizabeth Barber, Rishi Iyengar, Nash Jenkins and David Stout / Hong Kong

TIME Hong Kong

The Hong Kong Protests Have Given Rise to a New Political Generation

However the Occupy Central protests end, it is clear that Hong Kong's smart, determined and peaceful young people have finally found their political power

Dawn in Hong Kong would break in little more than an hour, and the young men at the barricades early on Oct. 6 were nervous. A 25-year-old tech executive’s eyes filled with tears, and he clenched his jaw. Rumors, they said, had mysterious men in black shirts amassing in a restaurant in the Wanchai district, just down the deserted avenue from the roadblocks that members of Hong Kong’s protest movement had set up more than a week before.

The stretch on Queensway, in the shadow of government offices, the High Court, and a shopping mall, was empty save the few jittery barricade defenders and a fellow protester who snoozed on a wooden plank. Two of the men had wrapped their hands in towels they hoped might protect their knuckles from whatever violence might come their way.

“We don’t know what will happen,” said the 25-year-old, peering east into the dark toward Wanchai. “But we are scared.”

The men in black shirts did not materialize. Nor did the police. Despite a vow from Hong Kong’s top leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, to clear major streets for the beginning of the workweek, the Hong Kong protest movement still occupies major commercial areas in the Asian financial capital. By daybreak on Monday, the number of journalists and protest tourists prowling the main demonstration site in Admiralty almost outnumbered the remaining protesters. Still, the barricades, set up to defend a movement demanding democratic commitments from the Chinese central government, held.

“I choose to stand up,” says Jennifer Wong, a 17-year-old high school student from the New Territories, near the border with mainland China. “Maybe [the movement] will not work in the end, but we will regret it if we don’t try.”

Protest leaders, from the three main groups that had banded together to establish this democratic crusade 10 days ago, strategized throughout Sunday as Leung’s ultimatum to disperse loomed. Powwows took place in the quiet halls of the Legislative Council building, where two of the protest blocs had set up makeshift command headquarters. But it was not clear who had the authority to negotiate on behalf of the protesters (or wanted to exercise that power), nor was it apparent who formally represented the government’s side. “The beauty of the movement is that there is no leader,” said one adviser to the Occupy Central group, which kick-started the peaceful siege that has drawn tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents, many of them young and middle class. “But that’s also its flaw.”

Outside the Legco building, dozens of protesters tended to their encampments, accepting donations of drinking water or adjusting pieces of cardboard that served as both bedroom and living room. Some had been there since the beginning and had clear demands: the resignation of Chief Executive Leung, who is considered the central government’s proxy in Hong Kong, and a rollback of Beijing’s plan to prevent the territory’s voters from directly electing their leader in 2017. Others had joined the protest movement later, shocked into action by the aggressive tactics that had been used to try to break up the rallies, including police tear gas and thuggery from elements linked to Hong Kong’s triad mafia.

It’s clear that the protesters are joined in their anger toward Beijing, which they feel is degrading the liberties that make Hong Kong a unique city in China, such as an independent judiciary and media. (When the former British colony was returned to China in 1997, the outpost was promised a high degree of autonomy for 50 years under a formulation called “one country, two systems.”) For the demonstrators, Leung is also a vilified character, maligned as much for his Beijing yes-man reputation as for the decision to unleash tear gas and pepper spray on the protesters on Sept. 28. But unity of message doesn’t necessarily mean that the protesters are falling in line behind a certain individual who can carry the movement forward.

“We all want the same thing,” says Daisy Lee, a 33-year-old clerk. “But we’re not here because we support one person or one group.” Lee worries that the diffuse nature of the rallies could undercut their ultimate effectiveness. “I’ve spent so many hours here,” she says. “But none of the so-called trio of groups has come to talk to us. Are they communicating with each other? We don’t know. We need strong leadership.”

Already, certain demands from protest leaders have gone unheeded by the rank and file, like a call from student activists to consolidate and abandon a satellite protest site across Victoria Harbour. On Sunday afternoon, a message went out from the Occupy group announcing that protesters had pulled back from a picket at the entrance to the chief executive’s office. But as night fell, students and other youth, surrounded by the inevitable journalist hordes, maintained their vigil at that precise point.

On Monday morning, the diehards that remained stood by as civil servants trooped in to work. Crisis had been averted and ultimatums or conditions from both sides were politely ignored. Throughout Monday, more talks were to take place between the myriad players in this unlikely movement. From a scorecard perspective, the protesters had prevailed the night before by peacefully defying the government’s order to cease and desist. But it’s still hard to see what significant political concessions they can wrest from Beijing, which has been churning out articles and cartoons in the state-run media both deriding and assailing their civil disobedience. Conciliatory moves by Chinese President Xi Jinping could make his administration look weak, and he has not given the impression of a leader enamored by the art of compromise.

As the workweek began in Hong Kong and traffic snarled because of the protest roadblocks, patience from a sector of ordinary citizens may wear thin. Already, some Hong Kong residents were quietly criticizing the continuing shutdown of major business and tourist areas. “Of course I support more democracy for Hong Kong and am not opposed to [the protesters’] ideals,” said a woman surnamed Liu, who came with her 11-year-old son to look at the occupied site in Mongkok district. “But we need to eat, to do business. How can we do that when they take over the streets?”

Whatever happens, Hong Kong’s political consciousness has been awakened. Emily Lau, a veteran local legislator, jokes that she’s been labeled “a head-banger” for her decades of pro-democracy work. “It’s very invigorating to have such a spontaneous, peaceful movement full of young people,” she says. “Once people have been shown their power they will know how to use it again and again.”

Lau could well be talking about Tanson Tsui, a high school student with a backpack full of English homework who was camped out at the entrance to the chief executive’s office on Sunday night. Tsui was born in 1997, the year the British handed Hong Kong back to China. “I came here because of myself,” he said. “I am not following anyone, I have no leader. I will fight to the end because I am Hong Kongese and I have to protect my home.”

With reporting by Zoher Abdoolcarim / Hong Kong

— Video by Helen Regan / Hong Kong

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Protesters Defy Government With Massive Rally

As the window for reconciliation appears to be narrowing

Updated Saturday, Oct. 4

A bold rally of tens of thousands of people mobilized in Hong Kong Saturday night, just hours after the region’s Beijing-backed leader Leung Chun-ying issued a cease-and-desist order to protesters occupying some of the territory’s busiest districts. They came to sing, to raise their glowing cellphones in solidarity and to flaunt the nonviolent underpinnings of their movement, which has joined designer-clad mall rats with spectacled students. “Protesting peacefully is the spirit of Hong Kong” went one refrain that resounded across Admiralty, the business district normally populated by bankers and shoppers that also includes government offices.

If Leung, whose resignation is one of the protesters’ aims, hoped to convince the demonstrators to leave the streets, he failed. Saturday’s assembly was likely the biggest yet in a student-supported movement to bring democratic reform to Hong Kong and safeguard the freedoms that differentiate the territory from the rest of China. Oxygen was sucked back into the movement precisely at the moment when the authorities deemed that the crowds had to disperse from major roads by Oct. 6, the beginning of the workweek.

Some people in Admiralty said Saturday they were inspired to come by the violence the protesters faced from tear-gas wielding police on Sept. 28 and mafia-linked thugs on Oct. 3. “It was different a few days ago,” said Sam Au, a 49-year-old construction project manager. “We were supporting the student movement. But now we’re supporting non-violence against protesters.” The roster of speakers made sure to highlight the peaceful nature of the movement, whose supporters have taken to raising their arms in a Ferguson-style surrender and chanting “calm down, calm down” to any potential troublemaker. Despite the crush of bodies in Admiralty, the protesters shuffled forward obediently. Volunteers offered fresh fruit, cooling plasters and charging stations for cellphones.

“Do we look like Red Guards?” asked Joshua Wong, the wisp of a 17-year-old whose student activism group is one of the rally’s organizers, in reference to the Chinese youth group whose chilling excesses helped Chairman Mao foment the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76. The crowd in Admiralty, which stretched across a highway as far as the eye could see, responded with a defiant “No.”

Many of the faces in the crowd were young; one typed frantically into her phone trying to convince her mother that she was at a friend’s house. “The [local] government never listens to what we want,” said Hiu Wah, a 19-year-old childhood education student at the Institute of Vocational Education. “They only listen to Beijing.” But others were older—and not offended when some of the rally’s speakers bemoaned a divide between idealistic youth and an older generation warier of displeasing Hong Kong’s overlords in Beijing. “We are here to protect the young people,” said a retired language professor from the Chinese University of Hong Kong surnamed Kwan. “They are the ones who will have to deal with the future after 2047.” Under the joint agreement that set the conditions for the former British colony’s return to China in 1997, Hong Kong was promised significant autonomy for 50 years under a formula called “one country, two systems.”

The protesters have articulated two main goals they say need to be met before they disperse: Leung’s removal and the reversal of Beijing’s Aug. 31 decision to essentially pre-select two or three candidates for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive elections in 2017. Instead of voting for these screened individuals, the protesters want full autonomy to choose their leader. They are also worried that Hong Kong’s freedoms—independent courts, media and civil service, among others—are being eroded by Beijing.

But a steady stream of anti-protester invective in China’s state-controlled media, not to mention Leung’s Monday ultimatum, have raised questions of whether Beijing is in any sort of conciliatory mood. Certainly, under President Xi Jinping, China has pounded a patriotic drumbeat and detained hundreds of dissenters who dared question the wisdom of the Chinese Communist Party.

If that’s the case, middle ground between the protesters, who gave rapturous applause to speakers who promised to “fight to the end,” and the government, which has vowed to clear the streets by “all actions necessary,” will be difficult to locate. Further complicating things: there is no one leader of the protest coalition and there is more than one rally site, although Admiralty is by far the biggest. Control will be harder to maintain with mission creep. Early Sunday morning, scuffles broke out in Mongkok, one of the other protest sites, injuring a police officer.

Perhaps the realization that a conciliatory window is narrowing was what gave Saturday’s rally, for all its peaceful hymns and bright yellow stickers, a nervous edge. As some of the protesters exited the site just before midnight, rumors flew. Was a crackdown imminent on the thousands that were still camped out on the pavement—some snuggled in tents, others sprawled straight on the asphalt?

“I am really worried about myself and everyone in here,” said Don Lung, who works in education. “But I believe that many people in Hong Kong will fight for us.” The battle lines are drawn, but will the fight come?

with reporting by Elizabeth Barber and Rishi Iyengar/Hong Kong

 

TIME North Korea

Sorry, North Korea Conspiracists: Kim Jong Un Is Probably Just Sick

Kim Jong Un waves to spectators and participants of a mass military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in Pyongyang on July 27, 2013.
Kim Jong Un waves to spectators and participants of a mass military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in Pyongyang on July 27, 2013. Wong Maye-E—AP

Rumors that the Supreme Leader's month-long vanishing act signals a coup or a power shuffle are likely false, experts say

It has been precisely a month since corpulent young dictator Kim Jong Un disappeared from public view, prompting frenzied speculation about his health and the state of political play in North Korea.

Kim was last seen at a Sept. 3 concert, ensconced in a red easy chair next to his wife, Ri Sol Ju. Late last month, the youthful marshal was a no-show at a meeting of North Korea’s rubber-stamp legislature. The cloistered nation’s state-run TV aired images of his seat at parliament—empty. Rumors began flying as the disappearance ran into weeks that Kim was either dying or had been deposed. But North Korea experts say that the likeliest reason is also the simplest: That the Supreme Leader is sick.

Video of Kim at a July event marking the 20th anniversary event of the death of his grandfather, North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung, showed him walking with a peculiar gait. In July footage, he was clearly sweating. State-run TV acknowledged that Kim was suffering from “discomfort.” Chosun Ilbo, the South Korean daily, translated a TV voice-over aired last month that praised: “our marshal, who lights the path of leadership for the people like a flame, although he was not feeling well.”

Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, has speculated that the latest scion of the three-generation Kim ruling dynasty may be suffering from gout, a form of arthritis nicknamed the king’s malady because it can be triggered by a rich diet and sedentary lifestyle. Both Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il (known as the Dear Leader), and his grandfather (referred to as the Great Leader) suffered from gout, according to Yonhap.

Photos of Kim taken since he assumed power show a rapidly expanding man, at least in terms of his girth. Obesity is a risk factor for gout. “The guy is seriously overweight,” says North Korea expert Andrei Lankov, who studied in Pyongyang in the 1980s and now teaches at Seoul’s Kookmin University. “It’s not good when you’re talking about a country where so many people are malnourished.”

With limited information available about Kim, North Korea-watchers are often left to dissect state-media coverage of his trips to factories or army installations that aim to capture the hereditary dynasty scion in all his glory and magnanimity. A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency in August, for instance, shows a grinning Kim at a military-run factory, standing next to a conveyer belt churning out twists of dough.

North Korean state media reports also serve to educate local elite who know how to read between the lines. “These are signals but signals only for people in the know,” says Lankov. “I am quite sure the official media reports about his ill health would have been signed off on by the great man himself.”

Another possible hint that Kim is not fully incapacitated, as some of the wilder North Korea rumors have it: a leadership shuffle was recently announced in Pyongyang. “I don’t think that would have been authorized without him,” says Lankov. “He may be undergoing some sort of treatment but I’m pretty sure he’s capable of making management decisions.”

Kim has vanished from public view before, 10 days in July, for example, as well as 18 in January. But this is his longest absence from state news coverage since taking over from his father in December 2011. Still, North Korea-watchers caution against the conspiracy theories involving coups or intricate power plays involving members of the Kim clan. John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, notes that North Korean officials have been busy in recent weeks globe-trotting on a “major charm offensive.”

“If there had been regicide or revolt in Pyongyang, it’s unlikely the wheels of North Korean diplomacy would spin like business as usual,” Delury says. “These episodes [like Kim's absence] reveal as much about us as them—our own assumptions, even obsessions, when it comes to North Korea. We assume North Korea must be on the brink of collapse, so when the young leader suspends his relentless ‘onsite guidance visits’ for a few weeks, we assume he’s been overthrown. Precisely because we have fewer sources of reliable, direct information about North Korea, it pays not to rush to judgment.”

On Wednesday, at the Asian Games being held in Incheon, South Korea, the North Korean women’s soccer squad captured a surprise gold medal by defeating the Japanese team. At the press conference, the North Korean skipper said the “players trained with dedication and never stopped fighting,” the AFP reported, “to return the warm love of our dear leader Kim Jong-Un.”

TIME

Hong Kong Stands Up

Hong Kong International Cover-Asia Sopac 141013
Photograph by Xaume Olleros–AFP/Getty Images

Why the territory’s fight for democracy is a challenge for China

This story appears on the cover of the Oct. 13, 2014, Asia edition of TIME.

The typhoons that lash Hong Kong make quick work of umbrellas, the squalls twisting them into Calder sculptures of disarranged fabric and metal. On the evening of Sept. 28, prime typhoon season in this South China Sea outpost, flocks of umbrellas unfurled on the streets of Hong Kong. This time, they guarded not against rain and wind but tear gas and pepper spray. One of the world’s safest and most orderly cities — a metropolis of 7.2 million people that experienced just 14 homicides in the first half of this year — erupted into a battleground, as gas-mask-clad riot police unleashed noxious chemicals on thousands of protesters who were demanding democratic commitments from the territory’s overlords in Beijing.

As the first rounds of tear gas exploded in Admiralty, a Hong Kong district better known for its soaring bank buildings and glittering malls, demonstrators armed with nothing but umbrellas and other makeshift defenses — raincoats, lab glasses, ski goggles, milk and plastic wrap — defied the fumes and surged forward. The protests, drawing tens of thousands of people from all walks of life, were galvanized by mounting anger over Beijing’s decision in late August to deny locals the right to freely elect Hong Kong’s top leader, known as the chief executive (CE), in 2017.

When the onetime British colony was reunified with China in 1997, Hong Kong was promised governance under a “one country, two systems” principle that guaranteed significant autonomy for 50 years. But residents fear that, just 17 years after the handover, the freedoms that differentiate Hong Kong from everywhere else in China are eroding. Shocked by the volleys of pepper spray and tear gas, which injured dozens, the protest movement was energized by desperation. “We are not afraid of the Chinese government,” said Kusa Yeung, a 24-year-old copywriter helping to distribute water to fellow protesters just past midnight on Sept. 29. “We are fighting for a fair democracy.” The Umbrella Revolution had unfolded.

Hong Kong’s civil-disobedience campaign — which began Sept. 28 as the Occupy Central With Love & Peace movement, after the Central city district where it originated — soon occupied the city’s downtown, along with two key shopping and tourist districts. But while the sit-ins, with their umbrellas and yellow ribbons, captured the world’s attention, they will not topple China’s ruling Communist Party. The People’s Republic celebrated its 65th year of existence on Oct. 1 with a blaze of fireworks and militaristic pageantry in Beijing, a symbol of the party’s unquestioned grip on the country — though the fireworks were canceled in Hong Kong.

Still, the protests engulfing this tiny splinter of the motherland present China’s strongman President Xi Jinping with an unexpected dilemma at a time when the party is already facing scattered discontent at home. The side effects of three decades of unfettered economic growth — a poisoned environment, a growing income gap, rampant corruption — have contributed to an uneasy sense that, for all of China’s remarkable rise, things are not quite as they should be. “The Hong Kong protests are the last thing Xi Jinping wanted to see,” says Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political scientist at Hong Kong Baptist University. “He has so many other problems to tackle.”

A canny nationalist, Xi and his coterie regularly blame “foreign forces” for fomenting social disorder in China. A scathing Sept. 29 online opinion piece in the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece, accused the Hong Kong protests of being orchestrated by “anti-China forces … whose hearts belong to colonial rule and who are besotted with ‘Western democracy.’” But, if anything, the mess in Hong Kong, along with other instances of social unrest, are self-inflicted by China’s centralized leadership, which has done little to win hearts and minds on the country’s periphery. In his National Day speech in Beijing, Xi proclaimed that China’s leaders “must never separate ourselves from the people.” Yet, at the same time, the authorities detained mainland activists who expressed solidarity with the Hong Kong protesters.

Instead of taking advantage of Hong Kong’s inherently pragmatic temperament, the Chinese government spent the summer rubbing the territory’s nose in its political powerlessness. First came a Beijing white paper that asserted the central government’s “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong and trod on treasured local institutions like rule of law. Then on Aug. 31 the Chinese government ruled that Hong Kongers could vote for their CE — but only after a Beijing-backed committee presented the electorate with two or three candidates it deemed suitable. (Currently, an electoral college selects the CE.) “Rejecting democracy in Hong Kong has dramatically backfired,” says Maya Wang, a Hong Kong–based researcher with Human Rights Watch. “People here have now lost confidence in the central government. Trying to clear the protests has just led to bigger protests.” Even if the demonstrators eventually disperse, this breach of trust fundamentally changes Hong Kong’s political calculus.

Protesters block the main street to the financial Central district, outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong
In a massive show of civil disobedience, protesters block the multi­lane thoroughfare leading to Hong Kong’s financial district. Carlos Barria—Reuters

The Umbrella Revolution
If the other democratic upheavals of recent years are defined by a single season or hue, the choice of an umbrella to symbolize Hong Kong’s dissent is as fitting as it is improbable. Umbrellas come in a riot of colors, matching a polyglot city that was birthed by quarreling Eastern and Western parents, neither of which gave much thought to gifting democracy to a few hunks of South China Sea rock.

Umbrellas are also a practical instrument, unsexy but vital, much like this financial hub that has long served as an entrepôt to the vast markets of mainland China. Efficiency is the city’s motto. This being Hong Kong, the protesters picked up their trash after the tear gas subsided. The volunteers who ferried in donated supplies even had sparkling water on tap, offering San Pellegrino to the parched hordes at nearly 3 a.m. on Sept. 29.

Neither the lingering memory of tear gas nor the advent of the workweek in this workaholic city diminished the crowds on Monday and Tuesday. As riot police withdrew amid a barrage of criticism for their tear-gas blitzkriegs, protesters further packed what are already some of the most densely populated places on earth, young families staking out spaces with bright parasols. William Ma, 47, brought his daughter Dorothy, 11, to one protest site on Sept. 30. “When I was young, democracy never came,” he said. “Maybe I’ll have died already, but she can have a better life, she can have democracy.”

The weekend’s anxious mood was replaced by a carnival gaiety, as stockbrokers mixed with the students who had helped kick-start the protest movement. High school kids did their homework on the pavement, squinting at their scientific calculators in the scorching sun. Some of the demonstrators admitted they were newbies, galvanized into political action by the heavy-handed police response. “[People] were just raising their hands without any weapons, and they used tear gas without any warning,” said Raymond Chan, a math teacher, who joined the movement on Monday. “But the fact that they did that just makes us stronger, more unified.”

Such a movement in Hong Kong threatens the national unity Xi and Co. are so keen to maintain. For all of Beijing’s emphasis on enhancing national security — the surveillance apparatus gets more official funding than does the military — China’s fringes are fraying. Beyond Hong Kong, the vast ethnic enclaves of Tibet and Xinjiang are rebelling, with violence in the latter largely Islamic region claiming hundreds of lives over the past year. Taiwan, the island that Beijing has desperately wanted back ever since Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists fled there after losing the civil war in 1949, has been assimilating economically with the mainland. But the Hong Kong crisis has spooked even ardent integrationists in Taiwan, making it hard for Xi to argue that “one country, two systems” can bring the island back into the fold. Even activists in tiny Macau, the former Portuguese outpost that slid back into Beijing’s embrace in 1999 even more eagerly than Hong Kong had two years before it, are demanding more latitude in choosing their local leader.

Hong Kong’s cry for freedom resonates far beyond its 400 sq miles (1,035 sq km); it directly challenges the narrative of a unified People’s Republic. “The truth is Hong Kong is more than ready for democracy,” wrote Anson Chan, Hong Kong’s former chief secretary, the No. 2 leadership post in the territory, in an exclusive commentary for TIME. “It is China that is not ready for a democratically governed Hong Kong it fears it cannot totally control.”

Alternate Universe
Three decades ago, when prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Zhao Ziyang signed the Sino-British joint declaration setting the conditions for Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997, the then colony was considered an apolitical place, a striving city of businessmen and bankers who would obey whoever was in charge — as long as there was money to be made. Back then, it was communist China that was in the throes of political tumult. Five years later, tanks crushed the pro-democracy student protests at Tiananmen. Hundreds, if not thousands, of students and other peaceful demonstrators were massacred. Political passion was cauterized on the mainland, and the Chinese leadership learned the perils of allowing idealistic students to preach reform in public places.

Xi has used nationalism to argue for an even stronger central command. As China’s military chief, he has taken a more assertive stance on territorial disputes in regional waters, irritating China’s neighbors. Since assuming power in late 2012, Xi has also presided over a civil-liberties crackdown, detaining hundreds of human-rights defenders, from lawyers and bloggers to journalists and artists. He has shown no allergy to repression if it means protecting the party from the people. In September, Ilham Tohti, a moderate academic from the Uighur ethnic minority that populates Xinjiang, was handed a life sentence for separatism. His true crime? Calling on the Internet for China to respect its own regional autonomy laws.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong was busy finding its political voice. Each Tiananmen anniversary, tens of thousands gather for candlelight vigils in Hong Kong, the only place in China where such remembrances are allowed. In 2012 locals balked at a proposal to incorporate patriotic dogma into their education system; a protest movement actually succeeded in scrapping that school legislation.

At the same time, Hong Kongers discovered that their territory’s competitive advantages — unfettered courts, a vibrant press, financial transparency, a clean civil service and a welcoming attitude toward foreigners — were precisely what kept the enclave from becoming just another Chinese city. If Beijing threatened these core values, what were Hong Kong’s prospects? “Hong Kong is still unique, but we see the relentless downhill trajectory,” says Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Center for China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

One Country, Two Systems
It’s easy, now, to track the seemingly inevitable collision course between Hong Kong and China, between these two vastly different systems trying to coexist in a single nation. Any attempt to narrow the gap looks clumsy. Leung Chun-ying, the unpopular, Beijing-backed Hong Kong chief executive, tried to bridge the disparity, amid calls for his resignation. “Hong Kong is a democracy within the context of ‘one country, two systems,’” he said on Sept. 28, before the pepper-spray charge began. “It is not a self-contained democracy.” Leung went on to characterize the chief-executive selection process as “not ideal, but it is better.”

Better isn’t good enough, particularly for the young generation that has taken to Hong Kong’s streets with the greatest numbers and the greatest passion. Like their counterparts on the mainland, these youths struggle with the realization that their material lives might not improve as expansively as their parents’ once did. Hong Kong’s prime method of wealth creation needs to diversify beyond real estate, just as the rest of China’s must. Housing prices have spiraled so high that ordinary young people in big cities must save their whole lives to afford their own homes.

Han Dongfang, a labor activist who was jailed for helping to organize the Tiananmen protests 25 years ago and who now lives in Hong Kong, says the territory’s young activists today “know more clearly what they want” than he did back when he was a youth leader. On Monday night, in the sweaty, swarming district of Mongkok, a 76-year-old tailor named To Fu-tat gave great consequence to Hong Kong’s students. “They’re the hope for China,” he said.

Yet student activists — no matter how much civility they display with their civil disobedience — are precisely what Beijing fears most. It is within the Chinese establishment’s political memory that the Tiananmen tragedy looms largest. Regina Ip was forced to resign as Hong Kong’s security chief in 2003 after half a million locals marched against the anti-subversion legislation she supported. Today she is a legislator heading the New People’s Party. “My own feeling is that the [Occupy] organizers have arranged the whole movement to replicate another Tiananmen incident in Hong Kong,” she says. “What about the interests of Hong Kong people like us? We want peace and stability. Issues … should be resolved through constructive dialogue not through street protests.”

Polls taken in Hong Kong show that a significant chunk — roughly half of the populace, by one estimate — is willing to accept Beijing’s electoral formula. Protests are bad for business and, for all the Tiananmen scare­mongering, it’s hard to imagine Xi ordering Chinese troops to crack Hong Kong heads. Still, given his antipathy thus far toward political reform, it’s equally hard to see him ceding significant ground to Hong Kong’s democratic forces. Even the protesters themselves don’t imagine their full demands — both the resignation of CE Leung and true electoral freedom to choose the territory’s leader — will be met. “It’s very unlikely that Beijing will reverse its position,” says Audrey Eu, chair of the Civic Party, which has supported the Occupy movement. “But the people of Hong Kong must stand up and defend themselves.”

The Umbrella Revolution has already gained a wider significance. “People in China think Hong Kong belongs to China,” says Julian Lam, a 20-year-old student. “But people in Hong Kong think that Hong Kong is part of China but belongs to the world.” With each Hong Kong citizen who emerged, coughing and crying, to face another round of tear gas, a conviction grew: a quest for liberty is not, as the Chinese government charges, some Western-imposed frippery designed to undermine Beijing’s authority, but a universal aspiration. Let the umbrellas of the world unite.

— With reporting by Elizabeth Barber, Rishi Iyengar, Emily Rauhala and David Stout / Hong Kong

— Video by Helen Regan / Hong Kong

TIME Hong Kong

Chinese Media Say Hong Kong’s ‘Radical Activists’ Are Doomed

Pro Democracy Supporters Attempt To Bring Hong Kong To A Stand Still With Mass Rally
Riot police stand guard outside Hong Kong Government buildings on September 28, 2014 in Hong Kong. Anthony Kwan—Getty Images

Beijing has made it clear that the pro-democracy street protests in Hong Kong will not be tolerated

China is gearing up for the National Day holiday on Oct. 1, celebrating 65 years since Chairman Mao Zedong founded the communist People’s Republic of China. What better way to mark the national anniversary than visiting Hong Kong?

Here’s Xinhua, China’s state news agency and occasional — if perhaps unwitting — Onion impersonator, on what’s in store in the former British colony:

To share the joy of the 65th anniversary with the public, the Home Affairs Department will hold a National Day Extravaganza at Victoria Park from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., featuring interactive games, clown street performances, traditional art and craft demonstrations, a showcase of achievements of the People’s Republic of China and a Hong Kong Nostalgia zone. A spectacular fireworks display will start at 8 p.m. to celebrate National Day. It will last about 23 minutes.

Never mind, of course, that the financial capital is choking from tear gas and pepper spray, after riot police battled tens of thousands of demonstrators protesting Beijing’s refusal to bestow hoped-for democratic reforms upon Hong Kong. Or that the fireworks have now been canceled.

When the onetime British possession was reunified with China in 1997, Hong Kong was promised that it would be governed under the “one country, two systems” principle that guaranteed it significant autonomy for 50 years. But late last month a coterie of central government leaders quashed hopes that locals could freely elect Hong Kong’s top leader, known as the chief executive, in 2017.

A mosaic of Hong Kong residents has responded by taking to the streets in a movement called Occupy Central With Love & Peace. Even the advent of the workweek in this famously business-oriented territory has failed to dislodge some protesters, who on Monday morning maintained their positions in several locations across the city.

But for all the momentum gathering in Hong Kong these days, the heady winds of democracy and civil disobedience have so far failed to sweep northward. Unlike the Tiananmen pro-democracy rallies a quarter century ago, to which some Hong Kong activists are ambitiously comparing their movement, modern telecommunications allow images and analysis of Occupy Central to spread nearly instantaneously across the globe.

Except in China, where most Chinese live in an alternate online universe. Facebook and Twitter are banned here, and local search engines — run by those same tech companies being lauded by Wall Street for their frothy IPOs — censor out sensitive material on, say, the Tiananmen massacre 25 years ago or the more recent “color revolutions” that overthrew a slew of repressive leaders. Over the weekend, Chinese social-media references to the Hong Kong protests were scrubbed by Chinese censors.

On Monday, Internet speeds in Beijing and Shanghai slowed noticeably, a constriction that tends to coincide with news events deemed sensitive by the Chinese state. Instagram, which is usually accessible in China, wouldn’t load. One Chinese Internet portal ran a news clip noting that thousands of pro-Beijing protesters had gathered in Hong Kong, while neglecting coverage of the much larger crowds elsewhere in the territory.

For many Chinese, there is no news coming out of Hong Kong. Or if there is, it is merely the frantic cry of a few rabble-rousers. At noon on Sept. 29, Xinhua’s home page totally ignored the chaos in Hong Kong; the only mention of the territory was a brief headline: “Hong Kong Shares Down 1.94 Pct by Midday.” What possibly could have triggered the stock market dip? Punters were not informed, at least on the home page of China’s official news agency.

Meanwhile, Beijing has made it clear dissent will not be tolerated. Last week, China’s President Xi Jinping, who during his first two years in office has consolidated power more rapidly than his predecessor did, noted that the People’s Liberation Army “must have absolute loyalty and firm faith in the Communist Party of China,” according to Xinhua.

On Monday, the Global Times, which has fashioned itself into the Fox News of China with its knee-jerk patriotism and inflammatory rhetoric, published an editorial headlined “Street Movement Ruins Hong Kong Image,” and admonishing “radical activists” for their “illicit campaign.”

“As Chinese mainlanders, we feel sorrow over the chaos in Hong Kong,” said the editorial before warning, “The radical activists are doomed.”

Such threats are surely spooking the students, activists and, above all, ordinary residents congregating in Hong Kong, even as the local government announced on Monday that riot police were being withdrawn. Some Hong Kongers came prepared with homemade anti-tear gas and pepper-spray defenses, such as ski masks, swimming goggles and plastic wrap. Others used umbrellas to ward off the noxious jets. (On Monday, parasols were also being used to ward off the sun.) Indeed, so many umbrellas have been unfolded that wags have dubbed Hong Kong’s stand the “umbrella revolution.”)

But as the streets of Hong Kong erupted in clouds of tear gas on Sunday night, the skies were largely clear in much of the rest of China. On the evening of Sept. 28, Shanghai marked the coming birthday of the People’s Republic with a dazzle of fireworks. The booms ricocheting across the city’s riverfront signaled celebration, not democracy denied. It was a glorious night.

TIME Japan

The High School Where Japan’s Kids Learn to Become Soldiers

A look inside the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force's High Technical School

Playing soldier isn’t what many Japanese kids today grow up doing. After its brutal march across Asia was halted by the Allies in World War II, imperial Japan accepted a U.S.-written constitution that limited its armed forces from engaging in offensive action.

Despite these constraints, some young Japanese are eager to serve their country. Each year, 4,500 students apply to gain admission to the sole high school run by the nation’s army, which is known as the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force. Only 300 applicants gain admission.

Nearly all of the JGSDF High Technical School’s students pursue army careers. They could well see more action. In July, Japan’s hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushed a reinterpretation of Japan’s war-renouncing constitution that would allow the nation to engage in what’s called collective self-defense, or the ability to defend allies that are under attack.

But all that war-gaming is in the future. As photographer Chris McGrath shows, life at the JGSDF High Technical School, which opened in 1955, is a mash-up of boot camp and science fair. Students build robots then retreat to bunks in Spartan dorms. There’s plenty of marching, plus the rigor of Japanese martial arts like judo. What could be more enticing for a patriotic young Japanese?

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