TIME MERS

There May Have Been a Major Breakthrough in MERS Treatment

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Researchers in Hong Kong have cured infected monkeys of MERS using existing drugs

Two existing and widely available drugs may prove to be effective treatments for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), new research published by the University of Hong Kong suggests.

According to the South China Morning Post, the medicines—lopinavir with ritonavir and a type of interferon—were tested on marmosets, small monkeys that a 2014 U.S. study concluded would be the best subject for MERS trials because of the way their reactions to the virus mimics human illness. The drugs, currently used to treat HIV and sclerosis, were found to be effective in curing MERS-infected marmosets.

The research is the first of its kind in the world.

“We would recommend doctors to start using both drugs immediately to treat MERS patients if they are critical,” said Jasper Chan Fuk-woo, one of the researchers, told SCMP. “The evidence in this study is quite strong in proving the effectiveness of these two drugs.”

Currently, there is no known cure for MERS.

Meanwhile, South Korea, which struggled with a MERS outbreak in May and June, has not reported any new MERS cases for 23 days and no deaths for more than two weeks. The country declared a “de-facto end” to its outbreak on July 28, although a spokesman for the World Health Organization told the BBC it would not declare an official end to the country’s outbreak until 28 days had passed with no new infections—twice the disease’s incubation period.

[SCMP]

TIME Hong Kong

A Hong Kong Woman Just Got Convicted of Assaulting a Police Officer With Her Breast

Hong Kong Police Continue To Clear Protest Sites
Alexander Koerner—Getty Images Riot police forces clash with pro-democracy protesters shortly after midnight at Mong Kok on October 19, 2014 in Hong Kong.

The extent of the officer's physical injuries was not revealed

A court in Hong Kong convicted 30-year-old Ng Lai-ying Thursday of assaulting a police officer by hitting him with her breast during a protest on March 1.

Ng testified that during the protest the officer had reached out his arm to grasp the strap of her bag and that his hand had come in contact with her upper left breast, the South China Morning Post reports.

She told the court that she immediately yelled, “Indecent assault!”

But in his decision, the magistrate rejected those allegations, accusing Ng of lying in her testimony and instead finding her guilty of using her breast to bump the officer’s arm. “You used your female identity to trump up the allegation that the officer had molested you. This is a malicious act,” he said.

There was no word on what physical injuries, if any, the officer suffered.

[SCMP]

TIME Travel

These Are the World’s Best Airports

From China to Texas

For years, airports were little more than stale, gray holding grounds endured only briefly before boarding and during layovers. Cramped, tandem chairs and saran-wrapped sandwiches were the status quo.

Significant innovations and attractions have transformed airports into more than just a stopover to your final destination. Efficient layouts, epicurean dining, and luxe shopping are just a few of the features turning the airport experience on its nose.

That’s why Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards added airports to its annual survey in 2013. That year, Singapore’s Changi Airport took the No. 1 spot for international hubs. And it did so the following year, too. Since inaugurating the category, Changi has come out as the best international airport every time.

Last year, we separated International and Domestic Airports into two distinct categories. In doing so, Portland International Airport was vaulted to the top of the U.S. list. It’s been No. 1 two years in a row, and we suspect it will continue to be a local and visitor favorite.

The next time you’re booking a flight, consider connecting to one of the world’s best airports—both small regional terminals and major international hubs made the list—and you might even find yourself actually enjoying the wait between flights.

  • No. 5 International: Munich Airport, Germany

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    Courtesy of Munich Airport

    Score: 75.615

    Would you expect anything less than pint perfection from Germany’s second busiest airport? Travelers celebrate flight delays over a cold brew at Airbräu, a tavern-style biergarten with onsite brewery, live music, and a fringe of chestnut trees. Afterward, retreat to an individual, space-age sleeping pod (outfitted with iPhone and USB docks) or wake up with a cup of free coffee and complimentary copy of the Financial Times. This impressive steel-and-glass complex, with its impressive runway views from the skywalk and assortment of Bavarian pastry shops, is becoming even more notable. Before the end of this year, the airport’s new satellite Terminal 2 will be complete.

  • No. 4 International: Zurich Airport, Switzerland

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    Zurich Airport

    Score: 77.188

    Calm and convenience are two words rarely associated with airports: or travel in general, for that matter. But as the Swiss historically do, logic and order have been enforced with an airport we can only describe as graceful. Self-service check-ins (programmed in three languages), seamless integration with the metro, and separate arrival zones for speedy security are a few of the airport’s smart innovations. Thanks to a $200 million expansion that was completed in 2011, the European hub now sports twin rooftop terraces. Board the Skymetro to enjoy the calming sounds of the Alps while shuttling between Terminals A and E.

  • No. 3 International: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Netherlands

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    Remko de Waal—AFP/Getty Images

    Score: 79.198

    Century-old Amsterdam Schiphol Airport boasts a number of firsts. The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam is the world’s only museum annex at an airport, and for no cost travelers can spend their layovers appreciating paintings by Dutch masters such as Steen and Rembrandt. Settle into a cushy armchair at the world’s first airport library and browse the collection of tomes printed in 29 languages. Can’t get enough of this airport? A five-star Hilton will open before the end of the year. All the more reason to linger at one of the outdoor terraces and appreciate the relative airport calm made possible by the Buitenschot Land Art Park, a noise-reducing series of ridges and ripples.

  • No. 2 International: Hong Kong International Airport, China

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    Courtesy of Hong Kong International Airport

    Score: 85.067

    If all airports had iSports simulators, regulation golf courses, and IMAX theaters, we might (cheerfully) arrive a few hours early in the hopes of securing a bit of playtime. Kick-off the fun at the city’s Central station, where you can check your bags for a comfortable, hassle-free train ride to the airport. Fill up before boarding on tender pork dumplings at Crystal Jade, or the outpost of Michelin-starred Hung’s Delicacies. After all that action, head to the OM Spa at the connected Regal Airport Hotel. Treatment highlights include mosaic steam rooms and soothing jasmine milk baths.

  • No. 1 International: Changi International Airport, Singapore

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    Changi Airport Group

    Score: 89.547

    For three years in a row, Changi International Airport has asserted its superiority over all other international urban hubs. As the 15thbusiest airport, Changi’s layout is necessarily intuitive and thoughtful. Hundreds of so-called “Changi Experience Agents,” sporting purple and pink blazers and wielding iPads, are on hand to assist lost, perplexed, or harried travelers. Charging stations with lock-boxes and free foot massage machines are a few of the small touches that make people pleased to idle here. There is also something clearly Singaporean about the aesthetic. There’s a two-level butterfly habitat in the new Terminal 3 filled with thousands of fluttering creatures, a Balinese-style rooftop pool, and five distinct gardens throughout the property presenting everything from waterfalls to sunflowers and orchids. Movie theaters, lounges, and authentic restaurants are great for those seeking a diversion. And for those looking to refresh, there are dedicated Snooze Lounges in every terminal. One thing is for certain—we’re sincerely looking forward to the new terminal, scheduled to open in 2017.

  • No. 5 Domestic: Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

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    Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

    Score: 74.022

    Despite a growing volume of travelers—nearly 11 million in 2014—Austin-Bergstrom International Airport keeps flights on time and passengers pleased. The hassle-free hub is just around the corner from downtown Austin, and for those who experience serious pinings for local grub before leaving the city limits, there’s Salt Lick Bar-B-Que. The venerable local franchise serves up sauce-covered sandwiches and sides worthy of entrée portions, such as coleslaw and potato salad. Excellent customer service from check-in to departure doesn’t hurt, either.

  • No. 4 Domestic: Dallas Love Field, Texas

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    Courtesy of Dallas Love Field

    Score: 74.621

    DFW’s little brother is moving up the ranks, beating mainstays like Charlotte Douglas and Orlando. While enplanements at Love Field plummeted when Fort Worth opened, the result was a unique, leisurely airport experience. Murals, sculptures, and paintings from local Texan artists decorate the new Terminal 2, which is also home to community-favorite food and beverage options. Wait for your next boarding call (probably for Southwest, which now has 16 gates at Love Field) while sipping a frozen margarita at Cantina Laredo.

  • No. 3 Domestic: Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

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    Courtesy of Metropolitan Airports Commission

    Score: 75.48

    Maintaining its spot at No. 3, this bustling hub doesn’t falter when it comes to cheerful service (even in the face of those horrible Midwestern winters). Shopaholics have long favored Minneapolis-St. Paul for its upscale mini-mall disposition, with storefronts like Aveda, Bose, Tumi, and Wilsons Leather making it a worthy retail destination even if you don’t have travel plans. A full-scale renovation in 2010 saw $3.2 billion in improvements to infrastructure, including two new terminals with a skyway security checkpoint.

  • No. 2 Domestic: Tampa International Airport, Florida

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    David Lawrence

    Score: 76.671

    Travelers may just choose to enter the Sunshine State via Tampa, thanks to its uncomplicated layout and light-filled rooms. The current renovation and expansion project aims to add an indoor/outdoor terrace and dozens of new concessions, as well as a new conductor-free train to teleport the airport into the 21stcentury. Already, modern features such as estimated checkpoint wait times have kept things sailing smoothly through security and ticketing.

  • No. 1 Domestic: Portland International Airport, Oregon

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    Courtesy of Port of Portland

    Score: 79.162

    PDX shines as the best airport in the U.S., thanks to an impressive on-time departure record and convenient location just minutes from downtown. Advancements like in-line baggage screening have helped keep the process streamlined, while such quirky, crunchy granola novelties (goats to remove invasive plant life, protected from predators by a llama) and food trucks (steamed buns and vinegar sodas from Pok Pok) give the airport an authentic Portland vibe.

    This article originally appeared on Travel + Leisure

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TIME China

China Arrested More Than 100 Human-Rights Lawyers and Activists Over the Weekend

State media framed the move as a crackdown on a "major criminal gang"

Chinese law-enforcement officials detained more than a hundred lawyers and political activists over the weekend in what appears to be a state crackdown on amplifying public dissent in the country.

State media outlets have framed the mass arrests as an effort to “smash a major criminal gang” that had supposedly manipulated a Beijing law firm to “draw attention to sensitive cases, seriously disturbing social order,” the South China Morning Post reported on Monday morning local time.

One of the first lawyers arrested was Wang Yu, a prominent Beijing civil rights attorney. She went missing early Thursday morning after she returned home from dropping her family at the airport to find her electricity and wi-fi shut off.

“Everyone knows that they have detained Wang Yu because she is an outstanding example of … a human-rights lawyer in China,” attorney Chen Jianggang told Radio Free Asia.

Wang is an attorney at Beijing Fengrui law firm, which appears to be the focal target of the police. Also among the detained is Fengrui lawyer Zhou Shifeng, former counsel to the journalist Zhang Miao, who was imprisoned for nearly nine months after covering Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement for Die Zeit.

The Post reports that as of Monday morning, police had released 82 of the 106 detainees, though several attorneys were rearrested.

TIME Hong Kong

The British Once Considered Moving the Entire Population of Hong Kong to Northern Ireland

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An official at the Northern Ireland office was inspired by a university lecturer's proposal to "transplant" Hong Kong to Northern Ireland

(LONDON) — A bizarre plan to relocate the entire population of Hong Kong to Northern Ireland was considered an option in the uncertain years before Britain handed back the former British colony to Chinese rule, formerly classified government files showed.

Britain’s National Archives on Friday released a 1983 government file called “Replantation of Northern Ireland from Hong Kong,” which showed British officials discussing a far-fetched proposal to settle 5.5 million Hong Kong people in a newly built “city state” between Coleraine and Londonderry.

George Fergusson, an official at the Northern Ireland office, was inspired by a university lecturer’s proposal to “transplant” Hong Kong to Northern Ireland — a move that would supposedly revitalize the local economy as well as save Hong Kong, which the lecturer believed had “no future on its present site.”

“At this stage we see real advantages in taking the proposal seriously,” Fergusson wrote in a memo to a colleague in the Foreign Office.

While it wasn’t clear if Fergusson was writing tongue-in-cheek, the droll reply he received showed that it wasn’t taken seriously.

“My initial reaction … is that the proposal could be useful to the extent that the arrival of 5.5 million Chinese in Northern Ireland may induce the indigenous peoples to forsake their homeland for a future elsewhere,” quipped David Snoxell at the Republic of Ireland Department. “We should not underestimate the danger of this taking the form of a mass exodus of boat refugees in the direction of South East Asia.”

An official scribbled in the margins: “My mind will be boggling for the rest of the day.”

Though outlandish, the idea illustrated anxieties at the time about the future of Hong Kong. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher began talks with China on the topic in 1982. Two years later, the two sides agreed that the city would return to Chinese rule in 1997.

TIME Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, Thousands March Toward a Political Impasse

Human Rights Front Gather For July 1st Protest
Anthony Kwan—Getty Images Protesters march on a street during a rally as they hold banners and shout slogans on July 1, 2015 in Hong Kong.

On an annual day of protest, marchers call for democratic freedoms that Beijing is unwilling to grant

In the years since Queen Elizabeth relinquished her last major colony to China in 1997, Hong Kong has frequently commemorated July 1 — the anniversary of the “handover,” as it’s known here — as a day of demonstration, with thousands marching through the sweltering metropolis to air their political grievances. It makes sense: after all, under the political agreement between the U.K. and China, Hong Kong would operate as a quasi-democracy under the umbrella of Chinese rule, and in the democratic imaginary, the right to assembly is axiomatic.

Beyond that, though, there are no real reliable axioms when it comes to democracy in Hong Kong, other than that, for this Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, democracy itself may be an illusion. Nine months have passed since the beginning of the Umbrella Revolution, when hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers besieged the city’s busiest districts to push for a greater say in how their leader is chosen. But, 12 days ago, Hong Kong lawmakers vetoed the government’s showpiece electoral bill because it required all candidates for the city’s top job to undergo screening by Beijing. It is now highly unlikely that the central government will consider other reform proposals for some time.

That leaves the pro-democracy movement at an impasse. At last year’s July 1 demonstrations — in hindsight, a prologue to the Umbrella Revolution — Hong Kongers called for political upheaval; today, they gather to sit shivah for the stalemate, but also to contemplate their next move.

“This is a day when we restart our campaign — when we ask ourselves what we can do next,” Johnson Cheung, who leads the pro-democratic Civil Human Rights Front, says.

The Hong Kong government is also groping for a way forward. As activists burned an SAR flag outside an official ceremony to mark the 18th anniversary of the handover this morning, Leung Chun-ying, the incumbent chief executive (as the highest official in Hong Kong is called) sought relief in pocketbook issues.

“The government needs the support and cooperation of the entire community if we are to boost the economy and improve the livelihood of the people of Hong Kong,” he told assembled dignitaries.

Underscoring the gulf between the city’s democratic and pro-Beijing camps, Leung also appeared to suggest that a freer political system would not be able to solve Hong Kong’s serious social ills — among them appalling income inequality and sluggish social mobility. “As the experience of some European democracies shows,” he said, “democratic systems and procedures are no panacea for economic and livelihood issues.”

In the mid-afternoon, thousands began to assemble at Victoria Park — a rare greensward in this densely packed city, serving as the march’s starting point and as a traditional place of protest. Many demonstrators carried the colonial-era Hong Kong flag, not as a demonstration of loyalty to Britain but as a defiant assertion of the city’s origins as an international entrepot and the emblem of what they believe to have been a better time. In contrast to the almost carnival atmosphere of previous marches, the mood this year appeared subdued and numbers appeared notably fewer than previous years. Organizers blamed political fatigue.

“At this point, there’s not much we can do politically,” said marcher Thomas Yan, vice chairman of the pro-democracy party People Power. “All we can do now, and in the future, is focus on civic education — on informing the people.”

Marcher Maria Chen agreed that Hong Kong needed to reflect on its next move. “I don’t know what’s next for Hong Kong,” she said. “I hope they listen to us, but I think Hong Kong needs to figure it out for itself. Our future should lie in our hands.”

Less than a hundred meters up Hennessy Road, police officers stood between marchers and a group of pro-Beijing demonstrators staging a counter rally. As tensions flared and verbal barbs were traded, the pro-Beijing camp turned up the volume on its loudspeaker and blared the Chinese national anthem — a melody that Hong Kong soccer supporters have recently taken to jeering at international matches.

“After the democrats vetoed the [government’s electoral bill], we realized we needed a new direction,” Agnes Chow, a senior member of the student activist group Scholarism, told TIME earlier. “We’re in a very passive position politically, because any attempt at constitutional reform is going to be led by the central government in Beijing.”

Passive is an interesting choice of word, coming from someone who was at the forefront of the Umbrella Revolution — the largest and most violent political demonstration in China since the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989. Chow is uncertain what will come next, but is keen to note that tensions continue to mount.

It isn’t just rhetoric. Late Sunday night, Joshua Wong, the outspoken 18-year-old activist who has emerged as a figurehead of Hong Kong’s democratic zeitgeist, was leaving a movie with his girlfriend when an unknown assailant “grabbed [his] neck, and punched [his] left eye,” he tells TIME. Earlier that evening and mere blocks away, a group of “localists” — those in favor of far greater Hong Kong autonomy, even complete independence, from China — staged a rally to protest the politically and culturally provocative presence of street musicians from mainland China. Violence quickly erupted between the localists and members of pro-China groups, who turned up to support the musicians.

“My own view is that this is predictable,” David Zweig, a professor of social sciences at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, tells TIME. “We can see a shift from civil disobedience and towards more violence. People are becoming more frustrated with the fact that Beijing has made no concessions.”

Those on the march appeared to understand this political reality. “So long as the Beijing government is insisting we don’t have a way out, legislative reform can hardly happen,” Ken Wu, a 27-year-old social worker, told TIME.

The SAR government is not in a conciliatory mood either. During his address at today’s official ceremony, Chief Executive Leung spoke of the “serious threats to social order and the rule of law” posed by last year’s Umbrella Revolution, and warned that the city’s development would be seriously impeded if democratic legislators continued to block the government’s legislative agenda.

“All we ask is for the citizens of Hong Kong to respect the system,” Po Chun-chung, of the pro-Beijing Defend Hong Kong Campaign, said, as the march went by. Many demonstrators, tired of what they see as the mainland’s encroachment on the city’s autonomy, and its reneging on promises of genuine democracy, would like to ask Beijing to do the same.

“The [mainland] Chinese have gotten dirtier and dirtier,” said Eric, a 32-year-old protester. “They get their hands into our lives and we don’t have any way to fight back. This is the only way.”

—With reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Alissa Greenberg/Hong Kong

TIME China

Greece Is Keeping Chinese Stocks From Rebounding

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The global market sell-off came at a rough time for Chinese stocks

Uncertainty over Greece’s debt crisis battered global stocks on Monday morning, as the troubled country dealt with bank closures and placed limits on ATM withdrawals.

The global sell-off was particularly poorly timed for the Chinese stock market, which retreated into a bear market early Monday after the country’s central bank cut interest rates over the weekend in a move meant to bolster the market. China’s stock market, which fell more than 7% on Friday, started this morning moving upward before quickly reversing, leaving the market down more than 20% from highs earlier this month.

The Shanghai Composite index ended the day down 3.3%, while the Shenzhen exchange closed down more than 6% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 2.6%.

The recent sell-off has hit several large Chinese companies particularly hard, with train maker CRRC Corporation’s stock down more than 50% from its peak price, according to The Wall Street Journal. Fellow transportation companies such as China Railway and BYD have also seen their shares drop by 45% and 40% from their respective peaks.

As Fortune‘s Scott Cendrowski noted in an earlier story, this past weekend marked the first time that China’s central bank had cut two key rates on the same day since the financial crisis. China’s leaders pushed for a stock market rally last year at a time of slow economic growth for the country, but rapid gains spooked many investors, particularly margin lenders who have led the current sell-off.

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Clashes Reveal Anti-Beijing Anger as City Nears Anniversary of Reunification

Localist protester scuffles with a pro-China demonstrator during an anti-China protest at Mongkok shopping district in Hong Kong, China
Tyrone Siu—Reuters A localist protester, left, scuffles with a pro-China demonstrator during an anti-China protest at Mongkok shopping district in Hong Kong on June 28, 2015

Scuffles took place in streets that were the scene of much of last fall's Umbrella Revolution

Street scuffles between pro-and anti-Beijing factions broke out in Hong Kong Sunday night local time — and one of the city’s most prominent pro-democracy figures was set upon in the street in an apparently unrelated attack. The violence underscores raw tensions in China’s most open metropolis, just three days ahead of the 18th anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese sovereignty.

Trouble began when so-called “localist” groups — many members of which argue for Hong Kong’s independence from China — staged a rally in the densely crowded Mong Kok district of central Kowloon to protest the presence of mainland Chinese street musicians. The performance of Mandarin-language songs in a Cantonese-speaking, working-class area like Mong Kok is regarded by many localists as culturally and politically provocative.

Violent clashes broke out when pro-China groups showed up to counter the localists, with rival groups chasing each other through streets crowded with shoppers and tourists, forcing retail outlets to pull down their shutters. Police say five protesters, four men and one woman, were arrested. No injury figures have been released, but police used pepper spray to subdue protesters and local media published photos of at least one bloodied pro-China protester being led from the scene.

Simon Sin, one of the leaders of Hong Kong Localism Power, accuses police of not doing enough to protect localist demonstrators. “The police protected the people who were attacking us. They didn’t protect us. We got hurt yesterday,” Sin tells TIME.

The South China Morning Post reported that police were seen helping “apparent participants” in the street clashes to leave the area, angering localist groups and bearing uncomfortable echoes of last fall’s Umbrella Revolution, when student protesters occupying the Mong Kok streets accused police of not protecting them from thugs who tried to break up the demonstrations. Seven police officers who beat up a protester last November have also still not been brought to trial, despite the fact that the attack was filmed by a local TV news crew.

The disturbances come ahead of a large protest march scheduled for July 1. The annual march — staged to coincide with the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty — covers an array of causes from LGBT rights to better conditions for migrant workers, but always has a strong pro-democratic focus. Sunday’s street battles also come after the recent failure of the Hong Kong government’s electoral proposals, which were designed to lay out a framework for the election of the city’s next leader in 2017 but ended up underscoring the vast political gulf between democratic and pro-Chinese camps.

In what appeared to be a separate incident, democracy activist and student leader Joshua Wong— named one of TIME’s most influential teens in 2014 — was attacked after leaving a cinema in Kowloon with his girlfriend.

A man “grabbed my neck, and punched my left eye. My glasses flew off,” Wong, who was not involved in the localist protests, posted on his Facebook page, alongside a picture of his injuries.

He told TIME that the attack showed “that there are serious safety concerns in the future” for activists like himself and said that he needed “to care more about my personal security.”

“People feel dissatisfied with the central Chinese government with the failure to deliver universal suffrage. What we see is the escalating conflicts between localist groups and the Chinese presence in Hong Kong,” Maya Wang, a China researcher in the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, tells TIME. “I think that kind of animosity between localist groups and the pro-Beijing groups stems from deeper discontent [felt by] Hong Kong people [in] their relationship with the central Chinese government.”

TIME China

China Seizes Rotting 40-Year-Old Meat Destined for Dinner Tables

Officials astonished to see date stamps from the 1970s on the contraband haul

China has found itself embroiled in another food safety scandal after authorities discovered 100,000 tons of smuggled frozen meat—some of which was over 40 years old and had begun to thaw—apparently destined for sale and consumption.

“I nearly threw up when I opened the door,” an inspector said of the aging meat’s overwhelming stench.

Chinese authorities found the smuggled pork, beef and chicken wings in 14 different crackdowns across the country. The haul is reportedly worth in the region of 3 billion yuan ($480 million), reports Reuters.

Much of the meat is thought to have been bought very cheaply in foreign countries. It was then shipped through Hong Kong to Vietnam and finally smuggled into mainland China, according to the state-run China Daily newspaper.

An official at China’s anti-smuggling bureau told the paper that smuggled meat can travel for extended periods of time in unrefrigerated vans and is often repeatedly thawed and refrozen, making it a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria and viruses.

China’s ongoing food safety woes are well established. In 2008, six children died and 300,000 fell seriously ill after consuming milk power contaminated by the industrial chemical melamine. On Wednesday, the BBC reported that the Chinese government had asked three Shaanxi infant formula producers to recall their products due to excessive nitrate levels.

TIME Hong Kong

Beijing Warns Hong Kong That Rejected Electoral-Reform Plan Is Only Offer on Table

Pro-democracy legislator Claudia Mo holds a yellow umbrella as she speaks outside Legislative Council in Hong Kong
Tyrone Siu—Reuters Pro-democracy legislator Claudia Mo holds a yellow umbrella, symbol of the Occupy Central movement, as she speaks to protesters after a Beijing-backed electoral package was rejected, under Chinese and Hong Kong flags outside Legislative Council in Hong Kong on June 18, 2015

But overruling Hong Kong's own legislature could spark a fresh wave of street protests

Jubilation among Hong Kong’s democratic forces didn’t last long. Less than five hours after local lawmakers rejected Beijing’s plan for how the territory’s next leader will be chosen, China’s official Xinhua News Agency possibly declared the Hong Kong parliamentarians’ veto immaterial. The one-sentence bulletin from Xinhua announced:

BEIJING, June 18 (Xinhua) — Chinese top legislature on Thursday said its decision on Hong Kong’s electoral reforms last August will remain in force in the future, despite Hong Kong Legislative Council’s veto of the universal suffrage motion.

Last year, the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s largely rubber-stamp body, approved a plan by which Hong Kong voters could directly elect their next chief executive in 2017. Currently, Hong Kong’s top leader is chosen by a 1,200-strong committee that is seen as sympathetic to Beijing’s interests. There was, however, a catch to the NPC’s proposal: that same 1,200-strong committee would be in charge of choosing which candidates could appear on the ballot. The NPC’s plan galvanized huge street protests in Hong Kong last year — an awakening of political consciousness that surprised even residents of the former British colony. After Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, the territory was promised 50 years of considerable autonomy from Beijing, under a principle that was dubbed “one country, two systems.”

Hong Kong’s pan-democrat lawmakers opposed Beijing’s new electoral plan as a betrayal of this principle, arguing that a filtering by a pro-Beijing committee hardly constituted “universal suffrage.” Other lawmakers maintained that the proposal was far more democratic than the current system that led to the choosing of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying — and Hong Kong should jump at the opportunity for more self-determination. The Global Times, a Beijing-based daily with ties to the Chinese Communist Party, decried Thursday’s veto from Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, in an editorial headlined “Sad Moment for Hong Kong[’s] Democratic Process.”

But Xinhua’s brief announcement — which was likely readied even before the vote took place in Hong Kong, according to analysts of China’s state-run media — raised the possibility that the NPC’s judgment trumps whatever legislative exercises might have taken place in a city of 7 million in southern China. “[The central government] cannot ignore the decision of the Legislative Council,” says Lam Cheuk-ting, chief executive of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, responding to the Xinhua notice. “Any political reform has to be approved by the Legislative Council, and they should have listened to the voice of the Hong Kong people.”

Emily Lau, a veteran Hong Kong opposition lawmaker, cautions that the Xinhua cable may not necessarily mean that Beijing will force Hong Kong to adhere to a new method of choosing its future leader, rather that no more democratic plan will materialize in the future. “They’re saying … ‘This is the thing on offer, if you want, you can come and take it. If you don’t want, wait a few years, it will be the same thing on offer,’” says Lau. “They should trust the Hong Kong people to choose someone who can work with Beijing. And such a person exists. If Beijing would only give Hong Kong people a chance. But they are too scared.”

With reporting by Alissa Greenberg and Joanna Plucinska / Hong Kong

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