TIME South Korea

Pope Makes Tough Sell on Materialism in South Korea

Pope Francis
Pope Francis shakes hands with a nun as he arrives to attend a meeting with the bishops of Korea at the headquarters of the Korean Episcopal Conference in Seoul on Aug. 14, 2014 AP

Francis received a boisterous welcome on Friday from tens of thousands of young Asians

(DAEJEON, South Korea) — Pope Francis has urged Asia’s Catholic youth to renounce the materialism that afflicts much of Asian society today and reject “inhuman” economic systems that disenfranchise the poor, pressing his economic agenda in one of Asia’s powerhouses where financial gain is a key barometer of success.

Francis received a boisterous welcome Friday from tens of thousands of young Asians as he celebrated his first public Mass in South Korea, whose small but growing church is seen as a model for the rest of the world.

In his homily, Francis urged the young people to be a force of renewal: “May they combat the allure of a materialism that stifles authentic spiritual and cultural values and the spirit of unbridled competition which generates selfishness and strife.”

TIME Sri Lanka

How an Extremist Buddhist Network Is Sowing Hatred Across Asia

Nafeesathiek Thahira Sahabdeen
Nafeesathiek Thahira Sahabdeen, 68, at her ransacked home in Dharga Town, Sri Lanka. TIME

Saffron-clad monks have been instrumental in anti-Muslim riots in Burma and Sri Lanka, and have their eyes on sowing discord farther afield

During her long career as a teacher, Nafeesathiek Thahira Sahabdeen prided herself on treating children of all backgrounds the same. That didn’t help her on June 15, though, when a radical Buddhist mob ransacked her home in Dharga Town, a thriving trading hub in southwest Sri Lanka. The 68-year-old Muslim was left “penniless, homeless and heartbroken,” she says. “I thought I would die. I was so afraid.”

The anti-Muslim violence that ravaged Dharga Town, along with the nearby tourist enclave of Aluthgama, peppered with five-star resorts, has been attributed to a burgeoning Buddhist supremacy movement that has embarked on an organized campaign of religious hate.

Sahabdeen speaks to TIME in the ransacked living room of her gutted home. The ceiling fan lies in splinters, the sink ripped from the wall, a portrait of her long-deceased father torn in two. She was alone at prayer when around 200 young men “armed with knives, iron bars, chains” arrived at her home just after dusk. “I could hear them smashing, smashing, smashing,” she says, eyes welling up and fingers clasped together in supplication. “All around were flames.”

Touring her scorched neighborhood, the bevy of gutted buildings and roofless homes indicates Sahabdeen actually fared better than many. Three people died in the violence, all Muslims shot by police shepherding a 7,000-strong mob, claim locals, while another two people had legs amputated after receiving gunshot wounds. At least 80 more were injured.

What sparked this bloodletting between two communities with virtually no historical grievances? Throughout the ashes of Dharga Town, scrawled graffiti reading “BBS Did This” leaves little doubt where the victims lay blame.

BBS, or Bodu Bala Sena, otherwise known as Buddhist Power Force, is a Buddhist supremacist group accused of stirring sectarian hatred in Sri Lanka. Led by a monk, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, BBS accuses Sri Lanka’s Muslims of threatening the nation’s Buddhist identity, and enjoys support at high levels. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the President’s brother who also serves as Secretary of Defense, has been an outspoken supporter of BBS in the past.

“BBS echoes the sympathies and the prejudices of the majority Buddhist population,” says Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council NGO. “So the views have a certain resonance, and the media gives voice to that, and the counter view is toned down or even censored.”

The June 15 violence was sparked by an innocuous traffic dispute between a Muslim man and a Buddhist monk. Immediately afterward, Buddhist extremists descended on the monk and urged him to report the matter to the authorities. When the police declined to take action, a rally was organized. Gnanasara was there, addressing the mob. “If a Muslim or any other foreigner puts so much as a hand on a Sinhala person — let alone a monk — it will be the end of all of them!” he bellowed to raucous cheers. When the mob approached Muslim-majority Dharga Town, some people started throwing stones. This was all the provocation needed for a night of bedlam. In the aftermath of the riots, 135 people were arrested, say officials. To date, no one has been charged.

Gnanasara denies that BBS organized the march and blames the “uncontrolled behavior of some of the extreme Muslim communities in the area” for the ensuing bloodshed during a phone interview with TIME. But even before his firebrand oration, portents of trouble were clear; on the Facebook post to announce the gathering, one of the first comments asked, “Shall I bring a can of gasoline?”

So why is Sri Lanka, a nation of 20 million that for three decades was decimated by a vicious civil war between the Buddhist state and largely Hindu Tamil minority, suddenly gripped by anti-Muslim hatred? Historically, the island’s Muslim community had always been a staunch supporter of the Sinhala-Buddhist political establishment, as it similarly suffered at the hands of the LTTE rebel group, more commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, who expelled all Muslims from northern provinces.

“Prejudices are growing because there is a small but influential group of extremist Buddhists who are having a relatively free run and are able to articulate very national sentiments and highlight the insecurity of the Sinhalese,” says Perera, himself a Sinhalese Christian.

The Sri Lankan experience is far from unique. In Burma, officially known as Myanmar, just 1,000 miles (1,600 km) across the Bay of Bengal, an extremist Buddhist movement called 969 is waging a parallel war, using identical tactics as BBS. (Both groups rose to prominence around 2012. Its leader is also a monk, Wirathu. When anti-Muslim riots erupted in the central Burmese town of Meiktila in April last year, clashes that killed dozens and displaced thousands, he arrived in the middle of the carnage, although later claimed to have tried to halt the bloodshed. Then, during last month’s communal riots in Mandalay, where Wirathu’s monastery is based, he fanned the flames through an incendiary Facebook post warning of Muslims “armed to teeth with swords and spears” preparing a jihad against local Buddhists.

Both he and Gnanasara make virtually identical xenophobic claims about Muslims converting Buddhist women and luring them into unholy polygamous unions, and using their corrupt business acumen to swindle hard-working Buddhists. “[Muslims] are breeding so fast, and they are stealing our women, raping them,” Wirathu told TIME’s Hannah Beech last year. “They would like to occupy our country, but I won’t let them. We must keep Myanmar Buddhist.” (In fact, neither Burma nor Sri Lanka has seen a Muslim population explosion).

BBS speeches are very similar. Halal certification is apparently funding al-Qaeda and Hamas; Islamic blood sacrifices are summoning forth “ghosts and demons”; Muslim perverts are using burqas as disguises to carry out licentious deeds; and, most bizarrely, the Quran requires Muslims to spit three times into any food or beverage served to a person of another faith.

“I think they are learning from each other,” says Hilmy Ahmed, vice president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka. “It started in Myanmar, but Gnanasara has perfected it.”

Certainly, the similarities between these nations are striking. Both Sri Lanka and Burma have large, state-backed Theravada Buddhist majorities making up about 70% to 80% of the population. Both nations have Muslim communities, of about 10% of the population, that historically backed the establishment. Both are going through the aftermath of decades-long civil conflicts against other ethnic minorities — the Hindu Tamils in Sri Lanka; a smattering of mainly Christian rebel groups in Burma. Now both boast extremist Buddhist movements led by rabble-rousing saffron-clad clerics.

Gnanasara is quick to laud his Burmese counterpart and admits the pair met over the summer to “establish an international network of activists stationed in Buddhist countries.”

“We are all in the same boat in terms of attacks on Buddhist communities,” he says. “What is happening in Burma and Thailand, especially the southern part of Thailand, [resembles] what happened recently in Bangladesh.”

BBS and 969 are embarking on a partnership with similar organizations and activists across the region to face off “international threats,” reveals Gnanasara. “It would be better to have some sort of cohesion between us so we can respond collectively.”

Gnanasara maintains he did not “discuss any tactics” during his meeting with Wirathu, yet a shared modus operandi is obvious. The Burmese incidents, just like the Aluthgama clashes and hundreds of others, were sparked by a personal grievance between a Muslim and Buddhist — an argument between shopkeeper and customer over gold rings in Meiktila; an allegation of rape in Mandalay that the accuser eventually admitted was a total fabrication — that quickly spiraled out of control. After the initial complaint, an extremist clique descends on the town to aid the “wronged” Buddhist party. Before long there are lootings, beatings and torched houses.

Now that existentialist threats to Sri Lanka and Burma have disappeared with the end of their respective civil conflicts, the specter of Muslim extremism is convenient means of justifying political control.

“It’s in this government’s narrow political interests of winning elections to foster the divide, to foster Sinhala nationalism,” says Perera. Hilmy agrees: “We feel that it’s likely to be government-orchestrated as the government has lost the confidence of the minorities. The Tamils and Christians are completely alienated.”

Sahabdeen, for one, needs no convincing. When hundreds of young men ripped her home apart, the security services stood idly by, just a block away. Eventually, two rioters escorted her toward these officers before returning, unhindered, to resume their plunder. “They took me out the gate as if I was being walked to the gallows,” she says. “The police just stood there.”

Ironically, while the reality of creeping Islamization is almost certainly bogus, the perceived threat may be instrumental in fomenting its creation. “Muslims don’t have any option but to live here and die here, and so I’m very worried if Muslims are pushed beyond a certain point forces from outside could exploit that,” says Hilmy.

If that happens, Sri Lanka and Burma could head straight back toward a fresh round of civil conflict.

TIME Asia

Have You Ever Wondered Why East Asians Spontaneously Make V-Signs in Photos?

A South Korean football fan poses during a public screening in Seoul of the South Korea vs Russia football match at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, early on June 18, 2014.
A South Korean soccer fan poses during a public screening in Seoul of the South Korea vs Russia match at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, June 18, 2014. Ed Jones—AFP/Getty Images

It's all to do with an American figure skater, sports manga and a commercial for Konica cameras

Spend a few minutes browsing social media, or watch groups of travelers posing in front of a popular tourist attraction, and you’re bound to come across it: attractive young Asians flashing smiles and making the V-for-Victory sign (or peace sign). The raised index and middle fingers, with palm facing outward, are as much a part of Asian portraiture as saying cheese is to English speakers. But why?

To non-Asians, the gesture seems so intrinsically woven into the popular culture of Beijing, Osaka or Taipei as to make it seem that it was forever thus — but, in fact, its earliest origins date back no further than the late 1960s, and the gesture didn’t really find widespread acceptance until the late 1980s.

Some say it began with Janet Lynn. The American figure skater was favored to take home gold in the 1972 Olympics in Japan. But the 18-year-old’s dream came crashing down when she fell during her performance. The gold medal was gone. She knew it, and Japan knew it.

But instead of grimacing, the shaggy-haired blonde simply smiled. Lynn’s behavior ran charmingly counter to the Japanese norm of saving face, and in doing so earned her legions of Japanese fans.

“They could not understand how I could smile knowing that I could not win anything,” said Lynn, who eventually went home with a bronze, in a telephone interview. “I couldn’t go anywhere the next day without mobs of people. It was like I was a rock star, people giving me things, trying to shake my hands.”

Lynn became a media sensation in Japan and the recipient of thousands of fan letters. During media tours around Japan in the years following the Olympics, she habitually flashed the V-sign. A cultural phenomenon was born.

Or rather, it was consolidated — because the V-sign was already entering mainstream consciousness through manga. In the 1968 baseball comic Kyojin no Hoshi (Star of the Giants), a protagonist struggling with father issues, and the pressure of competition, gets his dad’s tacit approval when the elder throws him a “V” before a big game. The volleyball manga Sain wa V! (V Is the Sign) was created shortly after and was adapted into a television series with an infectious earworm of a theme that features the chant “V-I-C-T-O-R-Y!”

It was probably advertising that gave the gesture its biggest boost, however. Though Lynn had some influence on the widespread use of the V-sign in photos, Japanese media attribute the biggest role to Jun Inoue, singer with the popular band the Spiders. Inoue happened to be a celebrity spokesperson for Konica cameras, and supposedly flashed a spontaneous V-sign during the filming of a Konica commercial.

“In Japan, I have seen the Inoue Jun theory advanced most often as an explanation for the origin of this practice,” Jason Karlin, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo and an expert on Japanese media culture, tells TIME. “I think the practice is a testament to the power of the media, especially television, in postwar Japan for propagating new tastes and practices.”

With the mass production of cameras, and a sudden surge in women’s and girls’ magazines in the 1980s, the aesthetics of kawaii — a visual culture superficially based on cuteness — took off. Suddenly, more women were posing for more shots, and more shots of women were being shared. V-signs proliferated much like today’s “duck face” pouts on Instagram and Facebook.

“The V-sign was (and still is) often recommended as a technique to make girls’ faces appear smaller and cuter,” says Karlin.

Laura Miller, a professor of Japanese studies and anthropology at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, stresses the role played by women in popularizing the gesture in photos. She recalls hearing girls say piisu, or peace, while making the sign in the early 1970s. “Like so much else in Japanese culture, the creative agents in Japan are often young women, but they are rarely recognized for their cultural innovations,” she wrote in an email to TIME.

When Japanese pop culture began to spread around East Asia in the 1980s (prior to the emergence of K-pop in this century), the fashionable V-sign found itself exported to mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea (where it already enjoyed some recognition because of the decades-long presence of the U.S. military).

These days, the habit is everywhere that Asians are. However, most young Asians who make the gesture in photos do so without thinking and are baffled when asked why they do it. Some say they’re aping celebrities, while others say it’s a mannerism that alleviates awkwardness when posing. “I need something to do with my hands,” says Suhiyuh Seo, a young student from Busan, South Korea. Little children do it without even being taught.

“I don’t know why,” says 4-year-old Imma Liu of Hong Kong — but she says she feels “happy” when she does it. Perhaps that’s all that matters.

TIME

China: Ex-Security Czar Zhou Under Investigation

(BEIJING) — China’s ruling Communist Party announced Tuesday it is launching an investigation into former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, who was once one of the country’s most feared leaders.

The party’s anti-graft watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, said on its website that it is investigating Zhou for serious violations of party discipline, but gave no details.

Until his retirement in 2012, Zhou was one of nine leaders in the party’s ruling inner circle, whose members had until now been considered off-limits for prosecution in an unwritten rule aimed at preserving party unity.

The announcement ended months of speculation over Zhou’s fate that had built up as several high-ranking officials and businesspeople and dozens of other known associates came under investigation.

One after another, they disappeared into the custody of party investigators, foreshadowing the problems that lay ahead for Zhou.

TIME indonesia

Jakarta Governor Widodo Wins Indonesian Election

(JAKARTA, Indonesia) — Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, who won the hearts of Indonesians with his common man image, won Indonesia’s presidential election with 53 percent of the vote, final results from the Election Commission showed Tuesday.

The numbers were released shortly after his opponent, former general Prabowo Subianto, declared he was withdrawing from the contest, saying there was massive fraud during the election and that it was unfair and undemocratic.

Widodo, a former furniture maker known widely as “Jokowi,” had maintained a slim lead of about 4 percentage points in unofficial “quick counts” by polling agencies released after the July 9 election.

But Subianto, who has declared assets of $140 million and was on his third bid for the presidency, repeatedly claimed that polling firms with links to his campaign showed he was ahead.

“We reject the 2014 presidential election which is unlawful and therefore we withdraw from the ongoing process,” he said.

There were no immediate reports of violence. About 100 Subianto supporters held a peaceful protest about 300 meters (300 yards) from the Election Commission building in downtown Jakarta, chanting “Prabowo is the real president” and holding banners saying that the commission should stop cheating.

The building was surrounded by thousands of policemen to maintain security after a particularly nasty presidential campaign. It was the first election that pitted two candidates directly against each other since the Muslim majority country of 240 million emerged from the long and brutal Suharto dictatorship 16 years ago.

Supporters of both men used social media for personal attacks, and Subianto’s supporters led a smear campaign against Widodo, spreading rumors he is not a Muslim.

The commission was to formally declare the winner later Tuesday evening.

Final results showed that Widodo won 70,997,859 votes, or 53.15 percent of the nearly 133 million valid ballots cast, while Subianto won 62,576,444 votes, or 46.85 percent.

Voter turnout was 70.7 percent.

TIME Asia

China’s Economy Continues to Defy Gravity. That May Not Be a Good Thing

A container truck drives past the container area at the Yangshan Deep Water Port,  part of the newly announced Shanghai Free Trade Zone, south of Shanghai
A container truck drives past the container area at the Yangshan Deep Water Port, part of the Shanghai Free-Trade Zone, on Sept. 26, 2013 Carlos Barria—Reuters

China announced better-than-expected growth over the second quarter. Despite optimistic official figures, there's plenty to worry about in the world's second largest economy

China announced its GDP figures for the second quarter on Wednesday and — surprise, surprise — they were better than expected. Growth clocked in at 7.5% — which just so happens to be the government’s official target. The statistics will likely give a boost to sentiment globally. Investors have been worried that a slowing China would hit the entire world economy. More buoyant Chinese growth will probably calm those jitters.

Yet China is also something of a puzzle. Somehow the economy continues to power through all sorts of issues that should be slowing it down. The all-important property sector, which accounts for some 16% of its GDP, is undergoing a major downturn. For most of the year, the government has tried to control dangerous levels of debt in the economy and clamp down on “shadow banking,” which encompasses alternative financial networks and lending practices. Tighter credit should translate into slower growth. Beijing is also supposedly on a mission to streamline bloated industries like steel by eliminating excess capacity, which, though healthy for the future prospects of the economy, should also act as a drag on short-term growth. So should President Xi Jinping’s ongoing anticorruption campaign, which in theory should be disrupting policymaking and creating uncertainty.

So how is China defying gravity once again? There is always the perennial suspicion that the numbers are inflated. Capital Economics looks at statistics that aren’t as easily manipulated as GDP, such as freight shipments and electricity output, to gauge the economy’s performance, and figures GDP has probably been expanding more like 6% in recent quarters. But economists are crediting the latest growth rate to government stimulus, carefully targeted at infrastructure and public housing, both investments the economy still needs.

This is a smart move. The Chinese government has ample ability to keep growth humming while it attempts to implement more substantial reforms. However, the reliance on stimulus also raises doubts about what might be ahead. Some economists see growth “bottoming out” and a revival continuing through the rest of the year. Others believe continued headwinds, especially the struggles of the property sector, are too strong for the government to counter — without even greater largesse. That might be on its way. New loans made in June were the highest in five years, according to research from Barclays, which suggests that the government is loosening up credit once again.

That begs the most important question facing China’s economy right now: Will Beijing sacrifice reform for growth? So far, China’s leaders have controlled their usual urge to pump up growth rates, an indication they realize the dangers lurking in the economy. Since the 2008 financial crisis, debt in China has risen to dizzying heights. A recent report from Standard & Poor’s calculated that China’s corporate sector has more debt outstanding than any other in the world. Combined with tremendous excess capacity, a risky increase in shadow banking and signs of a property bubble, the Chinese economy is rampant with problems that threaten its future. Some economists believe Beijing needs to address these ills and resist efforts to use credit and other stimulus to rev up growth — or else face a possible financial crisis.

Yet the reforms necessary to fix these problems are coming very slowly. Beijing has pledged to undertake a bold slate of measures — to liberalize interest rates and other prices, improve the performance of bloated state-owned enterprises, open protected markets to competition, strengthen the financial sector and allow private enterprise greater sway in the economy. All of these steps, if implemented, would make the Chinese economy healthier and more advanced. But so far, only the most minor of experiments have started, such as the approval of a handful of small private banks and the opening of a free-trade zone in Shanghai to tinker with more open capital flows. Even more, once the greater reforms fall into place (if they ever do), it could take years before they have an impact on the economy.

There are two ways of looking at what’s going on. One is that China’s policymakers are wisely going slow on potentially painful reforms while the economy works out some of its messiest problems in an environment of relatively stable growth. The other, less optimistic, view is that the problems rotting away at the Chinese economy are so complex and entrenched that policymakers are prioritizing continuing growth over tough reforms. In that scenario, China’s broken-down growth model will be kept alive with debt and government spending, while the fundamental change necessary to take China to the next level stalls.

I continue to be afraid of the latter. And with China the world’s second largest economy, we all should be too.

TIME China

WATCH: Large Crowds Rally in Hong Kong for Democracy

Marchers endured baking heat and heavy rain to demand more democratic rights

+ READ ARTICLE

Clarification added, July 2, 2014:

Almost 100,000 pro-democracy protesters marched through Hong Kong on Tuesday during an annual rally to mark the anniversary of the territory’s return to China in 1997.

Mass demonstrations have taken place annually on July 1 in Hong Kong for more than a decade. But this year the territory’s discontent has shifted significantly against mainland China — and stems from many residents’ fears that Beijing is curtailing Hong Kong’s autonomy.

“I think Beijing is trying to tighten the controls of democracy in Hong Kong. But I think it’s a type of war game,” said Gary Sik, a financial consultant from Hong Kong who took part in the demonstration.

The protest comes after an estimated 800,000 votes were cast in an unofficial referendum on how the territory’s top leader, the chief executive, should be elected. Citizens in Hong Kong are not allowed to nominate candidates for the position; candidates are chosen by an electoral college that is largely seen as sympathetic to Beijing.

And public nomination rights are what protesters like Janice Yeung, a 27-year-old secretary from Hong Kong, are pushing for.

“Just like other countries, Hong Kong is a developed city — an international city. So I think Hong Kong should decide our future by [ourselves] — and not by Beijing or any other people,” she said.

Clarification: Hong Kong police estimated the number of protesters at 100,000, while the protesters put it at several times that figure.

TIME Asia

In Hong Kong, Tens of Thousands March for Democracy

HONG KONG-CHINA-POLITICS-DEMOCRACY
Demonstrators walk on their way to join a pro-democracy rally seeking greater democracy in Hong Kong on July 1, 2014 Philippe Lopez—AFP/Getty Images

July 1 marks 17 years since the former British colony became a Chinese Special Administrative Region. Calls for popular representation are growing ever fiercer in the freewheeling metropolis

When typhoons begin to lash along Asia’s coastlines each midsummer, Hong Kong usually manages to escape serious damage, since storms in the South China Sea tend to lose their muster over the Philippines and Taiwan by the time they make landfall. Some locals will cheekily boast that the city, constructed across an archipelago and on a peninsula extending south of the Chinese mainland, is protected by an invisible dome that blocks out these tempests.

But weathering political storms may be a different story for the former British colony, now a semiautonomous territory under the controversial domain of the Beijing government. On one hand, inside this proverbial dome a vibrant society enjoying free press and rule of law has flourished alongside — or rather, within — the last superpower on earth to describe itself as a communist state. On the other, some conflicting visions of this duality have spurred a more existential political unhappiness in Hong Kong, one that some believe is approaching boiling point.

On Tuesday, up to 500,000 people are slated to march on the city’s central financial district, in what in years past has encompassed myriad domestic grievances while commemorating the official end of British rule 17 years ago. This year’s protest, however, forms the loudest testament yet to mounting opposition to just one thing: China.

“We have waited for democracy for so long, but year after year it’s been bad news,” 21-year-old Lee Kan-tat, a liberal student activist, said on Tuesday morning in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, where the march starts.

The call of the day — and, for some political dissenters, of the past five years — is for “universal suffrage.” Beijing has agreed to enact electoral reforms, most importantly the direct election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive — the territory’s highest office — by 2017, but only from a list of preapproved candidates who must be “patriotic.” Nearly 800,000 Hong Kongers voted in an unofficial plebiscite that ended on Sunday and instead called for open nominations. Beijing deemed that referendum illegal.

“The message from Hong Kong is very clear after the referendum,” added Lee, “800,000 people have spoken, and an overwhelming majority believe that the legislature should veto any reform proposal that doesn’t meet international standards.”

At present, there are 3.5 million registered voters in this Special Administrative Region, but virtually none of them have ever cast their ballot in the quinquennial elections for the Chief Executive. The position is instead appointed by a 1,200-seat election committee, whose decision ostensibly reflects both the wishes and interests of the people of Hong Kong.

Critics of the system — and there are increasingly many — scoff at this presumption. Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s hundred-plus-page de facto constitution, the majority of seats on the election committee are occupied by individuals hailing from Big Business and various professional sectors, with only a small fraction reserved for legislators directly represented by the people. Some point to this as a plainly and conspiratorially pro-China endeavor.

“The government created a system that is deliberately complicated,” says Emily Lau, the chairwoman of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, with marked bitterness. “The corporations don’t want to upset Beijing — they need China to do business. So they elect pro-Chinese candidates. It’s all ‘money, money, money.’”

Within Hong Kong’s ideologically popular but politically fragmented pro-democracy camp, Lau and her party represent the moderate minority that believes some tapered form of “universal suffrage” is compatible with the current electoral system structured by the Basic Law. In other words, the existence of the election committee needn’t necessarily inhibit popular choice; what, Lau wondered aloud, if the latter had a role in determining the makeup of the former?

This isn’t to say Lau and her fellow moderates have sympathy with the pro-Beijing side. Lau, whose seat in Hong Kong’s legislature gives her an ex officio position on the election committee, has chosen to abstain from voting in past Chief Executive elections.

“It’s pointless to take part,” she says. “If you take part, you legitimize it.”

Given Beijing’s trademark stubbornness when it comes to amending Hong Kong’s constitution, Lau’s moderate stance may encourage the most pragmatic course of action. Say what you will about the Chinese government in Hong Kong, but it’s there to stay: Lau made a point to gesture outside her window to the 28-story headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army, just across the road from her office in the Legislative Council Complex.

But pragmatism doesn’t always prevail, and reactionism tends to be radical. The past five years have seen the rise of pro-democracy student groups that view a complete upheaval of the current election system as the only option, and any who oppose such a solution as traitorous to the cause of building a democratic Hong Kong.

For many of these activists, any gesture of political compromise with the Chinese government is a further sacrifice of Hong Kong’s autonomy. A civil-disobedience movement called Occupy Central threatens to paralyze the city’s main business district later this month, naturally incurring Beijing’s wrath. (Immediately after the July 1 march, a prominent students’ group is planning a rehearsal sit-in.)

“More and more young people are aware of the disappointments and failures of the Chinese central government,” says 22-year-old Johnson Yeung, convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, which organizes the July 1 protests. “We believe that civil disobedience is the best means of fighting for democracy.”

This sentiment of extremism has all but hijacked the pro-democracy stage in Hong Kong, with mixed results. While the “civil disobedience” endorsed by Yeung and the thousands marching through downtown Hong Kong on Tuesday has given an unprecedented voice to the city’s discontent with Chinese rule, it also threatens to intensify the political hostility coming from Beijing that prompted the discontent in the first place.

Last month, China released a white paper condemning the intensified push for democracy in Hong Kong, calling the understanding of the “one country, two systems” policy here “confused or lopsided,” as by definition it only operates at the behest of Beijing. On Tuesday morning, a pro-democracy group burned a copy of this document in protest.

“The radical [pro-democracy] choice is loud, and potentially destabilizing,” says David Zweig, a professor of social science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “China feels its sovereignty has been infringed upon. But it has all the authority it wants — there’s nothing to stop it. It’s their territory, and they know that.”

TIME Asia

China Arrests 380 in First Month of Yearlong Antiterrorism Campaign

China Terrorism Crackdown
Armed paramilitary policemen ride on a truck during an antiterrorism oath-taking rally at the Grand Bazaar in Urumqi, China, on May 23, 2014 AP

In general, the names of those arrested are not released, and they are likely to face trial in secret

China has arrested at least 380 people in its first month of a yearlong campaign against terrorism, state-run media said on Monday.

The crackdown was triggered by a suicide attack blamed on Islamic militants that left 39 people dead in the restive western province of Xinjiang in May.

The Ministry of Public Security said in a statement that the campaign to avert the spread of religious radicalism would last until June 2015, “With Xinjiang as the center, and with cooperation from other provinces.”

China Central Television (CCTV) stated that the campaign began with the disbanding of 32 terrorist groups in the western province, confirming Beijing’s promise that “terrorists and extremists will be hunted down and punished,” AFP reported.

Along with arrests that concentrated on suspected militants in Xinjiang but spread throughout the country, police also seized 264 devices that could discharge 3.15 tons of explosives, CCTV reported.

Most of the violence in Xinjiang apparently stems from rising tensions between the predominantly Muslim Uighur minority and majority Han Chinese migrants. Human-rights groups also blame increasing economic disparity and religious discrimination against the Uighurs, although Beijing claims that the government has helped improve the local economy and infrastructure.

[AFP]

TIME southeast asia

Malaysia’s Highest Court Upholds Ban on Christians Using the Word Allah

Malaysia Allah Dispute
Muslim women sit in front of a banner reading Allah during a protest outside the court of appeal in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur, on June 23, 2014 Vincent Thian—AP Photo

Disappointed Christians decried creeping Islamization as a threat to their religious freedom

Malaysia’s highest court upheld a lower court’s ruling on Monday that denied an appeal by the Catholic newspaper The Herald to use the word Allah, considered the Arabic name for God. The decision made by a seven-judge panel laid to rest a tumultuous six-year court case that catalyzed religious tension in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian nation.

The case was originally brought in 2007 when the Home Ministry banned the use of Allah in the Malay-language edition of the paper, which dovetailed with a threat to withdraw its publishing permit. Church leaders insist that Allah has been used in religious literature and Malay-language Bibles to refer to the Christian God for centuries.

A 2009 appeal favored The Herald, which argued that Christians had the constitutional right to use the term — a decision that led to attacks on Christian places of worship for several years. Muslims argued that the Christian use of Allah could persuade Muslims to convert and so jeopardized national security. Following a ruling in October that reinstated the ban, Islamic authorities confiscated Bibles that used the word Allah. In January, two petrol bombs were thrown at a Malaysian church.

The federal court’s conclusive ruling on Monday was met with cheers from hundreds of Muslim activists outside the court. Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria told the courtroom that “The court of appeal was right to set aside the high-court ruling,” local papers reported.

Disappointed Christians saw the decision as a threat to their religious freedom, complaining that it was only one example of increasing Islamization being pushed by the 60% Muslim majority. The Herald editor Father Lawrence Andrew told AFP that the judgment failed to “touch on the fundamental rights of minorities.”

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