In Other News – Chilean politics shift left with the election of Gabriel Boric, Pro-Beijing vetted “Patriots” cruise to victory in Hong Kong legislative elections, & More – 12/23/2021

December 23, 2021

Chilean politics shift left with the election of Gabriel Boric. On Sunday, in a nation known for its moderate bend, 56% of Chilean voters chose 35-year-old, leftist candidate Gabriel Boric to assume the presidency in March 2022. Boric capitalized on the sentiment behind widespread 2019 left-wing protests and nationwide grievances about economic inequality. Chile’s shift to the left is consistent with others in the region, such as Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru, and likely soon Brazil, but Boric appears to be differentiating himself through his pragmatism, as seen in the adjustments he made towards the center throughout his campaign. While it’s unclear how Boric will translate his ideas into policy making, he has emphasized the need to uphold democratic processes and has openly pressed for dialogue and consensus with opposition parties. Boric will be challenged to maintain balance in an increasingly polarized nation− he’ll be faced with a divided Congress and will have to placate extremist coalition partners while working with a constitutional assembly that is further left than most of Chilean society. How far Boric is willing to compromise to push forward the policies that are most dear to him without alienating either allies or economic opponents remains to be seen.

As tensions between Lithuania and Beijing escalate, Chinese use economic clout to drive foreign policy agenda: Relations between Vilnius and Beijing, progressively more contentious since 2019, have entered a new phase. In response to the opening of a representative office of Taiwan in Vilnius, China downgraded diplomatic relations with Lithuania, recalled its ambassador, and declared his Lithuanian counterpart persona non grata in Beijing. China is now reported to be using its economic influence on the global supply chain to strike another blow to Lithuania, but perhaps more to test the EU’s and the West’s solidarity.

Lithuania’s direct trade with China is not significant, but its export-based economy is home to hundreds of companies that make products such as furniture, lasers, food, and clothing for multinationals that sell to China. China is reported to have specifically told a number of those multinationals to sever ties with Lithuania or face being shut out of the Chinese market. China’s foreign ministry has denied this, however added that its companies “no longer trusted Lithuania.” In response, Lithuania has appealed to the European Commission for support. The European Commission responded that the EU was ready “to stand up against all types of political pressure and coercive measures applied against any member state.” Whether they will or not remains to be seen. As the second largest economy in the world, should China determine that their economic coercion is in any way effective in isolating Lithuania, they will undoubtedly use this strategy against others in the future.

Pro-Beijing vetted “Patriots” cruise to victory in Hong Kong legislative elections: In December 19 elections described as “undemocratic” by a number of foreign governments, rights groups, and mainstream Hong Kong pro-democracy parties, vetted pro-Beijing candidates swept to victory in a “Patriots-only” legislative election. Only candidates vetted by the government as “patriots” could run, and turnout was a record low 30.2% — about half the turnout of the 2016 election. Pro-democracy candidates were largely absent, and a crackdown under targeted legislation jailed scores of democrats, and forced others who had initially wanted to run into exile. The record low turnout is seen as the result of China’s imposition of a national security law and sweeping electoral changes intended to bring the city more firmly under its authoritarian control. The reforms limited the number of available seats, and the candidate vetting process all but assured the results. Almost all seats were taken by pro-Beijing and pro-establishment candidates, and these electoral “victories” are seen as advancing China’s policy of cracking down on the city’s freedom.

When interviewed, head of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong that won half of the directly elected seats, said the patriots-only rules would improve governance. “It needs some time for people to get adapted to this system.” China’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong described the election as a “successful practice of democracy with Hong Kong characteristics.” The Hong Kong branch of China’s foreign ministry said the electoral system was an internal affair and urged “foreign forces” not to interfere.

The inevitable results of the election and seemingly scripted official response to criticism sends a disturbing message and does not bode well for freedom or the democratic process in Hong Kong. As yet another bellwether for the future of civic freedom in Hong Kong, “based on external legal advice and risk assessment for the best interest of the university,” the University of Hong Kong removed the “Pillar of Shame” statue on December 23rd. The prominent statue, which had been on campus for more than twenty years, commemorated the victims of China’s Tiananmen Square massacre, and depicted 50 contorted bodies, some in mid-scream. It is to be placed in storage.