Skip to main content

Notebook Politics


The international Blue Water Bridge at the Michigan-Ontario border (iStock)


North to South

The summer migration crisis sparked a big migration for border officers too 

It’s a warm morning in early autumn at the Michigan-Ontario border. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officers Ken Hammond and Greg Calhoun stand in a closed lane at the Port Huron primary inspection booths in their dark blue uniforms. It’s overcast, but both men wear sunglasses. Behind them, cars, RVs, and semitrucks split into their assigned lanes as they approach the booths from the Blue Water Bridge. The bridge, which connects the United States and Canada over the St. Clair River, quivers under the weight of the hundreds of vehicles, some from as far away as Arizona or Florida. 

This wind-swept bridge, sandwiched between Michigan’s Port Huron on one side and Ontario’s Sarnia on the other, is one of the four most heavily traveled border crossings between the United States and Canada. In 2018, more than 1.5 million personal vehicles and 800,000 trucks entered the United States through the port. As Officer Calhoun points out, that’s a big number for a small Michigan city with a population of less than 30,000. 

But the typical 15- to 30-minute wait here at Port Huron is negligible compared with the hours travelers spend at the Texas-Mexico border crossings in El Paso, where almost 12.4 million personal vehicles entered the United States last year. That’s why this summer, as the influx of migrants at the southern border intensified, CBP moved some of the officers at the northern border south to help keep operations moving at the Mexico border.

In June, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that the CBP priority of securing the U.S.-Mexico border was preventing CBP offices at the U.S.-Canada border from fixing “staffing and resource challenges.” But the report said those shortages mainly impair the effectiveness of the divisions of CBP responsible for monitoring the border between legal ports of entry. For the Office of Field Operations, the division responsible for the legal ports of entry like the Blue Water Bridge, the main consequence is longer wait times for travelers. 

Share this article with friends.

Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/Sipa USA/AP

Protesters make gestures to symbolize demands during a demonstration in Hong Kong. (Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/Sipa USA/AP)


Decades of fighting

An 80-year-old democracy activist sees a new generation take up his cause

Week after week, black-clad protesters face off with riot police in Hong Kong’s neighborhoods and business districts. Tear gas haze, laser pointers, blockade fires, and mall sing-alongs of the newly minted anthem “Glory to Hong Kong” have become common occurrences in Hong Kong’s summer of discontent.

Protests that began as a pushback against a now-withdrawn extradition bill have transformed into a social movement urging greater democracy and denouncing the Beijing-backed government leaders in the city of 7.4 million.

One of the protesters may not look the part: 80-year-old Pastor Kwok Nai-wang. But Kwok has been active in the fight for Hong Kong democracy since the 1980s, and now he’s watching as another generation takes up that cause.

Born in Hong Kong, Kwok grew up in a Christian home and studied philosophy at the prestigious Hong Kong University before attending Yale Divinity School and becoming an ordained minister. He returned to Hong Kong in 1966, where he became a pastor in Shek Kip Mei.

Shek Kip Mei Estate is the first public housing in Hong Kong built after a fire in 1953 burned down wooden shanties and left 53,000 people homeless. Most were refugees from mainland China who couldn’t afford Hong Kong’s housing.

Gambling, prostitution, and drug use were common in Shek Kip Mei, and Kwok began to see reaching out to the community as part of his role. Kwok’s church met with the residents, listened to their needs, and worked to help the poor and marginalized. The church put together community events, published community newspapers, and started a kindergarten. Kwok mentored young people in the church: In the 11 years he pastored the church, 13 parishioners decided to go to seminary, and half of them now pastor local churches in Hong Kong.

In 1977, Kwok became the general secretary of Hong Kong Christian Council, the ecumenical Protestant body in Hong Kong and the second-largest social service provider in the city. The more Kwok spent time helping the poor, the more he saw problems stemming from a “highly unjust society.”

He viewed democracy as the best way to allow Hong Kong residents to participate in government, and he says the current unrest is “because [citizens] don’t have a say in electing the chief executive, who is not responding in any way to the demands of the people.”

Even though the Chinese Communist Party tried to curry his favor with invitations to mainland China, Kwok remained active within the democracy movement, according to Hong Kong’s Apple Daily. Some pastors in the council disagreed with his social activism, claiming that the Church shouldn’t be involved in politics. Others thought that by drawing closer to China, Hong Kong churches would gain access to evangelize inside mainland China. Yet Kwok believed that Christians needed to pursue justice in society, and in 1988 he left to form the Hong Kong Christian Institute (HKCI), a pro-democracy Christian think tank.

Share this article with friends.

FrankHoermann/SVEN SIMON/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

A Huawei retail center (FrankHoermann/SVEN SIMON/picture-alliance/dpa/AP)


A tech cold war

The U.S. blacklists Chinese tech giant Huawei as a trade war intensifies

Tensions between the United States and China rose in mid-May after the Trump administration placed Chinese telecom giant Huawei on a trade blacklist over espionage concerns. In response, Google said it would suspend business with the second-largest smartphone maker.

Two days later, the U.S. Commerce Department delayed the ban, giving tech companies permission to work with Huawei for another 90 days in order to keep smartphones up-to-date and secure.

Huawei smartphones are powered by Google’s Android system, with Google’s apps preloaded onto the phones Huawei sells internationally. Without an extension of the deadline, starting Aug. 19 Google will stop providing hardware, software, and technical support to Huawei phones. New versions of the phones will not access popular apps such as Google Play, Gmail, YouTube, and the Chrome browser. Huawei would only be allowed to use the public version of Android through an open-source license.

The ban would have little effect on Huawei users in China, as the country censors Google, but would affect Huawei’s large European market.

In a way, the United States is taking an approach China has long employed: China’s Great Firewall has blocked major U.S. tech companies from entering the country while spreading China’s homegrown tech companies overseas. Chinese tech companies still use American chips and software from companies such as Intel and Qualcomm, as Chinese companies are unable to make them.

The U.S. government is concerned that Huawei and other Chinese telecom companies could pass data from the 5G networks in other countries to the Chinese government, allowing Beijing to spy on the U.S. government, its citizens, and its companies. New Chinese security laws require companies to provide information to intelligence officials.

While Huawei claims it is a private company owned by its employees, a 2019 study found that Huawei is owned by a holding company that is 99 percent owned by a “trade union committee.” In China, these organizations are essentially owned and controlled by the government.

New Zealand and Australia have agreed to ban the company, but Britain, Germany, India, and the United Arab Emirates have refused U.S. efforts to persuade them to join the ban.

The Huawei ban comes after a breakdown in trade negotiations between the United States and China. The Trump administration increased tariffs to 25 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods and made plans to tax another $325 billion worth of additional Chinese goods. Long-term frustration exists over China’s practice of stealing U.S. intellectual property and forcing U.S. companies to transfer technology to Chinese companies in exchange for access to the Chinese market.

As tensions heightened, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV canceled scheduled programming and instead showed anti-American movies that depict Chinese soldiers fighting Americans in the Korean War, according to Hong Kong news site Inkstone. China may retaliate against the Huawei ban by cutting U.S. access to rare earth minerals, used for high-tech electronics and military equipment. On Monday, state media reported that President Xi Jinping visited a rare earth company in Jiangxi province.

Under Xi’s rule, the government has become more authoritarian, stifling religion, free speech, and dissent. Liberal economists who were once celebrated when China began to reform and open up are now silenced and barred from leaving the country. The Tiananmen Square massacre, which occurred 30 years ago in June, is still a censored topic. Remaining family members of those killed on that fateful day are still hoping and waiting for the government to investigate the massacre, punish those responsible, and clear protesters’ names.

According to Zheng Yongnian, director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, China’s hard-line stance is responsible for alienating the West: By refusing to revisit the Tiananmen Square massacre, it has placed itself in conflict with free nations.

“Ideology is what is really behind the trade war,” Zheng told the South China Morning Post. “The West has lost its hope on China because they think China has given up on universal values. The trade war is only an illusion—it is about conflicts of ideologies and material interests.”


Spying for China:

A U.S. federal judge sentenced former CIA agent Kevin Patrick Mallory to 20 years in prison for passing to China classified documents that “contained unique identifiers for human sources who had helped the United States government” in exchange for $25,000.

—This is an expanded version of the Notebook page that appears in the June 8 print issue.

Share this article with friends.