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Hong Kong Protests, Impeachment Probe, Huawei Deadline : NPR


RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The situation in Hong Kong is getting worse.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah, a fiery standoff at one of its major universities culminated with police storming the barricades in the predawn hours.

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GREENE: To stop them, protesters who were inside set fire to the barricaded entrances. Now, these demonstrations began almost six months ago over a proposed law that would allow people accused of a crime in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China. This law has been withdrawn, but the protests have intensified over concerns that China is tightening its control over the city.

MARTIN: NPR's Julie McCarthy joins us now from Hong Kong. Julie, thanks for being here this morning. Can you just describe the situation right now? What's happening at the campus?

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel. Well, the campus is eerily quiet right now. The protesters continue to hole up, and police continue to arrest those trying to escape. The student union president said there's about 600 people, quote, "trapped" on campus. And the closest we could get today was a road overlooking the campus and a footbridge that burned in the fighting overnight.

Polytechnic is an urban campus. It's full of these big buildings that are linked with footbridges, and the protesters controlled those bridges, stockpiling them like they were garrisons. And from those heights, they were hurling down arrows and gasoline bombs, and the police were pummeling them back with tear gas and water cannon and rubber bullets. It really looked like a war scene. And they warned the protesters to leave or face the consequences as rioters.

And you know something, Rachel, from those bridges, protesters also controlled the Cross-Harbor Tunnel all last week. It links Hong Kong Island to the rest of the territory. This was no ordinary protest, and the dramatic events on that campus marked a powerful turn in the violence for these anti-government protests.

MARTIN: Right. It's crazy to think about arrows. So this is the start of the workweek. I mean, how are the protests going to affect the city?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, the university siege ignited these hot spots around the school. That was the epicenter of disruption today. Reinforcements arrived this morning in the form of mainstream supporters, but they also clashed with police in some of these really heavily trafficked parts of Hong Kong near the school. One 29-year-old woman skipped work today to help the protesters. She identifies herself as Alice (ph) to avoid reprisals at work. And I asked her why she was out there.

ALICE: Democracy and freedom, to me. Many of us, like, we have no gear. We don't even have the mask on my face. And then many of the people like us were arrested. But this is nonsense. It's all about our rights and freedoms are suppressed by the government and also by Beijing.

MARTIN: So speaking of Beijing, I mean, what's the word from mainland China?

MCCARTHY: Well, the foreign ministry said no one should underestimate China's will to safeguard its sovereignty and Hong Kong's stability. But, you know, there was another signal this weekend that a lot of people interpreted as a warning.

For the first time since the protests began, the Chinese People's Liberation Army left their barracks in Hong Kong, and they were out volunteering, quote-unquote, "to clear the debris from the protesters" that had - that they left behind in their blockades. It was symbolic, and it was provocative. And for months, Hong Kong residents have worried about the PLA soldiers deployed on the streets to crack down, a reminder here for many of the PLA entering Tiananmen Square.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Julie McCarthy in Hong Kong. Thank you.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

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MARTIN: All right, David. We're going into Week 2 of public impeachment hearings, and Democrats get another chance to try and draw a direct line between President Trump and a plan to tie Ukrainian aid to investigations of Democrats.

GREENE: Yeah, so here we go into Week 2. And in Week 2, eight people are expected to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. President Trump has already raised accusations of witness intimidation for attacking former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch on Twitter. He also maligned Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence. This is - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to all that speaking to CBS on Sunday.

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NANCY PELOSI: The words of the president weigh a ton. They are very significant. And he should not frivolously throw out insults. But that's what he does.

MARTIN: NPR's Claudia Grisales joins us now. Good morning, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: OK. So the big news over the weekend - there were all these kind of developments, but two transcripts were released that were notable, right?

GRISALES: Yes, we got the transcripts of two closed-door testimonies. And these are for witnesses who are set to testify this week - Tim Morrison, the former deputy assistant to the president and top Russia adviser at the National Security Council, as well as Jennifer Williams. She's a special adviser to the vice president on Europe and Russia. And according to the transcript, Morrison called this July 25 discussion between the president and Ukraine's leader, quote, "unusual" and said he was concerned that its contents would leak. But he also did not think the president did anything illegal.

Williams, on the other hand, said she found the call both, quote, "unusual and inappropriate." Trump fired back on Sunday on Twitter. He said, quote, "Tell Jennifer Williams, whoever that is, to read both transcripts of the presidential calls and see the just-released statement from Ukraine. Then she should meet with the other never-Trumpers, who I don't know and mostly never even heard of, and work out a better presidential attack."

MARTIN: So this is the president of the United States attacking an aide who works for his own vice president. I mean, has Pence's office defended her?

GRISALES: Not directly. When asked for a comment to the president's tweet, the vice president's press secretary, Katie Waldman, told CNN, quote, "Jennifer is a State Department employee."

MARTIN: Because she officially works for the State Department, but she has been seconded to work for the vice president...

GRISALES: Correct.

MARTIN: ...And his national security team. All right. So now Week 2 - public testimony. What's coming up?

GRISALES: So Morrison and Williams are expected to testify in an open hearing on a very busy day tomorrow alongside former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, as well as Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who serves on the National Security Council. On Wednesday, that's another high-profile day because we will see Sondland, a central figure in this saga, alongside a Pentagon official, Laura Cooper, and State Department Undersecretary David Hale. Finally, on Thursday, Fiona Hill, the former top Russia adviser on the National Security Council, will come before the House Intelligence Committee.

MARTIN: So just remind us. Of all those names, it's really Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the EU, that's going to be incredibly important, right?

GRISALES: Correct. He's the former Trump donor-turned-ambassador to the EU who became a key player in these talks with Ukraine when U.S. military aides stalled out. He testified initially he wasn't aware of the demands for an investigation in exchange for the aid, but later revised that testimony on the heels of other witnesses' reporting - he was intimately involved in this plan.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Claudia Grisales looking out for all the public testimony in the impeachment inquiry this week. Thank you so much.

GRISALES: Thanks for having me.

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MARTIN: All right. So back in May, the U.S. government added the Chinese tech giant Huawei to this economic blacklist, citing national security concerns.

GREENE: Right. And so this meant that American companies could not do business with Huawei unless those firms had a special license. The thing is, a licensing agreement expires today, and the Trump administration is expected to grant an extension to renew it. So is Huawei getting a break here?

MARTIN: We've got NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond with us this morning. Hi, Shannon.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: All right. So just remind us how Huawei got in the crosshairs of the U.S. government the first place.

BOND: Right. Huawei is one of the biggest - the world's biggest makers of smartphones and telecoms equipment, and it relies on a lot of American companies to supply things like processing chips and, in the case of its phones, Google's Android software. The administration says it's worried, though, that Huawei and other big Chinese companies could be spying for Beijing or stealing intellectual property. Huawei maintains that the U.S. has given no evidence of spying, but back in May, the Trump administration put Huawei on something called the entity list; so that means U.S. companies can't sell products without government approval.

The real story here is the trade war going on between the U.S. and China, and Huawei is really being used for leverage. Back in June, when President Trump met with Chinese President Xi, they agree to a cease-fire while they - in the trade war, while they continued negotiations. And at that same meeting, Trump said that some U.S. companies would be able to do business with Huawei while those talks continued. So it's right in the middle of all of this.

MARTIN: And so why would the Trump administration grant this extension?

BOND: Well, when the government put Huawei on this blacklist, it also granted them - granted a temporary license that would let U.S. companies keep doing some work for a limited period of time to minimize disruption to their businesses; so that means companies could provide software updates to Huawei phones. And it was particularly aimed at some smaller rural cellphone and Internet providers in the U.S. that rely on Huawei for their networking equipment. Here's Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Friday speaking with Fox Business.

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WILBUR ROSS: There are enough problems with telephone service in the rural communities. We don't want to knock them out. So one of the main purposes of the temporary general licenses is to let those rural guys continue to operate.

MARTIN: So, I mean, this is aimed at those smaller organizations, those smaller companies. But writ large, how's this playing out for all U.S. companies that do business with Huawei?

BOND: Well, you know, this reprieve has been extended twice already. You know, as you said, it expires at the end of the day. Other publications are reporting it will be extended for a third time, though NPR hasn't confirmed this. But those extensions really are temporary, right? And U.S. companies say what they want to understand is how they'll be able to deal with Huawei going forward. The Trump administration says it's also working towards allowing some businesses to be able to sell to Huawei if it's not for sensitive national security areas.

Huawei says there are 200 companies, chipmakers and others, that want to sell them things and 40,000 jobs in the U.S. that could depend on those deals. In the meantime, Huawei has made great strides in finding alternatives to U.S. chips, even creating its own mobile operating system. So this fight with Huawei, in many ways, is maybe creating a stronger and more independent tech company in China.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's technology correspondent Shannon Bond talking with us this morning. Thanks, Shannon. We appreciate it.

BOND: Thanks, Rachel.

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