Barbara Ellen Kobbervig
Dorothy M. Taylor
Thomas A. Wheeler
China reacted furiously Thursday to President Donald Trump’s signing two bills aimed at supporting human rights in Hong Kong, summoning the U.S. ambassador to protest and warning the move would undermine cooperation with Washington.
Hong Kong, a former British colony that was granted semi-autonomy when China took control in 1997, has been rocked by six months of sometimes violent pro-democracy demonstrations.
Thousands of pro-democracy activists crowded a public square in downtown Hong Kong on Thursday night for a “Thanksgiving Day” rally to thank the United States for passing the laws and vowed to “march on” in their fight.
Trump’s approval of the bills was not unexpected. Neither was the reaction from Beijing, given China’s adamant rejections of any commentary on what it considers an internal issue.
Nevertheless, the clash comes at a sensitive time and could upset already thorny trade negotiations between the two nations.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng told U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad that the move constituted “serious interference in China’s internal affairs and a serious violation of international law,” a foreign ministry statement said.
Le called it a “nakedly hegemonic act.” He urged the U.S. not to implement the bills to prevent greater damage to U.S.-China relations, the ministry said.
In a statement about the meeting, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said, “the Chinese Communist Party must honor its promises to the Hong Kong people.”
The U.S. “believes that Hong Kong’s autonomy, its adherence to the rule of law, and its commitment to protecting civil liberties are key to preserving its special status under U.S. law,” it said.
The U.S. laws, which passed both chambers of Congress almost unanimously, mandate sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who carry out human rights abuses in Hong Kong, require an annual review of Hong Kong’s favorable trade status and prohibit the export to Hong Kong police of certain nonlethal munitions.
“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong,” Trump said in a statement. “They are being enacted in the hope that Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all.”
Prominent Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong, who was among those who lobbied for the U.S. laws, said it was remarkable that human rights had triumphed over the U.S.-China trade talks. Wong told Thursday’s rally that the next aim is to expand global support by getting Britain and other Western nations to follow suit.
Since the Hong Kong protests began in June, Beijing has responded to expressions of support for the demonstrators from the U.S. and other countries by accusing them of orchestrating the unrest to contain China’s development. The central government has blamed foreign “black hands” bent on destroying the city.
C.Y. Leung, a former chief executive of Hong Kong, said at a talk at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong that he doubts the U.S. or supporters of the bills “ever had the interest of Hong Kong in mind.”
He suggested Hong Kong was being used as a “proxy” for China and the legislation was a way to hit back at Beijing.
While China has repeatedly threatened unspecified “countermeasures,” it’s unclear exactly how it will respond. Speaking on Fox News, Trump called the protests a “complicating factor” in trade negotiations with Beijing.
At a daily briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang responded to a question about how Trump’s endorsement of the legislation might affect the trade talks by saying it would undermine “cooperation in important areas.”
Asked Thursday if the U.S. legislation would affect trade talks with Washington, a Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman said he had no new information to share.
Recently both sides expressed confidence they were making headway on a preliminary agreement to avert a further escalation in a tariff war that has hammered manufacturers in both nations.
You can’t learn to operate a 30-ton vehicle in a parking lot with a weight limit of 5 tons without the parking lot turning into asphalt crumble. And besides, if you’re learning to drive a semitrailer truck, a fire engine, police car or ambulance, it’s unlikely a parking lot will give you a real sense of what it is like to be on the road.
In October 2018, the Blackhawk Technical College Board agreed to buy a 38-acre parcel of farmland just north of the college where the college planned to build a specialized emergency vehicle operator course, or EVOC, for driver training.
But after touring other courses and talking to businesses and public safety officials, the college came up with a much more ambitious plan. It wants to build a public safety and transportation center that would include an EVOC, a specialized area that would mimic an ice-covered road, specialized areas for semitrailer truck and motorcycle training, a practice tower for firefighters, a “tactical village” for police exercises, a more realistic training area for electrical power distribution students, a water retention pond that would double as a place to train search-and-rescue divers, an educational building, and a new home for the center for transportation studies.
The town of Rock’s zoning committee has approved the plans, and the college will break ground on the EVOC this spring. The state allows technical colleges to spend $1.5 million on new construction in a two-year period. At that rate, the whole project, which could cost between $16 million and $30 million, would take between 10 and 20 years to complete.
Unless, of course, the college decides to go to referendum.
After BTC bought the land, staff members and administrators went on a tour of other EVOC sites in the state.
Rob Balsamo, the fire science, EMT and EMS program coordinator, led the group, which also included local firefighters, police officers, and representatives from bus and trucking companies.
“What we then looked at was safety, space and growth,” Balsamo told a faculty group this week. “That was really the driving factor to the point we are right now.”
Using part of the college’s parking lot for training is risky because of student and transit traffic. In addition, the area isn’t designed for trainees operating large vehicles.
Take, for example, a driver in the police academy who was given an unexpected instruction and instead of hitting the brake, he panicked and hit the accelerator. He hit a bank, went airborne and hit an oak tree, Balsamo said. Similar accidents could happen on a training track, but the setting would be designed to minimize the damage.
BTC spokeswoman Jen Thompson said many local agencies and companies have to travel outside of the county for such training. In addition, the college’s police academy has to rent out Blackhawk Farms Speedway just across the state line for training.
“We’ve had a lot of police departments in the (technical college) district and some outside of the district say that if we built an EVOC track, they would use it,” Balsamo said. “We’ve had trucking companies say the same thing.”
At the same meeting, Pierner commended the planning team for creating a “multiuse facility on a relatively small footprint” but warned its development is not a sure thing.
Pierner and his staff are still meeting with law enforcement groups, fire chiefs, and other city and town officials to make sure they would support such a venture.
The Blackhawk Technical College Foundation has agreed to pay for the cost of a consultant to do community surveys.
Based on the feedback the college gets from those surveys and user groups, Pierner will approach the board about “critical decisions in terms of funding.”
For now, the project is divided into two-year phases to stay within the state’s spending limits.
The college spent about $600,000 on the land, meaning it has $900,000 to spend. Pierner said that will be enough to complete the basic track and part of a skidpad.
The only way BTC could raise more money is through donations or a referendum. Such a referendum would require convincing voters of the project’s importance.
At Wednesday’s meeting, a staff member asked if the college had pursued contributions from its partners.
Pierner stressed the design had not been approved by the board yet, so it was too early for contributions.
The football game was on.
The appetizers were served.
It was Thanksgiving, both inside and out.
On Thursday, the Salvation Army hosted its annual Thanksgiving dinner inside its headquarters on Sutherland Avenue in Janesville. Outside, volunteers were taking to-go orders to people who were homebound or otherwise couldn’t make it to headquarters for dinner.
And everyone was thankful.
Maj. Tom McDowell, commanding officer of the Janesville Salvation Army corps, was thankful for all the volunteers who showed up and made the annual meal “run like clockwork.” Typically, the Salvation Army Thanksgiving dinner serves between 300 and 400 people each year. Last year was McDowell’s first Thanksgiving in Janesville. He said he woke up that morning a little bit nervous about the outcome. This year, he knew the volunteers would come, as they always do, and make the dinner run smoothly.
Lexi Monroe was grateful for her two boys, Sam, 10 and Max, 12. This was the first year they volunteered, but it was something they always wanted to do.
“We wanted to be a part of something bigger than us,” Monroe said.
Tina Reinke was volunteering for the ninth year in a row. She was thankful for the opportunity to help out.
“People are always so happy when they come here,” she said.
That’s what struck Tabitha Rein, as well. It was her first year volunteering. She had always wanted to spend Thanksgiving helping out. Now, with her children grown, she could fulfill that wish.
Miranda Olson was grateful for the courage to volunteer at the event.
She and her son, Gavin, 11, were volunteering in the dining room. She lost her 19-year-old son in April. This is her first Thanksgiving without him.
For volunteer Anda O’Connell, the improvement in her health has been the biggest blessing.
“I have something sort of different to be thankful for,” O’Connell said. “I’m glad to be able to read again.”
O’Connell had a stroke about two years ago, and that left her with some processing problems that are slowly resolving themselves. It took her about a year and a half to learn how to drive again.
Janelle Chipman of Milwaukee was in Janesville visiting family and friends who are like family.
“I’m thankful for my ‘framily,’” Chipman said. “You know—that’s the combination of family and friends. I’ve been blessed with a lot of them.”