Archive for the ‘Politics’ category

Judicial independence is the basis of Hong Kong’s economic value

October 2, 2014

This is my translation of the first half of this post by chenglap on a Taiwanese forum. I think it’s a strong rebuttal to the argument (which many people share) that HKers should throw all their effort into making money and not get involved in politics.

You misunderstand. The importance of Hong Kong, when you come down to it, isn’t its substantive “economy”; it’s the liquidity of transactions there. Hong Kong is indeed a major economic city, but not for economic reasons: for political ones. Not even Hong Kongers themselves understand this. Hong Kongers commonly believe their value, and the reason they’re rich, comes from their understanding of economics and how to do business. On the contrary, Hong Kongers don’t really understand economics, and something else is the foundation of Hong Kong’s value: Hong Kong’s independence.

If you keep your eyes open, you’ll discover that all Western systems separate Hong Kong and China and treat them differently. Obviously China cares a lot about this, so it always demands that the word “China” be appended to the name “Hong Kong.” You won’t see them doing that with Shanghai or Shenzhen.

I’m not saying Hong Kong is an independent nation. I’m saying Hong Kong’s value is in its independence in external affairs, toward the world outside the ethnic Chinese community, that is, in the eyes of the world.

To become a financial center, having a big economy is just an entry ticket. Global credibility is the core question. To put it bluntly, it’s a question of how chaotic local governance is. Some places produce oil and diamonds and are very wealthy, but that doesn’t mean they can become economic centers. If you don’t have a government and legal system that meets international standards and is globally recognized, you simply have no way to guarantee the safety of the assets kept in your city.

Hong Kong is trusted because its systems are all independent from the People’s Republic of China. It has an independent currency and independent financial system. It follows the UNCLOS. It has a different judicial system than mainland China, one with the same source as the U.S. and U.K. It basically preserves separation of powers, so the executive cannot control judges’ legal decisions. It has a citizens’ jury system, lawyers, and a legal system that are all recognized by countries following the U.S.-U.K. framework.

Hence, companies are willing to line up and take a number to put their assets in Hong Kong, and extend credit there, -not- because Hong Kong has a “good economy”, but because they believe that Hong Kong will protect these things. The courts are the defender of everything. No matter how good the economy is, if the government can seize your assets at will there, and the courts that are supposed to defend you are on the government’s side as well, then that place is a “paradise of risk” and can never become a financial center. Finance is built on credibility.

Unless East China undergoes major governmental change, Shanghai will never have the conditions of a true financial center, no matter how much it develops. It won’t have its own currency, its own financial network, its own laws, nor credibility, because its credibility is equivalent to the People’s Republic of China’s. Chinese judges are appointed by the Chinese government. They don’t have independence. Foreign businesses that have business disputes in China with Chinese businesses do not believe that the courts there will protect them.

If Shanghai’s legal system cannot regulate the government, and the government can do whatever it wants there, independent credibility cannot be built there.

When Shenzhen was made a Special Economic Zone, the architects considered this point and thought about establishing a “Shenzhen Dollar”, and midway through seemed to want to strengthen the area’s autonomy as well. This is because they realized that the trust placed in Hong Kong stemmed from its autonomy, and from the government not being able to do whatever it wants there. However, Shenzhen was unable to win these rights. Hong Kong has the Internet domain .hk, and Taiwan has .tw, but could Shenzhen have .sz? Sadly, no; that’s Swaziland.

Through investment in industry and cheap labor, these cities can develop better economies than Hong Kong and have higher commodity prices, but how could they build independent credibility or a financial system that isn’t controlled by the government? How would they create an independent judiciary? It’s not that Shanghainese and Shenzhenese aren’t as hardworking or talented as Hong Kongers; they are, actually. But the systems that have already been established there stem from political issues and their issues cannot be resolved simply by making more money.

Outsiders don’t believe in Chinese Hong Kong’s economy; they believe in its credibility. Obviously, many often say that if you have strong fists you don’t need to defend your credibility. Yes, you could then shout at your people that you can do whatever you want and they can’t stop it, but foreigners won’t go for that. The business environment would be like a casino where you could win money easily but couldn’t leave with your winnings.

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Stephon Marbury: Beijing’s Model Migrant

September 1, 2014

Stephon Marbury is one of the three most significant basketball players in the world. As a star of the two-time-champion Beijing Ducks and active cultural ambassador, he’s arguably doing more for America’s image in China than any other individual[1], and the acceptance he’s received there is especially heartwarming considering the reception other people of African descent have received in the country[2].

The stone the builders rejected became a cornerstone. So it makes sense that he’ll be the protagonist of a new musical in Beijing[3], surreal as it may be for NBA fans who remember his feuds and losing seasons at home. Hopefully ESPN or NBA TV blows up Twitter by playing a subtitled recording of the show in the States. Here[4] is the playbill, including photos of Marbury, who will appear on stage, and Mike Sui[5], who will play him for the speaking roles.

Nothing in the public sphere is truly apolitical in China, though, and that’s also sadly the case here. The musical presents Marbury as a model migrant worker and implies that if only the others worked as hard as him, they’d be that successful too (the paucity of their legal rights go unmentioned).

“The play, which will run for 11 consecutive nights [during the National Day vacation], centers on the idea that Marbury is a successful Beijing vagabond, or beipiao — a Chinese term typically used to refer to the millions of migrant workers who flock to the capital in search of employment without official Beijing residence permits,” says the New York Times. “The plot follows the story of a musician, a beipiao himself, who arrives in Beijing in search of fame and is inspired to beat the odds by watching Marbury lead the Ducks to their first-ever championship during the 2011-12 season.”

In the playbill, Director Zhou Wen-hong says: “Regarding Marbury’s success, his spirit has even greater social significance. Overcoming difficulties, never giving up, never compromising: everyone says these inspiring phrases, but how many people really accomplish them like Marbury has?”

Starbury is hardworking and he does come from afar, but presenting him as a model for China’s migrant workers is like lauding Mario and Luigi and questioning why the rest of the world’s plumbers aren’t that rich and famous. Even Horatio Alger would furrow his brow at the comparison.

It’s not just that Marbury was already a rich and famous basketball star when he came to China, meaning he had orders of magnitude more capital, leverage, and connections than any average person, and he joined an inferior league. It’s also that under China’s household registration system, migrant laborers are quasi-illegal immigrants within their own country and are mostly shut out of receiving any social services.

Basically, in China wherever your family was based in the 1950s determines where you and your children “belong” now. It’s like if you moved to Boston from Iowa but couldn’t put your kids in Boston schools or participate in the state pension or medical insurance system. “Only 1 in 7 of [China’s 262 million migrant workers] is participating in any form of pension and only 1 in 6 has medical insurance. In combination with this lack of access to most forms of social security, migrant workers are disproportionately employed in dangerous jobs, and as a result migrant workers accounted for 70% of all work related deaths in China in 2012 (according to the China Labour Bulletin).”[6]

Children normally inherit their parents’ hukou, regardless of where they are born, and are often barred from the public schools in the places they grow up[7], even in Beijing[8]. Changing your registration is possible but very difficult; you typically have to strike it rich first. Scrapping the system is out of the question; cities oppose changes proposed by the center; reform is slow; and even this year’s proposed changes are incremental[9]: i.e. “the very largest cities – defined as those above 5 million in population, which covers a dozen or more Chinese conurbations [including Beijing] – are still advised to ‘strictly control the scale of the population,’ using a points-based system to give priority to those with college degrees or who have studied abroad.” In the meantime, social activists and parents across the country will keep pushing for systemic reform.

By and large, Chinese migrants are improving their lives and giving themselves better futures despite all this, but they’re doing so in spite of the system, and they’ve never received the protection or opportunities they deserve. So, while it’s nice that Marbury and the city want to inspire them—Marbury has also been chosen as an “official role model in a citywide campaign encouraging people to ‘work hard and live morally'”—migrants are already doing everything he is and just don’t get the same opportunities. Paradoxically the message “work hard and live morally” seems crafted to give a mistaken impression people aren’t doing that now.

There’s a lesson here for Americans as well. Just as Marbury is presented as a model migrant worker despite having privileges no Chinese migrant would dare dream of, commentators like Bill O’Reilly compare Asian-Americans to African-Americans despite the chasmic differences between these two groups and then argue the wealth disparity between them proves African-Americans just aren’t working hard enough. Eddie Huang has already sautéed O’Reilly[10] about the speciousness of the comparison; in short: US immigration policy ensured Asian immigrants to the U.S. typically had particularly high levels of wealth and education; they had large family and social networks as they had generally suffered less state violence; and they and their descendants have received better treatment here from law enforcement and other institutions. Thus, while Asian-American success should be celebrated, using it against African-Americans is a divide-and-conquer strategy fit for colonialists.

It’s great to see people beat the odds, but their stories are remarkable for a reason: environment and history still determine what your odds are. Stephon Marbury deserves the accolades he’s received, but his Beijing career shouldn’t be likened to the struggles of the disenfranchised. Revel in Starbury’s fame, but dunk on politically motivated mythmaking whenever you see it.

James Smyth is a translator in Taiwan.

[1] http://grantland.com/the-triangle/the-humbling-of-stephon-marbury-and-the-limits-of-the-chinese-basketball-association/

[2] http://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/08/on-being-african-in-china/279136/

[3] http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/08/28/stephon-marbury-the-musical-a-tale-of-making-it-in-beijing/

[4] http://t.damai.cn/fanclub/dealtail/138/

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HENoGStC6As

[6] http://cambridgeglobalist.org/2014/07/29/dangerous-dirty-demanding-chinas-migrant-workers-hukou-system/

[7] https://digital.law.washington.edu/dspace-law/bitstream/handle/1773.1/1165/21PRPLJ591.pdf?sequence=1

[8] http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1518536/parents-protest-against-new-rules-barring-non-beijing-children-primary

[9] http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2014/08/04/chinas-hukou-reform-plan-starts-to-take-shape/

[10] http://thepopchef.blogspot.tw/2014/08/i-hate-you-bill-oreilly.html?m=1

How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region

August 23, 2014

Amazon Link

I’m extremely fortunate to have stumbled upon this book. It reconstructed my views on developmental economics and doubles as a strong rejoinder to dogmatic laissez-faire.

It explains how Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China have advanced so much economically–by following the 18th century English and 19th century American and German models of protected development, best described by Friedrich List–and how Southeast Asian nations have struggled despite taking far more of the neoliberal prescriptions of Adam Smith and the World Bank and IMF than their northern counterparts. There’s much to learn about here but we can summarize the three steps to prosperity as follows:

1. Peasant farmers must be given ownership of their land and receive infrastructure and technical support to increase productivity and build wealth. Fair land redistribution spreads wealth so much better than trickle-down economics.
2. During industrialization, infant industries must be protected from foreign multinationals, but there must also be enough domestic firms in each field to allow genuine competition, as monopolies degenerate into rent-seeking. Deals with foreign firms must require technology transfer in exchange for market access to allow the nation to build its knowledge base. Promising companies need sufficient capital to undertake long-term investment. To determine which firms deserve funding, use export performance as a benchmark because it is an objective indicator of competitiveness.
3. Finance must be directed toward productive development, not real estate and stock speculation.

Again, it’s not what race you are that determines how well your country does; it’s how effective its policy is. Learn about what’s been proven to work by reading this.

Pope Francis’s Wakeup Call in Korea

August 20, 2014

“ASIAN YOUTH, WAKE UP!”

Pope Francis rarely gives speeches in English (like Asian youth, he is worried his English is too poor!) but he did for us in Korea and the above was the exhortation that he wanted to stick in our minds. For great reason.

But first let’s rewind a bit: I spent the weekend in Seoul to attend Masses Pope Francis said there. They were amazing. Most attendees came from countries where there are relatively few Catholics, so it was a joyful time for everyone to celebrate their shared faith, not just explain it, and make new friends from all over the place. There were spontaneous songs and dances all around, including some by a troupe of indigenous people from Hualien, Taiwan in traditional garb, and people from different countries so high they were jumping into each other’s pictures to say hello (so now our group is in the group photo for a big Korean seminary.) Many non-Catholics came to be a part of it all as well, and they were welcomed.

I saw the Pope with my own eyes thrice. The first time was as he was driven to the Seosumun shrine just outside Seoul’s old city walls to commemorate 124 martyrs who were killed there (echoing St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome). After that ceremony, he drove to the central plaza of Seoul to beatify the martyrs at a Mass with 800,000 attendees, and I followed him there on foot. We who were too far behind all watched the proceedings (Latin Mass, Korean subtitles) on giant Samsung LCDs mounted around the square.

At Seoul the police presence was extremely heavy, as if they thought we had all come to protest him: it seemed clear the Force’s methods and traditions had not significantly changed since the rule of the dictator Park Chung Hee. However, I was able to get much closer the next day, in a distant castle where thousands of Catholics had been killed over the course of a century of persecution.

He passed by on the Popemobile on a path 10-15 feet in front of me at the Asian Youth Day closing Mass for 40,000 people at Haemi Fortress. Each time he blessed us all (looking past cameraphones to people’s faces) and each time he was warm. As he approached youth would run toward the car yelling “Papa, Papa!” (He also said an Asian Youth Day Mass in a packed World Cup soccer stadium in Daejeon on Korean Liberation Day. He traveled there by high speed rail and only after the train got going did the conductor tell the hundreds of other passengers they were sharing a ride with the Pope!)

But the amazing thing about his trip is that his small-scale events had an even larger social impact than the aforementioned large-scale ones. When he wasn’t at Mass praying and blessing, he was meeting and a long lineup of the marginalized–families of children killed in the April ferry disaster, women forced into sex slavery during World War II, the elderly, disabled, and sick–and giving them love and concern. He spoke about social problems close to home like youth suicide–old as he is youth relate to him because he knows what they’re worried about. He met the President of Korea as well, but mostly the pontiff was with the least of our brothers, bringing journalists along with him to get them in the headlines, and saying loud and clear whom he wanted to receive more attention.

Korea is getting richer and richer and the Pope came and spoke about emerging problems people had started to feel and to tell them to do something about it, the way their forefathers risked their lives for faith. “Do not be afraid to bring the wisdom of faith to every aspect of social life,” he said. He also urged us to discern “what is incompatible with your Catholic faith … and what aspects of contemporary culture are sinful, corrupt and lead to death” and instructed us to look out for the elderly, poor, and sick.

Some people don’t want to get too involved in society or in politics, which is the structuring of society. They just want to live their lives. However, I’ve often thought, of late, that in free societies the people who can most afford to do this are those who haven’t yet felt politics and society crushing them. In other words, politics is abstraction for the fortunate, but it’s urgent for the unfortunate.

I think Francis in telling us to wake up was saying anyone who can afford to come out and see him can also afford to act. And I pray we all do! Perhaps I’m paranoid but my reading of social trends tells me that not only is there more than enough for Christians to do for others; there are also vises tightening on everyone, and we need to recognize them for what they are. Youth, wake up, and don’t despair. The Cross has the same power over death as ever.

1000 Words on Ron, Hermione, and the Widening Class Divide Between Them

February 3, 2014

SOOO JK Rowling just stated (in an interview for a magazine Emma Watson guest-edited) that she regrets pairing up Hermione and Ron, and that Hermione should have ended up with Harry instead. (As always she apparently didn’t have anything to say about Ginny.) This vexes me on multiple levels, and whether an artist can break through the fourth wall from the outside and change a piece after everyone’s already appreciated it (a classic philosophy of art debate question, and fwiw I think the reader’s agency/free will must be respected as well) is the -least- of them. ACCIO ESSAY:

1. To be honest I don’t think Rowling should have paired ANYONE up.
A. Aesthetic Reasons: Harry Potter was awesome when it was a fun magical detective story with plentiful parodies of modern life that starred good-hearted, well-rounded characters. As I wrote six years ago (https://www.facebook.com/notes/james-smyth/j-k-rowling-is-the-worlds-1-harry-potter-fanfiction-writer/5608952890) the first three books are the strongest because they’re the leanest and most faithful to the series’s natural strengths. The romances as she wrote them distracted from rather than strengthening the story’s themes, made the characters seem thinner rather than deeper, and should have been cut down or left out. (Protip: don’t get famous until you FINISH your fantasy series unless you have insanely incorruptible artistic integrity like Tolkien.)

How fun would it have been to go all the way through the story with flirting between all the characters and then let the fans keep chatting about who worked best together after that? When the author forces closure by tying together unnaturally, she limits the readers’ imaginations.

B. Moral Reasons: It’s so 16th century to think everyone needs to be paired up by the time the story’s over. Any of these characters could have had a perfectly fulfilling life as a single person as well (like Hagrid or ::cough:: Dumbledore), or met a special someone from the Muggle world off-camera. Students especially, the target audience of HP, are already full of anxiety about having to find someone to love by the time they graduate and these books reinforced that. Quick romantic pairings in epilogues also give the impression that love is easy or just happens when you’ve got things figured out when it’s actually a whole other huge lifelong adventure.

2. That said, she did pair them up, so what really makes Rowling’s new perspective depressing is how classist it is. Harry Potter and the Specter of Social Stratification? Harry Potter and Elite Self-Segregation? I know she doesn’t think of it that way but, especially after reading the Ross Douthat class warfare article from yesterday, this is how it looks to me:

What changed here is not the characters but JK Rowling herself. Once a single mother who wrote stories on napkins, she has now been one of the richest and most famous people in Britain (always a more stratified society) for 15 years, which means she’s spent years immersed in a totally different, wealthier world than the world from which this series sprang up. In other words, the J.K. Rowling who wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone no longer exists.

When the Muse wrote the books she chose Ron-Hermione and Harry-Ginny (now Rowling is making it look like she created Ginny just to give Harry a girlfriend, which is capital-T Terrible, but let’s move on.) 2014 Rowling describes Ron-Hermione as “wish fulfillment” that she wanted to be true but which couldn’t actually work. Harry and Hermione could definitely have worked! But so could Ron and Hermione. There’s enough chemistry and space between the lines for either relationship to be fulfilling, and for either one to be “wish fulfillment”.

What this latest statement looks like to everyone who reads it is “Ron isn’t good enough for Hermione (and Ginny isn’t good enough for Harry)”, not least due to its Hermione-centrism. How are Ron and Ginny not good enough, though? That case looks really classist to me:

Hermione is a genius and the only child of a pair of dentists. Harry grew up poor but is now a wealthy heir, a sports hero, and The Chosen One. (Also an only child.) Ron is the youngest son of a big, poor-and/but-happy (Catholic?) family and has a serious inferiority complex. Ginny is the youngest child of this family, is painfully shy, and isn’t “the best at anything” either.

The two elites in this group, in terms of achievements, money, as well as character traits associated with success, are obviously Harry and Hermione. But is the closest match/complement in these characteristics what matters for a relationship?

Not to be too maudlin, but I think of how loving the Weasley household is and how comfortable Hermione was staying there all summer (I wanted to be there too!). How Ron isn’t too intimidated of Hermione to make fun of her, but also how much he admires her and is supportive of her. How much integrity both Ron and Ginny had. Ron and Hermione had communication problems but so do people in every relationship! Who’s in love with each other? That’s the unpredictable and way more important thing, and if Ron and Hermione loved each other in JK’s imagination she doesn’t get to say years after the fact that they shouldn’t. (Besides, Adult Ron with things figured out would be at least as awesome as Young Adult Rupert Grint, right? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-2108756/Harry-Potter-selling-ice-creams-Rupert-Grint-fulfilling-childhood-ambition.html)

Why does all this matter? Because while the increasing intensity of social and economic stratification is undeniable, more and more “successful” Americans are looking for romantic partners who are their equals in these same categories and limiting their associations with those in the lower classes.

And even if, like me, you think success is defined by how far you carry a cross and not having nice jobs in the Ministry of Magic and sending your kids to a nice school like Hogwarts, you find that society perpetually pressures the “less successful” partner in a relationship and you appreciate any relief from that stress that you can get.

So, motion denied, J.K.

Two heroes of Japanese liberalism have passed over to the Grey Havens

January 3, 2013

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Keiji Nakazawa
Asahi Shimbun Obituary

When Keiji Nakazawa was 6 years old, the Hiroshima atomic bomb vaporized nearly his entire family.

He portrayed this experience in a comic book.

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As far as I know, Barefoot Gen is the most famous anti-war work in Japanese history. Search for it in Google Images and it will imprint itself in your mind as well. The art style, typical of fun adventures, makes what is depicted inside feel even worse. Perhaps if a book like this were required reading in American junior high schools, we would not declare another war of choice. Irrespective of America, Nakazawa’s work has doubtless been monumental in Japanese culture. My junior high school there had a student performance of it every few years.

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Beate Gordon

Read the New York Times’ obituary. It’s one of those that’s so astonishing you wonder why you’ve never heard of this person before.

Beate Sirota Gordon introduced women’s rights to postwar Japan, writing the clauses specifically guaranteeing them into the Japanese Constitution, emancipating 40 million people, when she was 22 years old.

Gordon studied other nations’ constitutions and drew on her childhood experiences in Tokyo and wrote the articles in a week. A sleepless week. Imagine all your learning and moral training and ethical thought suddenly being put to the test, now, and you have to lay out the future legal status of millions of historically marginalized people.

And then she kept her role a secret for decades.

All she did in the meantime was introduce the West to every kind of traditional Japanese art and every style of Asian performance art she could find. It’s amazing to think of how little even Americans in the highest reaches of power understood of Japan when they began ruling the country after the war. And pre-WWII cultural globalization mostly meant Westernization. Ms. Gordon was very important to turning on the East-to-West cultural flows and contributing to the cultural relations between Japanese and Americans today.

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With her parents and Kosaku Yamada in Tokyo in 1928 (source: http://www.shinyawatanabe.net/atomicsunshine/ny/beateintroduction.html)

Mr. Nakazawa, Ms. Gordon, rest in peace. May our generation, too, have people as amazing as you.

Saudi Businessman Paid for Spanish King’s Hunting Trip in Botswana

April 21, 2012

King Juan Carlos Hunting
The King. Date undetermined. Photo by Rann Safaris.

Saudi Businessman Paid for Spanish King’s Hunting Trip in Botswana
Mohamed Eyad Kayali resides in Spain, where he represents the Royal House of Saud
El País: Un empresario saudí pagó la cacería del Rey en Botsuana
Mábel Galaz reporting from Madrid April 18, 2012

The King went on his controversial hunting trip to Botswana on invitation from Saudi businessman Mohamed Eyad Kayali, who has lived in Spain for years, as reported by El Mundo and confirmed by sources with knowledge of the expedition. Kayali, who has properties in Madrid and Marbella, usually acts as a representative of the Royal House of Saud in Spain, defending and driving their business. This lobbyist of Syrian origin was one of the people who accompanied the king on his safari.

In other news, whether it is coincidence or not, Queen Sofía decided to spend two anda half hours in the Hospital USP San José yesterday, where Don Juan Carlos is recuperating from a hip operation which began at dawn Saturday. This long visit was ten times longer than her first, on Monday, which was reduced to 15 minutes.

The royal family knows that its place in the public square is important and should be untainted by personal problems, which are private business. So the king and his children have decided to close ranks. All have gathered around Don Juan Carlos, the visible head of the Crown, who has never been in the eye of such a hurricane.

Doña Sofía arrived at the hospital at 1:30 PM. The Royal Family reported that the two had decided to have lunch together. They even gave details abot the menu. They both had greens for their first course. After that, the king requested a sirloin steak and the queen a hake; she no longer eats meat. Their private date was different from the visit on the first day, when they were surrounded for those few minutes by doctors and retainers.

The queen left the lunch smiling and relaxed and approached the press to inform them her spouse is “phenomenal”, “has an appetite”, and “is doing very well”. She only added, “I’ll say nothing more because there is nothing more to say.” As Doña Sofía approached her automobile, she heard a voice asking, “What’s your opinion of the trip to Botswana?” She did not respond. No one really expected her to.

The stage of closing the family ranks was completed yesterday with the visit of the Prince of Asturias, who has continued representing his father at public functions, yesterday in Valencia and today in Murcia. And with the presence of Doña Elena, who left her convalescing son for a while in order to be with her father, with whom she is especially close. She said about criticism of the king, “I haven’t heard anything; I’ve been working.”

Everything indicates that the king will be able to leave today. The director of USP San José, Javier de Joz, read the new medical report at noon on Tuesday and assured that the king is “showing great progress”. He explained that they had practiced new remedies and had intensified his rehabilitation, with several sessions per day.