HONG KONG – BRING IT ON

by Micha Horgan

In this era of jaw-dropping politics and marionette-style blunders, Boris Johnson has done it again. This time, though he may not have landed any more mums in Persian clinks, it seems he’s just landed Britain in a little more shit.  

‘Is anyone else seeing this?’ I thought (admittedly with some relish) as I read that 600,000 Hong Kong citizens are, on Boris’s invitation, seeking permanent residency in the UK within the next two years. 

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UN VOTES TO COMBAT NAZISM – BUT THE WEST OPTS OUT

By Howard Green

On December 16th, the UN General Assembly passed a proposal entitled ‘Combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance’. 130 out of 193 UN members voted in favour of it, and only two against: the United States and Ukraine. Similarly alarmingly, all EU member states and the UK abstained from the vote. Why are the nations who take so much pride in having defeated Nazism 75 years ago now refusing to vote in favour of combating it?

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CHINA TIGHTENS ITS GRIP ON HONG KONG, AND BEYOND

by Gunnar Eigener

‘The socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years.’

Chapter 1, Article 5 of the Hong Kong Basic Law

The recent introduction of the new Security Law in Hong Kong by the Chinese government has sent waves throughout the city, and beyond. The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is exactly the type of security legislation it sounds like. The law views subversion of central authority, secession from the mainland and collusion with foreign entities as criminal actions; furthermore, all applications of the law are open to interpretation. In line with communist tradition, the management of non-governmental organisations and media outlets will be stricter. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam gave her blessing to the legislation, and encouraged the international community to accept its legitimacy, but reactions have varied.

The tit-for-tat diplomacy that threatens to break out into a full-blown trade war between China and the United States continues to flare up regularly with the US, who is no longer justifying special trade and travel privileges for Hong Kong. In a gesture of solidarity with the people, Australia suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, and the UK reassured that it would not turn its back on its commitments to Hong Kongers. The UN has issued an oral rebuke, and The EU has urged China to reconsider the law. 

Two significant escape routes for the people of Hong Kong have presented themselves since. One is through the United Kingdom, where Boris Johnson announced that those in Hong Kong with a British (Overseas) Passport could gain British citizenship, with potentially up to 3 million who could claim. The second is through Taiwan, which has set up an office to help Hong Kongers resettle  and adapt to a new life in their own borders. There has also been increased internet searches for properties abroad, particularly in the UK, Australia and Canada. 

China is a friend that the UK and indeed most other economies, cannot afford to lose.

China has reacted strongly, however, accusing the UK of interfering in its former colony and accusing Taiwan independence activists of colluding with Hong Kong independence activists. Both countries face risk, as Taiwan lives with the constant threat of military action hanging over its head while the UK may well depend heavily on economic and financial relationships with China in the future. With its lure of cheap labour, as well as Beijing’s vast global investment funds, China is a friend that the UK and indeed most other economies, cannot afford to lose.

But alas, the UK has shown itself woefully incapable of influencing Chinese policy; only the US really has that power, but Donald Trump sways between disdain for Chinese business practises and admiration for the Chinese leader. Should Joe Biden win the upcoming US presidential election in November, the US might change its stance. Biden is likely to prove more amenable to creating strong trade bonds and dispensing with tit-for-tat diplomacy.

China is accustomed to acting with impunity when it comes to violations of human rights.

The new security law in Hong Kong is the latest in a string of assertive action against political dissent, and hardly comes as a surprise. China is accustomed to acting with impunity when it comes to violations of human rights. Despite outrage over the Uyghur ‘re-education camps‘, the international community has done next to nothing about it. Despite Chinese agents kidnapping dual-nationals and putting them on trial in China, the world has stood still. Even in regards to the land grabs by China in the South Seas and on the borders with India and Nepal, the global community says a lot and does nothing. It is little wonder that China is now unafraid to pursue aggressive state actions. 

China is not going to change. The belief from Western authorities that China can be slowly tempted to change its ways is not realistic. At the same time, pointing more missiles at the country is hardly likely to encourage them to lower their guard. China has never shown any intentions of softening its position on any of its issues, such as developing bases in the South China Sea, closing so-called re-education camps or giving independence to Tibet. Ever more media savvy, the reactions to any topic in which the country or party is criticised are always measured and strong-worded. China will continue to defend itself from public criticism even if that means cutting off its nose to spite its face. Suppression of the population through the Sesame Credit system, restriction on internet access, and threats of re-education discourage many from social and public criticism and, while the rest of the world turns a blind eye, China will push ahead. 

The situation in Hong Kong has drawn condemnation from various countries mainly because of its global financial status, but the biggest problem remains mainland China’s ability to mass-produce cheap goods; goods which Western economies are relying upon to reboot their domestic economies in the wake of Covid-19.

Most countries have incoherent policies when it comes to China. Condemning its actions while continuing to seek trade deals or accept Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Most countries have allowed their supply chains to become interconnected with China to the extent that any significant action poses an immediate and serious economic risk. The Security Law is a warning shot across the bows; China intends to bring what it considers its own back into the fold and increase its political and economic reach; and that likely extends beyond Hong Kong.


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CHINA STRENGTHENS TIES WITH MYANMAR AS HUMAN RIGHTS FALL BY THE WAYSIDE

by Yali Banton-Heath

Chinese head of state Xi Jinping made his first official visit to Myanmar (Burma) on Friday, where he met with State Councillor and de facto leader of the country Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint, and the Burmese military’s infamous commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Although it was Jinping’s first visit since assuming office, the occasion marked 70 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries and signifies a continued mutual desire to unite their economic and strategic interests. A total of 33 agreements were signed to speed up China-backed development projects in Myanmar and bolster the China-Myanmar-Economic-Corridor; a vital component of the wider Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. Both countries have track records of serious state-sponsored human rights abuses, and share an increasing disdain for, and distancing from the West. With the tantalising promise of economic prosperity, has China got Myanmar under its thumb, and will development come at the expense of human rights.Continue Reading

MYANMAR’S DISPLACED REMAIN RELUCTANT TO RETURN HOME, AND I DON’T BLAME THEM

by Yali Banton-Heath

New discussions have been taking place about the future of the displaced Rohingya population in Bangladesh, and their potential repatriation journey back over the border to Myanmar. The progression of the repatriation process however, as the UN has reiterated, remains frustratingly slow. A lack of guarantees, respect, and honesty on the Burmese government’s part is maintaining a firm unwillingness among Rohingya community leaders to make the decision to return home. But the Rohingya are not the only displaced minority demanding security guarantees and respect for their rights from the Burmese government. Elsewhere in the country, as well as across the Thai and Chinese borders other displaced ethnic groups – such as Kachin and Karen – are being faced with the same dilemma. Either to remain in squalid refugee camps, or make the journey home and risk returning to renewed violence and repression. 

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THE NUCLEAR STANDOFF

by Gunnar Eigener

Amid simmering tensions between India and Pakistan, in parallel with the Trump White House determined to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia and Russia’s illegal missile, which effectively ended the INF Treaty, climate change might not be the nail in the coffin; human society might just jump straight into the furnace.

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A DAM SHAME

by Stu Lucy

For the best part of the tail end of the twentieth century, rich countries in various guises have lent considerable sums to leaders of African countries, elected or otherwise, in order that they ‘develop their infrastructure’. Over the years numerous heads of state have accepted these tempting offers, skimming a little off the top for themselves and their cronies, leaving the rest to fulfil some grand construction touted by politicians as intrinsic to ensuring the economic success and prosperity of their beloved country.

Home to the source of the river Nile, Uganda has had its fair share of such development projects, most commonly in the form of hydroelectric dams. Since construction of the Owen Falls dam, the first to harness the power of the mighty river built under colonial rule in 1954, numerous other power stations have been constructed with help from international lenders such as The World Bank, alongside numerous import-export banks of countries set to profit from the dam’s construction.Continue Reading

NOTHING WILL STOP THE CHANGING ENVIRONMENT

by Gunnar Eigener

The environment is changing. All across the globe, weather patterns have shifted, resulting in abnormal meteorological behaviour and pushing society towards conditions it is not used to. The UK has just come out of a record-breaking heatwave. Japan declared a national emergency after heatwaves there killed 65 people. Wildfires in Greece left over 70 people dead and in California, over a dozen people are missing as fires spread. Visitors required evacuation from Yosemite National Park and wind threatens to fan flames in Sweden’s forests.

However, should we be surprised by these events? Continue Reading

AMERICA’S FADING ROLE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

by Gunnar Eigener

America’s influence in the Middle East is beginning to fray at the edges. This is bad news for both the region and the global community. America has, over the past decade, became something of a pariah in the area. Its foreign policy, already distrusted by enemies and allies alike, has looked increasingly unclear and erratic under the current administration.

While previous Presidents acted with caution and measure, the Trump White House presses on, having found in its new National Security Advisor John Bolton the man who would seemingly give weight to any decision that Donald Trump would be likely to favour, yet is already being rumoured to be behind Trump’s decision to withdraw from the North Korea Summit. Continue Reading

HEAVENLY PALACES AND SPACE JUNKS: CHINA’S QUIET SPACE REVOLUTION

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by Justin Reynolds

There was some apprehension as a Chinese ‘Heavenly Palace’ fell to Earth last week. The 8.5 tonne Tiangong-1 space station, adrift since China’s space agency lost connection with it two years ago, made an ‘uncontrolled’ re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere early on Easter Monday.

Fortunately there was never much cause for concern, the European Space Agency calculating the chances of being hit by debris as ’10 million times smaller than the yearly chance of being hit by lightning’. Most of the station burned up on contact with Earth’s atmosphere and the remaining fragments plunged into the South Pacific. But the episode had a eerie resonance, symbolising something of the West’s prevailing perception of China as an enigmatic, technologically advanced state, glowing with – rather like its wayward satellite – a nebulous sense of danger.Continue Reading