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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