Before Deng Xiaoping opened China to the world, a popular way to glimpse the sealed-off mainland was by peering across the border from Hong Kong. Decades later, that remains a great vantage point. The 75 days of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement protest, broken up last week, showed how far Beijing officials go to suppress demands for political accountability.
Protests began when Beijing announced it would not honour its promise of universal suffrage for the people of Hong Kong. The Communist Party declared that the next leader would again be selected by a small group of Beijing appointees, a system that has produced successively less popular Hong Kong chief executives lacking legitimacy. The pepper-spraying of peaceful student demonstrators led 100,000 Hong Kong people to join the protests.
One of the most telling moments came when China declared “void” the treaty it signed to get possession of Hong Kong. That happened last month, when Beijing barred members of the British Parliament from entering Hong Kong. Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee had planned a visit to monitor the 1984 pact, the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong.
China’s deputy ambassador to Britain, Ni Jian, told the committee’s chairman, Richard Ottaway, that the Joint Declaration “is now void and only covered the period from the signing in 1984 until the handover in 1997.” Mr. Ottaway was so taken aback by Beijing’s position that he brought the editor of the Hansard transcript service to take verbatim notes on what the Chinese diplomat said.
This is a remarkable abrogation. The Joint Declaration committed China and Britain “to implement” its terms jointly. That means 50 years of autonomy for Hong Kong, including the preservation of free markets, the rule of law and freedom of the press. Only 17 years have passed since the handover.
During a three-hour debate in Parliament this month, Mr. Ottaway said: “Britain is a party to over 18,000 international treaties and agreements. To suggest that we have no right to assess the performance of our counterparties to such agreements is ridiculous.”
After the parliamentary debate, the Chinese Foreign Ministry reasserted that it could abrogate bilateral treaty obligations unilaterally. It declared Britain has “no authority and no right to oversight.”
The U.S. government had not focused on Hong Kong in recent years. A 1992 law required the State Department to report to Congress annually on Hong Kong’s democracy, but the provision lapsed in 2007. In reaction to Beijing’s failure to honour democracy pledges, members of both parties introduced a bill last month requiring annual certification by the White House that Hong Kong enjoys the autonomy Beijing was supposed to provide.
“Hong Kong is a test of China’s willingness to comply with its international commitments,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) said. “If China can so easily renege on its promises to Hong Kong, then how can we expect China to hold up its end of the bargain on issues like World Trade Organisation compliance of future trade agreements?”
Rep. Christopher Smith (R., N.J.) proposed a separate bill that would highlight how China has closed itself off. Beijing has denied visas or renewals for many U.S. journalists, including for those who reported on wealth amassed by top Communist Party officials. Mr. Smith’s bill calls on the president to deny U.S. visas to “executives of state-controlled media organisation from China in proportion” to the number of visa problems experienced by U.S. journalists. That would bar top executives of a Xinhua or a CCTV, but not U.S.-based reporters for these party organs.
Protesters promise more civil disobedience in Hong Kong until they get a more accountable government and an end to the slow corruption of their legal system, civil service and open markets. Those of us who’ve lived in Hong Kong know its people are perfectly capable of selecting their leaders. Meantime, Beijing suppresses dissidents, censors media and closes off the Internet on the mainland. No wonder a popular protest sign read, “Hong Kong is not a part of China.”
More than 40 million mainland Chinese visit Hong Kong (population seven million) every year. Some of them were heard shouting support in Mandarin for the Cantonese-speaking demonstrators. Mainlanders see the relative freedom Hong Kong enjoys and wonder when their turn will come.
Beijing’s reaction to the Umbrella Movement will make Hong Kong people more committed to using their 50 years of freedom to choose to gain the right to pick their own political leaders.
- China asserts paternal rights over Hong Kong in democracy clash; tells Hong Kong it must obey (chinadailymail.com)
- The battle against China for Hong Kong’s soul (chinadailymail.com)
- The Thugs of Mainland China (chinadailymail.com)
- Hong Kong recalls Tiananmen killings, China muffles dissent (chinadailymail.com)
- Xi Jinping’s rise in China threatens human rights and worries neighbours (chinadailymail.com)
- Hong Kong: 74 Days That Shook Asia’s World City – Will It Ever Be the Same? (accidentaltravelwriter.net)
- Obama Issues a Warning Over Xi Jinping’s Growing Power (time.com)
- China Just Broke Another Promise. Can One Country, Two Systems Be Saved? (dailysignal.com)
- Xi Jinping’s rise in China threatens rights and worries neighbours, Obama warns (theguardian.com)
- China -Taiwan Reunification (paulchong.net)