With the world reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, China is playing a tug of war with its autonomous territory, Hong Kong. Its alleged steps to dilute the autonomy of Hong Kong have drawn massive criticism internationally, but words seldom make China sweat.
China plans to introduce a fundamental change to its relationship with Hong Kong. Like all its previous attempts, China’s new plan has received a severe backlash from Hong Kongers and with it from the international corridors. Criticism from other countries has seldom affected China, and neither is it expected to this time. But that’s not to say that China isn’t at all interested in what the peers feel about the latest incursion on the independence of Hong Kong from the Chinese way.
In fact, President Xi Jinping‘s move aims to understand the exact extent to which the recent happenings have angered the other countries. The National Security Law gauges the limits of aggression that would be permissible in the current world order, going down fighting to the coronavirus pandemic that many see as China’s fault.
The Chinese Backdoor Entry through Constitutional Means
Hong Kong was a British Colony until 1997 when the Britishers ceded its control to China on the condition of maintaining a liberal society and a free economy till 2047. Since then, Hong Kong has been treated as a Special Administrative Region of China through its “one country, two systems” plan. Hong Kong has its own constitution, the ‘Basic Law.’ However, the Chinese government has time and again tried to interfere in the internal matters of Hong Kong, violating the 1997 understanding. That has led to severe protests by Hong Kongers aimed at upholding the promised democratic values and to end illegal Chinese incursion.
Watch: History of Hong Kong – From British to Chinese
A provision in Hong Kong’s “Basic Law” allows the enaction of laws “to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, and subversion against the Central People’s Government.” Earlier in 2003, the Hong Kong government’s attempt to introduce such an act faced massive resistance from its citizens. After a long gap of 17 years, the mainland Chinese government has enacted a national security law that calls for the prohibition of any actions in Hong Kong against the Mainland government and includes provisions to punish external interference in Hong Kong affairs.
Tibet’s hope for Independence and Taiwan’s fear of Invasion
Tibet’s call for separate land and the reinstatement of the Dalai Lama as their religious and political leader has been falling deaf ears for decades. Their plea is likely to lose weight at times; China is curtailing the autonomy of a territory it has designated as a Special Region and is happy to use the iron fist in suppressing Tibetan voices rising against its leadership whenever needed.
Whether it is the 2019 Extradition Law of Hong Kong or the current Security Law, Taiwan has been one of the first countries to object and criticize.
Its president, Tsai Ing-wen, has condemned every Chinese attempt at curtailing Hong Kong’s autonomy. The rationale behind it is simple, the fear of invasion. China has been long using the “one country, two systems” model to incentivize for unification. As China’s attempts at eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy will have Taiwan fearfully picturing a unified future. Moreover, China increasing its military hegemony across the South China Sea further affirms the Taiwanese fear.
Economic Interest of the West
Many Western Countries have directly attacked China for undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy. The grudge against China for mishandling the coronavirus outbreak may be the immediate reason for the western criticism, but the bigger picture here hints at economic interest. Hong Kong is believed to have emerged as one of Asia’s major financial hubs due to its capitalist markets and liberal society. It currently caters to billions in western investment. Any unauthorized Chinese interference may put these investments under threat.
Last week, US President Donald Trump promised to revoke Hong Kong’s special trade status. It may fall upon Hong Kong through many means like heightened tariffs, stopping of free dollar exchange, restricted technology transfer, and economic sanctions. Recently, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne, and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo issued a joint statement expressing concern about China’s arbitrarily undermining of Hong Kong’s autonomy.
The Chinese Defence/ Offense
China has been alleging major challenges to its national security from Hong Kong. It has insisted that the current law only aims at mitigating those threats. Wang Chen, the vice-chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, recently said that the law was not meant to demean Hong Kong’s autonomy in any way. Rather, it is much needed to sustain the “one country, two systems” plan. He further added that the Hong Kong government could have passed a law to the same effect as per the constitutional agreement of 1997. As it failed to do so, the Chinese government has had to step in.
The Chinese government even went on justifying the new law by stating the ‘International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ that talks about the importance of national security over any kind of freedom. The mainland Chinese government clarified that even with the new law, the policing powers would be attached to the Hong Kong administration, and there would be no dilution of autonomy of Hong Kong’s judiciary.
Watch: Beijing remains ‘very firm’ on national security law: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam
The outbreak of coronavirus has shown the whole world their dependence on China. China has frequently faced allegations of attempting to create an economic and political hegemony around the globe. The recent draft law on Hong Kong may become another step forward to its aim. However, it will be crucial to watch if the international community rises against it and helps Hong Kong to retain its much-cherished liberal and democratic society.
By: Amit Parhi