News APP

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  gplay

This article was first published 2 years ago  » News » Why China Is Worried About Hong Kong

Why China Is Worried About Hong Kong

April 07, 2022 10:24 IST
Get Rediff News in your Inbox:

'Although Hong Kong weathered many a storm and displayed a remarkable resilience to bounce back, the developments in the territory have raised question marks with regard to its future stability and prosperity.'
A revealing excerpt from Rup Narayan Das's Hong Kong Conundrum: Pangs of Transition.

IMAGE: Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist party of China, inspects troops at the People's Liberation Army's Hong Kong garrison, June 30, 2017. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters

The Hong Kong handover on the midnight of 30 June 1997 was a major event of contemporary world.

It was indeed a triumph of diplomacy when Britain handed over a prized territory almost after one hundred and fifty years of tutelage to the People's Republic of China.

When the British took possession of the island of Hong Kong, it was in the words of (then) British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston, 'a barren island' and when the Britain handed it over to China, it was one of the fastest growing economies of the world, the third largest financial centre of the world after New York and London, having a GDP of US$ 23,200.

After a century-and-a-half of humiliation and ignominy of the 'Opium War' followed by 'unequal treaties', the Chinese people could restore their national pride on equal terms from a position of strength.

The imperial esteem of China was inflicted a humiliating jolt on 29 August 1842 when the hapless Chinese commissioner Chi-Ying was dictated to sign on the dotted lines of the Treaty of Nanking on board the British ship HMS Cornwallis.

The wheel of history turned its full circle on 1 July 1997 when the ship Royal Britannica retreated from the shores of Hong Kong after taking with it the last British governor Chris Patten and other British dignitaries biding adieu to the last major colonial outpost of Britain.

Although a high degree of autonomy has been guaranteed for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, doubts were raised with regard to its implementation in letter and spirit.

Since the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress has the power to interpret the Basic Law (the constitution of Hong Kong), critics point out that the so called high degree of autonomy is vague and is subject to interpretation by National People's Congress of China

Further, article 23 of the Basic Law directs the HKSAR to enact laws on its own to 'prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People's Government, or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organizations or bodies from conduction political activists in the Region, and to prohibit organizations or bodies of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region from establishing ties with foreign political organizations or bodies.'

IMAGE: The Chinese flag is raised by People's Liberation Army soldiers at the handover ceremony in Hong Kong, July 1, 1997. China regained sovereignty of Hong Kong after 156 years of British colonial rule. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

Fragility of Hong Kong's resilience

Although Hong Kong in the past ever since its inception had weathered many a storms and displayed a remarkable resilience to bounce back, the developments in the territory in previous years have raised question marks with regard to its future stability and prosperity.

The root cause of this is the congenital irreconcilability of two divergent political systems -- China, a regimented Communist regime and Hong Kong, a classical laissez fare economy with ethos of a liberal democracy.

True, Hong Kong has survived under the shadow of a protracted civil war in the mainland China, the rise and birth of Communist China in 1949, the adverse effects of the second World War and its economic consequences, the power struggle during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution (1967-1969), but the developments ever since the Tiananmen Square incident of 1989 and the promulgation of the National Security Law in May 2020 and China's estrangement because of its belligerence with a number of countries including the 'Five Eyes' industrialised nations have greatly dented its much vaunted pride of resilience and adaptability.

The Sino-US spat and the trade war between world's two top economies amidst the COVID-19 resonated in Hong Kong, where the USA is a major stake holder.

Hong Kong has been caught in some sort of an ideological cold war between the 'Washington consensus' and the 'Beijing consensus'.

China's fear: Hong Kong, a base to undermine China

Beijing alleges that the Western democracies use Hong Kong as a base to undermine China.

Its concerns may be true; there may not be any denial of China's grouse.

But it is also a fact that Hong Kong as an enclave of democracy will continue to be an anathema to the Communist party of China particularly in the context of a suppressed desire for democracy and freedom in the mainland.

A large segment of Hong Kong populace born after the birth of Communist China lack a primordial affiliation to the mainland and even the aged and elderly who migrated from the mainland and settled in Hong Kong grew up in the milieu of liberal democracy even if Hong Kong did not have the electoral democracy of the Western variant, but it had a rule of law, a robust and vibrant media and the culture and values of liberal democracy.

IMAGE: A view of the central business district in Hong Kong. Photograph: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Can Shenzhen replace Hong Kong?

There are also developments to suggest that Beijing is now developing Shenzhen to supplement if not supplant Hong Kong. In mid-October 2020, President Xi Jinping unveiled some economic reform measures while speaking at Shenzhen on the occasion of 40th anniversary of the establishment of Special Economic Zones there.

He called it a 'comprehensive reform pilot project' to promote 'socialism with Chinese characteristics'.

He urged upon the city of 13 million to 'expand and accelerate all-round opening up policies, with institutional guarantees such as rules and norms'.

In his address, Xi said that Beijing had allowed Shenzhen to 'explore a more flexible policy, system, and a more scientific management system in terms of domestic and foreign trade, investment and financing, finance and taxation, financial innovation as well as personnel exit and entry.'

While Shenzhen has been touted as China's Silicon Valley, this is the first time that the budding metropolis has been exhorted by supreme leader Xi to excel in financial sector and services such as accounting, design and legal arena.

IMAGE: Pro-China supporters in Hong Kong, October 1, 2021, hold a giant Chinese flag on China's National Day. Photograph: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Can 'One country, two systems' be replicated in Taiwan?

Political developments in Hong Kong and China's iron fist attempt to suppress and stifle the democratic aspirations of the people have raised the efficacy of 'one country, two systems' in Hong Kong and the prospect of its replication in Taiwan, where the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is growing strong, and even the Opposition KMT sensing the people's sentiment in Taiwan has also started distancing itself from mainland China.

China doesn't care much about the economic wellbeing of Hong Kong; it has already started mentoring Shenzhen as an alternative financial hub.

China is rather more worried that if the pro-democracy movement is allowed to grow there in Hong Kong, in the long run it will have a contagion effect on China arousing fresh bouts of democratic aspiration there; it thus wants to demonstrate enough is enough, no dissent can be tolerated in the Communist regime.

While China's position with regard to Taiwan is that 'reunification is inevitable and China would never tolerate Taiwan's independence', the DPP maintains that it cannot accept becoming part of China under 'one country, two systems'.

From 2008 to 2016, the KMT party which is inclined and amenable towards mainland China was in power in Taiwan; during this period.

President Ma Yingjeou's position with regard to China had been 'no unification, no independence, and no use of force'.

The DPP is anathema to China because it doesn't subscribe to 'unification' with the mainland; rather proclaims 'independence' and this makes a huge difference.

President Tsai Ing-wen has said that Taiwan is an independent State called the Republic of China, its official name and doesn't want to be part of the People's Republic of China

British legacy

No study of Hong Kong is, however, complete without making some assessment of the British contributions.

Generally a very chartable view is taken in terms of British contributions in Hong Kong for the rule of law, the civil service and an enabling business environment.

There are also scholars who make a more objective and dispassionate assessment about the British legacy.

One major criticism is that the British did not develop representative institutions and they did so half-heartedly and in a piecemeal manner in the twilight years of its rule.

Beijing criticised Hong Kong's last governor Chris Patten for trying to fast track the representative institutions breaching the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.

It would be factually in correct to say that the British didn't introduce democratic reforms.

It has been amply demonstrated in the book the calibrated attempts of succeeding British governors to give representation to the local Chinese populace without inviting the adversarial and competitive electoral politics.

More than the electoral politics the rule of law, providing a level playing field, a vibrant and independent media and finally cosmopolitanism are some of the enduring legacy of the British tutelage of the colony; albeit with the caveat of George Bernard Shaw, 'An Englishman does everything on principles; he fights on patriotic principles; he robs on business principles; he enslaves on imperial principles.'

Excerpted from Rup Narayan Das' Hong Kong Conundrum: Pangs of Transition published by Knowledge World, with the author's kind permission.

Get Rediff News in your Inbox:
India Votes 2024

India Votes 2024