Operation Hong Kong | Dan Mikhaylov — Orthodox Conservatives
Popularised by Rome’s most distinguished orator Cicero, the story of Dionysius II of Syracuse and his curious servant Damocles has long been absorbed into the European conscience. Across epochs, writers have treated the sword of Damocles as a vivid epitome of ubiquitous, menacing perils, and this metaphor seems hardly inapplicable today. Hong Kong’s handover by the British authorities to China bares great semblance to this allegory, at least from the perspective of its seven million residents.
The 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration should protect them from Beijing’s political encroachments until the transition period’s scheduled conclusion of 2047; they are aware of the expiry date, remorselessly placed on their civil liberties. Hong Kongers are facing an unbearable and unenviable onus, having to go about their lives knowing the exact date when much of what they cherish will simply evaporate. However, being privy to the expected demise of the democratic society congenitally entwined with their weltanschauung and identity is only the tip of the iceberg.
In Hong Kong’s case, its inhabitants face repeated efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to subdue their freedoms even prior to the established end of the region’s autonomy. To these usurpation’s victims, the de-jure guaranteed within the framework of international law cannot be more divergent from the de-facto observed on the streets.
Most recently, China’s central government a series of bills for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, whose special status originates in of China’s constitution. Passed on May 28 in the National People’s Congress, this legislation will untie Beijing’s hands as far as the region’s security is concerned. Besides reportedly criminalising subversion, separatism, and manifestations of foreign interference, the law enables China to create an independent security body on Hong Kong’s soil.
This polemic move has met plentiful criticisms both itself and from journalists worldwide as commentators of different, mutually incompatible ideological convictions joined forces to lambast it as yet another Mainland Chinese attempt at tightening the noose around Hong Kong. Thus, the Spectator’s Benedict Rogers, whose contribution on the topic was titled, Hong Kong’s ‘one country, two systems’ is over, ended up on the same side of the barricades as his colleague from The Guardian, Chris Michael who that China’s security laws were betraying the people of Hong Kong.
The principle of Hong Kong’s autonomy, commonly abbreviated to “one country, two systems” as seen in those articles, was formulated in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration . Signed by the then Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang and Margaret Thatcher, this treaty explicitly circumscribed the former’s influence over Hong Kong to foreign affairs and defence issues. The judiciary and the local socioeconomic system accordingly “will remain unchanged for 50 years”, and the Chinese proposal seemingly contradicts this condition of the legally binding agreement between the two countries.
The treaty states, “the maintenance of public order…will be the responsibility of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”, whence security initiatives ought to be endogenous, rather than exogenous and dictated by Beijing. However, this piece of legislation is entrusting the NPC , more specifically, the NPC Standing Committee, to “formulate relevant laws on establishing and improving the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for the HKSAR” and incorporate them into Annex III of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. Here, it is important to note that the NPC rightfully promotes the region’s Basic Law as written in the 1984 agreements. George Washington University’s Jin Kai that this is likewise prescribed in Article 18 of the Basic Law. The NPC Standing Committee is “by reason of turmoil within the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region which endangers national unity or security” and is beyond the local officials’ control as it extrapolates “the relevant national laws” to the area.
Albeit conditional on there existing a public emergency in Hong Kong, this power should be recognised. And seeing as Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrier Lam declared an emergency last autumn, Beijing’s national security proposal is not entirely groundless. That said, the bill Wang Chen, the vice-chairman of the Standing Committee is advocating goes beyond more reorienting his nation’s approach to domestic security. His calls are about shifting the balance of power further towards Beijing.
Moreover, China that such fundamental rights of the inhabitants in question as those of assembly and strike “will be ensured by law” within its boundaries. Similarly, the 1984 document obliges Beijing to ensure that “the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights…as applied to Hong Kong shall remain in force”. Strengthening the central government’s grip on the region’s security risks violating these. And the country is balancing on a razor’s edge by restricting those freedoms due to the counterpoising security and public order concerns at a cost to autonomy. Equally indefeasible is that if China set up an independent security body in Hong Kong, its purpose would be minimal without China reneging on its international obligations. The handover agreement dictates that the armed forces that have been stationed in Hong Kong “shall not interfere” in its internal affairs.
In short, the Communist Party is on the point of dealing a significant blow to Hong Kong’s denizens as well as to international law. Neither should be surprising, given China’s history of perpetuating rights abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet and turning a blind eye to the Security Council’s embargo on North Korea. Worse still, China has emerged from the coronavirus outbreak anomalously far more aggressive in foreign policy, and yet the United Kingdom seemingly still has cold feet in dealing with such political forays by the Chinese authorities. This connivance is even more alarming, considering the scale and the potential implications of Chinese aggression.
In response to the intended crackdown on Hong Kong, the UK and its Commonwealth allies, Australia and Canada, have issued a statement condemning the bill and urging China to reassess the way it handles the autonomous region. This was definitely a welcome departure from what Johnny Patterson, the chief executive of the UK-based Hong Kong Watch, has described as a “limp, inane” British policy.
But this is insufficient. The surrender of Hong Kong’s territory might very well be water under the bridge, but safeguarding its rightful liberties by no means constitutes a lost cause. If London sincerely confides in its rights advocacy, it should abandon the directionless plan it has been religiously abiding and lead the charge in stopping the premature destruction of Hong Kong’s autonomy.
Understandably, Britain would struggle to mount any tangible opposition to the East Asian superpower alone, instead inflicting enormous financial self-harm. The UK is among China’s largest export markets and an extremely popular destination for Chinese investment abroad, from where a poorly orchestrated protest risks getting the UK hoisted by its own petard.
Beijing’s recent decision to Australian meat exports and ramp up tariffs on Australian barley has revealed that Beijing treats economics as inseparable from its geopolitical agenda. With this in mind, we should nonetheless avoid falling into the trap that Britain’s kowtowing would somehow result in dividends. As the last British governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten , “We keep on kidding ourselves that unless we do everything that China wants we will somehow miss out on great trading opportunities. It’s drivel.”
These comments aside, Britain would want to eschew the CCP’s full wrath, which is why the emphasis must be placed on coordinating a global response and recompensing Britain’s weakness with numbers. With the United States, India, and other political heavyweights standing at China’s crossheads together with Britain, Beijing will be more inclined to back-pedal on the issue of Hong Kong. Consequently, it is incumbent that Boris Johnson and his Cabinet look into not only those options that are most impactful but also those that may turn out to be most visible. Herein, we propound that the Tories consider taking China to the International Court of Justice and mustering international support for sanctions against the Chinese officials complicit in the country’s human rights violations.
Although the former move will likely remain ineffective at bringing about a reversal in the Communist Party’s attitudes towards the Hong Kong autonomous region, it is worth pursuing.
Inasmuch as the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty that is registered with the United Nations, there are grounds on which the UK may litigate with China over the latter’s breaches of the conditions of the treaty. Of course, this is but a small piece in the puzzle. In his article for The Guardian, Marcel Berlins reveals its limitations, including the ICJ’s dependence on the parties’ willingness to appear in court and recognise its jurisdiction. Naturally, this creates an impression of unreliability, but it does not arguably presuppose that we should overlook the ICJ altogether. Conversely, by reverting to its services as part of a much broader and coherent blueprint, the UK will help its case to gain recognition.
Firstly, turning to conventional measures will affirm our belief in existing institutions, while highlighting the country’s propensity towards resolving issues diplomatically. This appearance might not persuade Beijing, but it would prove to the nations currently sitting on the fence that the UK believes in China’s wrongdoing to the extent that a contrary court ruling seems implausible to its authorities. Our strength against such an economic powerhouse as Communist China resides in numbers, which will be elusive if the UK ignores the Sino-sceptics and allows itself to be portrayed as the aggressor by the Chinese media outlets.
In a stark contrast to an ostensible move to file a lawsuit against China in the ICJ, which will most likely lack coercive powers, authorising sanctions on Chinese functionaries and their private sector cronies is a policy that could force China to think twice about curbing Hong Kong’s freedoms before the arranged date of 2047 and is not entirely unrealistic given today’s circumstances. Firstly, the United States Senate has shown the otherwise rarely found bipartisan support for actions against China: the 1992 Hong Kong Policy Act and the 2019 Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act specifically addressed the issue of Hong Kong.
Both require the Department of State to conduct an annual investigation into the changes in the city’s relationship with Mainland China to inform the authorities if the conjuncture necessitates any alteration in the US-Hong Kong relations. The latter likewise requires the US government to impose sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong, and the White House is to stand by this commitment. and have also quarrelled with the Xi Jinping administration and could join in should the US actuate the process of sanctioning Chinese officials for their imperialist conduct in Hong Kong.
Secondly, the neoteric political praxis of applying sanctions on those accused of unilaterally renouncing their international treaty commitments has previously surfaced during Russia’s controversial integration of the Crimean peninsula in 2014. The United States and many of their European allies chose to endorse Ukraine’s claim that Russia had violated the 1994 Budapest Memorandum , and hence, their legislatures voted for sanctions not only on Russian state officials per se, but also on entrepreneurs deemed to have played an active role in supporting the Kremlin. For instance, on 6 April 2018, the US imposed on seven Russian oligarchs, including the Forbes list regulars, Oleg Deripaska and Suleiman Kerimov, citing links to Vladimir Putin and the country’s state-run enterprises. Arguably, the West could seriously contemplate imitating the model it had pioneered in Eastern Europe, when it comes to dealing with the Chinese authorities.
The gradual yet imminent Chinese usurpation of Hong Kong is a sword of Damocles looming over both the city’s residents and the international community. Its blade can become lethal, provided its existence is unaddressed. The mere fact that China is due to acquire control over the much troubled area of Hong Kong does not presuppose that it may obtain it before 2047. Giving way to breaches of the Sino-British Joint Declaration will only strengthen the CCP’s belief in its impunity, embolden it to grow more daring in its geopolitical ambitions, and provoke further diplomatic confrontations.
This is why resistance has to be mounted against Beijing, and Britain should play a role in this campaign because of the traditional connections it has to Hong Kong and its people. China’s containment should take many forms, and the Tory government would be mistaken to discard bringing China before the ICJ or the idea of sanctions. The former might prove crucial to exposing the wrongdoing perpetrated by the Communist Party in Hong Kong, whereas the latter could complement this with some harsh but more convincing measures.
If the Communist Party slowly devouring Hong Kong fails to inspire us to move away from the tenuous containment of China, to which the West has been accustomed, we risk having to coexist with as perilous a Chinese state as the sword in Cicero’s edifying anecdote about Damocles.
Originally published at https://www.orthodoxconservatives.uk on May 29, 2020.