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Global action needed as Beijing ramps up pressure on Hong Kong and Taiwan

Posted By on May 29, 2020 @ 15:15

As the world remains focused on the Covid-19 pandemic, the Chinese Communist Party has set about boiling two frogs. Beijing has turned up the heat on Hong Kong. It’s also stepping up its attempts to isolate and coerce Taiwan.

Both situations present opportunities for Australia and other countries to act to support the freedoms of people in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The reasons to do so are moral and practical: it’s the ethically right thing to do in the face of Beijing’s coercion, and maintaining such freedoms is critical to our own society because it helps create the type of world we want to live in.

The rubber stamp of the National People’s Congress has come down on the hastily produced new national security legislation that Beijing is imposing on the people of Hong Kong. It was done with an unsurprising lack of debate, followed by a mandatory ringing endorsement. But only in Beijing.

When these new national security laws are enacted in Hong Kong, criticism of the Chinese government, acts of public protest, strikes, not singing the Chinese anthem and abusing the Chinese flag will be criminal acts. Protests will be able to be characterised as terrorism and mild criticism of Chinese leader Xi Jinping as sedition, with lengthy jail terms the result.

It also appears that mainland security agencies—like the People’s Armed Police and the ministries of state and public security—will establish formal presences in Hong Kong and enforce the new laws (no doubt using Hong Kong police and authorities as proxies where necessary).

We’re being told [1] that this is all in response to the protests in Hong Kong. What a short memory Beijing is banking on the world having. It can’t be too hard to remember the rolling protests in Hong Kong starting in March last year, some of which involved around 2 million [2] people, or nearly a quarter of the city’s population. These numbers make it impossible to believe that these mass public protests are the work of terrorists or foreign agents. It’s exactly the kind of mass movement for political change that Beijing fears.

It also can’t be too hard to recall that the reason for this mass public movement was a previous effort by Beijing to limit Hongkongers’ freedoms, which the People’s Republic of China guaranteed [3] would remain unchanged for 50 years from 1997 when the UK ceded control of its former colony. That attempt was in March 2019 when Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam worked to put an extradition law [4] into effect so that Hongkongers could be tried in mainland China.

That turns out to have been a mild, soft play by the Chinese authorities and internal security apparatus compared with what Beijing has now begun.

Beijing’s intent is clear and aligns with Xi’s mindset that the ruling party is engaged in an endless struggle to maintain its power. That struggle is partly an internal one; an example is Xi’s anti-corruption campaign that has also cemented his supporters within the CCP. But it’s also a struggle against the Chinese people, against ‘separatists and terrorists’ whether in Tibet or Xinjiang (and now Hong Kong), and against other systems of government—particularly democracy, which cuts at the heart of CCP rule.

Back in late 2017 [5], Xi had warned the party that the future held a period of ‘tireless struggle’, although he can’t have known quite how much truth he would wind around this notion in just 30 months. Right from the start, the CCP’s reaction to the pandemic has been flavoured by the struggle for control—in the narrative war with its own people and the wider world and in the enormous economic and geostrategic challenges that China faces as a result.

There has been a strange lack of focus in analysis of Beijing’s pandemic misinformation campaign [6] on the leadership’s drive to stop widespread criticism within China of the party’s response, notably during the early months in Wuhan. Yet Hong Kong needs to be understood in this light.

To the CCP, Hong Kong is all about mainland China. Xi’s actions to repress Hongkongers’ freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom to strike are aimed at preventing the political contagion of freedom from spreading inside mainland China. Freedom of speech could reignite widespread public criticism of the party over the growing problems created by the pandemic.

The Chinese government does not want a vibrant example of political freedom showing its 1.4 billion citizens that there’s an alternative to the authoritarian rule they live under, particularly when that alternative is a part of their own state. So Beijing has decided that now is the right time to engage in that struggle with the people of Hong Kong.

What should the world do? This is a Tiananmen moment for the rest of us. The new laws, and the enforcement and implementation action that Beijing will take as a result, are inflicting tragic human rights abuses on 7.5 million people. It’s possible to prevent at least some of the courageous people of Hong Kong from spending years in Chinese jails for acts (and thoughts) that are guaranteed in the commitments the PRC made before the world in 1997, just as it was possible to save thousands [7] of Chinese citizens from arrest and arbitrary detention in the aftermath of the PLA’s massacre on the streets of Beijing back in 1989.

Doing so involves governments—including Australia, Canada, EU member states, the UK and the US —opening paths to citizenship for Hongkongers fleeing the territory, as Prime Minister Bob Hawke and other leaders did for Chinese citizens fearing a return to the PRC after Tiananmen in 1989. It also involves the nations with Magnitsky-type laws [8] imposing targeted sanctions against individual decision-makers and officials in Beijing and Hong Kong who are putting these repressive, abusive measures into effect.

For Australia, that means fast-tracking the results of the parliamentary inquiry [8] into such a law and then having the courage to act with other international partners [9] by using it. The EU [10], Canada, Australia, the UK and the US [11], as well as New Zealand [12] and Japan [13], have already shown alignment in condemning Beijing’s proposed laws.

Whether it is the right approach to follow potential US action [14] to restrict economic engagement with Hong Kong because the Chinese government is restricting freedom in the territory is another matter. It probably makes more sense to target the sources of the repression—officials in both Beijing and Hong Kong—than it does to cause Hongkongers economic pain along with the physical and psychological pain from Beijing.

And we need to think beyond our noses, and beyond Hong Kong to where Beijing turns next. Having boiled one frog, Beijing is already turning up the heat on another, and we can expect heightened steps to isolate and coerce Taiwan. That’s because Taiwan is the other radioactive demonstration that the CCP’s claim to be the only option as ruler of China is not just self-serving but simply wrong. Taiwan is a physical and political demonstration of this deep untruth, and so must be ‘reunified’ and subjected to party control.

So, while we act on Hong Kong, it’s also an urgent challenge for Australia and other democratic nations to act to reverse the growing isolation of Taiwan and forestall Beijing’s efforts to boil this second frog. What’s possible here are actions like supporting Taiwanese participation and membership in international organisations like the World Health Organization, and a deepening of officials’ contacts and cooperation, as well as enhanced people-to-people and economic partnerships.

We can’t be bystanders in our own world and region, so we must use the tools and paths we have.

Article printed from The Strategist: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au

URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/global-action-needed-as-beijing-ramps-up-pressure-on-hong-kong-and-taiwan/

URLs in this post:

[1] being told: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-26/carrie-lam-says-security-laws-will-not-affect-citys-rights/12288168

[2] 2 million: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-06-16/protests-swell-as-hong-kong-rejects-leader-s-compromise

[3] People’s Republic of China guaranteed: https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b525c.html

[4] extradition law: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hongkong-extradition-timeline/timeline-key-dates-for-hong-kong-extradition-bill-and-protests-idUSKCN1TW14D

[5] late 2017: https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/19thcpcnationalcongress/2017-11/04/content_34115212.htm

[6] misinformation campaign: https://indianexpress.com/article/world/china-coronavirus-disinformation-campaign-twitter-6407992/

[7] save thousands: https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6206925/tiananmen-square-measuring-ourselves-against-the-benchmark-of-june-1989/

[8] Magnitsky-type laws: https://www.state.gov/global-magnitsky-act/

[9] other international partners: https://www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=54b840e0-435c-4e57-97a3-e1a8ff8244fc&subId=678444

[10] EU: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2020/05/22/declaration-by-the-high-representative-on-behalf-of-the-european-union-on-the-announcement-by-china-s-national-people-s-congress-spokesperson-regarding-hong-kong/

[11] Canada, Australia, the UK and the US: https://www.foreignminister.gov.au/minister/marise-payne/media-release/joint-statement-hong-kong

[12] New Zealand: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/deep-concern-hong-kong-national-security-legislation

[13] Japan: https://www.mofa.go.jp/press/release/press4e_002824.html

[14] potential US action: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/27/us/politics/china-hong-kong-pompeo-trade.html

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