“The Enemy of My Enemy…” China, the USA, and Europe in Late 2020.

                             by David Parmer / Tokyo

Introduction:

The often-repeated phrase in its entirety is: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

But in late 2020, when it comes to China-VS-USA and Europe in the middle, it seems that there are no friends to be found for any of the participants. Whatever way you draw the triangle, “friendship” is not one of the components.

In this article we will take a look at the relationship among the three countries and see how the dynamics as they now stand spell only disengagement in the short term and even conflict in the long term despite historical and long-standing mutual interests.

Finally, how is China losing the battle for mind-share, not only worldwide, but particularly in Europe?

 Europe Puts European Interests Over American Interests and Goes Its Own Way

  1. Huawei Situation

Background: Huawei, one of the top 3 mobile phone manufacturers has, since May 2019 been the subject of crippling US sanctions which have significantly impacted its business. More than just a sideshow to the ongoing US-China trade war, the US sanctions have impacted global procurement not only in consumer products but also negatively affected IT networking. The US complaint about Huawei focused on three issues:

  • Cyber security
  • Links to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)
  • State sponsorship of Huawei

After a series of extensions the Huawei ban has come into full effect in 2020. The company has admitted that the sanctions are taking a major bite out of its business, but at the same time has found some temporary work-arounds in its mobile phone business. Huawei uses the Android system, but Google is now prohibited from working with Huawei. Huawei ships Android phones without the Google applications, which makes the phones potentially less attractive. Huawei is trying to court developers to its platform in hopes of increasing its appeal to consumers. Recently the company has come out with the Harmony OS which it will start using with certain devices, but still use Android for phones. Some say it is all a matter of time before Huawei Harmony becomes their default OS for all devices. (2021?)

As for the business-to-business side (B to B) of Huawei, the company operates in 170 countries worldwide. As the rollout of 5G technology takes place worldwide, Huawei is at stage-center in the US-China trade disagreement and sanctions. And the US has/is putting enormous pressure on the Europeans to exclude Huawei from their 5G upgrades. So far, the UK has decided to exclude Huawei.

There has been no stampede among the Europeans to get behind the US and the UK on this issue. However, Sweden, Spain, Austria, and Hungary have not excluded Huawei. France has ruled out a total ban on Huawei and Germany is sitting on the fence. For many countries, excluding Huawei is not only a political issue, but a technical one as well: many countries have legacy Huawei equipment, and switching suppliers to non-Chinese suppliers or local suppliers is a real headache. German’s decision, when it does come, will probably clarify the issue for many Europeans. Which countries will finally line up with the US, UK and Australia on the Huawei ban remains to be seen, but many countries are certainly feeling the heat generated by the US-China rivalry.

  1. The JCPOA or “Iran Deal”

 The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) was an agreement between Iran and six other countries including China, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom as well as Germany and the European Union. The agreement called for Iran to curtail enrichment of uranium and permit on-site inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In exchange for this Iran would have sanctions by the European Union, United Nations and the United States lifted. There was also the matter of some Iranian Ian funds being released.

The agreement went into effect in January 2016 and Iran was found to be in compliance with the agreement as a result of several subsequent on-site inspections. In May 2018 US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the JCPOA citing hidden Iranian nuclear programs that were not reported in the past.

While the US withdrawal was not a fatal blow to the JCPOA, it did create serious problems. If the Trump administration assumed that the parties to the agreement would simply walk away, they were mistaken. The Europeans and the Chinese and the Russians did not walk away from the deal, but rather tried to keep it alive by all means possible.

The Europeans even came up with a barter scheme whereby Iran could exchange its oil for goods as well as other ways to assist Iran in the face of American sanctions. The Europeans have tried to keep the JCPOA on “life support” and keep the agreement intact, much to the annoyance of the Trump administration and the Netanyahu administration in Israel.

On September 21, 2020 Secretary Pompeo announced that the US was re-imposing sanctions on Iran under the “snapback” provisions of the JCPOA. Earlier in the summer, President Donald Trump had announced this action to the consternation of the remaining JCPOA participants including Iran. Since the US was no longer a member of the agreement, it could not possibly call for “snapback.” But that is what the Trump administration did. And proceeded to re-impose sanctions. However the parties to the agreement, particularly the Europeans soundly rejected the legality of the move and refused to support the re-imposed sanctions. China and Russia went along with the Europeans and Iran.

The lack of solidarity with the US on the JCPOA is another case where the Europeans have acted in their own way and their own interests in dealing with a traditional and long time ally. These days, many aspects of the “special relationship” seem to be water under the bridge in light of the nationalistic, “America First” policies of the Trump administration.

  1. Europe and NATO’s Article 5

In 1945 Nazi fascism has just been defeated and most of Europe was in ashes. No sooner had one threat been removed than another one sprang up. The Soviet Union and America faced off in what was to become known as the Cold War. Russia had imposed its own brand of communism on Eastern Europe and this block of states stood behind what Winston Churchill called an “iron curtain.”

To counter the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe and the threat of further Soviet expansion, 12 countries banded together in 1949 to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The purpose for their association was collective defense as outlined in Article 5 of the treaty signed in Washington. Simply put an attack on one country or its representatives or interests would be considered an attack on all, and all would have to respond. The Soviets came up with their own version of NATO six years later when they established the Warsaw Pact in 1955. Collective defense as outlined in Article 5 was not invoked until 2001 when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked by Saudi terrorists using hijacked airliners.

For more than 70 years the alliance has held firm. What is distressing is a shift in attitudes across Europe. A 2020 Pew Research Center found that 50% said that their country should not honor Article 5 if another member country were attacked by Russia. Only 38% said that their country should abide by their Article 5 commitment. Despite this, the report found that Europeans generally had a positive impression of NATO.

There has been talk of a European Army to replace NATO. Harsh criticism was leveled against NATO by French President Emmanuel Macron who, in 2019, called the organization “brain dead.”

Other leaders like Angela Merkel who stated that there is still value for the Europeans in NATO participation. This comes on the back of constant harping by US President Donald Trump for European allies to increase their defense spending.

After 70 years, Europeans have mixed feelings about the function and existence of NATO and about honoring their Article 5 obligations. How things would change in the face of some unambiguous Russian aggression in the near future remains to be seen.

Europe Sees Its Own Self Interest in Supporting America and its Allies.

 In at least two major ways areas, i.e. participation in in NATO and participation in the Indo-Pacific strategy, Europe has taken the pro-US, pro West strategy that would be expected of it.

Europe and NATO

The evaluation by NATO of its own performance over 70 years differs from the Pew Research Report in that NATO not only sees itself in favorable light, but also sees itself as having achievements of note during its first 70 years.

Seventy years ago, NATO’s founding treaty was signed in Washington D.C. Today, our Alliance is the strongest in history, guaranteeing the freedom of our almost one billion citizens, the security of our territory, and the protection of our values, including democracy, individual liberty, human rights, and the rule of law. We reaffirm the enduring transatlantic bond between Europe and North America, our adherence to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and our bedrock commitment enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty that an attack against one Ally should be considered an attack against us all. We are determined to improve the balance of sharing the costs and responsibilities of our indivisible security. 
(NATO Statement on the occasion of NATO’s 70th Anniversary).

The threat of Russian aggression for many NATO members is as real as it was in 1949. This has brought new members and new associations recently, particularly with the Nordic nations that live under the shadow of the Russian bear. The same goes for the Baltic republics of Latvia Lithuania and Estonia. Among themselves Nordic nations have banded together for military cooperation in logistics and procurement and inter-operability.

As noted in the last line of the NATO statement the countries involved are aware of their cost-sharing obligations even without the constant reminders, bordering on harassment, made by US President Donald Trump.

  1. Europeans and the Indo Pacific

As late there has been a pivot toward the US Indo-Pacific strategy by the Europeans and a distancing themselves from China. Both France and Germany have begun see their interests lying not just in their local area, but half a world away in the vast Indo-Pacific region.

In particular, Germany sets the example and aligns with the US and regional nations including Japan and Korea in calling for an open and free Indo-Pacific.

 Europe Sides With China

Europe has many common interests with China and has acted accordingly. Europeans and Chinese access each other’s markets, and Germany, for example, has had a long and profitable economic relationship with the PRC, particularly in the area of automobile manufacturing. Europe also stands to benefit by both the overland and maritime branches of China’s Belt and Road scheme.

As noted above, France, Germany, the UK, and the EU have stood firm with China and Russia regarding the JCPOA, or Iran nuclear deal. This has been even in the face of strong pressure from the Trump administration which unilaterally withdrew from the agreement in 2018.

On August 14, 2020, the UN Security Council failed to support the US move to extend the arms embargo against Iran. US traditional allies (the E3) Germany, France and the UK abstained. This was a stunning defeat for the US and its policy of maximum pressure against Iran. The Trump administration pursues a policy of “America First” and distains globalization and the value of international organizations.

As noted earlier, President Trump himself harasses the Europeans publicly about their financial obligations to NATO in addition to his expressed distain for diplomacy and international cooperation. So it should be no wonder that when the US wants the E3 to fall in line with its Iran policy at the United Nations that the Europeans sit on their hands. 

In fact, it might be in the best interest of the region and the world if the Iran arms embargo were continued, but a bullying form of leadership (that threatens sanctions even on its own allies) can only result in quiet resentment that shows itself in a lack of support and solidarity when support support and solidarity are called for.

Europe and China have acknowledged interests in both the global economy and in dealing with climate change. These common interests continue despite the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and its strident America First campaign. These common interests can be leveraged by China to maintain some of its “soft power appeal” seriously damaged by the Hong Kong and human rights issues.

Where Europe Does Not Side With China

Europe going its own way with regard to China is pretty much the top story of mid-to-late 2020. It seems that the romance with China, if there ever was one, is rapidly fading for the Europeans.

Many of the complaints that the Europeans have about China are the same complaints that the Americans have. However, as we have seen, this does not immediately make them allied in a common opposition to China.

Europe’s complaints with China leading to a disillusion with the PRC focus on human rights and China’s adoption of the national security law in Hong Kong and the situation with China’s Uyghur minority in Xinjiang. China has not made its case on the international stage to support its actions in Hong Kong, and has been branded as destroying or not living up to the promises it made regarding One Country Two Systems when Hong Kong returned to Chinese control in 1997.

China’s Massive Failure to Communicate

China has not responded to criticism of its actions to restore and maintain order in Hong Kong. China had a strong case for law and order and its experience with the Cultural Revolution to point to when it decided to crack down on protest in the former colony. China could have made a case for an end to anarchy, property damage, and injury of innocent citizens.

It could have emphasized that it relied on the government of the Hong Kong SAR to handle the crisis and did not send in the People’s Liberation Army. Instead it chose to focus on its opposition to any kind of independence or secession which was seen as the real threat by Beijing.

This lack of defense of its own position lead the PRC to be seen and labeled as an oppressor of Hong Kong democracy, and a destroyer of the 1997 agreement. The fact is that the Hong Kong government acted with patience and restraint in dealing with most radical elements of the Hong Kong protest movement and this was not reported.

The fact that local council elections were held at the time of the protests and that anti-Beijing candidates swept the election, and the election was let stand by the government has not been fully reported as an example of Hong Kong style democracy at work.

 This lack of a positive and affirmative explanation for its actions created a strong narrative worldwide and certainly contributed to the European’s decision to distance themselves from China.

Coupled with this is China’s handling of its Uyghur minority in Xinjiang. China has never really explained clearly what the situation is in Xinjiang and what course of action it is pursuing with this minority

People around the world have seen the horrible consequences of radical Islamic terrorism from the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001 to the cruelty and barbarity of the so- called Islamic State known as DAESH or ISIS.

However, China has not made any case for preventing the formation of such a radical Islamic movement within its borders or explained what exactly it is doing in regard to the Uyghur minority.

By treating both Hong Kong and the Uyghur situation as internal affairs it has let itself be portrayed as an oppressor and human rights violator worldwide. The narrative in the world press is that China IS a violator of human rights, and that China has gone back on the One Country-Two Systems scheme in Hong Kong by enacting the National Security Law. China’s lack of an effective and believable explanation has led these perceptions to be seen as indisputable fact.

This massive failure by the PRC to communicate its side of the story has surely been a contributing factor in European disillusionment with China after a long period of productive engagement.

A Lack of Level Playing Field and the Indo-Pacific

The second major point of contention with China among Europeans is the concept of the “level playing field.” The perception is that European companies have a tougher time competing with Chinese entities because of government support which gives the Chinese side an unfair advantage. Add to this the accusation of forced technology transfer and you have some disgruntled trading partners and investors.

The human rights issue coupled with the lack of level playing field adds to the European’s disillusionment with China.

China’s claims and actions in the South China Sea adds another layer to the mix. As a result the Europeans are beginning to take an interest in the Indo-Pacific region and the US policy in the Indo- Pacific. While the Europeans are not ready to join Australia and the US in an alliance, they are pivoting to the idea that an “open and free Indo-Pacific” is in their self-interest. France began this shift and now Germany, long aligned with China at least economically, has began its own pivot.

Conclusion: Opportunities for China in an Evolving Geopolitical Order

China rising should be welcomed around the world; the Sick Man of Asia has become the Prosperous Man of Asia and is in a position to share its vision of the new world order with competitors and friends alike. Yet China’s actions, whether domestically or internationally are viewed around the world with suspicion.

The Belt and Road initiative which has the potential to bring prosperity to an incredible number of people in many regions around the world is viewed with suspicion at best, and its achievements are ignored.

China has the right to pursue Xi Jinping’s vision of a moderately prosperous society by mid-century, but it also needs to win friends and influence people along the way. Certainly, in the case of Europe, China should have trading partners willing to participate in the New Silk Road and prosper therefrom.

China needs to do a serious “self criticism” and find out what it has done and is doing to alienate so many potential allies and friends around the world. Soft power that does not make friends and create a balance among nations is not any power at all.

The United States, The People’s Republic of China, and Europe should be able to find areas of cooperation and coordination while at the same time remaining competitors and pursuing their own self-interests. Friends? Enemies? Partners? Competitors? Each bloc must decide what is best for its people and best for the greater global community of nations.

Photo: Paul Hudson via flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

Impact of the 2019 Hong Kong Protests on China’s Status Abroad.

                           by Philippe Valdois FRSA

 Introduction

The impact of the 2019 Hong Kong protests on China’s status abroad in general and Hong Kong’s status in particular, with two quarters of negative economic growth rate at the peak of the protests in 2019, cannot be ignored, and with the results of the November local elections showing the discontent of the general population and not only of the street protestors who obtained only concessions for one of their five demands, the situation seems unsustainable. In addition, police forces are being diverted from crime prevention and safety might suffer with the number of foreign visitors dropping. We can, therefore, expect major changes in 2020.  

Although anticipating the possible effects of an armed repression by the People Liberation Army on the Communist Party and its leaders’ image not only abroad but domestically and the fall-out of eventual sanctions implemented by the international community are two key questions, the catch-22 situation Beijing is facing and its dilemma in having to choose an optimal response to the continuing protests are already being abundantly discussed elsewhere. Therefore, although I will later examine the necessity and faisability of a compromise between the two camps, I decided to rephrase the theme of this essay by looking at China’s status from a different perspective. There are indications that the Hong Kong protests are not only a local phenomenon but are also both the symptom and the catalyst of a growing dissatisfaction within a new generation of Chinese abroad, including in South-East Asia and Taiwan. My second observation will be related to the actual status and image of China abroad as a product of a post-Tiananmen shift in government policies. Finally, I do not consider, for various reasons I will expose, that Beijing is facing a “color revolution” in Hong Kong, contrary to a commentary published by the official press agency of the PRC, Xinhua, according to the South China Morning Post. Talking about a revolution is dangerous, history showing us that it implies counter-revolution and could lead to violent repression.

If the protests themselves absolutely need to be addressed, if only to stop the violence affecting tourism and trade, they will however have no long-term major effects on China’s status as long as the true purpose of foreign sanctions against Beijing is exposed and some compromises are made between various actors. The key issue will be to maintain trustworthiness regarding the sustainability of the “one country, two systems” principle, and prevent an escalade involving the new generation of citizens and future leaders, in Taiwan or elsewhere, until 2047. As mentioned previously, and based on those observations, I will finally introduce what I consider the best strategy to deal with the situation and minimize the impact of the protests on China’s status abroad.

Discontent in Hong Kong and abroad and the advent of a new generation

The revendications of Hong Kong residents are as much economical as political and are mostly based on concrete grievances, but overseas Chinese follow attentively the developments in Hong Kong and their relation with Beijing can be ambivalent, but much less so for the older generation, who feels a stronger sense of loyalty towards China than the younger, more critical generation. In fact, as seen in New York, London and other cities around the world, there is a growing trend among young Chinese abroad to demonstrate at the same time in support of Hong Kong and Taiwanese autonomy and to criticize Beijing repressive policies, including the crackdown on ethnic Uyghurs and Tibetans.

I recently had a discussion with a young professional living in South-East Asia. I learned from him about how people from his generation felt about the call for a sense of loyalty to China that their parents and grand-parents responded to more positively. Young Chinese abroad feel they are not getting much in return for their efforts and do not expect much from the regime in the future. Such worries are of course prevalent in Taiwan where the perspective of not seeing the two systems, one country perdure would mean, like for HK residents, losing their autonomy and freedom of expression. There is also in their minds a strong disconnect between what China represents for them in terms of cultural heritage and the regime’s growing assertion that it represents not only the interests of China but is in a way a symbol of China itself, establishing therefore a cult of personality encompassing the Party and its highest rank members and developing a form of ultranationalism that does not resonate in urban, cosmopolitan youth. A February 2019 article written by Chinese President Xi Jinping was untitled “Strengthening the Party’s leadership over the overall rule of law” and reaffirmed the position that “the Party was above everything else” already expressed in the Constitution, as Charlotte Gao explained in The Diplomat. It is difficult therefore for young people not to see that self-preservation at all costs for the Party and its leaders is what matters most for them.

The situation is different on mainland China where access to foreign media and knowledge about the situation in Hong Kong are limited. Most young people there are “incredulous that Hong Kongers are taking to the streets in protest” as Ben Hillman in East Asia Forum explained.

China government’s image now and before

Are the Image and status of China and the Chinese Communist Party abroad changing or susceptible to change because of the protests ? This is a key question. As compared to other problems facing Beijing, Hong Kong protests are but one area of concern among others. China’s image abroad in terms of human rights has not changed since the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and the hardening of the government’s policies. I have already described President Xi Jinping’s February 19, 2019, article. It supported the idea that little had changed since a decade before, when Maria Elena Viggiano described the strengthening of authoritarianism in China after Tiananmen as “resilient authoritarianism”. Not only do those events stay vivid in the memories of both Hong Kong residents and foreigners around the world but they are compounded with the worries associated with the use of Artificial Intelligence and high-tech surveillance tools to monitor Chinese citizens. Orwell’s 1984 is on the mind of many. Another key issue is the use of extensive “reeducation camps” for members of the Uyghur minority. The fact that the same narrative and the same harsh terms such a “criminals and terrorists in cahoots with foreign devils and determined to weaken the motherland by agitating for independence” according to Ben Hillman in East Asia Forum, are being used to describe Hong Kong protestors and dissident Uyghurs with little nuances is worrying and takes us back to wartime and the worst years of the Cultural Revolution. Without saying that Hong Kong protests are inconsequential, I would consider that all those initiatives are already defining China in the eyes of many foreign observers, have been continuing and will continue to do so, regardless of what happens in 2020 in Hong Kong.

Again, looking back again at Tiananmen, we see other similarities with the situation in Hong Kong and a continuity in the way the Party leaders react to protests. In declassified documents from the US National Security Archive, reference is made to item 28 related to the aftermath of the Chinese military crackdown in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Mentioning Hong Kong, it says that “Locals are worried that Beijing could in the future limit civil rights in Hong Kong by declaring martial law or a state of emergency.” Part of the secret document also give us some hints about the reasons why Beijing has always tried since then to keep a tight leash on Hong Kong.

Two factors have also modified the Chinese government’s attitude towards Hong Kong in recent years. Kerry Brown in East Asia Forum mentions a “much tougher nationalism that has become the dominant tone of the Xi leadership,” and the fact that “China’s decades of rapid growth mean that it is far larger and stronger as an economy and a geopolitical force than anyone ever expected when the handover from British to Chinese sovereignty occurred in 1997.”

If the dynamic has changed between Beijing and Hong Kong, the US administration’s position regarding human rights and the world in general have certainly changed since Tiananmen. If the 30thanniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown gave the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the opportunity to blast on June 4th, 2019 the Chinese government and if on October 15th, 2019 the US Congress passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in support of the protesters, the State Department also recalled in December its ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote who had harshly criticized the Zambian government’s record on corruption and gay rights. It is therefore doubtful than an administration who shows a lack of support for its career diplomats in this occasion and others would do more than pay lip service to human rights. Why then criticize openly and sanction Beijing in relation with the Hong Kong protests? It is evident that in the context of the Sino-American trade war, demonizing its adversary is a way for Washington to mobilize other countries against Beijing more than anything and make them participate in its strategy of decoupling .

No “revolution” in Hong Kong

A paper from Erica Chenoweth, from Harvard University, Trends in Nonviolent Resistance and State Response: Is Violence Towards Civilian-based Movements on the Rise? quoted by Max Fisher and Amanda Taub in The Interpreter newsletter from the New York times, shows that up to the late 1990 the success rates of protests in the world climbed to 70% but then plummeted to 30% in the mid-2000s. While the number of protests, in particular non-violent is increasing, it seems their effectiveness decreases. Max Fisher and Amanda Taub mention as one factor of inefficiency the fact that “Social media makes protests likelier to start, likelier to balloon in size and likelier to fail.” The problem has to do with lack of commitment and the easiness of mobilizing large numbers without the participants having being involved in long term efforts to organize, strategize, etc. We have here almost the equivalent of a flash mob. In a previous essay, I mentioned the SEALDs movement in Japan. For them and their followers it was an initiation into political activism and will have a long-term effect in that sense. But the law it was opposed to still passed.

More importantly, Max Fisher and Amanda Taub remind us that “governments have learned to co-opt social media, using it to disseminate propaganda, rally its sympathizers or simply spread confusion.” Big budgets, technical facilities and know-how trump any effort by protestors. Internet censorship and monitoring in China is by far more developed than in any other country. And so is repression, with the jailing of journalists and cyber-dissidents. It should be noted that the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission managing internet-related issues is under the leadership of Xi Jinping.

Another factor is the growing polarization the world is experiencing. Revolutions work when all actors of society are involved, but as Max Fisher and Amanda Taub put it: “In Hong Kong, for instance, the movement really is primarily about protecting democracy and the rule of law from Beijing’s encroaching, authoritarian influence. But that movement is driven primarily by middle-class students and professionals who have had their place in society disrupted by changes in the structure of Hong Kong’s economy (for example, a drastic rise in rent prices for people too wealthy to qualify for subsidies) and by rapid immigration from mainland China.”

Which brings me to a common-sense solution that would be for the Hong Kong Executive to try addressing more energetically those specific concerns. On the other hand, in the case of China, as I have shown previously, young Chinese abroad create their own sense of group identity transcending borders. This strong sentiment cannot be ignored. A Taiwanese Chinese, a Hong Kong Chinese or a Singapore Chinese share growing common concerns about their future and the privileges, access to information and freedom of expression they all consider as natural. By law Beijing cannot censor the internet in Hong Kong but monitoring is still an option for the central government. This and arbitrary incarcerations are seen as attempts to encroach upon fundamental liberties, especially if applied systematically.

In addition, according to Erica Chenoweth, “Authoritarian leaders have begun to develop and systematize sophisticated techniques to undermine and thwart nonviolent activists” as “many Russian, Chinese, and Iranian officials increasingly see nonviolent popular uprisings as ‘soft coups’ meant to expand Western influence and interests,” resulting in “joint efforts to develop, systematize, and report on techniques and best practices for containing such threats among Russian, Chinese, Iranian, Venezuelan, Belarussian, Syrian, and other national authorities.”

Conclusion

In view of the protestors’ specific demands, of the quasi impossibility for the protests to propagate into mainland China, of the already damaged status of China on the international scene, of the fact that the Western world and the US in particular will be keen on seizing the opportunity to chastise and berate Beijing in a context of trade war and decoupling, of the extreme risks any violent repression would bring to China in terms of sanctions and ostracization, thus also jeopardizing a possible reunion with Taiwan, I think that Beijing should give some leeway to the Hong Kong Executive to let it implement some political and economic reforms, while foreign countries should abandon their dualist views and support instead the Hong Kong government. The extent of the impact of the Hong Kong protests on the image of China will depend on the response given to an angry young generation. Hong Kong protests are the expression of a passing feeling of frustration and should not be considered as an attempt to destroy the system. Protesters are talking about autonomy and not insurgency. As it is, China’s status abroad could benefit from a gentler approach.

Photo: Johnathan van Smit via flickr

Big Story 2019 #1 – Evolution of “One-Country, Two Systems.”

This year has seen severe testing of the One Country Two Systems (OCTS) principle in Hong Kong. While there have been demonstrations in the past (e.g. Umbrella Movement, 2014) there has been nothing on the scale of the protests in 2019 sparked by the government’s proposed extradition bill. And while the bill was later withdrawn, widespread and sustained protests have been ongoing for the second half of 2019.

Protests have been both peaceful and violent with clashes between demonstrators and Hong Kong police. Social unrest and widespread property damage have marked the protests, and some elements have targeted Beijing-affiliated businesses.

The real question raised by these protests is whether OCTS can survive and adapt. The former Portuguese territory of Macau is under OCTS and continues to function without major problems. For strategic reasons it would be to the benefit of Beijing for OCTS to work, as this would be the most painless way that Taiwan could be integrated back into greater China.

For a resolution of the Hong Kong question it seems that Hong Kong people must acknowledge that the former British territory is in fact part of China. For Beijing and its 70-year-old one party system, it might be time to re-think how the system can adapt to this new challenge. Historically China has always found a way to Sinicize peoples and systems and to make appropriate adjustments to new realities. Can Beijing do this with OCTS?

RG-21 will soon be publishing several reports on this topic. In the meantime, please feel free to give us your opinion on this very important matter.

Photo: Etan Liam via flickr

Hong Kong, Summer 2019 – A Thorny Problem for Beijing.

Hong Kong in the summer of 2019 really is a thorny problem for Beijing. All things considered, it looks like there is no “win” for Beijing, only a “not lose.”

                              A “Perfect Storm”

A perfect storm of conditions is coming together to make an almost impossible situation in which the Chinese government cannot get a positive outcome. The Hong Kong government has been tasked with dealing with the massive demonstrations opposing the now-defunct extradition bill. The kidnapping of anti-Beijing booksellers in the not-so-distant past gave demonstrators just the ammunition they needed for their protest, as it proved to them that the true purpose of the bill was not to extradite criminals to face justice, but to smother dissent in Hong Kong.

This has been a near impossible situation to deal with for the government of the SAR considering that university students are on holiday and out in full force, and that the world is watching via international media. While there were accusations of excessive force, the demonstrators did enter and vandalize the Legislative Council Building despite police presence.

As of mid-July 2019, protests continue. The second round of protests have been against mainland traders who buy up huge amounts of goods in Hong Kong for resale on the mainland which drives up inflation in Hong Kong. Police and protesters scuffled at a shopping mall and injuries were reported.

Demands from the protesters, in addition to the permanent scrapping of the extradition bill, now include an investigation into police brutality and the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

                                   The Use of Minimal Force

At present, it appears that Bejing’s decision is to continue to let the Hong Kong government handle the situation. The use of excessive force by the SAR or the Beijing government would damage the “soft power” that the PRC has been developing for decades culminating in the “Belt and Road” initiative.

The specter of the CCP’s handling of the 1989 Tian An Men Square incident also hangs over the Chinese government. Moreover, those “on the fence” in Taiwan regarding re-unification might be pushed to the pro-independence side if they were to see the PRC clamp down.

And the “no win” situation is just not for the government of the PRC.The protesters who are acting in such a way to preserve the freedom of Hong Kong under the One Country-Two Systems arrangement might just be putting an end to it. 

                               Beijing’s Red Line

China’s long-term strategy is not yet clear. In the short term, the strategy is not to use excessive force. However there is a point where protest becomes anarchy. If anarchy were to ensue, then the PLA would be called in to maintain order. Once order had been restored, those “freedoms” that the protesters were fighting so hard to preserve might be lost forever.

No one knows where the red line is with the powers in Beijing and we are not privy to the thinking of the CCP. But be sure, there is a red line. When the passions of the protesters are aroused, it is unlikely that long-term thinking will prevail, and it is highly likely that anarchy will ensue. When anarchy does ensue, the CCP and PLA will act, and act decisively.

The above outcomes are not good for Hong Kong, and ultimately not good for China. But history has a way of being history, and in Hong Kong and other places around the world we can see history unfold from the comfort of our own homes on big-screen TVs.

What do you think about this matter? Please let us know.

photo: Etan Liam via flickr