Hong Kong: We must put principles before trade
Britain must hold true to her obligations and must not prioritise Chinese investment above our responsibilities to Hong Kong. The people of Hong Kong want democracy and these seeds were sown by the British
We are on the cusp of a potentially historic political moment. The Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution, which has captured the imagination of the world, will today deal with CY Leung’s refusal to step down as Hong Kong’s Chief Executive.
Many student protestors have advocated taking control of government buildings. But Beijing has warned of “unimaginable” consequences if the demonstrations continue. This comes shortly after large military celebrations for China’s National day. See the 60th celebrations here.
In London over 2,000 people have shown solidarity with the people of Hong Kong by protesting outside the Chinese embassy, while Oxford Hong Kong Students have filmed their own version of ‘Do you hear the people sing’ as an expression of support. The UK government has so far expressed deep concern over the affairs in Hong Kong and both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime minster have highlighted the importance of the terms of the 1984 Joint Declaration and the 1997 handover.
Nick Clegg in a recent interview said; "We will not waver from that commitment, and I will do everything I can to defend the principle of one country, two systems".
Britain must hold true to her obligations and must not prioritise Chinese investment above our responsibilities to Hong Kong. Already, Hongkongers have seen unwarranted attempts to influence their freedoms. In 2012, China attempted to impose "patriotic education” on Hong Kong and slowly the rights assured by the British under one country, two systems have come under pressure.
Indeed, many Hongkongers have been calling for a strong British line for some time. In a number of protests, Hongkongers have been waving the former flag of Hong Kong to protest and draw Britain’s attention.
As I have mentioned in a previous article Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, earlier in the year was mobbed by students with calls for assistance. In particular they raised concerns that the distinct culture and history of Hong Kong was in danger. Patten has in the last few days accused Beijing of breaching its 1997 commitments to Hongkongers.
Hong Kong is not an issue that Britain can ignore. No matter how lucrative our relationship with China we cannot become a nation that purely prioritises business above our global responsibilities.
The people of Hong Kong want democracy and these seeds were sown by the British. If China does inflict unimaginable consequences then Britain simply cannot stand idle while people who we are obligated to and view us as friends are repressed by mainland Communist China.
Of course, to clarify, this does not in any way mean military action. Such thoughts are folly. Indeed, even in the darkest days of the Cold War documents that I have analysed suggest that Hong Kong would have been, with the help of Commonwealth forces, very quickly evacuated after only a token resistance involving 2 infantry battalions, 2 fighter squadrons and the ships in the China Sea.
Conventional defence was never likely to succeed.
Therefore, by action I instead mean full diplomatic pressure. If China does decide to escalate the situation and do the unthinkable, then Britain should condemn China in the strongest possible terms and call on Beijing to recognise the demands of the student protestors and its obligations under one country two systems.
Britain should also be prepared to turn its back on investment and take some economic pain if China does disproportionately intensify the situation.
Furthermore, with Commonwealth allies Britain should also consider offering the people of Hong Kong greater representation in the Commonwealth. Already, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Canada have rightly expressed deep concerns about Hong Kong and it is not unimaginable that a majority would support a collective expression of good will to Hongkongers in the event of escalation.
The USA has also expressed its concerns about the potential dangers and the situation generally.
Of course, Britain must tread carefully, Beijing would be all too happy to suggest that the protests have been orchestrated by the West. But in the event of a Beijing escalation then there must be a substantive response with Britain at the helm.
Hopefully, level heads will prevail, and the Umbrella Revolution will mark the birth of full democracy in Hong Kong and universal suffrage. China must answer the Hong Kong question as a responsible state and, if not, Britain cannot remain on the side lines fearful of economic consequences.
To do so would be an abdication of duty and a crime against the decency that makes our nation, in the main, decent, honourable and great.
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