Foreign Policy

China Steps Up Its Bullying of Hong Kong

Yet more aggression after months of increased exercise of ChiCom control.

Michael Swartz · May 29, 2020

Ever since the signing of the treaty by which Great Britain agreed to cede its prosperous island colony of Hong Kong back to China, the world has been dreading the day when the fragile “one city, two systems” deal would come to an end. Once the National People’s Congress in Beijing rubber-stamped a new “security” law for Hong Kong — one that passed with no input from the city’s Legislative Council — that day was finally at hand.

Originally, China agreed to a relatively hands-off approach to the island for a 50-year term. But like all good communist dictatorships, China has since found ways to renege on the Sino-British Joint Declaration the parties signed back in 1984 in anticipation of the end of Britain’s lease in 1997. With more than half of the Joint Declaration’s term to go, China’s encroachments have become increasingly overt in recent years. Even so, the new rules imparted by Beijing were still a move that drew rare bipartisan condemnation from Congress.

In anticipation of this edict, worried Hong King citizens made a run on their Apple app store to download virtual private networks in an attempt to avoid surveillance by the ChiCom regime. As expected, protests by the residents of Hong Kong against the new rules were quickly and forcefully quashed.

But there may yet be a price to pay for China. As the editors of National Review point out, Hong Kong alone controls 20% of the Chinese economy, and the reason is simple: Its British tradition lent legal stability to the process of operating in the Chinese market, providing a sound jumping-off point to deal with China’s government. That certainty is no longer present, and business may well suffer as a result.

Also suffering will be Hong Kong’s citizens. Even those who aren’t actively protesting must now fear their impending rule by a government with an abysmal record of abusing human rights.

Of course, China’s power play also affects our foreign policy. In the wake of last year’s Hong Kong strife, Congress passed and President Donald Trump — ever mindful of the economic implications — grudgingly signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Decency Act (HRDA), which created regular milestones for certification that China is respecting Hong Kong’s autonomy. Barely six months after HRDA’s passage, it appears China has failed to meet that measure, meaning that many of Hong Kong’s trade privileges not given to China as a whole may be suspended or terminated. “No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground,” explained Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Congress. “Hong Kong,” he concluded, “is no longer autonomous from China.”

One answer, in the eyes of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, would be sanctions targeting the perpetrators of this roughshod treatment of Hong Kong’s citizenry. “The Trump Administration could impose visa and other restrictions on the Chinese officials behind the national security legislation, as well as [Hong Kong] Chief Executive Carrie Lam,” the Journal tersely notes before urging the president to take action. “Chinese spokesmen are saying he’ll blink and do very little. He needs to send a message that the Chinese Communist Party can’t renege on its international promises without paying a price.”

In many respects, China’s treatment of Hong Kong is a prelude to the way it would likely approach Taiwan. If Beijing can get away scot-free for its roughshod absorption of this “Special Administrative Region,” it will certainly invite ChiCom aggression toward another nearby prosperous island target.

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