24.07.2019 Author: Vladimir Terehov

China’s Old Wounds Reopen: Hong Kong and Taiwan


China, quite reasonably aspiring to becoming a global player, still has (as well as all the other countries) certain internal problems which its main geopolitical opponent, i.e. the US, is trying to use to its own benefit.

Among the problems of this sort, two long-standing ones have resurfaced yet again over the recent months. Namely, Washington’s renewed attempts to play the Taiwan card in the relations with Beijing and (yet again) to exacerbate the situation in Hong Kong.

However, when one applies the term internal regarding the two aforementioned problems one has to provide certain reservations and explanations. As for Taiwan, these reservations will be rather ponderable, while the presence of external (in relation to the People’s Republic of China) factors in the Hong Kong perspective can be considered something of minor importance.

In Hong Kong’s case, such presence is mainly caused by the Joint Declaration adopted by the governments of the People’s Republic of China and the United Kingdom in December 1984, ratified six months later by the parliaments of both countries and registered among the UN international law documents. It was in compliance with this document that, in 1997, China restored the control over Hong Kong which from this time onward has faced a 50-year transition period during which it has enjoyed a wide range of rights of its own.

The very existence of the Joint Declaration and a number of the provisions stated therein (especially in Paragraph 3.5) gives London a reason to express certain opinions on this or that action of Beijing concerning Hong Kong. In particular, certain reports on the developments in this territory are issued once in a while.

It is natural that London (and most recently mainly Washington) could not ignore the popular action (by a part of the citizens) against the local government and de facto the central authority of the PRC of the last one and a half months. At the same time, the protesters, as well as their overseas supporters, are referring to certain provisions of the aforementioned Joint Declaration which, according to them, the administration of the Special Administrative Region of Xiānggǎng (SARX), including Hong Kong, is trying to break.

The popular action accompanied by considerable public disorders, as well as calls and slogans (of often rather provocative nature, e.g. Hong Kong is not China) broke out following the bill which was supposed to be introduced in the legislative code of the SARX legalizing the possibility of transferring individuals suspected of various offenses to the mainland judicial authorities.

It appears indubitable that the aforementioned bill had been initiated by the central authorities of the PRC which are seemingly afraid of the prospect of the SARX turning into a political wound that can reopen at any time and possibly infect the whole state organism. Besides, given the deteriorating US-Chinese relations, the situation in Hong Kong can be an important card to play in the global game between Washington and Beijing.

China does not deny the efficiency of the Joint Declaration of 1985, however it insists on the paramount importance of the Fundamental Law on Hong Kong adopted in the People’s Republic of China right after its reclaim by the country. Furthermore, the Chinese party mentions the radical changes in the world that have happened since then, yet are ignored by London and Washington when references to the 35-year-old document are made.

The estimates of the popular action scale made by its leaders and the local police differ considerably (4-5 times). It is important to keep in mind that there are about 7.5 million people living in Hong Kong, therefore the demonstrators represent a negligible minority including various extremely active groups that differ drastically in their political claims.

It is indeed justified that the Chinese Global Times mentions the silent majority in Hong Kong which dooms any attempts to destabilize the situation and to reformat the power in the SARX by obviously antidemocratic methods to failure.

In general, the whole recent public action in Hong Kong cannot help associating with a number of color revolutions, the participation of external well-wishers in which only a blind person may fail to see. Let us remind the reader that something of the kind, dubbed umbrella movement among journalists, already happened in Hong Kong in the fall of 2014 and again (on a smaller scale) a year later.

And here came the US Congress, the today’s chief observer of the countries’ compliance with the rules of good political conduct initiating new anti-Chinese sanctions in connection with the events in Hong Kong. The British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs  Jeremy Hunt expressed the support of the freedom of Hong Kong citizens.

This is the way it has to be in our crazy world with overturned values: the fox monitors the general order in the hen house, as well as enforcing the rights of minorities among hens and roosters.

The author of this article believes that the PRC’s foreign policy costs of the recent developments in Hong Kong are merely little pricks of the propaganda plan. Especially since the central authorities behave skillfully and guardedly in this conflict, without giving in to obvious provocations. The propaganda attacks in connection with the aspects of the situation in other Special administrative regions of China, e.g. the Xinjiang-Uygur region and the Tibetan region, are being successfully repelled as well.

A much greater challenge (both in short and long term planning) has to do with the US plans to make a new deal of selling US  weapons to Taiwan, whose international status (unlike that of Hong Kong) can be called quasi-independent.

And the weight of the quasi prefix in it tends to reduce, which runs contrary to Beijing’s plans for resolving the practically most important foreign policy issue connected with reclaiming Taiwan (in this or that format) as part of the country.

It is important to emphasize the presence of the PRC’s main foreign opponent in the process of making Taiwan de facto (and de jure in the long term) an independent state.

The NEO has been monitoring the main stages of this process. Last time it was mentioned in connection with the 5-day visit of the Foreign Minister of Taiwan David Lee to the US in May this year. During his visit, the Taiwan guest negotiated with the U.S. National Security Advisor John R. Bolton.

Such contact between the high-ranking politicians of the US and Taiwan happened for the first time since 1979 when Washington established diplomatic relations with Beijing, having at the same time severing them with Taipei. It is possible to have certain reservations that J.R. Bolton represents only one wing of the American establishment – the hawks. But it does not change the fact that the US took an important step towards giving the relations with Taiwan the status of a regular interstate dialogue.

The same trend is strengthened by the media leaks claiming that the Pentagon notified the Congress on its intention to sell another batch of weapons to Taiwan (mainly the Abrams tanks and FIM-92 Stinger Man-Portable Air-Defense Systems) amounting circa $ 2.2 billion.

Commenting on the aforementioned message, the Global Times notes that it is already the fourth deal of the kind for D. Trump’s administration, and the cost tends to increase every time. The reader is once again reminded that this fact runs contrary to the bilateral Communiqué adopted in August 1982, according to which the US vowed to completely cease the sales of weapons to Taiwan over time.

This obligation was never fulfilled, but it has been especially obvious since the beginning of the 2000s when the prospect of the PRC turning into one of the leading global players became rather evident.

On July 12 this year, the Xinhua agency reported that China was imposing sanctions against those US companies that dealt in weapon trading with Taiwan.

In general, the recent events around Hong Kong and Taiwan (as well as in Xinjiang and Tibet) reflect the overall picture of continuing (or rather increasing) comprehensive problems in the relations between the two leading world superpowers.

All the other countries ought not to expect any good outcome of the aforementioned relation developments.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.