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Protests in Hong Kong - freedoms being quashed

OWoN: The truth is the Chinese Yuan trading relationship with the UK is so big, it will define all Government policies and strategies. So Hong Kong will get little support, however much the moral case. The real world is one of tough but pragmatic decisions.

Student protesters mixed with expatriates scuffle with police in an entertainment area in Hong Kong

MAX HASTINGS: Whitehall will shrug as China crushes Hong Kong's freedoms. The rest of us should choke with rage.

Mail Online
By Max Hastings
29 September 2014

Tens of thousands of pro-democracy campaigners throng the streets of our former colony, Hong Kong, protesting against Beijing’s flagrant breach of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ deal that was struck to protect their rights before the Union Flag was hauled down in 1997.

In August, Beijing suddenly announced that at the next elections for Hong Kong’s ruling Legislative Council, only candidates officially approved by the Communist Party will be allowed to stand. This constitutes a breach of the 1997 terms, and also a clear warning that Beijing’s Party bosses consider the time has come to tighten their iron grip on Hong Kong.

The protesters now fear that the People’s Liberation Army — a superlative misnomer — will be sent to drive them from the streets.

Last week, the British Government dispatched two Tornados to bomb IS in Iraq. The RAF’s other Tornados are unlikely, however, to be sent to respond to Hong Kong’s betrayal by bombing Beijing. The British response is confined to a mumbled statement from the Foreign Office, expressing ‘concern’ and urging China to respect the rights of Hong Kong’s citizens.

I doubt President Xi Jinping’s breakfast was interrupted so that an ashen-faced messenger could read him Britain’s popgun expression of discomfort.

This is the cruel face of real politics: China is a huge trading nation, and one of the most powerful states on Earth. No government wants to precipitate a confrontation with Beijing over a little thing like the freedom of seven million Hong Kong people.

Whitehall would give a collective shrug and say: ‘This is the way life is.’ But the rest of us should choke at the brutal, shameless abuse of human rights taking place on the far side of the world.

Protesters put on goggles and wrap themselves in clear wrap after hearing a rumour that police were coming with tear gas outside the Hong Kong Government Complex

I have a tenderness for Hong Kong because I spent some of the happiest times of my youth there, when it was still under British rule. Landing at Kai Tak airport in 1970, then taking the ferry by night across the harbour to the island, its skyscrapers ablaze with light, I was as entranced as millions of other visitors.

It was the mingling of British colonial nonsenses — the cricket ground, khaki-drill-clad policemen, the Royal Navy’s warships crewed by sailors in tropical whites — with the heady scents and sights of the Orient that made so many of us feel permanently high as we strolled down Nathan Road, drank in the Captain’s Bar of the Mandarin Hotel, or partied in junks off Kowloon.

And meanwhile across the border, just a few miles from the most fiercely capitalistic society in the world, lurked the vast red shadow of China.

In those days, Mao ruled and his Cultural Revolution was spreading terror across his own nation, which spilled across into Hong Kong, with the colony witnessing huge communist demonstrations, led by fanatics waving Chairman Mao’s ridiculous Little Red Book.

For years, both in the colony and back in London, there was fevered speculation that China might decide to re-take it by force. Everybody knew that if the Chinese did decide to grab the place, there could be only one outcome.

The Tory peer Douglas Hurd served in Beijing as a diplomat. In 1968, he wrote a thriller with Andrew Osmond entitled The Smile On The Face Of The Tiger, which began with a Chinese demand for Hong Kong’s return.

There is a scene in which the fictional prime minister says to his foreign secretary: ‘You know our only option if they are serious?’ Without a word, the foreign secretary pulls a white handkerchief out of his pocket and flourishes it aloft.

Pro-democracy protesters gather outside the Hong Kong government headquarters, on the second day of the mass civil disobedience campaign Occupy Central yesterday

Everybody in real-life Hong Kong knew that was how things were.

But the Chinese, in their, yes, inscrutable way concluded that it suited them to tolerate the colony as a window on the world, an intelligence centre and banking forum. Our party went on for a few decades more.

Most of the vast fortunes built in ‘Honkers’ were not made by British or American tycoons, but by Chinese who exploited what the British offered: rules of law and property that did not exist in mainland China, together with the most vibrant trading environment on the planet.

In the Eighties, when China began to engage with the outside world, there was a brief surge of delusion that it might suit Beijing to leave Hong Kong indefinitely in our hands.

Not so. The Chinese made plain that, when Britain’s lease on the so-called New Territories — the mainland opposite Hong Kong island — expired in 1997, that would be it. The colony was unsustainable without the New Territories.

Long and tortured negotiations took place between Britain and the Beijing government about the terms on which Britain would hand over Hong Kong.

A solitary demonstrator eases through clouds of tear gas holding his umbrella for protection as he's surrounded by riot police

Given that we held no cards, the outcome was probably the least bad attainable. China committed itself to sustain Hong Kong as a special region, with its own rights and privileges. Ultimately, and at a date unspecified, its people were supposed to be granted rights to elect their governing Legislative Council by universal suffrage.

Everybody sobbed at the handover ceremony in 1997. I was among millions of eye-witnesses as the flag was hauled down in darkness and a torrential thunderstorm.

None of us knew what the future held, but it was hard to be optimistic. We knew that the denial of human freedoms was central to China’s entire system of governance.

Until recently, matters had turned out a little better than the pessimists feared. The people of Hong Kong have continued to do what they have always done: make money. The former colony has become a consumer mecca for free-spending tourists; tens of thousands of expatriates work and play almost as happily as we did 40 years ago.

The lives of ordinary Chinese have been little affected by Beijing rule — so long as they have been willing to forgo any hint of political freedom. Until last month, that is.

President Xi Jinping is the most authoritarian and personally powerful ruler of China since the 1976 death of Mao Zedong. Though he presides over a state aggressively capitalist in all but name, he is intractably opposed to granting democratic freedoms, and deals mercilessly with every expression of dissent.

A long exposure of thousands protesters gathered in the streets, with banners hanging from bridges

Only last week, a court sentenced to life imprisonment a mild-mannered scholar named Ilham Tohti for the crime of asserting his own ethnicity — what the authorities denounced as supporting ‘separatism’. Tohti has never questioned China’s rule, but he lives in Xinjiang province, focus of an impassioned independence movement.

Amid growing pressure across China for democracy, the government lives in mortal terror of losing its grip. Having decreed a tightening of the noose around Hong Kong’s neck, it seems extraordinarily unlikely that it will succumb to pressure to change its mind.

At home, the Chinese government censors the internet, suppresses all freedom of expression, executes criminals in their hundreds and imprisons every dissenter.

China’s reach and power are growing by the year, such that our own political leaders have no choice but to do business with it. David Cameron sought to forge new ties last year when he flew to China with a British trade delegation. Two months before, Boris Johnson and George Osborne glad-handed their way around the place.

But never for a moment should we doubt that the communist ruling regime is wholly intolerant; hostile to almost every civilised value we cherish.

I wish it were possible to be optimistic about the Hong Kong demonstrators’ prospects, but it is not. We can do little to assist them, but we could at least show that we notice, and care.

It was a grotesque irony that the campaigners were driven from the streets by police gas canisters manufactured by Chemring in Hampshire, and exported under licence. We lack power to check the brutal forces of Chinese repression, but we might at least stop supplying them with the weapons by which to implement it.


1 comment :

  1. Few will read but this is also Americas future if not averted.


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