I’m sorry to return to Hong Kong, again, but:
- As those who know me and my family will understand, Hong Kong is top of mind, right now; and
- A contact on social media said something like (I’ve edited his comments every so slightly ~ I haven’t changed a word, just deleted some phrases) “A pan-Canadian anti-communist group … are building a victims of communism memorial in the Gardens of the Provinces and Territories in Ottawa … they are all staunchly against the proliferation of communism in Canada and are highly supportive of Hong Kong and Taiwan against the threat from China.“
Now I am an “anti-communist,” and I, too, am “staunchly against the proliferation of communism in Canada,” in fact, I am opposed to the proliferation of communism anywhere and everywhere. I think communism is
a pernicious, economically unsound doctrine stupid and I think communists are, by and large, either stupid or desperate.*
But I do not see China as that sort of “threat” to either Hong Kong or Taiwan. I think that Hong Kong and Taiwan are Chinese ~ ethnoculturally and geographically Chinese …
… they are not like Singapore that is separated from China by both geographic distance and history. Taiwan and Hong Kong are Chinese, more Chinese than are the peoples of Guangxi, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Tibet and Xinjiang.
The current imbroglio, which has been going on for almost ten weeks, is between the good, decent, thoughtful, well educated, well informed, well mannered and patriotic Chinese people of Hong Kong and the inept and stubborn local government and some senior official in Beijing who find ‘one country, two systems‘ to be an affront.
A digression …
Why is one country, two systems a problem?
Put simply, it’s not.
In fact, one country, two systems was, originally, Deng Xiaoping’s idea as a way to make the reunification of both Hong Kong and Taiwan with China more palatable. He recognized that Hong Kong and Taiwan each have socio-cultural and political traditions that differ from those of the mainland. He knew that people of both ‘provinces’ would not, willingly, surrender their traditions. More importantly, he also understood that grafting some of those traditions ~ especially transparent institutions and respect for the rule of law ~ on to China’s political system would be essential for China’s long term prosperity and social harmony.
But, when, 25ish years ago, one country, two systems was agreed some Chinese saw it as an affront to China’s sovereignty, as a concession that foreigners (the British, again) imposed on China, just like the ‘unequal treaties‘ of the 19th century. But one country, two systems works elsewhere: in Canada, for example, where most of the country adheres to the common law but one province, Québec, uses the Code civil du Québec which was enacted in 1866, before Canada even existed as a country, as the Code civil du Bas-Canada which was based, loosely, on the Code Napoléon (officially Code civil des Français) of 1804 and which replaced a hodgepodge of ordnances and customs going all the way back to the Coutume de Paris of 1507. Some Chinese officials, however, were not interested in such details: they saw only a foreign intrusion into China’s right to apply its own laws, in whatever way it chose, to everyone in its own territories.
Back to the point …
Hong Kong is, naturally and legally, part of China. It is not Singapore and it shouldn’t want to be. Hong Kong provides China with a HUGE and hugely important service. People, merchants and bankers, business executives and traders all over the world, in Australia, Britain and Canada, in Demark, Egypt and Finland and in the United States, Venezuela, Yemen and Zimbabwe, too, trust Hong Kong’s institutions, they trust its banks and brokerage houses, its insurance companies and law courts and its bureaucracy and seaport managers. They do not trust those same institutions anywhere in China. China’s access to the world’s markets is through Hong Kong. China would be beyond stupid to do anything that jeopardizes the world’s confidence in Hong Kong … the men and women who manage China are not stupid … misguided, sometimes, but, ultimately, not stupid.
China’s leaders, even most of those who are unnecessarily offended by one country, two systems, know that they need Hong Kong more than Hong Kong needs them, and most of them know that they need Anqing, Beijing, Chongqing and every Chinese city down to Xian, Yong’an and Zhuhai to become more and more like Hong Kong. No one gains anything if all that ends up happening is that Hong Kong becomes more like Shanghai.
It must be possible for people of goodwill, in China, in Hong Kong and around the world to be “for” Hong Kong and, at the same time, to want China to grow and prosper, too. It must be possible to support Hong Kong and to not see China as a “threat” to anyone.
I happen to be opposed to many things that the current government in Beijing is doing and, especially, I oppose how they are doing a lot of things. But I think is it only natural and, therefore, “good” that China should be a global superpower. It must be possible to understand China’s strategic aims and, simultaneously, it must be possible to support the people of Hong Kong’s very legitimate protests against China’s methods.
Beijing is wrong. Carried Lam is wrong. Those two facts ~ and I assert with 100% confidence that they are facts ~ are obvious. But those young people who think that Hong Kong’s future is independence, à la Singapore, are wrong, too. It must be possible to find a few men and women, old and young, in both Beijing and Hong Kong who can see both the problem that is staring them in the face and understand the range of solutions to it.
It must be possible for most Canadians to remember, to paraphrase Rupert Brooke, “That there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever Canada.” That “corner” is the Sai Wan war cemetery in Hong Kong where hundreds of Canadians are buried: hundreds who died in the battle leading up to Christmas of 1941 and hundreds more who died in Japanese prison camps after the most barbaric treatment. It must be possible for Canadians to remember and to vow to not abandon Hong Kong now.
Therefore, it must be possible for Canada ~ for Canadian political leaders ~ to say something. I seriously doubt that anything that either Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland can say would matter in the slightest ~ no one in the world (beyond The Star‘s opinion pages, anyway) takes them seriously. Telling Canadians to exercise caution is visiting Hong Kong is not what needs to be said. But Andrew Scheer, Erin O’Toole and Michelle Rempel are another matter. They are serious political leaders whose words do matter, in Canada, in Hong Kong and in Beijing, too. Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole could, and should in my view, speak out, now, loudly and clearly, in support of the rule of law in Hong Kong. They could speak out in defence of peaceful protest. It must be possible to speak up for what is right without further inflaming the situation. China is already angry at Canada, making them angrier is not a big issue. A part of the Conservative base is anti-Chinese, to begin with, thus, speaking out for Hong Kong will play well in that community. But they should speak up for the right reasons: for freedom, for democracy, for human rights. This is still John Diefenbaker’s Conservative Party, after all. Unlike the Trudeau Liberals, the CPC did not jettison its principles to get reelected. Michelle Rempel could announce that when a Conservative government is in power it will fast-track immigration from Hong Kong. Many of the young people who want to leave Hong Kong now are just the sorts of people ~ well educated, law-abiding, sophisticated, entrepreneurial people ~ that Canada wants and needs.** It must be possible to do that, at least.
* I have always believed that Zhou Enlai was a very intelligent, enormously capable man and so I found it hard to understand why he could have been a communist. I have concluded that he was desperate. He could not see a way out of the socio-economic quagmire that was early 20th century China except through the methods espoused by Marx and Lenin.
** I am well aware that a previous wave of Hong Kong immigrants came to Canada, bought property, established their legal status and then went back to Hong Kong to make more money because they find the business and regulatory climate in Canada old fashioned and stifling. Maybe Canadian officials and politicians should listen to their concerns.