Richard Lloyd Parry, writing, a few weeks ago in The Weekend Australian, said that “Noone with real power has the guts to admit it, but a few years ago the rest of the world gave up caring about the evils perpetrated by the government of China. Perhaps it was the moment when the People’s Republic overtook Japan to become the world’s second biggest economy. Perhaps it was the accession of Xi Jinping, the most uncompromisingly authoritarian Chinese leader since Mao. At some point in the past 15 years, the right-thinking governments of western Europe and North America, confronted by the oppression, cruelty and petty vindictiveness of the Chinese regime towards its opponents, shrugged their shoulders and turned away.” He goes on, a few paragraphs later to explain why that is: “There are reasons, of course,” he explains “for the reluctance of governments to confront Beijing, beginning with the most obvious of all. Chinese money and technology exert an increasingly powerful influence on the global economy. The Chinese market is one that no multinational manufacturer or financial institution can ignore … [and] … Beijing has made it clear that it will punish any government that challenges it on issues such as democracy and human rights …[just look at Canada, right now] … For a British prime minister to speak out in support of independence for Taiwan, for example, would bring a heavy cost in terms of Chinese investment and opportunities for British companies in Beijing. If the leader of one of its competitor economies, such as France or Germany, were to do so, Britain would stand to benefit from its own silence. It is not surprising that governments prefer to avoid the problem altogether and resort to diplomatic bromides, such as those uttered by Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, when he warned Beijing yesterday (Tuesday) of unspecified “serious consequences” if the rights of Hong Kongers were trampled on.” Mr Hunt has, at least, said something. Canada’s dreadfully inept foreign minister Chrystia Freeland cowers in her office unable to say anything except the words that the Trudeau reelection campaign team give her to memorize. Donald Trump is, of course, standing up to China, but for all the wrong reasons. he doesn’t give a damn about democracy, liberty or human rights; he only cares that some countries, China amongst them, have a trade advantage with America.
“The most remarkable, and the most shaming, thing about the protest movement that has emerged in Hong Kong in the past month … [Mr Parry says is that] … The youth of its organisers, several of whom are little more than teenagers, is inspiring. The scale of the demonstrations, some reaching 2 million people, has taken everyone by surprise. But the most important thing about them is their uniqueness. The Hong Kong protesters represent the only significant challenge anywhere in the world to the oppression and arrogance of the Chinese communist party.” These young people, some of whom I know, personally and about whom I care a lot, are fighting for principles. They are in real, physical danger. The Hong Kong Police are frustrated and angry, they are turning their backs on their motto, ‘To Serve with Pride and Care,’ and some officers are venting their anger at the very people who are trying, valiantly, to make Hong Kong a place about which everyone can be proud and about which they can all care.
Meanwhile, China looks on, with menace and the rest of the world looks away.
“There is another argument for not tackling human rights in China head on … [Richard Lloyd Parry says, it’s] … the wish to avoid a new Cold War, in which political differences turn into a broad economic, cultural and military confrontation. Barring some internal catastrophe, China’s rise to global economic pre-eminence is inevitable; military power will not lag very far behind. Surely it is better, the argument goes, to find points of common interest and understanding with this new superpower, rather than turning points of principle into the trenches of a new battle of ideologies.” I remember the first Cold War very well; it was expensive; it was also worth it. We did, mostly, avoid large scale military clashes and, eventually, the USSR did collapse under the weight of the inherent socio-economic and political contradictions that are present in all authoritarian regimes, including China’s.
Some observers think Cold War 2.0 is already with us. They think that Donald Trump’s aims go much farther than redressing trade balances; they think that he wants to try to turn the clock back by 30 years or so, to the early 1990s when America’s unipolar moment began, after the fall of the Berlin Wall. But, we started with Ike’s bold gamble in the late 1940s, when he was still Supreme Allied Commander of the new Western alliance and suggested that he didn’t want millions of allied soldiers standing nose-to-nose against millions of Warsaw Pact soldiers. He wanted those millions of American, British, Canadian and Dutch soldiers to be at home, growing food, building houses and cars and buying new TVs and washing machines. He wanted to rely upon a trip-wire of a few professional soldiers, Canadians amongst them, backed up by nuclear weapons we were willing and able to use. By the 1980s Ronal Reagan, presiding over a rich, powerful, confident America proposed his eminently sensible Strategic Defence Initiative and that may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back so to say. The USSR was starting to change but they could not develop their economy and compete in a high-tech military race with America at the same time … not without making their people eat grass as some wag put it at the time. The free, liberal, democratic, capitalist West could and did provide prosperity for its people and adequate defence simultaneously. The communist East could not; Deng Xiaoping understood that; Xi Jinping should too.
But that’s an aside, the real issue, as Mr Parry says, is that “The young men and women of Hong Kong put the rest of the world to shame. Their city is part of China. The tanks of the People’s Liberation Army are within short trundling distance of their schools, workplaces and homes. British politicians worry about scaring Chinese securities firms away from the City of London. Hong Kong people face a one-party dictatorship, encroaching on the liberties supposedly guaranteed under the Sino-British “one country, two systems” agreement … [and] … How much more they have to lose than us. They have no army, no embassies, no seat at the United Nations. But for all their vulnerability, they have demonstrated the power of principled dissent. The vandalism perpetrated by a few activists during Monday’s invasion of parliament will be used by Ms Lam and the authorities in Beijing in an effort to portray the whole movement as one of thugs and hooligans. It will not succeed.” He’s talking about things that happened several weeks ago (the article is datelined 3 July 2019) when the demonstrators invaded the Legislative Council building and even hung up and old British colonial flag.
But what he says was happening then, six weeks ago, and what is, clearly, happening now is that “What began as a movement against a proposed new extradition law, that would allow people arrested in Hong Kong to be sent for trial in China, has metamorphosed into a determined campaign to force the resignation of the territory’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, who is effectively appointed by Beijing. Its leaders, such as 22-year-old Joshua Wong, talk openly about their goal: the introduction of genuine democracy in Hong Kong, a demand which long ago became taboo among the leaders of the G20 nations.” That’s right, standing up for democracy seems, now, to be taboo for American, British, Canadian and Dutch leaders. But I remember when, here in Canada, first John Diefenbaker and later Brian Mulroney stood up, even against the likes of the formidable Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan ~ that took political courage ~ and denounced the South African apartheid system and stood up and spoke up for the rights of men and women. (Remember, please, that I voted for Mike Pearson back in the 1960s, because I thought the Diefenbaker and his team were one the wrong side of too many key issues … but I knew that he, and later Mulroney, were on the right side on that one. Democracy and liberty and freedom matter … we’ve paid a high price for them.)
I understand that diplomats and senior officials and business leaders and pundits are telling politicians to stay clear of the Hong Kong issue; there’s no advantage, not to the working politicians seeking reelection and not to Canada, they say, in speaking out … even I worry that the demonstrators have gone too far in some of their aims. I’m sure their illustrious predecessors told Diefenbaker and Mulroney exactly the same things about South Africa. But they, the old Chief and Mulroney, put principle ahead of politics; a new generation of Canadian leaders needs to do the same. It seems that some Conservatives want to avoid “ruffling feathers” by speaking out on contentious issues. I get that, too. But, principles matter … sometimes even more than votes. This is one of those times.
These are the five major demands of the mainstream demonstrators:
Are they so radical that they do not deserve the support of Canadians? Is universal suffrage a foreign concept? Would an independent investigation of the police be somehow un-Canadian?
Mr Parry concludes, speaking of the young people of Hong Kong, that “Given the frustrations the people of the territory face, and the frustration of the democratic impulse, it is remarkable that there has not been more bad behaviour. The people of Hong Kong have behaved with courage, confidence, dignity and restraint. These qualities in themselves have been enough to throw on to the back foot the mighty Chinese state. It is an example from which the anxious governments of the West could learn a valuable lesson.“