A friend sent me the link to this video from Fox News; please pay attention to the remarks by Brigadier General (retired) Robert Spalding of the Hudson Institute at about 1:00 to 1:30. Dr/Gen Spalding is quite right: “A little bit more than 240 years ago, those kids would have been our founding fathers, actually fighting for our freedom … [and] … rather than Hong Kong airport, it was Boston harbour … [and] … the King of England was calling them terrorist, too.”
That’s the crux of it. Young people in Hong Kong, in 2019, are doing what young people did in England in the First Barons’ War about 800 years ago; they are doing what young people did 370 years during the English Civil War; and those young people in Hong Kong are doing what young people did at Lexington and Concord about 240 years ago, as Robert Spalding says.
Watch this video, too, please. The young man, from 0:45 to 1:00 says, and I agree, that “People’s grievances have been unleashed. The extradition bill is only the trigger.” Some of the issues are purely local. People in Sheung Shui and in Tung Chung think that mainland Chinese cross-border traders are ruining their neighbourhoods. Local merchants, on the other hand, welcome the business. There are also purely domestic, Hong Kong, issues, like affordable housing at play here.
But, what seems clear (see 3:30 to 4:00 in Viola Zhou’s video) is that the people of Hong Kong have lost faith in Carrie Lam and in her Chinese masters and in the current political system. The people understand that Beijing wants ‘one country, two systems‘ to end because some Chinese officials see it as an affront to China’s sovereignty. They are wrong. ‘One country, two systems‘ was not something foisted upon China, one, final ‘unequal treaty‘ if you will, by the British. It was Deng Xiaoping’s invention, offered several years before the handover, to entice Hong Kong to accept reunification, to persuade Britain not to use the so-called ‘nuclear option‘ of granting Hong Kong political independence, and, above all, to sweeten the pot for the eventual peaceful reunification of Taiwan and China. But many Hong Kong people now want more than just the end of Carrie Lam and a reaffirmation that ‘one country, two systems‘ is safe for another 25 years. They want real democracy in Hong Kong. That demand makes things harder than they need to be.
I said, several days ago, that the young people in Hong Kong have five demands:
It seems to me that the first four are achievable if and when the demonstrators stop their protests, for a while, at least. A new Chief Executive Officer could, without causing Beijing to lose any face, do the first four things, fairly quickly.
Universal suffrage cannot be seen to be implemented as a result of people putting pressure on Beijing. The handful of men in the Zhongnanhai, the Chinese Communist party HQ in downtown Beijing, will not concede that under pressure. It is politically impossible, in my view.
But, if, and this is a big IF for me because I’m not sure that grand strategic common sense still prevails in the Zhongnanhai, China wants to preserve Hong Kong as its financial “window on the world” (but Singapore can, happily, fill that role) and if, an equally HUGE IF, Beijing still wants the peaceful reunification of Taiwan into China, then ‘one country, two systems‘ has to be made to work until 2047, at the very least. In fact, if ‘one country, two systems‘ is going to be used as a bargaining chip with Taiwan then I believe that it has to work better, for longer … which is exactly what some Chinese officials don’t want.
Some years ago I asked a friend, a real Chinese scholar, why, if ‘one country, two systems‘ could work for Hong Kong and Macau, there could not be ‘one country, many systems‘ for e.g Taiwan and Tibet and Inner Mongolia (內蒙古) and Xinjiang and so on. She chuckled, as so many Chinese so often do at foreigners who try to wrap their Western, liberal minds around China, and explained to me that ‘one country, TWO systems‘ was already more than many senior officials could stomach, they want ‘one country, ONE system‘ and the “one” is whatever they say it is. But, my friend acknowledged that within the corridors of power in Beijing (where she worked, pre Xi Jinping) many officials understood that ‘one country, two systems‘ needed to evolve, even grow a bit, to accommodate the realistic expectations of Taiwan. Universal suffrage was something that was, then, in the Hu Jintao era, being discussed, quietly.
My guess is that there are no more discussions in those corridors of power about ‘one country, two systems‘ either ‘growing’ or ‘evolving.’
But, I do not believe that Xi Jinping and the men and women who surround and advise him are strategically blind. I believe that while preserving the centrality of the misnamed Chinese Communist Party in China’s governance remains paramount in everyone’s calculations, restoring and then maintaining national unity (reunification of Taiwan) and developing and maintaining a strong economy have not been forgotten. Taiwan and Hong Kong and peace are all vital strategic interests. Blowing up Hong Kong, just to save a wee, tiny bit of face, seems so stupid, to me, and to so many others, that I cannot wrap my mind around why anyone would consider it … but that seems to me on the table, right now, in Beijing.
I know I’m repeating myself, but:
- There needs to be a mutual de-escalation of tensions ~ both the young demonstration leaders and Carrie Lam need to give some ground to each other. The demonstration leaders need to say that they want to hold fewer, but larger demonstrations and that they, too, denounce some of the violence that has occurred. Carrie Lam has to pull the extradition bill from the Hong Kong Government Gazette ~ that is the 1st demand on the list;
- Carrie Lam has to announce that she is ill (I’m sure she is suffering from, at the very least, exhaustion and anxiety) – probably requiring medical treatment in London. Beijing has to, reluctantly, accept her resignation. Sometime later she can reappear in a plum diplomatic assignment ~ maybe in Geneva or Vienna or Auckland;
- The Hong Kong Police have to, publicly, re-examine their methods and tactics ~ a few senior heads may have roll;
- Beijing has to appoint a new, interim, Chief Executive. I suggested Anson Chan ~ I wasn’t joking even though I am 99% sure that most of the senior people in Beijing fear and even hate her because of her big brain and the obvious respect in which she is held in Hong Kong, and the world. But the new CEO has to be someone exciting, someone people in Hong Kong (and in Beijing) can trust to do the right things and to do things right;
- The demonstrations have to become fewer, still, and smaller, too;
- The new Chief Executive has to take action on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th demands ~ dropping most charges against most demonstrators, retracting the proclamation that said the demonstrations were riots, and ordering an independent inquiry into police tactics;
- The demonstrations have to cease … for now, at least;
- Beijing has to announce, probably sometime in mid to late 2020, a public consultation on the “Basic Law,” which is Hong Kong’s de facto constitution. The aim needs to be to produce a Basic Law that will allow Hong Kong to preserve, beyond 2047, the rule of law and its institutions and even add provisions like a freely elected (universal suffrage) Legislative Council.
One big problem is that the young people claimed to have learned, from the yellow umbrella movement in 2014, that giving ground and hoping for a reciprocal goodwill gesture from the government doesn’t work because Carrie Lam, they say, learned that the government doesn’t have to reciprocate. Both learned the wrong lessons.
I don’t think that any plan such as I outlined above is anywhere on Beijing’s “to do” list … but it needs to be.
The absolute worst thing Beijing can do, to itself, is to destroy Hong Kong’s well-earned and well-deserved reputation as one of the worlds most important (and trusted) trading and financial centres. Another “let’s shoot ourselves in the foot” move is to destroy ‘one country, two systems‘ thereby guaranteeing that the reunification of China cannot be accomplished by mutual, peaceful agreement. I hear, and I respect, the argument that the Party, centred in the Zhongnanhai, in Bejing, must be at the centre of everything, but ‘one country, two systems‘ does not challenge that principle. In fact, by encouraging ‘one country, two systems‘ to grow and continue beyond 2047 Beijing shows that it is big enough to accommodate and lead a vast and complex federation. “One country, two systems‘ is a sign of strength, not of weakness. It is an example of the strength of China’s governing party, not something that was imposed on it.
What can we do?
For a start, we should not do what Boris Johnson, Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump have all done. We should not just back away from the problem because it might make our trade positions with China worse and cost our farmers or automakers or banks some money. The noted political scientist Francis Fukuyama was not far off the mark when he quipped, on social media that Donald J Trump will be to blame if the West “loses” Hong Kong …
… leaving aside the fact that Hong Kong was never America’s to “lose,” in the first place and that the Brits made what they thought, as did many people in Hong Kong, was a good deal in 1997, the current “Battle for Hong Kong” is being fought, mostly by 20-year-olds, for all of us. It is a continuation of battles that were fought in England in 1215 and 1264-67, again in 1642-51 and then in the 1680s, albeit without much bloodshed, and in America from 1775 to 83 and which continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. “Freedom” and “justice” are not just words in a song, they are rights that we take for granted, they are ideas that ordinary people in China crave, too; they are being fought for, as we watch, in Hong Kong, today.
Andrew Scheer got closer to the mark a couple of days ago …
… but his remarks are almost lost in the ongoing Trudeau-ethics-Lavscam scandal. But Mr Scheer is right. As it was with South Africa in the 1960s, ’70s and 80s, this is about “democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law,” and, as the bible says (Matthew 25:40) “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” whatever we say and do about Hong Kong is what we are prepared to do about ourselves. Ar we prepared to stand by and see our liberties stripped away in Canada? No? Then we must stand with Hong Kong.