Nearly a quarter of a century ago, an international accord agreed to by Britain and the Peoples Republic of China guaranteed a unique status for Hong Kong. A British Crown Colony for 156 years, Hong Kong was formally re-established in 1997 as part of the PRC while retaining its status as a key free trade and investment center for Asia and the world. This became known as “the one country two systems” principle.
The agreement was eventually co-signed by the U.K. and PRC. It formally took effect at midnight on June 30, 1997, after a dozen years of talks. It declared that Hong Kong would be part of China, but that the PRC’s socialist system would not be practiced in Hong Kong for at least 50 years (that is, until 2047).
A U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act was enacted in 1992 by Congress. It allowed Washington to continue to treat Hong Kong separately from the PRC concerning trade export and economics after the handover. However, since 1997, the chief executive in Hong Kong has been appointed by Beijing.
The current CEO is Carrie Lam, who has stood firm in supporting the PRC. According to Reuters reporters Greg Torode and John Pomfret, “Beijing is set to impose a new security law on Hong Kong following last year’s often violent anti-China protests since 1997.” On May 29, China’s parliament passed legislation doing just that.
This, as the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, expanded in a new wave.
THE IRONIES MULTIPLY
IRONY # 1:
Beijing is re-defining, indeed outlawing the democratic practice in Hong Kong it agreed to uphold more than two decades ago — just six months after the PRC set off the worst global pandemic in the century, the coronavirus already costing several hundred thousand lives — including more than 100,000 in the United States and more than 360,000 worldwide. Yet the PRC points to the tragedy in Minnesota and resulting violence during riots in U.S. cities as comparable to wiping out democracy and free elections for more than six million inhabitants of Hong Kong.
The Washington Post’s Anna Fifield reports that President Trump on May 29 ordered the U.S. to begin revoking Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law “in response to Beijing’s plans to exert greater controls over the territory. Trump also vowed to bar an unspecified number of Chinese nationals from entering the United States for graduate studies.”
As reporter Fifield put it:
“As expansive as these accusations were, Trump’s actions could have been much worse. The president did not outline a time frame or other specifics about actions he wanted taken. Nor did he announce financial sanctions or threaten to back out of the first-phase U.S.-PRC trade deal the two countries signed in January.”
This, of course, could change — contingent on follow up actions by Washington, Beijing, or both. Reuters correspondents Torode and Pomfret seem to have it about right. Asked if the latest controversy over Hong Kong’s future is controversial, they respond: “Highly. Given Hong Kong’s protest movements and polarized politics, a fresh push even for local legislation would be tough.
“Many fear that new national security legislation would prove a ‘dead hand’ on the city’s large and pugnacious press and rich artistic traditions while curbing its broad political debates. Any step by Beijing to impose its own version risks panic and chaos, many observers believe, potentially sparking a flight of people and capital and denting Hong Kong’s international financial role.” That role clearly is significant, for Hong Kong citizens, the PRC, and the global economy.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More