The United States’ closure of China’s consulate in Houston, which was followed by the shuttering of the U.S. consulate in Chengdu by China, was attributed to intelligence activities supported by the Chinese government. But it’s worth remembering China’s expansion and authoritarian control measures that underly the diplomatic clash.
The PRC tightens its grip on Hong Kong
On July 1, Chinese troops entered Hong Kong in force, and occupied a luxury hotel in the center of one of the world’s most influential commercial powerhouses. Then, they spread out through the territory. Pro-democracy rallies throughout Hong Kong have shrunk dramatically in size and frequency since then.
The move followed rapid passage by mainland China’s National People’s Congress (the NPC) of a comprehensive new national security law which Western news agencies termed “the boldest move yet by Beijing to undercut Hong Kong’s autonomy and bring the global financial hub under its full control.”
In 1997, Britain had agreed to relinquish control over Hong Kong as a Crown colony and turn the territory over to the PRC under a pact guaranteeing Hong Kong to enjoy democracy-based autonomy for a half century, that is, until 2047. With the deployment of forces from mainland China, the core principles of that autonomy have been wiped out.
According to Eva Dou of the Washington Post, Beijing has “appointed a veteran in quashing popular unrest to head its contentious new national security agency in Hong Kong… It was the most brazen of a number of assertive maneuvers to Chinese leadership as much of the world remains preoccupied by the novel coronavirus pandemic.”
- July 3, the PRC state news agency announced that a new Hong Kong security agency would be headed by Zheng Yanxiong, a 56-year-old senior Communist Party official in southern Guangdong Province, which borders Hong Kong. Nathan Law, a prominent Hong Kong democracy advocate who addressed a U.S. House foreign affairs committee in late June, announced that he had fled the city for an “undisclosed location.”
- Also on July 3, according to the Post’s Eva Dou, two deputies were announced for the new PRC security agency in Hong Kong: Li Jiangzhou, already China’s top public security official stationed there, and Sun Qingye, an official at Beijing’s Ministry of State Security, China’s main intelligence agency.
The massive crowds at pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong throughout most of 2019 and earlier this year have greatly diminished or ceased altogether. The new PRC-controlled regime said a protest slogan, “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of Our Times” would be illegal, because it promoted Hong Kong independence and therefore was ‘subversive’. The slogan is now punishable by life imprisonment. It was etched on flags, walls and T-shirts common before the mainland takeover at the beginning of July.
Three days after that takeover was officially confirmed, a 24-year-old Hong Kong resident was the first to be charged under the new Beijing-imposed law, after driving into riot police on his motorcycle during a protest. He was arrested and accused of “incitement to secession and terrorism.” President Trump on July 21 warned that the United States would “react very strongly” to the new Hong Kong security laws. Those laws preceded scores on arrests by the new PRC-controlled regime there.
Is the South China Sea the next flashpoint?
Nearly a third of the world’s ocean commercial exports and imports ($3.37 trillion) passes each year through the international waters of the South China Sea. That body of water has generated disputes and rival claims to its many islands by countries along its shoreline. These are: the PRC, Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
According to Wikipedia, disputes have centered rival claims of several of the nearby states, notably the PRC, to islands in the sea. Chinese building of military settlements on a number of these islands, notably in the Spratly and Paracel island regions, has been particularly intense.
“These actions,” Wikipedia says, “have met with wide international condemnation. Since 2015, the U. S. and other states including the United Kingdom and France have conducted freedom of navigation operations in the international waterway.
“Claimant states are interested in retaining or acquiring the rights to fishing stocks, exploration and potential exploration of crude oil and natural gas in the seabed of various parts of the South China Sea, and the strategic control of important shipping lanes.”
The Reuters news agency noted that earlier in July, U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo called Beijing’s claim to about 90 percent “completely unlawful” and accused the PRC of seeking “a maritime empire” in international waters.
“U. S. embassies in Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and the Philippines,” Reuters added, “followed up on Facebook and there have been editorials in local news outlets in southeast Asia saying that Beijing’s actions fitted a pattern of encroachment on others’ sovereignty.”
What better and more timely example of that than the PRC’s July 1 takeover of Hong Kong?
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