- On Tuesday, China passed a new national-security law for Hong Kong, giving it sweeping powers to punish dissent as it sees fit.
- It ostensibly brings an end to a year of protests that began in March 2019 over an extradition bill, and morphed into demonstrations against the security law in May 2020.
- The US threatened sanctions and tariffs if China didn’t roll back its security law, and the UK and EU condemned Beijing.
- But China simply didn’t care, and — just as it has done with other human-rights concerns — pressed ahead with its own agenda with little regard for international condemnation.
- China’s refusal to play diplomacy has left the west looking weak and powerless to stop it.
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On Tuesday, China passed a long-awaited national security law for the special administrative region of Hong Kong.
“Separatism, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference” in Hong Kong are now deemed crimes in Beijing’s remit. Hong Kong police already used the law to make at least nine arrests on Wednesday, with those charged with the most severe crimes facing a maximum of life in prison.
The Hong Kong government scrapped the extradition bill last September after protests brought the city to a standstill. But that fight was all in vain.
In May, China’s Communist Party — which typically shies away from making laws in Hong Kong due to the city’s semi-autonomous status — introduced a wide-ranging national-security law that leaves it with far more power than ever before.
Protests flared up again, but this time there was no backing down. China passed the law on Tuesday without having shown even Hong Kong’s leader a draft. (Details of the legislation were only made public on Wednesday.)
The bill marked an equally dark moment for China’s adversaries on the world stage, but for entirely different, more humbling reasons.
China totally ignored threats and criticism from the likes of the US and UK, and pressed ahead with the security law.
A decade ago China may have been happy to play diplomacy, but its total disregard for international criticism shows that time is over.
China’s reach into Hong Kong is a train that no one can stop
President Xi Jinping is pressing ahead with his vision for Hong Kong, and it appears that nothing can derail his plan or shake his resolve.
“The US, UK (and others) don’t have any way of preventing Beijing from pursuing what is obviously now a central part of its approach to Hong Kong,” Tim Summers, a senior consulting fellow with the Asia-Pacific Programme of Chatham House based in Hong Kong, told Business Insider, referring to the national-security law.
And in regards to criticism of the law brought by the US and UK, it is clear that China simply doesn’t care.
“One of the reassuring things about the freedoms of Hong Kong on a bigger scale was once that they showed that Beijing understood the value of playing by the rules, and the weight of global opinion,” James Palmer, deputy editor of Foreign Policy magazine, tweeted on Tuesday.
“That’s emphatically no longer the case.”
The US issued threat after threat, but China persisted
After China announced it would draft a new security law for Hong Kong on May 1, the US fired up, misguidedly thinking that a series of threats would make China scrap the idea.
- First, on May 22, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said China should “reconsider its disastrous proposal,” adding that the US stood behind Hong Kong and would make China pay.
- Then, on June 25, the Senate passed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act which said companies supporting efforts by China to “extinguish liberty and democracy in Hong Kong” would be sanctioned.
- On June 26, Pompeo said Chinese officials who “were responsible for eviscerating Hong Kong’s freedom” will be banned from visiting the US going forward.
- And on June 29, the Trump administration sought a final time to dissuade China. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross revoked Hong Kong’s special trading status with the US, and Pompeo said the US would no longer export defense equipment to the city because America could “no longer distinguish between the export of controlled items to Hong Kong or to mainland China.”
But China appeared to laugh in the face of these threats, and met many of them head on.
On Monday, China banned Americans with “egregious conduct relating to Hong Kong” from visiting in an apparent retaliation over the US’s visa restrictions.
Zhao Lijian, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, called the Senate act “nothing but a piece of scrap paper.”
In response to Pompeo ending defense shipments, he said: “Intimidation will never work on China.”
Chinese state media also mocked the outrage in the US with a cartoon suggesting the US was interfering with Hong Kong affairs.
And in late May, in response to the US State Department’s support for Hong Kong protests, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying tweeted: “I can’t breathe” — an attempt to divert US criticism of China to crises on American soil.
‘Who cares about it? I’m trying to make a deal’
It is especially hard for the US to convince China that it means business when the country’s leader appears to consider the issue of little importance.
Trump had refused to give a statement on the anniversary of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre because he wanted to keep China onside so that trade talks would go smoothly, according to a new book by former national security advisor John Bolton.
“Who cares about it? I’m trying to make a deal,” Trump said, according to Bolton. (Hong Kong banned protests on this year’s anniversary, citing the threat of the coronavirus.)
In an attempt to please China, Trump also told Xi that locking up Uighur Muslims in detention camps was “exactly the right thing to do,” according to Bolton. (Trump signed a bill to punish China over its Uighur oppression that same day, inviting doubt over his true intentions.)
Europe, too, is powerless
Charles Michel, council president of the European Union, said on Tuesday that members of the bloc “deplore the decision” of China to enact the security law.
But the actions of the EU have shown it to be just as powerless as the US in its attempts stop China from pursuing its ambitions for Hong Kong.
The EU’s Josep Borrell said on May 29 it had “grave concern” over the law but declined to place sanctions on China, leaving the US to pressure China via trade.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, also said she preferred to pursue a “critical and constructive” dialogue with China — rather than any sanction or threat to deter its actions.
The UK, which ruled over Hong Kong for nearly 150 years until 1997, has criticized China the most over the law — but even it was helpless.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on June 3 that three million Hong Kongers would be free to live and work in the UK should the national security law be realized. He confirmed the pledge on Wednesday.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab added that the law was “clear and serious violation” of the UK-China agreement over Hong Kong, but did not say what the UK would do to try and change China’s mind.
“It constitutes a clear violation of the autonomy of Hong Kong and a direct threat to the freedoms of its people,” he said.
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However, dozens of countries — many of which rely heavily on Chinese business — are siding with China over Hong Kong.
The security law has seemingly forced all the world’s countries to take a side, and despite criticism in the west, a far greater number were in favor of it at a meeting of UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday.
What has become clear with China in its rise to prominence over the last decade is that its resolve is made of steel.
China ignored all protestations over the national-security law, and did whatever it wanted, at whatever cost.
The likes of the US, UK, and EU must now get used to a China that acts without compromise.
- Read more:
- Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong are disbanding and deleting their social-media accounts hours after China passed a sweeping national security law
- Hong Kong police are arresting people who defied authorities to protest after China imposed a sweeping new national security law
- China’s new, hardline ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy is supposed to cement its dominance — but it’s also uniting its rivals abroad and dividing people at home
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