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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/26/20

PATRICK LAWRENCE: US, China & Hong Kong's Betrayal

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From Consortium News

China's announcement last Thursday that the National People's Congress has placed new security legislation on the table that provides a legal basis for direct interventions in Hong Kong is a bold move by any measure, its consequences many. It is in all likelihood the beginning of the end of the territory's autonomy under the "one country, two systems" accord negotiated as China reassumed sovereignty over the former British colony in 1997. This is a tragedy, made worse because it could have been avoided.

But the implications of Beijing's plans to assert its prerogative in Hong Kong do not stop there. Considered more broadly, this is a major, calculated strike against Washington's obnoxious efforts to preserve its primacy at the other end of the Pacific even as its long postwar decades of unchallenged power in East Asia fade inexorably into history.

Hong Kong's 7.5 million people were betrayed last week. But we should be careful to understand who has done the betraying.

Beijing could have managed the Hong Kong crisis with more humanity and subtlety after protests erupted last year in response to a proposed extradition law introduced by an ineffectual local administration. Given that the Sino-British declaration signed in 1984 raised questions of sovereignty and there are none more sensitive in Beijing, the territory was bound to be a hot potato during the 50-year period it was designated a Special Administrative Region.

Hong Kong's democracy movement was up and running even before Prince Charles lowered the Union Jack for the last time in July 1997. Its intent from the first was to defend Hong Kong's political institutions and liberties against the mainland's encroachments while expanding the democratic process to include a fully elected legislature. Having witnessed this at close range and reported on it from time to time, I see no grounds whatsoever to question the movement's authenticity. It was an expression of a unique, independent Hong Kong identity that had taken root gradually during the decades following Mao's revolution in 1949.

American Backing

But in the course of the past year's increasingly heated demonstrations it is not clear when prominent figures in Hong Kong's broad pro-democracy constituency began seeking American backing for their confrontation with the local government and, behind it, Beijing. Joshua Wong, who emerged as an influential voice following an earlier wave of protests known as the Umbrella Movement, made a much-remarked trip to Washington last autumn, during which he met with various members of Congress including Marco Rubio, the hyper-hawkish Florida senator with a pronounced taste for "regime change" operations.

Such contacts have turned out to be common, in Hong Kong and abroad. In the course of things it also emerged that various civil society groups in Hong Kong had been accepting millions of dollars in support from the National Endowment for Democracy, the notorious coup-cultivating appendage of the State Department that is funded primarily by Congress.

There are three things to say about these connections.

One, it was monumentally unwise on the part of democracy advocates to seek U.S. involvement and seek it so visibly. Anyone with an understanding of the NED's pernicious purposes and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's incessant efforts to spark confrontations with China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and other nations that remain beyond the perimeters of American empire could not miss the provocation implicit in these connections.

Two, accepting U.S. support was an insensitive, inept betrayal of the spirit of the Hong Kong democracy movement. It was never intended to turn the territory into some kind of neoliberal outpost on China's border a variant of the mess Washington has made in Ukraine. In another time, Hong Kong's democrats would have found their natural allies in the Non-Aligned Movement.

Three, if Joshua Wong and his incautious comrades had set out to give Beijing ample cause to start short-circuiting the one country, two systems formula, they could not have made a more efficient job of it. It is a bitter thought, but Beijing as touchy as they come about territorial integrity since the Opium Wars and the unequal treaties that followed has sufficient reason to deem Hong Kong a national security question. It wasn't always one, but it is one now.

Egregious Treachery

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Patrick Lawrence is a columnist, author, editor, and educator. He has published five books and currently writes foreign affairs commentary for Consortium News and other publications. He served as a correspondent abroad for many years and is (more...)
 

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