Mayhem and rioting left no option

China’s new Hong Kong legislation unfortunate but unavoidable


by Kumar David

The people of Hong Kong, hundreds of whom are friends, dozens close friends, and over decades thousands of students, have, in the main, no one but themselves to blame that it has come to such a sad pass. It is my considered view that Hong Kong left the Central Government no other option but to enact legislation to combat anarchy, lawlessness, destruction of public property and vandalization of universities. It has done so under the broad rubric of a national security law. No other country, no other place on earth would have permitted such mayhem to go on for so many months. I have much affection for HK, but people allowed political hooligans to riot for too long and did little to rein them in. I have no problem that 57% voted for the Pan-Democrats in the November 2019 Regional Council elections, but I am unhappy that people did not take a firm stand against rioting and lawlessness.

The rioters got away with it because Beijing was in a bind. If China intervened it would have been greeted by a chorus of censure from liberal hypocrites in the West and their governments. Some like the US are unsurprisingly into strategic geopolitics. That’s expected; none of us lives in a make-believe cocoon. Not intervene, and rioting would have degenerated to open terrorism; incipient stages were already on the go. Moves to break HK from China and declare independence would have gained strength. In Sri Lanka to call for secession, that is Thamil Eelam even by non-violent means is illegal, it is treason. Not so in HK. It is not illegal to campaign for independence. (It is obviously against the law to resort to violence, arson and the destruction of public property). If one goes to the US Congress, connives with the State Department, collects money and agitates for the division of Sri Lanka it will be a serious crime for which the person will be arrested and tried on return. (Remember the black-list issued by the MR regime?). HK’s Pan-Democrat leaders regularly do just this; campaign in the US, meet government and Congressional leaders, request intervention and appeal for financial and practical support. They even invite US pro-rioter politicians to come to HK and lecture on how to work towards HK independence!

I am not arguing that China should align its sedition laws to a bad example of a country with a repressive and undemocratic history regarding its minorities. I give this information as a matter of course. The justification for the amendments to the Basic Law enacted by the National Peoples’ Congress (NPC) a few days ago lies elsewhere. HK had become ungovernable in a way no country or society can allow. So many months of rioting and rampaging in any US city, for example, would have seen the police and the national guard quelling it with guns ablaze. The choice was between anarchy and legislation and it had to be the latter.

I have not yet seen the English wording of the enactments; it’s an amendment as an annex to the Basic Law, the mini-constitution under the Chinese Constitution by which HK is governed. One clause will make it a criminal offence to insult the national anthem - as in most countries. A second under a national security law, will prohibit "splitism", subversion, terrorism, foreign interference and behaviour that threatens national security. None is unusual, most countries have something similar. What is new is that the security services of the Central Government can open offices in HK to monitor compliance. This is like the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or the FBI maintaining offices in the States of the USA. The DHS does have state level offices. I don’t know about the FBI which I believe has to be called in by the State in the event a Federal offence is suspected – involving more than one state or international. This is like the present status in HK where involvement of the Centre, such as PLA deployment in HK, is permitted only at the request of the HK Government.

Is there a downside to what inevitably is going to happen? Should one shrug one’s shoulders and exclaim ‘You asked for it’ and leave it at that. I think not; I think there are two real concerns. The first is that China’s judicial and legal system is primitive and allowing HK people, even if only for a small number of national security offences, to go before Chinese courts is undesirable. I don’t see how this can be avoided except if the HK Government, case by case, prevents all but the most extreme cases of subversion from reaching Mainland courts. It seems possible that even serious rioting and large-scale destruction of public property and terrorism could be handled by HK courts, but there is also the view that HK has not handled security offences and therefore the Mainland should be involved. Hong Kong judges were unusually soft on offenders last year! Nevertheless, over time it may be possible to create a tradition where all but the most serious cases are tried by local courts. The second concern is how livid the reaction of HK protesters will be in the coming months and how harsh the crackdown if serious rioting erupts again. We are in the early days of the second round but I think another round of mayhem will be put down harshly.

I am not concerned that there will be an international backlash and the economic miracle that is Hong Kong will be extinguished. Bullocks, nothing of the sort will happen! After a transient dip and a short period of uncertainty Hong Kong capitalism will bounce back. Global business is doing great in Shenzhen, Shanghai and dozens of Chinese cities so why not Hong Kong within a Chinese edict on national security. It will do better with the uncertainty of nonstop disruption removed. Capitalism is interested in money, not in morality. The real threat to Hong Kong’s financial eminence comes from a different direction; a prolonged global recession or a world destroying depression. The odds are that the global economy is on a bumpy roller-coaster for years to come and regions deeply integrated into this network like Hong Kong, Singapore, New York and London will feel pain. [Sri Lanka is up shit-creek for other reasons that I discussed on May 17 in "Whither Sri Lanka if it’s a Depression?"].

Mayhem and

I will sign off with a little background data for those who need it. Hong Kong Island (in 1842) and Kowloon Peninsula (in 1860) were ceded "in perpetuity" to Britain after the defeat of the Quin Dynasty in the first and second Opium Wars, respectively, and the New Territories north of Boundary Street was given over on a 99-year lease in 1898. In truth, all plain vanilla colonial conquests. It was the expiry of the 99-year lease in 1997 that forced the UK to return the whole territory to China. HK Island and Kowloon would not have had water or food without the New Territories and sans China could not have survived. Britain had no choice but to give the whole thing back. In any case if China had taken military steps there was little an enfeebled UK, with or without American support could do. All was well and HK thrived as a part of China and was in fact the biggest beneficiary of all China’s cities in the four decades 1979-2019 as China was waking up as per Napoleon’s terminology.

In 1984 therefore Margaret Thatcher travelled to Beijing and signed the Joint Declaration (JD) on bended knee. It was registered by the two governments at the United Nations in 1985. In the JD we see Deng Xio Ping’s second stroke of genius - the "one country, two systems" (1C2S) formula he fathered. (His first was in 1979 when he opened the Chinese economy). JD stipulated that the socialist system of China would not be imposed in the HK Special Administrative Region and HK’s capitalist system and way of life would remain for 50 years until 2047. But it was also laid down that HK would remain an inseparable part of China.

The 1C2S provision was written into the Basic Law enacted by the NPC in time for the handover of HK to China on 1 July 1997. From the early 1980s HK prospered immensely from China’s boom and the political certainty created by the Joint Declaration, and continued to prosper after 1997 under 1C2S, with a few ups and downs such as during the Asian Financial Crisis, till the 2019 riots broke out. In 2014 Chinese officials formally pronounced the Joint Declaration "void". After handover HK became a part of China. They argued that no country can permit a foreign power to have treaty rights over its constitutional matters. Britain disagrees but is ignored by everybody.

The events of 2019 I need to summarise, if at all, only in a few words. HK’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam was pressured by Beijing to introduce an Extradition Bill (Roughly: "those who commit crimes against Chinese law in HK can be extradited to China for trial"). There was a storm of protest because the Chinese courts cannot be trusted and she scrapped the Bill. However, Pan-Dems saw an opening and encouraged riots. This is what is destroying HK, not "Chinese Communists." Despite this Pan-Ds polled 57% in the Nov 2019 regional Council elections and took 70% of the seats thanks to FPTP. HK people's intelligence seems to have borrowed a leaf from whose who voted Donald Trump to power! Millions of foreign dollars flowed into HK to finance riots - HSBC alone froze $75 million laundered money which infuriated the Pan-Dems. Where are these huge amounts coming from, is the US involved? Global politics influences everything.

Why are HK people so deeply anti-Mainland? Two reasons: They are anti-communist (most of their parents or grandparents fled China to British HK in the period 1930-1970) and second HK people feel superior to Mainlanders because they are richer, till recently better educated but no more, familiar with Western mores and with English. The first reason is frowned upon by the Party and the second is resented by the people of greater China. Hong Kong has to change but it may take time.

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